Tyrannosaurus Pets

Aquatic Turtle Care Sheet

Trachemys spp., Pseudemys spp, Graptemys spp.

This care sheet will take you through the basic care of the more common species of turtle and terrapin.  Turtles can be a lot of fun, they are full of character and active, however they don’t like to be picked up and will often try to bite.  The biggest problem with turtles can be their size.  When buying a turtle always find out how big it will be as an adult.  A lot of the commonly available species such as red and yellow bellied sliders, red eared terrapins, soft shelled turtles, and even some species of map turtle can grow quite large. Some of these animals will reach 30cm, or even bigger.  At Tyrannosaurus Pets we try to stock smaller species such as Reeves turtles, or musk turtles.  These tend to be full size at around 6” making them much easier to house properly.


The easiest way to house small turtles is in a fish tank.  For smaller species like the Reeves, and musk turtles a 90cm fish tank is large enough to house up to three adult animals.  For animals reaching 20 -30cm adult size a tank 1.2m x 60cm is about the minimum for even a single animal.  Large plastic/fibreglass tubs used for quarantining fish make excellent housing for larger turtles although they are less attractive than the glass tanks they are study, practical, and a lot cheaper than a glass tank of the same dimensions.

The turtles will need an island to climb out onto.  This can be a couple of bricks or paving slabs, some slate or other rock, or a purpose built island such as the zoomed turtle dock.

Young turtles need to be able to put their feet on the floor of the tank and be able to poke their noses out of the water surface.  For baby turtles this means a water depth of two or three inches.  As the turtles grow the water can get deeper.

Do not put sand or gravel on the base of the tank.  This becomes a trap for uneaten food and other waste.  It makes cleaning the tank almost impossible.  Turtles have also been known to eat the stones while hunting for food, and this can cause them some serious problems.  The exception to this is some species of soft shelled turtle need a bed of soft sand to burrow into.


Depending on the species, turtles need a water temperature of between 20’c and 28’c.  They also need a basking temperature of between 26’c and 34’c.  You should be advised of the correct temperature for your species when you buy the animal.  To heat the water we use a fish tank heater.  With larger turtles it is a good idea to put a guard around this to stop them from breaking it.  Make sure that the water heater is a type that can be completely submerged.  When you have put this into the tank make sure that there is no way that the turtle can lift the heater out of the water as this will cause it to crack.  To heat the air use a basking lamp in a clamp or dome fitting attached to the side or above the tank.  This needs to be aimed at the basking platform.


Like many species of lizard, turtles need access to a good quality UVB lighting system in order to develop a proper skeleton, and a nice solid shell.  This needs to be suspended above the island. There is no need to have the UVB lamp the full length of the tank as the water will reflect the UV back up.  The turtles will only be receiving the benefit when they are basking.

A high output UV lamp like an Arcadia D3+12% UVB or Zoomed 10.0 UVB are the most suitable.  A common mistake with UV lights is to wait till the bulb stops working before buying a new one, however the effective UV output drops off over time, so the lamps need to be replaced regularly even if they are still emitting light.  Not all brands of UV have the same output, and many cheaper lamps can lose much of the UV output within 3 or 4 months, the recommended lamps will last for a year before needing to be replaced. 

Recently a range of UV lamps have been developed specifically for aquatic turtles.  We have used the Arcadia turtle arc pod which works very well for smaller species.  The bulb is housed in a special plastic cover which stops any water splashing onto it.  The unit is fitted with a clamp and simply attaches to the side of the tank.


Most commonly available turtles will thrive on a pre-prepared dry turtle food such as Zoomed aquatic turtle food.  These are available in a range of sizes and are easy to feed.  For young turtles it is a good idea to soak the pellets for five minutes before putting them into the tank, this makes them easier for your pet to eat.  Only offer enough pellets to feed your turtles for two to three minutes.  Remove any food left after this time.  The pellets are a highly concentrated food source and the turtles will happily over eat.  Feed young turtles every day.  As the turtle grows cut down on how often you offer them pellets.  At about nine months of age drop down to 6 days per week with pellets.  About every three months after that drop off another day until you are feeding pellets two or three times per week. Most turtles are omnivorous, and the pellets contain a mix of animal and vegetable ingredients similar to the turtle's natural diet.  Other foods can be used to supplement the pellets, or as a treat.  Fresh water fish, shellfish, lean steak, and live insects can all be used as high protein foods or treats.  Offer these no more than once per week.  Plant matter can also be added to the tank.  Gold fish pond weed (elodea) can be left floating in the tank. Remove any lead weights attached to the plants as the turtle may accidentally swallow them. Also green leafy vegetables such as endive, romaine lettuce, or water cress can be used. Avoid using foods from the cabbage family as these contain a chemical that binds up the calcium in the diet making it indigestible.  Plant food should be offered daily to adult turtles, it is the more concentrated dry foods that we need to control.

Cleaning the tank

A good quality filter will reduce the amount of times that the tank will need to be fully cleaned out.  The sponges in the filter should be cleaned weekly.  With turtles we are more concerned with mechanical filtration (removing solid waste from the water) than biological filtration (using ‘friendly’ bacteria to break down chemicals in the water).  Because of this you can simply clean out the sponges in a bucket of tap water.  If you want to spend less time on cleanouts you can maintain the filter in the same way as you would in a fish tank. Clean the sponges in a bucket of water taken from the tank, and always dechlorinate the tap water before refilling the tank.  The turtles will not have a problem with the chlorine but it will kill any filtration bacteria living in your sponges.  You will need to completely empty and refill the tank from once per week to once per month depending on how big the turtles are, how much water is in the tank, and what the turtles are fed.  There is no hard and fast rule about this, but I normally clean mine out as soon as the water goes slightly cloudy.

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Tyrannosaurus Pets