best substrate for musk turtle

Musk turtles are great for pets. They don’t get as big as other species, which means you can keep them in smaller tanks. That being said it is still important to have the right substrate for your musk turtle.

Best substrate for a musk turtle

In my experience, the best substrate for a musk turtle is sand. You can also use gravel, or you can go with a bare bottom.


I firmly believe sand is the best substrate for a musk turtle. It is very similar to the freshwater bottoms of rivers and lakes where they live in the wild.

It is very common for musk turtles to dig and even burrow themselves in the ground. Sometimes they do this to rest and hide, and sometimes to acclimate to a temperature.

Sand is a great substrate for digging since it is loose and easy to move apart. If you plan to add sand to your musk turtle tank, you should watch my video below.

Since musk turtles frequently look for food at the bottom of their tank, it is not uncommon for them to accidentally get some substrate in their mouth. Since sand is so small, it can easily pass through their digestion system without causing a blockage.

Lastly, I think sand looks the best aesthetically. There is also a range of colors you can choose from, including white, tan, and black.

Make sure you wash your sand before you put it into your tank. This will help clean the sand, and will prevent it from floating to the top of the aquarium.


Gravel is also another solid choice for a musk turtle substrate. It is relatively easy to dig through, and it is also similar to their natural habitat.

The biggest downside of gravel is that it can cause health problems if ingested. For this reason, it is important to make sure that you have the right size gravel.

You can either get small gravel that is small enough to pass through your musk turtle’s digestive system, or you can get large pieces that are bigger than their head so they can’t fit it in their mouth.

Similar to sand, gravel can add a nice aesthetic to your tank and comes in different colors. It’s also worth mentioning that you can add a combination of gravel and sand to your tank.

Ideally, you should put gravel on the bottom, and then put a layer of sand on top. This is a great substrate if you want to grow plants in your turtle tank.

Bare bottom

bare bottom musk turtle tank

While it is not my favorite, I should mention that you can also go with a bare bottom. This means that you don’t have any substrate in your turtle tank.

The best part about having a bare bottom is that you don’t have to spend time preparing your substrate, and your tank will be easier to clean. It also makes it much easier if you need to move your tank.

On the downside, it is not natural to a musk turtle’s habitat, and personally I think it makes the tank look weird.

Secondly, having a substrate can help cultivate healthy bacteria in your tank.

You can learn more tips in my guide on how to care for a musk turtle.

How much substrate for a musk turtle tank?

The amount of substrate that you put in your musk turtle tank will depend on the size and depth of the water.

That being said, I generally advise people to have at least 3-4 inches of substrate in their tank. This will give your musk turtle enough space to dig and burrow themselves in the tank.

It will also give your plants enough space to spread their roots if you plan on having a planted aquarium.

After you choose the type and amount of substrate, it is important that you correctly put it into your tank.

How to add substrate to your musk turtle tank

The biggest mistake I see people make is that they don’t properly wash their substrate before they put it into their tank. Cleaning the substrate is important for two main reasons.

Number 1, it helps remove any dust or sediment that is attached to your substrate. If you don’t clean the substrate, your tank water will almost certainly turn cloudy when you put the substrate in. It can take days or even weeks for your water to clear after this.

Secondly, washing the substrate can help remove any dangerous bacteria or toxins from the substrate. Ideally, you should be buying from a reputable store, but in some cases there is a chance that the substrate has a dangerous substance on it. Washing it before putting it into your tank can help mitigate this risk.

You can put the substrate into the tank first, or you can put it in after the water. If there is already water in your tank, make sure to lay the substrate down gently so that it doesn’t cause a build up of dust in the water. I suggest that you remove your musk turtle from the tank while you add the substrate.


I hope this article helped explain why substrate is important for your musk turtle tank. While sand is my top choice, you also have the option of using gravel or a bare bottom. Whatever you choose, make sure you clean the substrate before putting it into the tank.

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