The Natural Aquarium: Make a Small Turtle Tank Habitat

Closeup of Snapping Turtle Head
Closeup of Snapping Turtle Head

Create a Naturally Filtered Turtle Habitat


Turtles make wonderful pets when they are properly planned for. With a few supplies, your turtle will live a long, healthy and happy life. This article will teach you just one way to set up a baby turtle habitat. You will of course need to upgrade the system, as your turtles grow larger. Also, make certain your turtles cannot climb out of their new habitat.


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Enough biological filtration will support even the heaviest of chemical loads.
Enough biological filtration will support even the heaviest of chemical loads.

Supplies List:



  • Plants
  • Synthetic batting or Lava rock
  • Large Rubbermaid container
  • Medium Rubbermaid container
  • Fountain pump
  • Activated carbon (optional)
  • Sand
  • Reptile humidity fogger (optional)
  • Reptile light


An Indoor Habitat for Small Turtles. Turtles Eat Vegetation, Insects, Fish and Carrion. Delicious Goldfish Optional, Ha!
An Indoor Habitat for Small Turtles. Turtles Eat Vegetation, Insects, Fish and Carrion. Delicious Goldfish Optional, Ha!
Coleus Rooted in Biological Filter.
Coleus Rooted in Biological Filter.
Reptile Humidifier Fogger in Action. For Occasional Use Only!
Reptile Humidifier Fogger in Action. For Occasional Use Only!

Introduction to Bilogical Filtration



Why use biological filtration? There are many reasons to choose biological filtration for your turtle and tropical fish aquariums. One of the main reasons being, biological filtration grows with your system’s bioload.

Plants naturally seek out and remove harmful chemicals from the water. As any turtle owner knows, turtles produce more than their fair share of harmful chemicals!

The down side to biological filtration? It has to grow before it begins to work.

Your fish and turtles do not appreciate sitting in urine, feces and other nasties whilst you’re “going green” with their filtration.

If fully cycling your tank before adding animals is not an option due to pond leaks, broken aquariums or sick fish — please use activate carbon until your biological system is stable. By the time the carbon loses its effectiveness, your system should be close to cycled. Keep up with water tests and changes until your biological system has matured enough to handle the bioload.

Purchase Aquarium and Bog Plants Online, at Pet Stores or through a Google Shopping Search.
Purchase Aquarium and Bog Plants Online, at Pet Stores or through a Google Shopping Search.
Inexpensive Biological Turtle and Fish Tank Filtration
Inexpensive Biological Turtle and Fish Tank Filtration

Biological Filtration Plant List:


Any plant that can be grown hydroponically will work as an aquarium filter plant. The plants you decide to use to filter your aquarium will depend on various factors.

I am successfully using my biological filter as a low tech hydroponic grow system for different herbs.

Newly set up systems should be planted with fast growing species in order to keep up with ammonia spikes. These spikes will normally be found in cycling aquariums, those recently stocked or when something kills off too many beneficial bacteria.


Good, fast growing filter plants include:


  • Bladderwort
  • Parrot’s feather
  • Bacopa
  • Cardinal flower

Slower growing species added at the same time will eventually get a foothold and contribute to excess nutrient uptake. It is advisable to always keep at least one fast growing species in the filter.


My Current Filter Plant List:


  • Bichetii Grass (Chlorophytum laxum)
  • Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana)
  • Tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum)
  • Serissa (Serissa foetida)
  • Pineapple Sage (Salvia officinalis)
  • Cinnamon Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
  • Carex (Carex flagellifera) "Bronzita"
  • Purple Waffle Plant (Hemigraphis)
  • Polka-dot Plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya)
  • Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas)
  • Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
  • Coleus (Coleus Blumei) "Dark Star"


As the system grows, I will be adding a larger variety of plants.

A Plump and Healthy Young Pet Snapping Turtle.
A Plump and Healthy Young Pet Snapping Turtle.
Purchase a Humidifier Fogger Online. Like in Hydroponics, this Fogger Promotes Aerial Roots On Your Plants. Do Not Leave It On For Long!
Purchase a Humidifier Fogger Online. Like in Hydroponics, this Fogger Promotes Aerial Roots On Your Plants. Do Not Leave It On For Long!

Setting Up a Bilogical Filter



As with fish, use chlorine free water in your turtle habitat.

Drill holes along the top of the Rubbermaid container to allow the filtered water to flow through. I left mine intact with rocks keeping it at a slight angle. Either way should be fine.

Drill a hole at the base of the medium Rubbermaid container. This hole should fit your submersible fountain pump's out let pipe. Use aquarium sealant to seal the seam. Allow this to cure completely before adding water.

Line with rinsed lava rock and then top that off with filter floss.

When the tank is set up, you will plant directly in the filter floss and lava rock.

Place your aquarium heater and fogger in the center of the biological filter. Make sure they are set deeply enough that they stay covered in water at all times .

Please Note:

If you cannot allow the tank to cycle before adding animals, add a couple of carbon filters over the intake area.

Do not leave the fogger on for a long period of time. Several minutes a day is fine, but if left on for extended periods, it may make your reptiles ill. This is not a problem in large habitats where the creatures can get away from the fogger. I purchased my LED reptile fogger on ebay.

Snappy Hiding in Carex Roots. This Is His Favorite Place to Hang Out.
Snappy Hiding in Carex Roots. This Is His Favorite Place to Hang Out.
Prevent Your Turtle from Accessing Electrical Components such as the Heater and Pump.
Prevent Your Turtle from Accessing Electrical Components such as the Heater and Pump.

Setting Up the Turtle Tank


Use the largest Rubbermaid container as the actual turtle tank. Mine is shallow, with a 5 inch water depth. My snapping turtle does not care for deeper water so this is what he gets.

Cover the bottom of the tank with a 1 inch layer of clean sand. The turtle will appreciate the additional traction it provides.

I set my filter up in the far corner. This makes the actual access area shaped like a big "L". The filter allows water to fall from a couple inches distance. This is just right for oxygenating the water for fish and beneficial bacteria.

The tank is in a North Facing Window of our home. This provides ample light for the plants to grow at a fast rate but the water stays at a comfortable 70'ish degrees Fahrenheit.

Remember to provide your turtles and tortoises with the proper lights. The glass from your window blocks the wavelengths your turtle needs. You can purchase special reptile lights on Ebay, at pet stores or through a Google Shopping search.

Remember:

Provide at least one area where the turtles can leave the water. Even snapping turtles like to venture out, occasionally.

As your turtle grows, he will require larger living quarters. You are not forced to spend hundreds of dollars on a huge fish tank. You can easily create an affordable setup with livestock watering troughs or even kiddy pools. As long as it is safe, it can be used as a turtle habitat.

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Comments 15 comments

erthfrend profile image

erthfrend 6 years ago from Florida

This is an excellent hub! I love the pictures and the info is wonderful! Ive always had a special interest in turtles ever since I was a child. Thanks for sharing!


Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 6 years ago from Georgia

Would love to see a picture of the full enclosure


IsadoraPandora profile image

IsadoraPandora 6 years ago from Florida, PCB Author

Thanks erthfrend!

Turtles are a true joy to keep. We enjoy messing with Snappy pretty much daily. :)

I added a full shot Whitney05. :)


Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 6 years ago from Georgia

It looks really good. Small picture, but from what I can tell nice.

I love tortoises. I wish I could have a huge herd of them. I have two Russians, and 4 Red Foots.


IsadoraPandora profile image

IsadoraPandora 6 years ago from Florida, PCB Author

Thanks!

You can click the photo to make it larger. ;-)


lindajot profile image

lindajot 5 years ago from Willamette Valley - Oregon

makes me want to dig out our aquarium equip in the garage and put together a nice home for a little snapper = loved this, thanks!


IsadoraPandora profile image

IsadoraPandora 5 years ago from Florida, PCB Author

They are great fun to have around! Snappy is even going to contribute to my organic garden in the near future.


mariekbloch profile image

mariekbloch 5 years ago

Very informative article and you go through such great lengths to put your turtle closer to the wild. Every time I buy aquatic plants for my baby soft shell's habitat, he digs them out from the ground whenever he buries himself and the plants usually die. Your turtle's home is not only beautiful, but practical and natural (the way it should be). Good job!


IsadoraPandora profile image

IsadoraPandora 5 years ago from Florida, PCB Author

Thank you very much! Turtles are so much fun to mess around with. We can't wait to see what lays eggs in the yard this year. We watched snapping and box turtles running across the lawn last year. I'm glad to see them thriving around here. :)


tsadjatko profile image

tsadjatko 5 years ago from maybe (the guy or girl) next door

Great hub ... yeah Tennesee is full of box turtles! and snappers - two of my favorites!


IsadoraPandora profile image

IsadoraPandora 5 years ago from Florida, PCB Author

Thank you! We are expecting more snappers and boxes to hatch out in our yard this year. Oh the fun!


Aquatic Guru profile image

Aquatic Guru 5 years ago from Goodspring, Tennessee

All I can say is WOW! Amazing setup! I love how you use the natural biological filter! I lecture people all the time about cycling their fish tanks! I may have to try this myself Great Hub ,voting up!


IsadoraPandora profile image

IsadoraPandora 5 years ago from Florida, PCB Author

Thanks so much!

That is the main way I have filtered my tanks for all my life. Gotta love plants! Right now I have a natural hermit crab setup I am working on. Gotta get pictures and write a new Hub about that.


PADDYBOY60 profile image

PADDYBOY60 5 years ago from Centreville Michigan

Very cool hub. Thanks. Cute little snapper.


IsadoraPandora profile image

IsadoraPandora 5 years ago from Florida, PCB Author

Thank you!! It was a lot of fun to write it.

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