Before you go out and purchase a turtle or tortoise, there are a few quick things you need to know first about pet turtle requirements.
Consider the following: Your turtle tank is not just merely where your turtle lives, it’s his or her living quarters, but their entire existence, from the overall enclosure, temperature, environment, decorations and accessories, the land, the water, the air, everything.
And so, if you want a suitable environment for your little turtle friend, there are some things that are going to be absolute necessities.
This article is going to tell you what those pet turtle requirements and necessities are.
A Proper Aquarium Tank or Tub
Of all the pet turtle requirements, this may be the most important.
The vast majority of pet turtle or tortoise owners opt for an aquarium or see-through tank.
Basically, anything that you can fill with water will do.
Most people opt for aquariums or tanks as they are see-through and they want to be able to observe their turtle or tortoise during the day.
That’s fine, and there is nothing wrong with that but you might want to consider a tub instead just because with a little bit of work it can more easily resemble a turtle or tortoise’s native environment.
Many turtles and tortoises spend a good portion of their day knocking up against the glass (that they cannot see), and quiver and tremble as humans are constantly walking around them.
That’s not to say, however, that if you shouldn’t use an aquarium, just that if you do, use it right.
Here are a few general rules when it comes to your turtle tank.
The bigger = the better. Unlike fish, turtles do not stay the same size as their enclosure. Even if you have a small 20-gallon tank, your red-eared slider will rather quickly outgrow.
The general rule of thumb is that is for every inch of carapace shell, you need 10 gallons of water, per turtle.
That means, if you’ve got two 4-inch turtles, you need at least an 80-gallon tank to properly hold them. 40 gallons for each.
I would strongly recommend that you start out with at least a 40 to 55-gallon tank, even if you have a smaller turtle, just because chances are he or she will get up to that size within a few years anyway.
You need to think about the division of water and land in your tank or aquarium.
Here’s why; some turtle species are aquatic, meaning that they should and want to spend the bulk of their lives in water. If that’s the case, you probably want to make something like a 75%/25% split between water and land.
On the other hand, some species, like most tortoises and some turtles, are mostly terrestrial. If that’s the case, you may want to opt for something more like a 50%/50% split between water and land. The water/land distribution of your tank or aquarium should be suitable for your specific turtle species.
There are a few more things to consider before we move on to the next necessity.
Think about what cover is suitable for your tank or aquarium.
Just as a precautionary measure, it might be a good idea to use a tank or aquarium cover. Whatever you do, don’t buy a glass or plexiglass cover.
The glass covers can shatter, and the plexiglass covers can melt. Both of them inhibit any UV rays that your turtle desperately needs, and both of them can adversely affect the temperature inside the tank.
Think about what substrate you want to use.
The substrate is the material or objects that lay on the bottom of the tank.
Many turtle owners don’t use any substrate.
In fact, that is probably going to be the best option in most cases, especially if you have a species like a red-eared slider, just because it’s a million times easier to keep your water pure, filtered and clean.
Here are more options:
If you are a beginner turtle enthusiast, this is probably a bad choice. For starters, it’s rather difficult to keep the tank clean. You’ve got to vacuum your tank often, and it’s just, in general, a pain to deal with. If you are going to use sand however, you should use something that is very fine rather than rocky. This is, however, a good option to use in a tub or tote for a soft-shelled turtle, particularly any species that likes to dig and burro
Don’t use this! It’s just a bad choice, period. In many cases the pellets resemble food and your turtle will try to eat it, and in some cases, choke to death on them. They also don’t really do much for the environment if you have any plants in the tank.
This is not a bad option, but a few things first. Flourite is a porous type of clay gravel that is made just for aquariums and tanks. It’s excellent for aqua plants and looks very natural, but will make your tank very dirty and muddy looking when you first apply it. Make sure you filter the tank water for a few days as the fluorite particles drop to the bottom before you put your turtle back into the tank.
Your tank is pretty important. But to sum-up:
- Buy a bigger tank or consider using a tub or tote
- Think about the water and land division check
- Think about what substrate you want to use
A Light and Heat Source
Temperature. If you get this wrong, your little turtle pal is not going to have a great existence.
There are two temperatures inside your tank or tub that you need to be aware of; the water temperature and the basking area. Both are critical.
The water temperature.
For most turtle or tortoise species you will want to keep the water temperature at around 77-80 degrees. The easiest way to do this is through the use of a submerged water heater. They are not expensive, do a good job of keeping the water warm and many of them already contain thermometers.
The basking temperature.
The basking area is the area that your turtle will go to ‘lay out in the sun.’ Turtles need to do this.
Basking is very healthy for them, and if they don’t do it they become more prone to contracting contagious diseases and infections.
Next, the light source. This is also critical.
Turtles need UV (ultraviolet) light. To be more specific, they need UVA light to maintain their appetite and metabolism, and UVB light for vitamin D3 production and stress management. Make sure any UV lamp that you have has both UVA and UVB bulbs.
Check out this article on the best UV lights for more information.
A Good Water Filter
Turtles are very messy creatures. Much, much messier than fish.
The problem is that because of this many pet turtle owners mistakenly assume that turtles and tortoises can easily live in dirty, muddy water.
Nothing could be much further from the truth.
A proper filter will do two things. One, it will maintain a clean water environment for your turtle to live in. It will also make your tank much nice to look at!
Secondly, a good filter will contain a biological medium that will be helpful for the turtle. Basically, good germs.
There is a lot that can be said about this subject, so if you are interested in some of the best choices for turtle filters, click here.
In general, it’s better to purchase a canister filter, as they are very powerful, easy to use and also will have multiple levels (biological, mechanical, chemical) of filtration.
A Basking Dock
Just because turtles live much of their lives in water, doesn’t mean they sometimes need to be out of the water as well.
Now, when it comes to basking docks there are quite a few options, and you don’t even necessarily need to buy anything here.
If you’ve got a tub or tote, for instance, you can stack up some larger rocks. Just ensure that the foundation is steady and that your turtle can actually climb up onto them.
This is the area on which your UV light and heat source will shine.
Check out this article on the best basking docks for more information.
The Right Food
Lastly, your pet turtle or tortoise is going to need the proper nourishment.
Generally, most turtles and tortoises will require a balanced diet of commercial turtle pellets, plants, vegetables, and fruits as well as proteins, such as cooked meat (chicken or beef, cut up into small pieces), worms, crickets, and other insects, feeder fish, etc.
Now, the exact ratio of those pellets, plants and vegetables and meat sources will differ based on the species you have.
Many tortoises, for instance, are largely herbivorous (eating plants), while many juvenile turtles will like to munch on mostly protein (as they grow larger).
Overall, most turtles and tortoises will become more herbivorous as they grow older.
Check out this article on the best turtle food for more information.
Just to recap, the five essential items in a turtle or tortoise’s environment are:
- A proper-sized aquarium tank or tub.
- UV-A and UV-B light and heat source.
- Powerful enough water filter.
- Basking dock or platform.
- Proper food and nutrition.
All of the above are necessary pet turtle requirements. They are absolutely essential.
If you are unable to or unwilling to purchase any of these items, it would be wise to perhaps seek a different pet.
Now, that doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune, as you can purchase all of these items at a relatively inexpensive price, but that does mean that owning and caring for a turtle or tortoise requires a bit of patience, hard work, and knowledge.
I can say that at the end of it all, it will be worth it, both for you and your little turtle friend!