If you plan on keeping an aquatic turtle as a pet, it’s important to understand all of the care requirements. While it might seem like a lot of work, the good news is that as long as you get the right set up and have a couple minutes a day, taking care of an aquatic turtle is not hard.
Aquatic Turtle Care
The key to caring for an aquatic turtle is having the right equipment and setup, feeding, daily check-ins, and occasional cleaning.
As long as you follow these three steps, you should have a happy, healthy turtle.
The most important aspect of caring for an aquatic turtle is their equipment. Below I will explain all of the essentials.
Obviously, your aquatic turtle will need a tank. While the size of your tank will vary depending on the type of turtle, you ideally want at least 10 gallons for every inch of your turtles shell. For example, if your turtle will become 7 inches long by the time it is an adult, you will want a tank that is at least 70 gallons.
A big mistake I see people make is adding the wrong type or amount of water to their turtle tank. While you can use tap water for your turtle tank, it is very important that you add a conditioner to the water to remove chemicals such as chlorine and chloramine from the water. If you don’t, this could cause white spots on your turtle’s shell.
Also, it is important that you fill up the majority of your turtle’s tank with water. I’d suggest around 75%, but you can add a little more if you prefer. This is important because you want to give your aquatic turtle enough space to swim. Additionally, having more water will help break down and dilute waste in your tank faster.
Substrate is the material that sits on the bottom of your turtle tank. There are 3 popular options for aquatic turtle substrates: Sand, Large River Rocks, and Bare bottom (no substrate at all). You will want to clean your substrate at least once every month or two to remove waste that’s hidden underneath it.
Every aquatic turtle tank will need a filter. While they can be expensive, they are very important because they help keep your water clean and prevent your turtle from developing diseases. You can learn more in my guide on the best filters for turtles.
With the except of mud and musk turtles, just about all species of aquatic turtles will need a basking platform and light. The platform will need to be easily accessible for your turtle from the water, and it must provide a completely dry space for your turtle.
As for the light, the bulb should be positioned around 6-10 inches away form the basking platform surface. It should emit both UVA and UVB light, and you should make sure the temperature of the basking platform is around 85 to 95 degrees fahrenheight.
While on the topic of temperature, it is also important to mention that you will need a water heater for your turtle tank. While it depends on the species of turtle, most aquatic turtles require a water temperature between 75 and 85 degrees fahrenheight.
Your most important task when it comes to aquatic turtle care is feeding. It’s important that you feed both the right diet, as well as the right amount. Both their diet and feeding frequency will depend on their age and species of turtle. In general, most aquatic turtle will need pellets to be the staple of their diet (around 75%). They should also be fed vegetables, and occasional treats (insects, worms, live fish).
You can learn more in my article on how much and how often to feed a turtle.
It is important that you check your turtle tank at least once a day to make sure everything is functioning properly. Luckily, you can just do this when you feed your turtle. Look around the tank and see if there is any waste that needs to be scooped up with a net.
You should also keep an eye on the water quality and make sure the water hasn’t drastically changed color or temperature. You should also keep an eye on your turtle’s behavior and appearance. If they are acting strange (weird swimming patterns, not basking, not eating, etc) or have a weird physical appearance, it could be a sign that they have a disease.
You will also have to perform occasional cleaning for your aquatic turtle’s tank. The two main tasks will be water and filter changes.
Water changes should be performed every two to four weeks. This should consist of you removing around 25% of the tank’s water and replacing it with fresh water. This will help keep your water clean and will also help prevent the buildup of harmful chemicals. The easiest way to do this is with a big bucket.
Many people forget to clean their filter, but it is essential if you want to keep your water clean. While it depends on the type of filter you have, you will need to clean your filter around every 1 to 4 months. If a filter is not cleaned regularly, its efficiency will be decreased, and it will eventually lose the ability to clean the water.
Aquatic turtle shell care
There is a common misconception that you should regularly clean your aquatic turtle’s shell. The truth is, you should avoid touching your turtle’s shell as long as it looks healthy. A turtle’s shell is actually a part of their backbone, so it is very sensitive. While you can lightly brush it with a toothbrush, I don’t recommend you do this frequently because it can rip off the scutes (square patterns on their shells). While turtles do naturally shed their scutes, you should never rip them off yourselves because it is very painful.
That being said, there are certain measures you should take to ensure that your aquatic turtle has a healthy share. For starters, make sure that their diet includes calcium, which helps their shells grow. You also want to make sure that they are regularly basking, as they can from shell deformities if they stop basking.
While it’s not mandatory, it is beneficial to provide some enrichment for your aquatic turtle. The easiest way to do this is to add toys to your turtle tank. You can also add decorations such as driftwood that gives them stuff to explore.
If you want a more hands on approach, you can also occasionally take your turtle out of their tank. Just make sure that they are in a safe environment.