Do Turtle Tanks Actually Need Air Pumps main pic

Air pumps are needed in fish aquariums, where they pump extra oxygen into the water. But do turtle tanks need them as well? Let’s find out!

What Is An Air Pump?

An air pump or aerator is a simple device that you connect inside your aquarium that pushes oxygen into the water. If you’ve seen tiny bubbles rising to the surface in an aquarium, that’s an air pump at work.

Air stones and bubble wands also achieve the same thing.

So, if air pumps are needed in fish tanks, do turtle tanks need them as well?

Do Turtle Tanks Need Air Pumps?

The short answer is no. Turtles and fish are fundamentally different because turtles come to the surface to breathe air. Fish process oxygen in the water through their gills. Air pumps are especially helpful in aquariums with lots of fish and little surface area. They aren’t needed in turtle tanks under most circumstances.

There are two main reasons why you would install an air pump into your aquarium:

  1. Your turtle tank also has fish.
  2. Your aquarium has a problem with slime or muck.
  3. Add excitement to your turtle’s environment

If you do want to get a turtle tank air pump, I suggest this one (which is under $15).

turtle air pump

Why Fish Tanks Need Bubbles

Both turtles and fish need oxygen. But turtles get it through the air like we do. And fish get it through their gills.

The more fish you have in your aquarium, the more carbon dioxide is being expelled into the water. So what you want to have is oxygen-rich water so any fish you have can easily breathe. This is what an air pump, aerator, bubble wand, or air stone helps with.

There are two things that naturally help to push oxygen into any aquarium’s water. They are:

  1. Having a lot of surface area.
  2. Having something to break the tension of the water’s surface.

The more surface area your aquarium has, the more oxygen gets pushed into the water. This is why wider or longer tanks are better for oxygenation than deeper tanks.

Still water is the enemy of water oxygenation. On the other hand, moving water, especially anything that can naturally create bubbles or light splashing, is what any fish aquarium needs.

Strong water filters and waterfalls help a ton with this. What these do is help circulate the water. Basically, filters and waterfalls move the water around so that oxygen gets distributed more or less evenly.

However, not all bubbles are good in a tank. It can sometimes signal that your tank has excess amount of protein or waste. To learn more, check out my article on bubbles in turtle tank.

Thus, if your turtle tank has fish, an aerator will definitely help.

How Air Pumps Can Reduce Turtle Tank Slime

In certain cases, an air pump in your turtle tank will help to reduce slime build-up.

If you have slime, gunk, or white film building up in your turtle tank, it’s probably the result of the following:

  • Your filter is too weak.
  • There is nothing to break the tension of the surface water.

If you want to get an Air Pump for your turtle tank, its worth checking out the Hitop Turtle Tank Air Pump. It is compatible with tanks sized anywhere between 20 and 100 gallons.

Why Weak Filters Produce Slime

Turtles are ammonia-excreting, waste-producing machines. Fish can’t hold a candle to the amount muck they create and emit.

If you’ve ever seen a turtle eat you know exactly what I mean. Bits and chunks of pellets, mealworms, kale, you name it, go flying everywhere in the water.

And if your filter is too weak, this leftover gunk doesn’t get cleaned or removed from the tank. Instead, it just sits there on the bottom, degrading into slime.

The single best thing you can do to reduce this is to get a powerful filter. Ideally, get a filter that can filter out more than the number of gallons in your turtle tank per hour. So, if you’ve got a 50-gallon tank, get a filter rated at 100-gallons. This is the powerful filter that I use for my turtle tank. You can learn more by clicking on the photo below.

Secondly, point the outflow valve or opening at the side of your aquarium or the surface. Basically, you want the surface of your aquarium water to be moving. Some light splashing is okay. The more movement you have, the fewer protein-buildup, algae blooms and slime problems.

Why Lack of Surface Tension Produces Slime

In some cases, even if you have a strong filter, you may still have a slime problem. This is often the result of a lack of movement on the water’s surface.

As I noted above, the stiller the water at the surface, the greater the opportunity for slime and gunk build-up.

This can become more pronounced if you have still water in an aquarium that is deep but not wide. The less surface water, the less oxygen is getting released into the water. The more slime builds up.

Water movement facilitates increased oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange between the air and water.

So, if you have some type of underwater filter, this may be why you have a slime or white film build-up on the water’s surface.

In this case, an aerator may help to break up surface tension and reduce slime. A waterfall can also help with this.

Do Turtles Like Bubblers?

You may be tempted to get a bubbler, wand, air stone or air pump so your turtle can play with the bubbles.

I’ve got to warn you, this is incredibly hit or miss. Some turtles like to chase, follow, and swim in the bubbles and some don’t.

I’ve had a bit more luck with young turtles with this but it is largely out of your control. Some turtles will like them and some will be indifferent.

If you just want to make your tank livelier for your turtle you can put a ping-pong or golf ball in it. Lots of turtle owners swear by it. To be fair though I haven’t had any luck with this.

The best way to keep your stimulated is to have a vibrant tank. In my opinion, the best way to do this for aquatic turtles is to:

  • Get as large an aquarium as possible. The bigger, the better. More room equals more things you can add.
  • Add plants for turtles and logs. This will make your habitat more natural and may reduce environmental stress.
  • Think about adding fish to your tank. This isn’t easy but if you get it right, it really makes your aquarium that much more exciting. I recommend reading this article on the risks associated with this.


  • You don’t need an air pump or aerator for your aquarium if you don’t have any fish or other animals.
  • Air pumps, while not necessary, can decrease muck and slime build-up on your water’s surface.
  • Aerators can be a potential source of amusement for your turtles, but this is largely hit or miss.
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