Last Updated on September 12, 2020 by Anne Thynne
Having a turtle as a pet is refreshing, relaxing, and rewarding.
Their hardened shell, slow response (cognition), and long life-span are some of the aspects which make their care-taking or raising an easy task.
Turtles have aquatic/semi-aquatic life cycle while some species are totally land animals. As these turtles are slow and rest most of their time, they have a very low metabolic rate. No wonder Turtles have become a favorite pet because of their mesmerizing characteristics.
The best turtle tank setup replicates the ideal conditions as their natural habitats. Turtles tank are a bit different than regular fish tanks. Since turtles do not require high maintenance costs, setting up their tank is the only challenging task you will ever face.
Table of Contents
- What Does a Turtle Need in It’s Tank?
- What Size of Tank Does a Turtle Need?
- Why Small Tanks are Not Good for Aquatic Turtles?
- What Shape of the Tank is Better?
- Selecting the Best Turtle Tanks
- Right Type of Basking Area for the Turtle
- Filtration System For Turtle Tank
- Substrate For Turtle Tank
- Water Heater and Thermometer
- Tank Cover
What Does a Turtle Need in It’s Tank?
A turtle tank is not similar to a fish tank (aquarium). In their natural habitats, they spend a significant amount of time on land. Hence, the tank must have both water and land area spacious enough for the turtle.
Apart from providing land and water eco-system for your turtle, you must install a few other necessities which include –
- Proper Basking & Lighting System: This will stimulate growth and nutrition. Do not place the tank directly under sunlight. You can install an ultra-violet (UVA and UVB) light emitting bulb. The UV light will enhance proper growth of bones and strengthen the shells.
- Proper Warmth: With an additional bulb to maintain the ideal temperature of the tank, the water should be warm, and the temperature must be around 95F on the warmer side. The cooler side must be about 75F. An overhead lamp can be used to warm up the swimming water as well as the basking area.
- Clean Water: A water filter will help you clean the tank water regularly. It also aids in removing harmful substrates from the water that accumulate from the metabolic byproducts of a turtle.
What Size of Tank Does a Turtle Need?
The size of the tank for the turtle must vary depending on the turtle’s age, size, and the species you own.
While your tank must have both land and water setup, it is essential that you should maintain the ideal size of the tank depending on the size of the turtle.
Although different species have different lifestyles, these turtles are excellent swimmers. So, providing ample swimming space is an essential factor to enable healthy growth in them.
The size of the tank is decided primarily by comparing with the size of the turtle:
- Turtles between 4 to 6 inches (baby turtles) – 20 or 30 gallon size tank
- Turtles between 6 to 8 inches – 50 to 55 gallon size tank
- Turtles above 8 inches size – 75 to 125 gallon size tank
Why Small Tanks are Not Good for Aquatic Turtles?
As stated earlier, aquatic turtles are excellent swimmers. They require sufficient space to maintain their regular lifestyle. The tank must have both water and land set up so that the turtle can rest and dry its shell.
Smaller tanks cannot accommodate this type of setup which will result in many health issues. The land area must have a sun lamp so that it can bask in the warmth of the light.
Turtles will make the water dirty faster, and if you have a smaller tank, you will find the tank mucky within no time. If you have more than one turtle, a smaller tank will likely induce fight among them, and it is not healthy for them.
In summary, smaller tanks will cause health issues amongst the turtles and are not recommended.
What Shape of the Tank is Better?
Having an appropriate shape of the tank along with the right size is very important. The tank must not be small for the turtle, especially if it flips upside down. In case the turtle flips itself, it must have additional space to turn back or else it will drown and die.
So, your tank must be broad and deep enough. It is recommended to change the shape and size of the tank along with the growing turtle. For a juvenile turtle, a 20 gallon will suffice, but it won’t be suitable when the turtle grows.
Other than depth, there should be enough land/basking area for these turtles. This setup varies depending on the species you want to raise.
For Red-Eared Sliders, multiply the adult size of the turtle by 5, and the resulting number is the length of the tank. Since turtles are reptiles, females are larger than males. Hence, you will need a larger and deeper tank if you are raising females.
Adult Red-Ear males will measure between 7-9 inches while females measure between 10-12 inches. If you have two males who are juveniles, you will require at least a 48-inch-long and 24-inch-high tank.
The mud turtles like to spend most of their time in sun-bathing. This does not mean they do not require water; in fact, it is ideal to have a tank as large as possible.
A tank must contain 66% (2/3rd) water and the remainder (1/3rd) should be the basking area.
Our recommended size is 6 inches of water floor per inch of the size of the turtle. For young turtle 20 gallons, for sub-adults 40 gallons, and for adults 50-100 gallons are suggested.
Unlike the mud turtle, musk turtles spend most of their time in the water. Considering this point, it is wise to provide a large swimming area for the turtle. In nature, these species rarely bask in the sun. They usually rest at the bottom of their aquatic habitat.
In captivity, these turtles will rest in the basking area, and hence it is suggested to provide a smaller land area. Since these turtles spend most of their time in the water, a deeper and broader space (if you have more than one) is highly recommended.
Younger mud turtles require 60 inches long and 30 inches deep tank whereas adults need 80 inches long and 40 inches deep.
These are small turtles and are suitable for people who have limited housing space. The Reeve turtle also known as the Chinese pond turtle necessitate smaller tanks compared to most other pet turtles.
An adult reeve turtle will require a 20-gallon tank with adequate basking area similar to the red ear sliders. Reeve turtles are not good swimmers as most other species. They usually spend their time in shallow waters so that they can breathe without swimming.
Therefore, shallow water tanks are suitable for them. If you plan to put them in a large water tank, make sure you provide access to the sub-surface resting area for the turtle to breath.
A turtle needs an ample amount of space for its daily activities. It requires sufficient space to swim, rest, and bask. The recommended size for most of the turtles are their sizes multiplied by 5 or 10.
Make sure the size of the tank changes with the growth of the turtle. An adult turtle requires more space, and on average a 75 to 100-gallon tank size is recommended.
Selecting the Best Turtle Tanks
Once you have outlined the size and shape of the tank, it is essential for you to understand about the compatibility of these tanks for different species (red-ear-slider, mud, musk, Reeve). Some of them are designed to support all species while some aren’t.
1. Tetra Deluxe Aquatic Turtle Kit
We begin our list of product reviews with starters in mind, and the first product is a perfect choice. The 20-gallon Tetra deluxe aquatic turtle kit has everything a beginner seeks.
It has all the essentials a starter kit requires. The tank has decorative filters known as Tetrafauna Decorative ReptoFilter® with three cartridges. Along with the filter, it has Tetrafauna turtle basking system for the turtle to rest (bask).
For appropriate heating, the dome has one 50W heating bulb and one 13W UVB light installed in two different vaults (5.5 inches each). The tank can hold up to 20 gallons which is suitable for turtles, newts, and frogs.
One of the best features of this tank is the three-stage filtration system. It keeps the water clean and removes any odor from the water if present. Its large holes which intake water during filtration will prevent the clogging during the filtration process.
Another attractive feature is that the ReptoFilter creates a decorative waterfall and basking area for the turtle. This feature makes the tank very attractive in terms of looks.
Unlike few other tanks, the accessories provided in Tetra Deluxe aquatic turtle kit will last very long. It is the best turtle tank kit especially for amateurs who are still in the learning process. You do not require frequent replacement of the accessories.
The major downside is that the tank is not suitable for adults or if you have more than one turtle. It is evident that turtles grow slowly in size, herein, this tank will serve its purpose on a longer period than anticipated.
Without a doubt, the Tetra deluxe aquatic turtle kit is a quality kit which has everything you need. Once appropriately researched, this product will be a perfect kit for beginners.
- Has everything required for beginners
- A superior quality of accessories
- Attractive waterfall and basking areas
- Three-stage filter system
- Excellent for juvenile (young) turtle
- Can be used for all types of pet turtles
- Not suitable if you have more than one turtle
- Tank must be replaced once the turtle reaches its adulthood
- No size options
2. Zilla Premium Rimless Aquatic Turtle Kit
Some users are big fans of traditional setups for their pets. This is not always feasible and mainly if you have limited space. The Zilla rimless kit mimics the traditional habitat of the turtle with a slight addition of twist.
It includes a stylish chamfered front, a terrarium which is open-topped, a heating lamp, and a UVB bulb. Similar to the Tetra deluxe, the Zilla turtle kit is also a 20-gallon size tank suitable for young pets.
The double filtration system of the tank will also serve as a natural basking and climbing area for the turtle. Its open top system will prevent unnecessary infestation of bacteria and other microorganisms.
With the chamfered front, you will enjoy watching your turtle swim or rest in its terrarium. This tank is suitable for a single young turtle. It provides sufficient space for the turtle to swim, rest, and hide.
The open top system also provides a large access area for you to clean the tank without removing much of the accessories.
One of the major drawbacks of this tank is the filtration system occupies a large portion of the tank making the swimming area a little less for the turtle. Large basking platforms are required for adults. Therefore, in case you want to raise an adult turtle in this tank, the basking area will be ideal but not the tank size.
A surprising addon with the tank is the inclusion of aquatic turtle food, water conditioner, and a setup guide which most other manufacturers do not provide. The turtle food can be an excellent plus for beginners.
While open top tanks are right when you consider certain points, it is not ideal if you have other nosy pets in your home, like cats, racoons, and birds. It can be a serious problem for juvenile turtles. They may continuously try to pull or claw the turtle unless they are correctly trained.
- An excellent tank which replicates natural habitat of the turtle
- Open top tank with chamfered front
- 20-gallon s ze tank suitable for young turtles
- Attractive basking area
- Turtle food, water conditioner, and setup guide included
- Basking area occupies most of the space
- Not ideal if you have untrained or territorial natured pets
3. Reptile Habitat Setup Aquarium Tank Kit
If you are limited with space, you should consider buying the Reptile habitat setup aquarium tank kit. The kit is a compact and occupies very less space than most turtle tanks. It is a 10-gallon tank which has all the essentials that a kit must have.
The tank does have a complicated setup. It is simple and minimalistic in design. For beginners, it can be a great kit as it does not confuse the user with complicated installation system.
This tank has locking lit, and on top of that, there is a 60 Watt LED heating bulb. You can select a plastic or a glass tank depending on your choice as there are both options available.
The basking platform has a hiding hole beneath it submerged in the water. This feature conserves space, and it plays a dual role (basking and hiding). A decent water filter system is included within the package.
You will also get a setup guide and turtle food along with the purchase.
That’s it; these are all the things included in the Reptile habitat kit. You will not have UVA or UVB light, no thermostat in the LED light, and more importantly, space.
It is a 10-gallon tank which means it is not very suitable for juvenile turtles too. Younger turtles require at least a 20-gallon size tank so that it can swim properly. But this tank is half the recommended size.
Another major drawback of the tank is the filter. The Tetra-whisper 2-10i filter is not a great filter in terms of functionality. It occasionally fails to function, and even a fully functioning filter does not perform well.
Even though this tank has limited space, it can be used for a few years until the turtle grows in size. Apart from that, this kit will be advantageous because of its compact size. It can be easy to carry, and it occupies less space in your house.
- Small and compact size tank
- Easy to carry and install
- Turtle food and setup guide included
- LED heating bulb
- Lock Lid
- Basking area has a hiding hole
- Small tank (10-gallon) not suitable for all juvenile turtles
- No UVA and UVB lights
- No thermostat for the LED bulb
- Poor water filter
4. Perfecto Manufacturing 125 Gallon Aquarium Tank
If you are looking for a basic turtle tank and want to customize it on your own, then Perfecto Manufacturing 125-gallon aquarium tank is the best choice. It is designed for hobbyists and professionals who seek to create or decorate the tank on their own.
The tank is a large 125-gallon model made with distortion proof glass. It will last for years without any structural damage. You can use this for long without worrying about scratches and leaks.
You will find it suitable for an adult turtle and 2-3 young turtles. It gives a plethora of options for you in terms of the turtle you want to raise as well as the accessories you seek to install.
Once correctly installed with all the accessories and equipment, it gives a stunning look to your hallway. Since it does not have any other accessories, it is cheaper than other turtle tank kits.
As this kit does not include any lamp, UVA/UVB, basking, and filter system, you have to buy and install them separately. It is not a beginner friendly kit. The tank is recommended for advanced users since it requires extensive knowledge about a turtle tank setup.
If you do your research and understand the requirements of a turtle, you can purchase this tank without a doubt. As it is durable and long lasting, you can keep experimenting with the tank. But again, make sure you do proper research.
- Large 125-gallon tank
- Durable and distortion free glass
- Suitable for multiple juveniles or one adult
- Great kit for advanced users or hobbyists
- No other accessories included
- Not beginner friendly
5. Rubbermaid Commercial Structural Foam Stock Tank
The final product in our turtle tank setup reviews is the Rubbermaid commercial structural foam stock tank. This tank is for those users who want more functionality than aesthetics.
However, the tank may not be eye-pleasing for most users. It is a large 70-gallon (other options are available from 50 – 150 Gallon) foam water tank which is very easy to maintain. The tank has a water draining system at the bottom with which you can remove the water whenever cleaning is required.
If you don’t care about the appearance of your turtle habitat, then this tank will suit you. The tank is deep and wide enough to provide sufficient swimming space for your turtle. It is one of the most comfortable turtle tank setups, both for the user and the turtle.
The thick foam-built rubber tank is very durable and will last for years. Its superior build quality makes it a versatile tank which can be used for other purposes like bathing other pets like dogs, as a drinking water source for pets, duck ponds and much more.
Like the Perfecto Manufacturing tank, this tank also does not have any other accessories within the package. You must buy all the essentials and work your way in installing the basking area.
Installing the heating lamps, UVA, and UVB bulbs is a major challenge with this tank. The tank is not ideal for beginners since it is designed for commercial purposes. It is suitable for commercial turtle farmers who sell turtles as pets.
- Large durable tank
- The tank is wide and deep enough for the turtle
- Suitable for juvenile and sub-adult turtles
- Oversized water draining system
- Very easy to clean
- Not a great kit for beginners
- Aesthetically unpleasant for aquatic turtle tank setups
- No other accessories provided
Right Type of Basking Area for the Turtle
Turtles are reptiles, and reptiles are cold-blooded animals (except few). They rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature. Turtles frequently stay in and out of the water to control their metabolism.
In their natural habitat, turtles rest on tree logs, rocks or hide under holes and use the heat of the sun and surroundings to warm their bodies. The ultra-violet light (UVA and UVB) from the sun will also help the turtle to strengthen its shell.
Your turtle tank must replicate these conditions by providing an appropriate basking area. Most commercially sold basking sets are suitable for small or sub-adult turtles. Floating turtle doc is a good solution to save space and provide basking area without sacrificing water volume of the tank.
So, it is essential that your basking area must meet the following conditions:
- It should be large enough for the adult to rest.
- It should bear the weight of one or more turtles and must be stable.
- The dock should easily accessible for the turtle with an appropriate ramp.
- It should not consume most of the space in the tank.
- The basking area must be safe and discourage escaping of the turtle.
If all the criteria are met, you can now move on to other important features required.
The most important factor of the basking area is providing an ideal temperature for the turtle. Ultra-violet light, especially the UVB is required for strengthening the bones and shell of the turtle.
There are many lamps which provide normal daylight, UVA, and UVB. These single lamps are mercury vapor lamps which are self-ballasted. If you don’t have sufficient space for two different lamps (heating and UV), you can opt for these self-ballasted lamps.
These all-in-one bulbs consume a high amount of electricity, and sometimes it is not suitable for the turtles especially when you need low level UV light. Hence it is ideal to install two different light sources which function as a heating source and a UV source. I like the zoo med combo pack for a complete solution for heating and UV.
The recommended UVB lamp for aquatic turtle is 2.5%, 3% and 5% lamps. These lamps are ideal for almost all species of turtles you raise in your tank. Don’t go for the lamps with more than 7% UVB as they are made for desert reptiles and not suitable for aquatic turtles.
Don’t place the lamp too close to the basking area. It should be at least 13 inches high so that the ideal amount of UVB exposure is attained.
In dual lamp setups, the other one used to heat the surroundings and the basking area is the heating lamp. It is also known as daylight lamp. These lamps are regular incandescent lamps which generate light and heat.
They are used to warm up the basking area as well as the upper layers of the water. Adult turtles require an average of 85-90F (29 to 32C) temperature in their basking area whereas the babies need 90-95F (32 to 35C).
Some heating lamps have mirror reflectors which concentrate the heat on a certain point. If you place the lamp at a sufficient height, it provides a wide range of temperature options for the turtle.
The light should be placed in such a way that the primary beam of the light is focused on the center of the basking area. So, if a turtle seeks hot climate, it will move to the center, and if it seeks a little warmer weather, it will move to the edges of the basking area.
Providing variable temperatures in the basking area will help the turtle to select its resting spot actively.
Ramp to Access the Basking Area
The basking area must be readily accessible to the turtle. The ramp should be simple and allow entry and exit from the basking area. Make sure the ramp slopes into the river so that the turtle can climb on it from the water.
It should be made from materials which do not harm or injure the turtle. The ramp must encourage the natural basking instinct in the turtle. You must select a large ramp so that it will not break or submerge due to the weight of the turtle.
Some turtles grow to a large size, especially the female red-ear sliders. They will grow up to 10 inches long, and you must ensure that the ramp is strong enough to support the movement of the turtle.
Filtration System For Turtle Tank
Unlike fishes, turtles will make the water murky in a lesser period. You must provide a good water filtration system such that it will clear the waste byproducts of the turtle actively.
Install a filter that can clean the water at a larger capacity. It is advised to install a filter that is capable of cleaning 100-gallons of water in a 50-gallon tank. By this way, you will ensure that the water stays clean for more extended periods and it also eliminates the regular cleaning requirements of the tank.
The most popular filters used in turtle tanks are the canister filters, hang on back filters, and submersible filters. Each filter has various advantages and is designed depending on the size of the tank and the turtle you own.
My personal choice is the MarineLand Magniflow Canister Filter. But if you have the budget then definitely go for the Fluval FX6 canister filter for premium performance. Learn more about our in depth reviews regarding the best filters for turtle tanks.
Substrate For Turtle Tank
The substrate is one of the attractive features of all the tanks. Be it a terrarium or an aquarium; the substrate gives natural and beautiful features to the setup. Having a substrate in turtle tanks has mixed opinions among users.
Some species such as red-ear sliders and painted back turtles will eat the substrate and can become lethally sick. For these species, it is better to have a plain glass or tile bottom tank.
The various substrate options for the turtle tanks are:
Sand or Fine Sand
It is a favorite substrate used in most of the aquariums. The freshwater aquarium sand will have the least risk to the turtle out of all the substrates available. Substrate eating turtles such as red-ear sliders will have fewer problems with sand because it will not block the intestinal tract.
They can expel them out quickly. Although the sand will not suck up the waste from the turtle, it will be a little difficult to clean. Compared to gravel and rocks, it is relatively easy to clean. You will only find it difficult when the tank requires frequent cleaning.
Caribsea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand is an excellent choice in my opinion.
River Rock or Pebbles
The river rocks when mixed with sand or gravel will look very naturalistic and attractive. Complete river rock or pebble setup is not advised as it has impaction risks too.
The crevices and spaces between the rocks trap the waste and turtle poop. It is a very tough job to clean the tank if you have a full rock or pebble set up. A mix of your favorite substrate with few river rocks will aesthetically please the users.
Fluorite is also known as Fluorspar. It is a fluoride of calcium which occurs in the form of crystals. Finely ground fluorite is one of the best substrates for the turtle tank. The impaction risk is very low, and even if the turtle consumes, it becomes a good source of calcium.
The major downside of this substrate is its maintenance. You need to thoroughly clean the tank with the filter when you put down the fluorite. It is advised to run the filter without the turtle (with the only substrate) for a day or two so that the water becomes clear.
Fluorite is excellent if you plan to use live plants (not floating) in the turtle tank. It supports aquarium plants to grow and mimic a natural habitat.
The crushed coral is suitable for sea turtles (salt water turtles). It acts as an excellent pH replenishing medium if your water has a low pH. You can use this substrate along with other substrates such as sand or fluoride for freshwater turtles.
The impaction risk is low, and it is also rich in calcium. Hence, consumption of coral will not pose any serious threat. Use crushed coral only if you are worried about balancing the alkaline conditions of the tank.
Bare Bottom or Tile Bottom or Glass Bottom
This is a no substrate bottom of the turtle tank. This system will not be as good looking as substrate filled turtle tanks. The best part is it is effortless to clean than all other substrate systems.
Since there is nothing to remove or clean from the bottom of the tank, all you need to do is change or clean the water. Regular cleaners will find this system super attractive. If appearance is not your thing, you can switch to bare bottom tank setup.
Gravel is the least preferred substrate for the turtle tank. It has high impaction risk, and it may cause serious health problems to your turtle. Gravel is also difficult to clean as it traps the waste effectively.
It does not provide any support to the plants and hence not suggested if you are willing to use planted trees.
Turtle tank substrate will make the tank very attractive. A mixture of various substrates is advised if you have proper knowledge. Using sand and stones is a great plus if you don’t wish to use planted trees.
Plants in a terrarium require an appropriate medium to grow. Fluorite will be an excellent choice for this purpose.
Make sure you thoroughly clean the substrate. If you are using sand, fluorite or crushed coral, wash them thoroughly with running water. Repeat the process at least 5-6 times.
To clean the rocks, wash them and boil them in hot water such that fungi and algae will die. Finally, after placing the substrate in the tank, it is good to run the filter for a couple of days without the turtle in it.
Here you will find a few more options for your turtle tank substrate.
Water Heater and Thermometer
As stated earlier, turtles are cold-blooded animals, and they rely on their surrounding temperature to maintain their daily metabolic activities. This does not mean that you have to provide any range of temperature conditions to the turtle.
The ideal water temperature requirement for the turtles is between 70-75 degree Fahrenheit. Although you provide a heating system in the basking area with appropriate lamps, having a separate heater for water is mandatory.
There are two major types of heaters; submersible and in-line. The submersible heaters can be installed inside the tank whereas the in-line water heater should be installed with a canister filter. It means that if you want an in-line water heater, you must have a canister water filter too.
For measuring the temperature of the turtle tank, you need two thermometers; one for the basking area, and the other for the water. To measure the water temperature, you can use any aquarium thermometer or an LCD thermometer. Just make sure it is not a glass thermometer as the turtle may break it and injure itself.
Having a tank cover will protect the turtle from excess heat and natural predators. Although it is not essential to have a tank cover, it plays a crucial role if you have other pets in your home or if your turtle is an escape artist.
A heatproof turtle tank cover will protect the turtle if the heating lamp breaks. Since these heating lamps will become too hot, there are chances for them to break. Tank covers will come handy in such situations.
Clamping the tank cover is required if the turtle is an adult (large) as it tends to climb out of the tank.
Make sure that you don’t use a plexiglass or glass tank covers since they filter the UVB light rendering the UVB light useless.
Turtle tank decorations will add to its beauty and appearance. While it is not necessary to have them, it is always an eye-catching feature. Your turtle will feel secure if you provide enough decorations with hiding places within its tank.
You can add small tree-logs and rocks within the tank and on the basking area. To encourage basking in the turtles, use natural plants (terrestrial or land) in its basking area.
Installing caves within the tank will create a secure feeling for the turtle. Specific water filters are in the form of caves. Just make sure it is wide enough for the turtle to move in and out of it. These enclosure type of decorations must not be small so that the turtle gets trapped.
Other decorations such as small pebbles, rocks, and other non-edible materials must be larger than one inch in diameter to prevent impaction risk. All these materials must be sterilized before putting them in the tank. Avoid sharp objects as it can cause severe injuries to the turtle.
Finally, place the decorations along the walls of the tank so that the turtle can freely swim. Installing live aquatic plants in the center is also suggestible. But many species of aquatic turtles will happily eat them all!
Having a turtle as a pet is fascinating. If you do your research correctly, you can do the best turtle tank setup by yourself. All you need to know is understand the basics, know the right size and shape, learn about appropriate heating conditions, and finally know which species is suitable for your lifestyle.
Remember that having a pet is not only a hobby; it is a commitment. And this commitment is going to be a very long one, because turtles usually have a long life-span.
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