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How to set up an Aquatic Turtle Habitat

Updated on March 18, 2015

Red Ear Slider

Most Importantly.

There are many different kinds of Aquatic Turtles including: map, red ear, painted, and asian leaf turtles.

Turtles are a pretty easy pet to have. There's one important thing to remember if you have, or want to get one. They are potential carriers of infectious diseases, such as Salmonella. It's important to always wash your hands before and after handing your turtle, or habitat contents.

If you are pregnant, or have children under 5 years old this pet is not recommended, as their immune systems are weakened.

While at the pet store make sure you look at your potential new pet. Make sure it is active and alert, has a healthy hard shell, clear bright eyes with no swelling, healthy skin, and a clear nose and vent.

Signs of an unhealthy pet are: discharge coming from the eyes, nose, and mouth. Discoloration of the shell with bumps or spots on it. Abnormal feces, sneezing and a runny nose.

The most common aquatic health issues are a GI tract parasite, Respiratory Infection, Shell Rot or Ulcers. If you notice anything different about your turtle consult your exotic animal veterinarian.

The Basics.

Aquatic turtles can be found in or near water. Most aquatic turtles will leave the water to bask on dry land, but spend most of their time in the water.

The average adult size depending on the species is 5 to 11 inches. They usually reach adult size in 1-2 years under ideal conditions. It's important to upgrade your habitat size as your turtle grows.

They have a life span of 20-40 years with proper care, again depending on the species. So before going out and buying a pet turtle, ask yourself can you commit 20+ years to it?


Juveniles are considered carnivores, and adults are omnivores. A well balanced aquatic turtle diet consists of map and asian leaf, anacharis, live comet goldfish, earthworms, mealworms, bloodworms, snails and crickets. Some turtles also love and appreciate dark, leafy green veggies and finely chopped veggies. They also need a diet that consists mostly of a pelleted commercial diet.

Juveniles need to be fed daily, and adults every other day. Because aquatic turtles do not produce saliva, its important that they eat in the water. If you noticed that the tank is getting really dirty, consider using a separate tank for feeding, as they are messy eaters. You should also sprinkle the food with a calcium supplement daily and a multivitamin supplement once or twice a week.

What You Will Need To Set Up Your Habitat.

  • Appropriately sized habitat. The general rule of thumb is 10 gallons per inch of turle. A decent size to start with is a 40 gallon breeder tank.
  • Screened Lid. Not only to make sure your turtle doesn't escape, but also to rest your lights on.
  • Substrate. Slate, rock, or a large smooth gravel. Make sure that the gravel is to big for your turtle to eat.
  • Turtle Dock. Not all turtles will need this but some species will, such as the red ear slider. This will allow the turtle to bask out of the water.
  • Heat Fixture. - Heat Light. It's recommended that you use radiant heat. Use an incandescent light or ceramic heater as the primary heat source. You want your habitat to consist of 2 different temperatures. Warm/Basking heat should be about 95 degrees F. While the cool end should only be 75 Degrees F.
  • Under Tank Heater. This is your secondary heat source.
  • UVB Lighting. UVB is important for most aquatic turtles, because it helps metabolize calcium for bone, shell, and egg production. UVB Lighting comes in many forms such as: incandescent bulbs, mercury vapor bulbs, compact fluorescents, and tube fluorescents.
  • Filtration. Filtration comes in many forms, they have a filtration unit that looks like rocks, which is my personal favorite. Filtration also comes in the form of a Canister Filter, Over the back Filtration, and side entry filters. Ones that remove nitrates and nitrites will be best for your turtle.
  • Reptisafe or Water Conditioner. You can go either way, but reptisafe has added I personally recommend that. It's very important that fresh, clean, chlorine-free water should be available at all times.

Setting up the tank.

First, Take the tank and wash it, washing away all dust that can accumulate in the tank at the pet store. If you're adding a background do so now. Then, flip your tank over and attach your under the tank heater on the opposite side of your basking side. Next, rinse your substrate. Carefully cover the bottom of your tank with it. Generally about an inch of substrate on the bottom of the tank should be sufficient. There's many different ways that you can place the substrate, and the recommended layout varies by species. Some turtles like a shallow area to sit with their head out of the water, while others just need a basking dock.

After you've finished placing your substrate, it's time for water. You only want to fill it about halfway. If you decided you are going to add a filtration unit, you can put it in now. Also affix your basking dock, or lily pad, or whatever you're going to use as the basking area. Add your reptisafe or water conditioner to the water.

Put your lid on the tank, and place your lights on top, making sure to stay away from anything that can melt or catch on fire. Let the tank get to the correct temperatures before you go out and get your new turtle, or place your turtle back in his tank.

Tank Maintenance.

You will need to thoroughly clean the habitat at least once a week. Place your turtle in a secure habitat while you do so. Scrub the tank and furnishings with a 3% bleach solution. Rinse, Rinse, and Rinse again. Make sure you remove all traces of the bleach smell.

Add clean, dechlorinated water with a temperature range of 70-75 Degrees F. before returning your turtle back in the habitat.

Some Items Needed.

Zilla 28000 20-Gallon Deluxe Aquatic Turtle Kit, 14-1/2-Inch by 32-Inch by 14-3/4-Inch
Zilla 28000 20-Gallon Deluxe Aquatic Turtle Kit, 14-1/2-Inch by 32-Inch by 14-3/4-Inch

This will save you some time and money, as this kit has almost everything you need.



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