What Fish Can Live With Turtles

If you are thinking about adding fish to your turtle tank, you should know which fish species work the best, as well as the habitat requirements.

Can You Have Turtles And Fish In The Same Tank?

Yes, you can put fish and turtles into the same aquarium, but there are a TON of strings attached. Only certain species of fish can live with turtles, and you need to have the right tank setup.

If you are more of a visual learner, you can watch my video below that explains which fish can live with turtles.

What fish can live with turtles?

fish and turtle in same tank

The best fish that can live with a turtle are tetras, zebra fish, African cichlids, tiger barbs, and bristlenose plecos. You can also have goldfish under certain conditions.

When choosing a fish to live with your turtle, there are a couple things to consider. Most importantly, you will need to find a fish that can live in water that is between 75-80 degrees fahrenheight. You will also want a fish that is larger than your turtle’s mouth, and one that is fast enough to evade your turtle.


can tetras live with turtles

Tetra fish are a great option for your turtle tank. These fish are extremely fast, so they should easily evade your turtle if it decides it wants a snack. They also have very similar water requirements as a turtle, as they are a tropical fish that need temperatures around 72-78 degrees fahrenheight.

I have a couple glofish tetras in my tank, and my turtle has never chased them around. If you are interested in a tetra, I suggest getting one that is at least one inch long if not longer.

Zebra fish

can zebra fish live with turtles

Zebra fish are another good option for turtle tank mates. The can live in a wide range of temperatures, but thrive in temperatures similar to turtles (75-80 degrees fahrenheight). They are a very hardy species and can live in a tank that sometimes get dirty from your turtle’s waste.

They can reach up to 2 inches, and are very fast and agile.

African cichlids

can African cichlids live with turtles

African cichlids can also live with turtles. They require water temperatures between 76 and 82 degrees fahrenheight, which is very ideal for turtles. While these fish can live with turtles, they are pretty aggressive so I wouldn’t recommend putting other fish in the tank with them.

Cichlids in general are very territorial, and can become very aggressive, particularly when they are mating. For this reason, if you do decide to add a few yellow cichlids to your tank, I would recommend only adding a few. A group of fully-grown, aggressive cichlids can easily turn the tables on your turtle and injure it.

I also wouldn’t add more than five African cichlids to the same tank, as they might get aggressive toward each other.

Tiger barbs

can tiger barbs live with turtles

I have had good luck so far with adding tiger barbs to my turtle tank. They are extremely fast, so even if your turtle wanted to eat it they probably won’t be able to catch them.

These fish do prefer to live in schools, so I suggest getting at least 4. The only downside with tiger barbs is that they can sometimes be aggressive with other fish. However, as long as you have a big enough tank they shouldn’t cause too many problems.

Bristlenose plecos

Bristlenose plecos

Bristlenose plecos are algae eaters that can peacefully co-exist with your turtle. They are a very hardy species and can survive a wide range of tank conditions. They prefer to be kept in temperatures between 75 and 80 degrees fahrenheight.

Since they are algae eaters, they can help keep your tank clean by feeding on uneaten food and algae. If you are interested in a fish that can help clean your tank, you should check out the best cleaning fish for turtle tanks.


goldfish with turtle

While it is a bit controversial, my goldfish has been able to live with my turtle peacefully for months. While goldfish aren’t the quickest, the larger species can rival the size of small turtles, which is why I think my turtle doesn’t try to mess with it.

My goldfish is fearless and will literally take food out of my turtle’s mouth. Goldfish are also great tankmates for turtles because they eat absolutely everything, including uneaten turtle food. This helps save me time from having to clean the tank everyday.

The only downside is that goldfish should ideally be kept in water that is between 68 and 74 degrees fahrenheight. I keep my water at 76 degrees fahrenheight, and my goldfish is still happy and healthy after 6 months.

Since goldfish themselves create a decent amount of waste, I wouldn’t put more than two in your turtle tank.

How to introduce fish and turtles in the same tank?

I have had the best luck by adding turtles to a tank where there is already fish. In this instance, the turtle is less territorial, and is less likely to feed on the fish.

It’s also good for the fish to already have the layout of the tank and no where all the hiding spots are before the turtle arrives.

Lastly, it is best to introduce fish to younger turtles who are less adept at swimming and hunting.

Turtle and fish aquarium setup

If you plan to have fish living together with your turtle, there are some adjustments you will need to make to your aquarium.

You will need a large tank, a lot of hiding spots for you fish, and a very strong filter.

Turtles Need Big Tanks

The general rule among turtle hobbyists when it comes to aquarium space is:

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

And a lot of the common types of turtles that people own can get quite large, such as red-eared sliders. If you plan to add fish as well, you should try to go a little bigger than 10 gallons for every inch of turtle shell.

If you are looking for a very large tank, check out this 150 gallon fish tank. If you only intend to have one turtle and a couple fish, you should be good with a 100 gallon turtle tank.

If your tank is too small, your turtle and the fish are more likely to have aggressive confrontations, even if you’ve got everything else going for you.

Hiding spots

can turtles live with fish

Hiding spots/decorations are an absolute must if you plan to put fish in your turtle tank. These will give your fish places to rest and feel safe from the turtle.

If you just have an open aquarium with nothing in it, your fish’s entire life will be spent swimming away from the turtle. This can cause a lot of stress for you fish, and can even kill them.

I suggest putting most of your decorations on one side of the tank to give your fish their own little area. It will also make it harder for your turtle to access the hiding spots if they wanted to chase the fish.

Aside from using fish tank decorations, you can also use these items for hiding spots:

Turtles Need A Filter

One of the reasons why I recommend turtle owners to seriously consider canister-filtration systems is that they are powerful enough to deal with all of the waste that turtles emit.

And not just waste, but bits and pieces of food that they have torn away, as well as anything else that they nibble off. That being said, you can use a fish tank filter for your turtle tank, but it needs to be powerful enough.

I use this canister filtration system, and it has worked great for my turtle tank.

Not only are canister filters strong, but most of them have multi-level filtration systems that combine mechanical, biological and even chemical filters to really clean your tank up.

The thing is, if you are going to add fish, you will really need your filtration system to be on point because the vast majority of fish are not nearly as hardy or tough as turtles are.

Basically, turtles can live in some pretty disgusting environments and get away with it. Fish can’t.

You’re going to need something really good and really strong.

And not just that, but you’re also going to need to look at:

  • Checking, controlling and maintaining your tank’s pH levels. Generally, it is recommended to check your tank’s pH levels at least monthly and to strive to maintain a pH level between 6 and 9. You’ll also need to make sure your chlorine and ammonia levels are 0 or at least very close to it.
  • Aerating your water. This does a number of things, one of which is pump oxygen into the water to help create an environment for good bacteria to thrive.

Do Turtles Eat Fish?

Yes, turtles do eat fish. In fact, in the wild fish are one of turtle’s main sources of food. That being said, certain turtle species are more attracted to fish than others.

For example, aquatic turtles such as the Red Eared Slider are known for frequently eating fish. However, some species such as the Box Turtle rarely eat fish.

Choosing The Right Turtle

This is something that a lot of people don’t even think about it, but it will really affect your fish’s chances of survival; that being, the species of your turtle!

Certain species of turtles are way more adept and skilled at hunting down and eating fish than others.

In particular, red-eared sliders, painted turtles and cooters are extremely good at this. That being said, I have a red-eared slider who co-exists peacefully with my fish.

What can live with musk turtles?

Other species, such as mud and musk turtles, are not nearly the skillful hunters as sliders, nor do they seem as interested in hunting. Therefore, there is much more flexibility in terms of what fish you can put in a musk turtle tank. Some good suggestions for fish to live with musk turtles include: Tetras, Guppies, Angel fish, and Zebra fish.

Believe me when I tell you that introducing a school of fish into a tank with a juvenile red-eared slider is a recipe for disaster!

Now, that doesn’t mean that if you have a slider, painted or cooter that you are out of luck.

If you have one of those species, here is what I would recommend:

Wait until the turtle is older and has matured.

As sliders and painted turtles get older, they start to eat a lot less protein and a lot more veggies and greens.

When this happens, there is a good chance that your turtle will be less likely to see the fish as a source of food.

Dangerous Fish For Turtles

Basically, you will want to avoid putting anything that is too aggressive, or anything that can potentially injure, main or kill your turtle in the same aquarium.

This means avoiding the following species at all costs!

  • Catfish
  • Piranha
  • Electric eels
  • Lobsters

With that being said, are there any other species that can live with turtles? Here are my views on some of the more common species.

Can Turtles Live With Koi Fish?

Koi fish can work well with turtles, but I would still not recommend them over other species such as zebras and tetras.

For starters, they can be expensive to purchase, and if you purchase a baby Koi fish, there is a good chance that all you will have done is give your turtle an expensive gourmet dinner meal.

Secondly, Koi fish can grow really big. They can easily grow to sizes much bigger than your turtle. If you have something like a pond habitat, they will probably work really well, but less so for most indoor aquariums.

Turtle tank mates

Along with turtles, there are plenty of other suitable turtle tank mates. Other pets that can go in a turtle tank include snails, lizards, and frogs.


  1. Fish and turtles can live in the same tank together, provided several of the following factors are on point.
  2. Your aquarium tank is large enough to accommodate both turtles and fish.
  3. Your filter is strong enough to accommodate the extra load that fish will put on your water quality.
  4. Put hiding places for the fish to hide and relax from your turtle.
  5. Ideally you should have a turtle that is less interested in eating fish, such as mud and musk turtles.
  6. You picked a fish species that is intelligent, slender and speedy, such as tetras, zebras or yellow cichlids.
  7. Avoid any type of fish or creature that has the ability to injure, main or kill your turtle.

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