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Aquatic Turtle

map, red ear and painted

Aquatic turtles can be found in or near water. Most aquatic turtles will leave the water to bask on dry land, but spend most of their time in the water.

Aquatic Turtle Facts

Includes: map, red ear and painted turtles
Average Adult Size 5 to 11 inches long depending on species
Average Life Span 20 to 40+ years with proper care, depending on species
Diet juvenile – carnivore adult – omnivore

Will reach adult size in 1 to 2 years, depending on species and under ideal conditions; upgrade habitat size as your turtle grows.


A well-balanced aquatic turtle diet consists of:

  • These aquatic turtles need a pelleted commercial diet.
  • Commercial turtle treats and freeze-dried krill may be given as treats.
  • Painted wood, map and red ear – Dark, leafy green veggies and finely chopped vegetables. They also benefit from comet goldfish, earthworms and insects as treats.


Things to remember when feeding your aquatic turtle:

  • Fresh, clean, chlorinefree water should be available at all times.
  • Feed daily; need to be fed in water to eat.
  • Consider a separate feeding tank as aquatic turtles are messy eaters.


  • Size – Appropriately sized habitat (at least a 40 gallon breeder tank) with a screened lid so the turtle can’t escape. A good rule of thumb is 10 gallons per inch of turtle; adult turtles will require more room.
  • Habitat – Aquatic turtles drink the water they swim in, so it needs to be changed frequently.
  • Substrate – Slate, rock or gravel that is too large to eat is optional; water for swimming area; some aquatic turtles require a shallow area they can rest in the water with their head sticking out and they all require a turtle dock area to bask out of the water. Create basking areas for easy entry and exit to water.
  • Temperature – Temperature gradient (95°F for the warm end/basking area and 75°F for the cool end/water); use a basking bulb and submersible heater as primary heat source.
  • Lighting – UVB rays with full spectrum lighting for 10 to 12 hours a day is required. Incandescent lighting is needed for basking area.
  • Do not house different turtle species together.

Normal Behavior

  • Turtles do not like frequent handling and may bite when frightened.
  • Aquatic turtles are excellent swimmers.

Habitat Maintenance

  • Keep the habitat clean and remove uneaten food and feces right away.
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect the habitat at least once a week: place turtle in a secure habitat; scrub the tank and furnishings with a 3% bleach solution; rinse thoroughly with water, removing all traces of bleach smell.
  • Add clean, dechlorinated water, with a temperature range from 70 to 75°F before returning turtle.

Grooming & Hygiene

  • Aquatic turtles occasionally replace their individual scutes as they grow.


Signs of a Healthy Animal

  • Active and alert
  • Eats regularly
  • Healthy, hard shell with no lesions
  • Clear, bright eyes with no swelling
  • Healthy skin with no sores
  • Clear nose and vent

Red Flags

  • Eye, nose or mouth discharge
  • Discoloration, bumps or spots on shell or skin
  • Lethargic
  • Frantic swimming
  • Abnormal feces
  • Sneezing, runny nose
  • Overgrown beak
  • Swelling behind the tympanum

If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian.

Common Health Issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Health Issue GI tract parasites Symptoms or Causes Poor appetite, listlessness, possibly diarrhea and anal prolapse. Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Health Issue Respiratory infection Symptoms or Causes Open mouth breathing, eye, nose and/or mouth discharge, sneezing; can be caused by a cold habitat. Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian and ensure habitat is the correct temperature.
Health Issue Shell rot/ulcers Symptoms or Causes Discolored or foul-smelling patches or pits on the shell that can become infected; may be caused by an unclean habitat or improper diet. Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian and ensure daily cleanings and/or diet changes.
Health Issue Eye or respiratory infection Symptoms or Causes Swollen eyes and sides of head; may be caused by a vitamin A deficiency. Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian and use a vitamin supplement.

Shopping list shop all

Ask a store partner about Petco’s selection of books on aquatic turtles and the variety of private brand products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All private brand products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all reptiles are potential carriers of infectious diseases, such as Salmonella, always wash your hands before and after handling your reptile or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physician before purchasing or caring for reptiles and should consider not having a reptile as a pet.

Go to for more information about reptiles and disease.

This Care Sheet can cover the care needs of other species.

Note:The information on this Care Sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, refer to the Sources on the back of this Care Sheet or contact your veterinarian as appropriate.

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

A Set-up Guide for New Turtle Parents

4 things to know about aquatic turtles

  • Experience: Beginner
  • Size: They grow about 8 to 12 inches (20-30 cm) long
  • Lifespan: Turtles live as long as 15 to 25 years
  • Habitat: Turtles live in semi-aquatic environments

How do I set up my turtle’s home?

Aquatic turtles can live in a tank or pond, in groups, and with larger fish (they’ll eat small fish). These guys are strong swimmers and need an aquarium that’s at least 55 gallons in volume. It should have a screened lid and a filter. Line the aquarium with gravel, which you can vacuum clean.

Heating and lighting

Your turtle’s habitat should have two thermometers (one for water temperature and another for the dry side of the tank).

  • Hang a heat bulb over the dry side of the habitat if tank temperature dips below 70 F overnight, you’ll want to get a night-specific heat lamp for your reptile friend.
  • Use an underwater heater to maintain water temperature.

These are the best temperature ranges for turtles:

  • Water temperature should be kept between 72 and 77 F (22 to 25 C) day and night
  • The wet side of your turtle’s habitat should be kept at 75 to 85 F (24 to 29 C)
  • The dry side with a basking spot should be 85 to 90 F (29 to 32 C)
  • At night, when the basking light is turned off, the temperature inside the tank should remain 65 to 75 F (18 to 24 C)


  • Aquatic turtles are most active during the day. If you keep them away from daylight, light their home with a UVA or UVB bulb for 12 hours a day.
  • Wondering about the shell games that go on in the dark? Get a night-specific bulb to check it out.

How can I decorate my turtle’s home?

  • Use aquarium gravel to create a sloped area above the water level or you can utilize a landing dock.

Shop 55-gallon aquarium Shop underwater canister filter Shop water temperature thermometer Shop thermometer for basking spot Shop heating lamp Shop habitat decor

How do I handle my turtle?

Your turtle likes to be lifted at the midsection, not by the legs. Keep an eye on kids around your turtle, and always wash your hands before (and after) handling your turtle.

How can I keep my turtle healthy?

Let your turtle settle into its new surroundings for the first three or four days after you bring them home. If you see any of these symptoms, take your turtle to the vet for a check-up:

  • Hiding most of the time
  • Minimal eating or drinking
  • Weight loss
  • Swollen joints
  • Discharge from eyes, nose or mouth
  • Skin discoloration
  • Droppings that are runny for more than two days

If you have more questions about your pet’s health, talk to a PetSmart store associate or a veterinarian familiar with reptiles.


  • ALL ANIMALS can potentially carry viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic diseases contagious to humans.
  • Thoroughly wash your hands with warm, soapy water before and after contact with any pet or its habitat.
  • Adults should assist children with hand washing after contact with a pet, its habitat or aquarium water.


Pets purchased at PetSmart are part of our exclusive Vet Assured™ program, designed by PetSmart veterinarians to help improve the health and well being of our pets.

Our vendors meet a high standard in caring for pets and screening them for common illnesses. This program also includes specific standards for in-store pet care.


If your pet becomes ill during the initial 14-day period, or if you’re not satisfied for any reason, PetSmart will gladly replace the pet or refund the purchase price.

Copyright: denisgo / 123RF Stock Photo

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

Aquarium gravel

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, .

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!

9 Things to Know Before Adopting a Turtle

As a general rule of thumb, turtles should live in tanks that are five times their size and contain water that is two and a half times as deep as the turtle is long.

Turtles are very popular pets and can be terrific for people who want a fascinating animal to look at and appreciate — but maybe not necessarily to cuddle with. Turtles can be great for families with elementary school-age children and older, but not ideal for families with very young kids who might drop them, forget to feed them or forget to wash their hands after handling them (there is a very important reason why — keep reading!). If you are thinking of getting a turtle as a pet, here are some interesting facts about them that you may not know.

1. Not All Turtles Swim

Tortoises — as distinct from turtles — all live on land, but did you know not all turtles live in water? Some turtles, such as several species of box turtles, need access to water to stay hydrated but spend most of their time living on dry land. People tend to use the terms “turtle” and “tortoise” interchangeably, but actually they are very different animals. Turtles, who mostly swim in water, typically have webbed feet, while tortoises have defined toes. Also, many turtles are omnivores, meaning they eat both plant and animal material, while the majority of tortoises are vegetarians.

2. Turtles Are Long Lived

Many turtles, when housed at the right temperature and humidity, exposed to ultraviolet light, and fed a species-appropriate diet, can live for decades. Many of my chelonian (another word for turtle) patients, in fact, outlive their original owners and are passed from generation to generation within families. Their longevity is certainly something for a potential owner to consider before bringing a turtle into the home.

3. All Turtles Carry Salmonella

Salmonella is a species of bacteria that many reptiles, but especially turtles, can carry normally in their intestinal tracts and are unaffected by it. They shed this bacteria in their stool intermittently. In people and other mammals, such as pet cats and dogs, this bacteria can cause horrible gastrointestinal problems, such as severe vomiting and diarrhea. That’s why it is critical that anyone who handles a turtle, its droppings or the objects in its tank washes their hands afterward. This is particularly important when children, who often put their hands in their mouths, handle reptiles. It is also the main reason why turtles are not recommended as pets for families with very young children. In addition to rigorous hand washing, I remind all the families whose turtles I treat to keep a pump bottle of hand disinfectant right next to the tank.

4. You Can Tell Boy and Girl Turtles Apart

With many exotic pets, it’s not always easy to know if you’ve got a boy or a girl, but in turtles, there are a couple of ways. One good rule of thumb for telling the difference between males and females is that males have longer tails, and their rectal opening — called the vent — is further down the length of their tail than in females. In girl turtles, the vent is much closer to the shell. Some species of turtles also show other differences between males and females, such as distinct shell shapes (the bottom shell, or plastron, in males may be curved inward so they can mount females for reproduction) or eye color (males’ eyes may be a brighter red than the brown eyes of females). Some male turtles also have longer nails than females.

5. Females Can Lay Eggs Without Males

Like chickens, female turtles can lay eggs without a male turtle being around to fertilize them — although these infertile eggs won’t hatch. Many wild turtles lay eggs in the spring in response to temperature and light cycle changes; that’s why we see so many turtles out on the roads when warmer weather hits. They are on a search to find sandy or soft soil in which to dig and bury their eggs. Pet turtles, however, often do not follow these seasonal rules as their environments do not change significantly and they can lay eggs year-round.

6. Aquatic Turtles Still Need Dry Land

Turtles typically live in rectangular tanks filled with water, as they spend most of their time swimming. Yet even aquatic turtles need to dry off sometimes. So all turtles should have a basking area in their tanks — typically a large rock — where they can climb up and hang out. But also keep in mind that turtles love to eat rocks, so make sure that all rocks in the tank (including any gravel in the bottom or that is used for basking areas) are bigger than your turtle’s head in order to prevent inadvertent snacking. Rocks can cause a gastrointestinal tract obstruction.

7.Even Tiny Turtles Need Big Spaces

Most turtle breeders will tell you that, as a general rule of thumb, turtle tanks need to be five times the length of an adult turtle and contain water that is two and a half times as deep as the turtle is long. The bigger the turtle, the bigger the tank and the greater the volume of water required. A powerful filter is also required to keep all that water clean, as turtles both eat and defecate where they live. The filter needs to be changed regularly depending on the size of the tank and the number of turtles it houses (your veterinarian should be able to advise you on a preferred schedule).

8. Turtles Need Veggies, Too

Turtles have a high requirement for vitamin A in their diets as they do not store this vitamin in their bodies. As a result, they need to get it from their food. Great dietary sources of vitamin A for turtles, depending on their species, include dark leafy green vegetables and red, orange or yellow veggies, such as bell peppers and squash. Without adequate vitamin A, many turtles will develop swollen eyelids and have difficulty seeing. If your turtle develops these signs, be sure to have him examined by a turtle-savvy veterinarian.

9. Turtles Know Their Owners!

Most people don’t realize this, but many turtles recognize the sight and sounds of their owners! In fact, many owners comment how their pets swim right up to the water surface to greet them when they walk in the room. You might not expect it, but your turtle may actually come to you when you call him!

Turtles can be phenomenal pets if you are willing to take the time to set up and maintain their environments properly and feed them according to their species-specific needs. And remember, just like our furry friends, turtles also need routine veterinary care as well. Most importantly, if you find out that a pet turtle is not for you, please don’t release it into the wild. Many pet turtle species are not meant to live in the wild and will die without care or can introduce diseases that can sicken wild turtles. There are plenty of animal shelters or turtle rescues that will take in an unwanted pet.

Though not every owner wants a pet that is as labor intensive as a turtle, when they are healthy, as you can see from these fascinating facts, turtles can be tremendously terrific to have around!

More on Vetstreet:

  • Test Your Snake Knowledge
  • 5 Things You Don’t Know About Cockatiels
  • 10 Things You Might Not Know About Frogs
  • Can’t Have a Dog or Cat? 6 Exotic Pets to Consider
  • Common Health Hazards and Toxins for Small Mammals


Thinking of getting a pet turtle?

Turtles may seem like low-maintenance pets, but those about to rush out and bring one home should consider that they require years (sometimes decades) of specialized care. Turtles can also transmit disease. Like all wildlife, these reptiles belong in their natural habitats.

Adopt, don’t shop

Small animals like turtles are often mistreated and forced into deplorable conditions when they’re bred for pet stores to sell — look for a local rescue first when you’re considering adopting a hamster, and skip the pet stores.

Turtles carry salmonella

Salmonella isn’t just a food-borne illness; turtles and other reptiles carry salmonella bacteria, which can be easily transmitted to people. A small turtle may seem harmless, giving parents a false sense that they’re a safe pet for children. But the disease risk is so great that selling small turtles is illegal in the United States. (See below.)

Salmonella usually gives people a few miserable days of fever and diarrhea, but some end up in the hospital with life-threatening complications. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children, senior citizens and those who have lowered natural resistance to disease due to pregnancy, cancer, chemotherapy, organ transplants, diabetes, liver problems or other diseases are most at risk.

Selling small turtles is illegal

Selling small turtles—with shells less than four inches long—was banned in 1975 to prevent the spread of salmonella. The CDC says this ban “likely remains the most effective public health action to prevent turtle-associated salmonellosis.” Some sellers try to skirt the law by using the exceptions allowed for legitimate scientific and educational purposes. But just saying the turtle will be used for education or offering the turtle for free with the sale of a tank does not make it legal. In addition, some states and localities prohibit possession of turtles. Call your local animal shelter or animal control to find out about turtle ownership laws.

Want text alerts with ways to help animals right from your phone? Text HSUS to 30644 (message & data rates may apply).

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enforces the ban on small turtle sales and has this advice for consumers: Don’t buy small turtles for pets.

You don’t have to touch the turtle to get sick

You don’t have to touch the turtle to get sick, because salmonella can live on surfaces. A 2006 study published in the journal Pediatrics found that exposure to reptiles was one of the biggest risk factors in determining whether infants get salmonella. Infants aren’t likely to handle reptiles. They probably get infected indirectly, such as a parent touching a turtle or cleaning a turtle’s tank and then holding a child.

Turtles need a lifetime of specialized care

Turtles are often marketed as low-maintenance pets, but the truth is that they need special care and a lot of room to grow. Turtles will not survive in a small dish with a plastic palm tree. They need the right lighting, temperature and water filtration system. Countless pet turtles die from being kept in inadequate conditions. Turtles shipped by mail and other delivery services often die on the way.

If maintained properly, however, turtles can live for decades and grow to be a foot long. That’s a lifetime responsibility that many people are not prepared to meet. If you’ve done extensive research and are prepared for the commitment and responsibility of a turtle, we suggest you adopt one from a local animal shelter or rescue group, instead of creating more demand for turtles by purchasing one from a pet store. Visit to find your local shelter.

Turtles should never be let loose outdoors

If you get a turtle and then decide you can’t care for the animal, there are not many options. Rescue groups are inundated with calls to take them. People sometimes turn turtles loose, thinking they are “freeing” them, but it’s typically illegal to release turtles outdoors. Turtles let loose might die, and they might carry disease that kills other turtles. If they live, they can out-compete native species for food and habitat, threatening native biodiversity. The red-eared slider turtles common in the pet trade are native to only part of the United States, but are turning up where they are not native across the country and around the globe. They are now considered among the world’s 100 most invasive species.

To protect your health, the earth and the animals, please don’t get a turtle for a pet!

Photo by Macsim

Baby turtles are quite difficult to raise. They require dedicated care and a very well arranged environment. You should know that Reptiles are not among the easiest of pets to have. Even if a leopard gecko appears to be friendly and doesn’t pose much danger, baby turtles should not be included in the same category. Raising baby turtles is a tough job and only a dedicated pet owner should consider the option. If someone has a mild interest in baby turtles or is slightly passionate about the whole experience just as a hobby, then the course ahead is not really a desirable one.

Turtles in general are quite demanding species. They need a lot of attention, care and they can also live long which means that the owner will have to spend a lot of time for many years remaining dedicated to the pet. This is not to discourage anyone from owning and raising baby turtles but just to give you guys a reality check. It’s a big chunk of responsibility.

Also, baby turtles are carriers of salmonella which is dangerous for kids. This is the reason why the Humane Society of the United States has recommended not having baby turtles as pets and certainly not considering them if a family has infants around.

Here’s a brief but helpful guide on raising baby turtles:

  • First, you will need your baby turtle from a trusted source. You would then have to create its habitat which will require an aquarium, water, heat lamp, soil and stones and then for the turtle you would need the recommended food.
  • Next, you will have to create the habitat. You need to set up the aquarium. The best place to keep the aquarium is close to the window or any opening wherefrom the baby turtles can get ample sunlight or natural light. The aquarium doesn’t have to be exorbitantly large but it should not be small either. Baby turtles tend to grow into large sizes and they would quickly outgrow their habitat if the aquarium is not large enough. Besides, the turtles have to move around and swim in the water so the aquarium should be a large tank.

    Ready to raise a family? Look at this family of Map Turtles. Photo by Gaschwald

  • You can cover the bottom of the tank or aquarium with soil and place a few rocks, slates or some artificial trees and small plants inside. You can go with decorative plants as well which otherwise would not contaminate the tank but make the setting look beautiful.
  • You should have the heat lamp right above the aquarium and you would need a pump to clean out the water regularly. You should adhere to the dietary recommendations that you get at the time of buying baby turtles or what your vet states.

Painted Turtle Care Sheet

By Paul Vander Schouw

Painted turtles are very attractive aquatic turtles with a far-reaching range within the U.S.

Gerald A. DeBoer/

Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta ssp. and C. dorsalis)

Well deserving of their common name, painted turtles are one of the most attractive varieties of pond turtle native to North America. Their range extends from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic coast and from Canada to northern Mexico, making them one of the most widespread species, as well. Inhabiting practically any slow-moving or still body of freshwater within their range makes painted turtles one of the most commonly encountered turtles, and their vivid coloration makes them one of the most recognizable.

There are four types of painted turtles: the eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta picta), the midland painted turtle (C. p. marginata), the western painted turtle (C. p. bellii) and the southern painted turtle (C. dorsalis). Although their native ranges vary (hence, their common names), their habits and captive care requirements are very similar.

Painted Turtle Availability

Painted turtles breed readily in captivity, and are frequently produced by hobbyists and turtle farms alike. As with most temperate species, their breeding season is restricted to spring and summer, so captive-bred babies are most commonly available from May through September. However, given the significant numbers of babies hatched yearly, they are typically available for most of the year and prices are very affordable.

Jason Patrick Ross/
There are reports of painted turtles living for up to 50 years in captivity!

Painted Turtle Size

Besides their attractive coloration, another appealing aspect of painted turtles is their manageable adult size. Large western painted turtles rarely exceed 8 inches in length, and southern painted turtles are not normally larger than 6 inches. Eastern and midland painted turtles are in between, maxing out at around 7 inches. Males do not usually get quite as big as females, but their size difference is not significant.

Painted Turtle Life Span

Painted turtles have been known to live as long as 50 years in captivity, so they can truly be (nearly) lifelong companions. Given proper diet, housing, and care, you can reasonably expect a painted turtle to live for 25 to 30 years.

Painted Turtle Housing

Housing for painted turtles can be as elaborate or as simple as you choose to make it, but there are some minimal housing requirements that must be addressed. While it would be difficult for most keepers to provide water that is too deep, the depth should never be less than about twice the width of the turtle’s shell. A basking area, upon which the painted turtle can leave the water completely, complete with a good basking light to help it thermoregulate, is an absolute must.

An underwater hiding place should be provided, as well, with care taken to ensure that the painted turtle cannot get trapped and drown. Non-toxic live or plastic plants can be provided for hiding and to forage among, although painted turtles will eventually shred any live plants whether they eat them or not. Although the painted turtle tank bottom can be left bare, substrate (sand, gravel, etc.) can be used for a more natural appearance, but choose a particle size that is either too large to be swallowed or so small that it will pass easily through your painted turtle’s digestive tract.

Paul Vander Schouw
Hatchling painted turtles such as this can be kept in an enclosure large enough to provide 10 gallons of water, along with a haul-out area where the turtle can completely dry off.

Because they are active and able swimmers, painted turtles should be provided with a tank as spacious as possible. At a minimum, a single baby or juvenile painted turtle should be provided about 10 gallons of water volume. This does not mean a 10-gallon tank, but at least a 15- or 20-gallon tank partially filled with 10 gallons of water. Increase the volume of water by 5 gallons for each additional baby turtle. As the turtle(s) reach adulthood and beyond they should be provided with a minimum of 20 gallons of water volume for the first turtle, with an additional 10 gallons of water volume for each additional turtle.

Painted turtles are adaptable and can be housed in virtually any suitably sized tank. Stock tanks, glass aquariums, plastic totes and garden ponds can all be appropriate housing for individuals or groups of painted turtles. They can be maintained indoors or out, and adequate protection from predators as well as escape prevention measures should be provided in either case.

Painted Turtle Lighting and Temperature

If there is a good dietary source of vitamin D to metabolize calcium, a UVA/UVB light may not be necessary, but many keepers choose to provide such lighting anyway. A good heat-emitting light should always be provided over the basking area, and either incandescent or fluorescent lighting can provide additional illumination if necessary. For turtles maintained outdoors, the sun will of course provide heat and UV rays and no further lighting is necessary.

Temperature gradients should be provided for the water, ambient air and basking area. Water should be maintained within the range of 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit; ambient air between 80 and 85 degrees, and the basking area should be kept between 85 and 95 degrees. Bear in mind that temperatures within an aquarium–especially if there is a hood or cover installed–will probably be different than the temperatures within the surrounding room, so it is important to periodically check the actual temperatures in the tank rather than relying on a general indoor thermometer/thermostat. Of course, keeping thermometers inside the painted turtle enclosure will help, too.

Brian Lasenby/
Wild painted turtles love to bask in the sun, and so do pet painted turtles. Be sure to provide a dock or something else that will allow your pet painted turtle to leave the water completely to dry off.

Painted Turtle Food

Painted turtles are omnivorous, and will accept both animal and plant matter with equal enthusiasm. Along with fish, worms and insects, offer them green, leafy vegetables and aquatic plants such as water lettuce, water hyacinth and duckweed. In addition to live and natural foods, there is a wide variety of commercial turtle food available on the market, and most have been formulated to provide optimum nutrition for turtles at all stages of growth. Pay attention to ingredient labels; I recommend diets with the following: 30- to 40-percent protein; low fat content; vitamin D and a high calcium-to-phosphorous ratio. I also recommend vitamin and mineral supplementation.

Painted Turtle Health

Provided with suitable housing and diet, painted turtles are active and energetic pets. But as with any animal, illness and disease can affect them. Some indicators of health problems include: swollen or sunken eyes; listing or inability to submerge; gaping or frothing at the mouth, or bubbles in the nose; excessive basking or refusal to enter the water; inability or refusal to feed; asymmetrical or irregular growth; obvious discoloration or open wounds on the skin or shell; or any other abnormal appearance or behavior. If your painted turtle exhibits any of these problems, veterinary attention is recommended. Be sure to use a vet that specializes in turtles and tortoises, or at least reptiles and exotic animals. A list of reptile vets can be found here.

Painted Turtle Temperament and Handling

Although not truly social animals, painted turtles are gregarious and capable of cohabitating with turtles of their own and other species with similar housing needs. Both sexes are capable of dominant or territorial aggression, but as long as adequate space and hiding areas are provided, this behavior is usually not severe enough to result in serious injury. Still, if consistent aggression is noted, it may be necessary to provide a larger habitat or even entirely isolate offending turtles.

Painted turtles are not domesticated animals that thrive on human affection and contact, so they should not be handled except as a matter of necessity. Despite appearances to the contrary, handling is stressful to the painted turtle and subjects the handler to biting and scratching by the turtle. Occasional handling to inspect a painted turtle for health or injuries, and occasionally relocating painted turtles to alternate containers during cleaning and maintenance of their primary habitat, is acceptable. As always, a thorough hand-washing with soap and warm water before and after a turtle or any related materials or equipment has been handled will help to avoid any disease transmission between human and turtle.

Paul Vander Schouw is an avid turtle hobbyist who maintains about 1,000 turtles representing more than 100 species and subspecies. He has successfully bred more than half of them.

Baby Turtles

Common Names

Baby red-eared and other sliders, painted turtles, map turtles, pond turtles, etc.

Should I buy a baby turtle?

No, probably not.

Baby turtles are about as cute as they get, but before taking one home as a pet it is important to carefully consider their captive care requirements. They are long-lived animals, often reaching 50 years or more of age. They also grow quickly and within a year will need a large aquarium. Unfortunately, most often people find themselves with a baby turtle that was irresponsibly sold or given to them without thought for the animal’s long-term well-being or what it needs and will need to live a healthy life in captivity.

Note that it is illegal to buy or sell aquatic turtles in the United States that have a shell length of under 4 inches (10 cm) because it is thought there is a greater risk of children getting salmonella from turtles that can fit inside their mouth. It is not illegal to keep a baby turtle; they just can’t be bought or sold.

A standard 15 gallon aquarium that measures 24 inches long by 12 inches wide by 12 inches high (61 cm by 30 cm by 30 cm) is enough space until a turtle reaches a shell length of around 3 inches (8 cm). Larger aquariums are better and with a larger volume of water the aquarium will need less maintenance. Plastic “turtle islands” are not suitable housing.

The water depth in the aquarium should be as deep as the length of the turtle’s shell or more. The water area can be filtered with a small submersible power filter. The filter media should be changed regularly, as often as every three weeks and if it contains a sponge the sponge should be rinsed every week.

Housing for a juvenile painted turtle

A layer of medium to large gravel can be used on the bottom of the aquarium, but it is easier to perform water changes if no gravel is used. Instead of gravel, a few large, stable river rocks or heavy pieces of driftwood can be placed in the water to create different water depths. Artificial plants can be provided as hiding spots and décor provided that they do not contain any sharp points and cannot easily be broken or pulled apart.

Over a small land area that gradually slopes out of the water, suspend a heat lamp to provide a basking site. This can be accomplished by positioning a large rock or piece of wood in the cage so that it gradually rises out of the water. Pieces of slate or other flat rocks can be glued together with aquarium-safe silicone sealant to create stable a basking platform as well.

Change between half and two thirds of the water every one to three weeks. Smaller water changes can be carried out more often, during which excess food and waste are siphoned out of the aquarium with an aquarium vacuum. You can also spot clean with a turkey baster after feeding to help keep the water clean.

How often the water is changed depends on how large the aquarium is, how much water is in it, and how many turtles are being kept. If there is a large volume of water, a good filter is being used, and only one turtle is being kept, the water won’t have to be changed as often as it will in a small aquarium with no filtration and multiple turtles, which might need daily water changes.

Most of the waste that is produced by aquatic turtles is excess food. To combat this, some people choose to feed aquatic turtles messy foods (earthworms, turtle pellets, crickets, etc.) in a separate container outside of the cage to reduce the amount of excess food in the tank.

Aquatic turtles require two different types of lighting. A fluorescent light bulb or other lighting that produces “5%” or more UVB radiation is required when turtles are kept indoors. The UVB-producing light bulb should be placed over and within 12 inches (30 cm) of the basking area. It should also be positioned over a screen cover or open area rather than a glass or plastic aquarium cover. The amount of UVB radiation that a bulb produces slowly dies off over time so they need to be replaced once or twice per year.

One of the most common reasons that baby turtles die is because their shell gets “soft”. Aquatic turtles and many other diurnal species of reptiles need UVB rays in order to process calcium in their diet. Without the correct amount and type of ultraviolet (UV) radiation and the correct diet, the calcium level in the blood will fall too low. When this happens, turtles start to take calcium from other parts of the body (the shell for example) in order to keep the calcium level in the blood high enough to keep going, but eventually this leads to death.

A juvenile turtle basking on a platform out of water. Temperature and lighting are the two most important parts of turtle care to get right.

The second type of lighting that aquatic turtles need is an incandescent spot light to create heat for a basking area in the cage. Standard light bulbs can be used for this purpose, otherwise special tight-beam reptile light bulbs can be purchased at most pet stores and work well. The wattage that is needed to create a basking spot at the correct temperature will depend on how high the light bulb is from the basking platform, what the ambient temperature is in the room the turtle is kept in, and what species of turtle is being kept.


Different species of turtles may have different temperature requirements. Most will do fine with a water temperature that ranges from 75-80°F (24-27°C), though this may need to be adjusted for some. A submersible aquarium heater can be used to heat the water. Care should be taken to position the heater in such a way that rocks aren’t likely to fall or be pushed onto it and possibly cause the glass to break. Using a submersible heater made from titanium or plastic even safer.

The basking area on land should stay between 90°F (32°C) and 100°F (38°C). I used a 50 watt light bulb positioned about 6 inches (15 cm) above the basking spot to accomplish this, but it may differ in other situations. If the water temperature or basking spot are not warm enough, juvenile turtles may refuse to feed or seem lethargic and inactive. Use an accurate thermometer to measure the temperature in both the water and on land.

Offering aquatic turtles a varied and nutritious diet is the key to long-term success. Contrary to what many recommend, it is best if turtle pellets do not make up the entire diet of aquatic turtles.

Juvenile turtles are generally more carnivorous than adults, although some species such as painted turtles will still consume a reasonable amount of vegetation while young. Small sized aquatic turtle pellets, live earth worms, crickets, chopped night crawlers, black worms, tubifex worms, small freeze dried krill, wax worms, and feeder guppies can all be offered to meet their carnivorous dietary requirements. Collard greens, turnip greens, dandelion greens, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, red lettuce, kale, aquatic plants like Elodea, and other greens should be offered daily. Occasionally shredded carrot or sweet potato can also be offered. Ice berg lettuce, spinach, and rhubarb leaves should not be fed to turtles.

It is not uncommon for young turtles to ignore plants and other vegetables, but they should still be offered regularly to ensure that they are available when the turtle starts to eat them.

If your turtle isn’t eating first check the temperatures in the aquarium with an accurate thermometer. If the temperatures are in a suitable range, try offering live blackworms or chopped earth worms, which few turtles can resist. Some turtles may not feed while they are being watched, especially if they are new, and it may take some time until they become used to their surroundings.

Proper calcium and vitamin supplementation is critical and is a part of aquatic turtle care that is often overlooked. A good way to provide supplements to turtles is to roll an earth worm or chopped night crawler in a powdered reptile supplement and then offer it to the turtle with tweezers to prevent the calcium or vitamins from washing off in the water. Use a supplement that contains calcium with vitamin D3 along with a high quality multivitamin supplement.

Young turtles can be fed three to eight turtle pellets once or twice a day, along with a large piece of a dark lettuce or other leafy green vegetable floated in the water. Other food items can be substituted for turtle pellets several times per week. Do not place the food on land, just throw it in the water and remove anything that isn’t eaten within a couple hours.

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