This section covers the equipment and water conditions that are needed to keep turtles.
What do I use to house my turtle?
Turtles can be housed in glass aquariums, or, when older, in outdoor ponds.
The turtle aquarium should provide ample swimming room and an area where the turtle can get out of the water. Specially made turtle tanks have a gravel-covered glass ledge built-in, but an area built up with rocks is equally suitable. The land area need not be very large, since turtles spend nearly all their time in the water. However, if not provided with a resting place baby turtles may become weakened and drown. It is also important for shell development that the turtle spends some time out of water.
For baby turtles, an aquarium of 25 liters (16″) will provide enough room, but a turtle will generally outgrow this sized aquarium in 12 to 18 months. Aquariums of 35 to 60l (18″, 24″) and above are better since these will house a turtle comfortably for a number of years. Bowls and very small aquariums are not suitable except for very short-term accommodation.
What other equipment do I need?
Very little additional equipment is needed. The most important consideration is filtration because although turtles do not need very highly oxygenated water, they can be quite messy. A small turtle aquarium may be able to be maintained without a filter, but will generally need to be cleaned once every few days. If water quality is allowed to deteriorate, the turtle will be far more likely to succumb to infections, particularly fungus.
Internal power filters are the best filtration system for turtle tanks of up to 100l. For larger aquariums, canister filters are ideal and can cope easily with the mess made by larger turtles. Large internal power filters can also be used but may struggle to keep the tank really clean. Turtles need primarily mechanical filtration to keep their aquaria clean, and carbon is a useful addition for improving water clarity and removing odors.
Heating is the other consideration. It is needed in some cases and not in others. We recommend you read about the temperature requirements of turtles below.
Proper aquarium lighting is highly beneficial, although not essential. Light helps turtles to synthesis vitamin D, and although this is included in most proper turtle diets, deficiencies may occur in turtles that lack sufficient exposure to light. If lighting is not used it is recommended that the turtle tank is positioned to receive some diffuse sunlight, or that the turtle is placed in a sunny spot for a few minutes at least twice a week.
What temperature is best?
Turtles are happiest at temperatures between 20°C and 28°C, with 22°C to 26°C being optimal. Therefore, depending on the temperature in your house heating of the turtle tank may not be necessary, or maybe needed only over the colder weather.
If you are unsure whether the heating is required, or as a safeguard, in any case, the temperature of the turtle aquarium should be monitored using an aquarium thermometer. (Either the floating or stick-on type is suitable.) The danger zone for turtles of all sizes is between 12 and 18°C. If the temperature drops much below 20°C, the turtle may stop eating, leading to starvation, weakness, and greatly reduced disease resistance. Alternatively, the turtle may eat but be unable to properly digest its food due to a lack of warmth. This can result in intestinal gangrene, which can cause death. If the temperature is consistently below 12°C (A condition highly unlikely to occur indoors!) the turtle will go into hibernation. Baby turtles should generally not be allowed to hibernate since they lack sufficient fat reserves. Therefore, baby turtles should be kept at temperatures above 20°C.
At too high a temperature (above 28°C) shell damage can occur, leading to fungal infections of the shell. Also, the turtle’s metabolism increases with temperature, and too fast metabolism can result in sudden, apparently unexplained, death. In hot weather turn off any lighting and be sure the tank is out of direct sunlight. The temperature can be lowered by exchanging some of the water with cooler water, directing a breeze across the water surface, or adding a few ice cubes to the tank. Although turtles are more tolerant than fish, drastic temperature changes should be avoided.
What maintenance is required?
In a filtered aquarium, partial water changes of around 25 to 30% of the tank volume should be carried out every 2 to 3 weeks. At the same time, any debris should be siphoned out and mechanical filter media should be rinsed (although this probably need not be done as often where canister filtration is used).
In unfiltered aquariums, debris should be siphoned out as often as necessary (potentially every few days) and around 25% of the water exchanged once a week.
What water should I use?
In most areas tap water is suitable for turtles. In nature, turtles live in relatively hard and alkaline waters. Turtles are not affected by chlorine as fish are, so it is not essential to use a water conditioner. However, turtles are sensitive to heavy metals and since most water conditioners remove these also they are still recommended if you are unsure about your water quality. Rainwater is generally too soft and acidic to be ideal, but it can be mixed with bore water to provide suitable water for turtles where tap water is unavailable or unsuitable.
What pH is best?
A slightly alkaline pH (above 7) is best for turtles. Regular water changes with slightly alkaline water (eg tap water) will ensure that the pH does not fall too low (ie acidic). A low pH will attack the turtles shell and skin, promoting fungal infections. In addition, a turtle neutraliser block can be placed in the aquarium as an extra safeguard against low pH.