Can turtles live in fish tanks? Are there better environments for them? What are the best turtle species for fish tanks? In this article I will answer these questions, and more! 

So, here’s the quick and fast answer.

Can turtles go in a fish tank? Yes, they absolutely can. In fact, for the vast majority of turtle owners out there, a fish tank is probably going to be the easiest habitat to place them in. There’s a bunch of reasons for this, as fish tanks are: nice to look at, easy to set-up and easy to acquire. They also come in a variety of sizes, shapes and types, another big advantage. 

The other two most common habitats to place them in are:

  • Indoor plastic tubs
  • Outdoor ponds

Drawbacks to Different Habitats

There are major drawbacks to both of these environments however.

Indoor plastic tubs are perfect for people that want a massive habitat inside the safety and comfort of your home. The problem?

  • They are quite unsightly.
  • They take up more space than fish aquariums.
  • You’ll need to do some custom work in terms of building a basking platform, hooking up your filter and other equipment because most turtle accessories are made with traditional glass aquariums in mind.

These reasons are why pet turtle owners with this type of set-up usually place them in their garage or a spare bedroom.

Now, concerning outdoor ponds, to be quite honest, if I were rich, an outdoor pond would be perfect.

But the biggest drawbacks are obvious:

  • You need even more space than an indoor tub.
  • You’ll have to deal with inclement weather, cold seasons and potential predators.
  • It takes a lot of work and money to set everything up.

Why Fish Aquariums Are Usually Better

Fish aquariums on the other hand, are simply more versatile.

  • They are nicer to look at.
  • The vast majority of fish aquariums are made of see-through glass.
  • The build quality of a lot of aquariums is very good. Even the average ones are quite sturdy and reliable.
  • You can more easily place them on desks, tables, drawers, etc.
  • They can add to the style of a room.

They also come in a variety of sizes, shapes and types. For instance, there are:

  • Aquariums as small as 5 gallons, and ones bigger than 125 gallons!
  • Most aquariums are rectangular, however there are also ones that are circular, square, etc.

Setting these types of aquariums up is a million times easier in my opinion than tubs and outdoor ponds, as:

  • Most filters are designed for fish aquariums.
  • Every single commercially-made basking dock I have ever seen is made for them as well.
  • Other types of equipment, such as water heaters, is also made for fish aquariums.

Lastly, they are easy to acquire. They are easily found in supermarkets, pet shops and through online shopping venues such as Amazon.

The Biggest Disadvantage of a Fish Aquarium

There is one big drawback to using a fish aquarium for your turtle:

  • You need the biggest tank you can get!

The reason for this is that the general rule for aquarium size is:

  • 10 gallons for every 1 inch of shell length, per turtle.

Here’s the thing, red-eared sliders for instance can get huge! It’s common for the females to grow over 12 inches. For a single red-eared slider, ideally you’ll need to get an aquarium that is in the 75 to 125-gallon range. That’s pretty big!

A lot of people make the mistake of getting a small aquarium because they have a young or juvenile turtle. Big mistake! They grow quickly, and you’ll soon need a much larger tank.

Speaking of how quickly turtles can grow, now is a good time to transition to what specific types of turtles work best in fish tanks.

The Best Turtles for Fish Tanks

The 3 most popular groups of turtles among pet owners are:

  • Aquatic turtles
  • Box turtles
  • Tortoises

The best type of turtle for a fish tank is without a doubt aquatic turtles.

These are species such as:

Why These Turtles Work Well in Fish Tanks

The reason for this is quite simple; these species thrive in mostly water environments, and a fish tank can easily facilitate this.

Because most fish tanks are rectangular, and are longer and deeper than they are wide, you can provide a good amount of water in a relatively small amount of space.

With aquatic species such as sliders, the more water, the better.

This is why I’m such a big fan of using a regular fish aquarium with either the Turtle Topper or your own above-the-tank basking platform; it maximizes the amount of water you can put into the tank, and still allows your turtle to be able to easily bask.

What About Box Turtles? 

For other species, such as box turtles and tortoises, my opinion is that a traditional aquarium is just unnecessary for a lot of people.

The reason is that because a traditional fish tank is longer but more importantly, deeper than it is wide, you’ll end up with a ton of wasted space. 

I think that this is especially true for box turtles.

Box turtles tend to spend most of their day on solid earth, but they still spend some amount of time in shallow waters.

And if you are using one of those traditional fish aquariums, you’ll basically be forced to divide up the bottom of your tank into a terrestrial area and a smaller shallow water region. What ends up happening is that, unless you have got an absolutely massive aquarium, you’ll end up with a small area with soil, and a really small area for shallow water as well.

And I haven’t even mentioned the problems that come with figuring out how and where to put your basking light, water filter (you’ll still need something to clean the water), etc.

Plastic Totes and Containers are Great for Box Turtles

For box turtles and tortoises, I have found that the best environments are plastic totes or containers designed for reptiles that have a very large base, but aren’t very tall. This maximizes the amount of ground space but also lets you put a smaller dish, tray or container for water inside. You’ll also be able to put enough substrate to allow for burrowing and digging.

Because these totes or containers are designed for reptiles, a lot of them are well-ventilated and quite versatile. For box turtles and tortoises, I simply find them to be far superior, less wasteful of space and A LOT less expensive than traditional fish tanks.

That’s not to say that I haven’t seen some really nice box turtle set-ups in aquariums, because I have, but the vast majority of those were in really big aquariums, or in shallower aquariums that had a large base. The nice thing about these set-ups is that you can add A LOT of substrate to really let your box turtle dig and burrow.

Because aquariums tend to be expensive however, I wouldn’t recommend them for every single box turtle owner out there when there are alternatives that are nearly as good.

A Summary

  1. For the vast majority of aquatic pet turtle species owners, a traditional glass fish tank or aquarium is going to be the best option.
  2. This is because fish tanks are nice to look at, easy to set-up and easy to acquire.
  3. Aquatic species such as red-eared sliders and painted turtles work best in fish aquariums as because they are longer and deeper than they are wide, you can fit a decent amount of water for them to be able to swim in, in a small amount of space.
  4. Other species, such as box turtles and tortoises can also work in fish aquariums, however your tank’s depth is not what is important here, but it’s floor space. Plastic reptile totes and containers also work really well. If you do decide to use a fish tank, try to get one that has a lot of floor space, and is not too deep.

About the Author

Hi, I'm J and I'm the chelonian-obsessed creator of this website. Feel free to leave a comment below, as unlike a snapping turtle, I promise I won't bite!

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