An outdoor pond is an excellent habitat for painted turtles. BUT, you need to get a few things right to make it work. Here’s what you need.
Can Painted Turtles Live in a Pond?
Absolutely! Not only can painted turtles live in an outdoor pond, but this is probably the BEST environment for them. In fact, you may want to consider setting up an outdoor pond for your painted turtle if you have small children in your household in order to avoid salmonella poisoning.
In my opinion, a pond is the overall best environment for a painted turtle simply because ponds most closely resemble their natural habitat.
Speaking of which…
What is the Natural Habitat of a Painted Turtle?
The painted turtle has the widest distribution of any turtle native to North America. You can find painted turtles along the northwestern coast of the United States going into Canada as well as the southeastern shorelines around Louisiana and Alabama and just about everywhere in between.
Because they are everywhere in the United States, there is much less risk of them wreaking havoc on the local ecosystem if they escape and multiply.
Painted turtles are also an aquatic species of turtle. This means that they spend most of their lives in water.
In the wild, they can be found in shallow, quiet rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and meadows. They especially like to swim around the vegetation that grows on the bottom of different bodies of water.
The only time they like to leave the water is to bask, which is usually on a rock or log.
So, if you wanted to replicate this in your backyard, where would you start?
What Kind of Outdoor Pond Habitat Does a Painted Turtle Need?
Trust me, this is actually not as complicated as it seems. You’ll need six things:
- A small or large prefabricated or natural pond.
- A filtration system to keep the water clean.
- A basking spot (and walking area if you can).
- Places for your turtle to hide and possibly burrow.
- A fence or enclosure to prevent your turtle from escaping and predators from getting in.
If you can set up or create a waterfall even better. This helps with oxygenation, which will help reduce algae-growth as well as provide oxygen during the winter.
I would recommend feeding painted turtles one of the below pellets.
So, that’s what you need. Now, how do you go about actually setting it up?
Tips For Setting Up an Outdoor Pond
Well, for the most part there are few things you’ll need to be mindful of.
- Try to get a pond that is at least 50 gallons or more. For turtles, more space is always better. And contrary to what you may think, the more water you have, the easier it is to keep clean because turtles are waste-producing machines!
- For filtration, pond filters work great. PondMaster is a good brand.
- Prefabricated ponds are a GREAT choice. You can pick these up at any local Home Depot or outdoor supply store. Its easier to set these below ground-level. They also last a long time.
- Fencing. This is SUPER important. Install a fence. If not, you risk losing your turtle. You’ll need to install it at least 6 inches into the ground and at least 2 feet in height above-ground. This will help keep away some predators. You may need to set up chicken wire over the top to stop raccoons and stray cats from getting in.
- The more vegetation and hiding spots you have, the better. Turtles use these to de-stress and escape from the world.
- Test whatever ramp or water entry-exit system you have. You want to make sure your turtle can enter and exit the water easily.
If you live in an area with mild winters that don’t get too cold (into and below the 40-degree Fahrenheit range) this is about all there is to it.
However, if you live in an area with harsher winters AND you are thinking of keeping your painted turtle outdoors, you’ll need to be aware of a few more things.
Where Do Painted Turtles Go in the Winter?
You’re probably wondering WHERE do turtles go during the winter when they hibernate?
The answer is that in general they go and hibernate along the BOTTOM of a pond, river or lake. That’s right! They hibernate IN the water! Pretty cool, right?
Turtles often begin the process of hibernation when temperatures start to consistently get below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
In order to successfully hibernate a painted turtle over the winter, you need to first make sure that it is healthy and strong. Don’t try this with baby turtles. Don’t try this with any turtle you suspect of being ill or weak.
It is often quite difficult to replicate the same natural conditions in your backyard for painted turtle hibernation.
Outdoor Pond Winter Needs
The requirements for keeping your painted turtles outdoors through the winter are a bit higher.
Your pond should be or have:
- At least 18 to 24 inches of depth. The more water, the better. Because painted turtles hibernate at the bottom of ponds, you can’t have all the water in your pond freeze up.
- Some type of sand, substrate or organic substance at the bottom for your turtle to burrow in.
- A waterfall of some type to help oxygenate the water.
- At least 30 square feet of surface space to help prevent freezing and facilitate oxygenation.
Basically, during the winter, painted turtles will find a nice spot with lots of sediment or sand at the bottom of a quiet pond and go into hibernation mode. They will burrow into the sediment and shut-down their body, breathing through their skin.
As long as the entire pond doesn’t freeze from top to bottom, they will survive like this until the weather warms up again in the spring.
This is why larger ponds with waterfalls are better environments for painted turtles to hibernate in. A larger pond with running water is harder to freeze over, and the large surface area combined with the waterfall pumps plenty of oxygen into the water.
If you have any concerns about trying this, I would strongly advise you to instead keep your painted turtles indoors over the winter. Its a lot of work and expense getting everything right.
What Do Painted Turtles Eat in Ponds?
Lastly, you may be wondering what exactly you should be feeding your painted turtle in an outdoor environment?
The truth is, your painted turtle’s diet should not significantly change if it’s in an indoor or outdoor environment.
In the wild, painted turtles consume roughly equal amounts of plant and animal matter. And contrary to what you may think, fish rarely if ever find their way into their stomachs!
In the wild, the most common type of animal matter found in the stomachs of painted turtles is larvae. Small beetles and bees are also sometimes eaten. Likewise, painted turtles eat a variety of plants, with different types of algae being incredibly common.
For outdoor ponds in captivity, I recommend either Mazuri or Omega One as staple foods and water plants such as anacharis, water lettuce, and water fern. Romaine, red-leaf lettuce, and kale are also great choices for their daily vegetable and plant intake.
The great thing about having a larger pond is that it is much easier to entertain your turtle with fish. In general, fish are not exactly healthy for turtles to eat but in a larger pond, they will be very difficult for your turtle to catch.
On that note, be careful of adding koi to your pond because if they are small, they may eventually end up in your turtle’s belly as an expensive snack! To learn more, check out my article on What to Feed Turtles in a Pond?
- Outdoor ponds are in my opinion the overall best type of environment for a captive painted turtle.
- Bigger ponds are always better.
- Strongly consider installing some type of fence or barrier to prevent your turtle from escaping and predators from getting in.
- Only go ahead and let your painted turtle hibernate during the winter if it is healthy, strong and your pond has the right conditions.