is of utmost criticality.
Turtles spend most of their lives in water.
In their natural habitats the water gets replaced
all the time, but this is not so in the captive habitats.
Imagine their plight - swimming, eating, drinking
and defecating in the same water!
Turtles generate a large amount of waste - this is
because they are messy eaters and also excrete copiously.
Turtle excreta comprises both visible solid (and semi-solid)
and invisible liquid components. If the tank is not
properly maintained (filtered & cleaned) this
can cause the water to get filthy, increase ammonia
levels and spawn rapid organic growth in the water.
The end result - a turtle in dirty water, disease
Water cleanliness can be primarily maintained through
two means - regular withdrawal of tank water and replacement
with clean water, and a good filtration system.
quality is the number one challenge when keeping Red
Ear Sliders. Your basic ideal should be to strive
for a lot of very clean water. Change the water as
often as you can. Imagine you had to swim in and drink
the same water. Tab water is fine. If you are concerned
about chlorine, let the water sit in the sun for 24
hours before using it. How often do you need to change
the water? Well, it depends on the gallons of water
per turtle, and whether you are using a filter. I
change the water in my 55-gallon aquarium every 14
days, with a strong filter. Keep in mind some foods
soil the water more than others. Give your Red Ear
Slider as much space as you can possibly afford. In
this case, larger is always better. Custom-made glass
tanks are affordable. Negotiate the price and features,
when you talk to a sales rep. Often extra features
like screen tops, which you don't need for turtles,
will make things a lot more expensive. Red Ear Sliders
and all turtles produce two kinds of waste, visible
and invisible. The visible solids can and should be
removed with a net, available at pet or aquarium stores,
especially larger pieces, before they fall apart.
Invisible waste must be dealt with by frequent water
changes or filtration. Disintegrating waste produces
ammonia. Ammonia is the stuff that is in Ajax, which
is bad for people, and it is bad for Sliders as well.
It makes them sick, and it can make their skin and
shell rot. Every Slider aquarium will have ammonia
in it. You cannot avoid it, but you can deal with
it. Also note that letting feeder fish and snails
swim and defecate in the Sliders tank, will raise
the ammonia levels. Also, common dechlorinators also
increase ammonia levels. A filter that has settled
in or has been running for 4-6 weeks will eventually
harbor enough bacteria, like ammonia, and the levels
will go down. Filtering over carbon and other specialized
filter media also helps. I use a Magnum 350 Pro System
with carbon cartridges for my 55-gallon aquarium.
If you are using a large canister filter get one about
2 or 3 times as powerful as you would for an aquarium
the same size. You will still have to clean and rinse
the media more often than for a fish tank. Feeding
your Red Ear Sliders outside the tank also reduces
waste. Many Sliders will defecate shortly after eating.
If you leave them in their feeding tub for a while
after feeding, they will defecate, and you get less
waste in the tank. Not overfeeding will keep the waste
down also. Adding a teaspoon of salt per gallon of
water will reduce the level of harmful bacteria and
protect the Sliders better from shell and skin diseases.
A filter will not only reduce the frequency of water
changes, it keeps the muck from floating around and
being reingested by the Sliders. So, what filter should
you use? One that is as powerful as possible, and
one that can filter over mixed media including carbon
filter sleeves. Five types of filters can be used
effectively with Red Eared Sliders and other water
Turtles particularly if they are fed outside of the
are three types of filters generally available - Underground,
Submersible and External.
This is the heart of your tank, so choose
well and don't penny-pinch as this could have serious
repercussions later on. The
filtration required in a turtle tank is twice that
of similar size fish tanks.
You need to keep you filter running on for atleast
10-14 hour daily. If possible you can time it to run
for 2 hrs at a stretch, then stop for 2 hrs…and so
should always have the filter running after mealtime.
The most effective filters for aquariums are large
canister filters which fit outside of the tank. They
have an outflow tube that carries the water from the
tank to and through the filter and an inflow tube
that brings the filtered water back into the aquarium.
Canister filters are expensive, but when one considers
the savings in time and labor as well as the improved
appearance of one's aquarium, they are well worth
the expense. The filter media will have to be cleaned
out and replaced on a regular basis every on to two
weeks. Turtle aquariums with these filters can easily
be designed to conceal the filter tubing by building
basking areas and using some background materials
such as rock or bark. Because of the powerful flow
created by this type of filters, attractive miniature
waterfalls can be designed under the inflow tube.
Not to long ago, submersible canister filters have
become available in the aquarium trade. This type
of filter usually doesn't have any tubes. Instead,
the entire canister unit is placed in the water. These
filters will work resonably well, but because of their
relatively small size they are not nearly as effective
as outside canister filters which provide greater
filtration surface and rate of flow. In addition,
part of the available space in the aquarium will be
taken over by the filtering unit. Two advantages of
submersible canister filters is that they are relatively
inexpensive and their compact size will make them
particularly suitable for smaller aquariums with smaller
deciding on the pump
consider the amount of water (in liters) your tank
contains. Compare that with the flow rate of the pump,
which is usually mentioned as X lit/hr. These are
ratings obtained under 'ideal' conditions, decrease
by 75% to obtain the effective flow rate.
The pump you choose should be able
to completely recycle the water in your tank in 1hr,
with the 'effective' flow rate.
Your tank capacity is 200 liters.
The pump you see mentions a flow rate of 400-lit/hr.
The effective flow rate is therefore 100-lit/hr. i.e.;
this pump can recycle 100 liters of water per hour.
So to completely recycle the water in your tank in
1 hr - you need 2 of these pumps or a single pump
with a mentioned capacity of 800-lit/hr.
Internal canister filters
These are relatively cheap and can be highly effective. Use the
largest size you can install in your tank. The best
filter medium in our experience is of the foam type.
This can be taken out and washed whenever it becomes
External canister filters
For large tank systems this sort of filter is unbeatable. Again,
we have found foam media to be the most effective
but various other combinations are also possible as
one of the benefits of this system is its tremendous
versatility. The filter body is located outside of
the tank, only the inlet and outlet tubes entering
the terrapins environment. Use the largest model you
can afford for optimum results - which brings us to
the only potential drawback, cost. Good external power
filters are not particularly cheap, but definitely
worth while if you keep large specimens in an indoor
tank system as they will drastically reduce the need
for frequent water changes.
pumps are a strict "No-No" for turtle tanks, as they
require a fine layer of gravel to work effectively,
as it is advisable not to use that in a turtle tank.
Most international literature recommends external
pumps, and we don't doubt the superior filtration
power they have, but feel that a cheaper and equally
effective alternative could be 1 or 2 high capacity
Undergravel filters can work very well, but do require a large surface
area, low stocking density, and well oxygenated water.
The types powered by an airlift (air pump) are not
adequate for anything but the smallest hatchlings.
Larger tanks should be fitted with a powerhead in
place of the airlift. I like the Aquaclear range.
filters run by powerheads can be effective in filtering
Turtle aquariums. They work best with large tanks
containing few Turtles. When using Undergravel filters,
it is also critical that turtles be fed easily decomposed
food or in a seperate container because the Undergravel
filter will not be able to efficiently filter and
break down large food particles. Any such particles
will have to be siphoned or netted out of the tank
on a regular basis. As an undergravelsubstrate use
a 2 inch layer of a small rounded pea gravel. There
will come a time when it becomes obvious that the
undergravel filter is overloaded. This will mean taking
out the Turtles and stirring up the gravel. The resulting
dirty water should then be siphoned out. The tank
should be filled and the process repeated three or
four times. If the enclosure is particularly dirty,
then the filter and substrate should be removed, the
enclosure thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, the
substrate washed out and the entire setup redone.
Because, undergravel filters are biological filters
that depend on microbial action, it will take up to
a week before the microbial flora reaches adequate
levels and the filter becomes fully operational.
The high quality Tetra sponge filters can be effective
with smaller turtles if a high rate of air flow is
used. Small inexpensive air pumps are not recommended
with sponge filters. Clean the sponge on the filter
These filters have a limited use when keeping water
Turtles because the water level has to be a certain
height for the filter to function. This creates a
problem when you need space to create a basking area
and enough height to contain the animals. Custom-made
aquariums with a specially designed opening on the
side will allow for the use of power filters. Otherwise,
the only option is to have a large tank with the basking
areas designed as an island in the middle rising above
the top of the tank.
These can be moderately effective in enclosures with
water Turtles. They will tend to get dirty rather
quickly and regular cleaning or replacing of the filtering
medium will be required.
is a more indepth section which has questions and
answers for other filtration topics like Carbon and
the pH scale.
does filter carbon do? Carbon has the ability to catch
certain chemicals that occur in water by adsorbing
them. In aquariums, carbon's chief role is to tie
up the chemicals that cause discoloration and odors,
which are then removed from the system periodically
as the carbon is discarded.
Are some carbons better than others? Yes, some filter
carbons, the coarse, shiny black stuff, is no more
than anthracite coal, and have very limited adsorptive
properties. Other carbons are "activated", meaning
they were exposed to extreme heat or steam to increase
their effectiveness. These dull, lighter, carbons
may have hundreds of times the capacity of standard
Should everyone use the highest quality carbon? Many
hobbyists use low to medium grades of carbon, but
either use it in large quantities or change it often.
Others have high-flow filters that can grind the softer,
high quality carbons to dust, which is then blown
into the aquarium. On the other hand, some filters
hold only small amounts of carbon, so better grades
should be used.
Do carbons get full? Yes, eventually the filter carbon
has bonded all the chemicals that it can handle. How
long that takes depends on the quality and quantity
of the carbon, and the load of Slider waste. If the
aquarium water is taking on an odor or is yellowing,
the carbon is full.
Can carbon be re-activated? No. Heating carbon in
a household oven might reclaim a tiny fraction of
carbon's power, but probably not enough to pay for
the fuel to heat it. It is best to discard used carbon.
How often should carbon be changed? Once the carbon
is full, it serves very little purpose in the aquarium.
Some of the compounds adsorbed by the carbon will
eventually break down and be released into the aquarium.
Carbon should certainly be changed when colors or
odors in the water indicate that it has become exhausted.
do I keep my Aquarium safe from ammonia poisoning?
Normally, Ammonia is consumed by two species of beneficial
bacteria, Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter, referred to
as nitrifying bacteria. Nitrosomonas convert ammonia
to nitrite to relatively harmless nitrate. These bacteria
comprise the biological filter and keep the aquarium
free of harmful ammonia and nitrite.
What causes ammonia in aquariums? Feeder fish and
Algae eaters continuously release ammonia directly
into the pond from their gills, urine and solid waste.
Uneaten food, decaying plants and algae also add ammonia
to the water.
How do I know if ammonia is in the pond? Ammonia in
aquarium water is colorless and odorless. The only
way to tell if ammonia is present is by testing the
water with an ammonia test kit. The Ammonia Test Kit
or Dry-Tabo Master Test Kit enables you to easily
test for the presence of ammonia and other important
water quality parameters.
is the measure of acidity and alkalinity of water.
A pH reading of 7.0 is neutral, a pH lower than 7.0
is acidic, and a pH higher than 7.0 is alkaline. The
pH should be tested weekly, since foreign material
in the aquarium may cause changes in pH and severely
stress the Slider. You can pick up the PH test kits
at any pet store. They last long and are relatively
Nitrite: Nitrite is a toxic waste material found in
varying concentrations in most aquariums. Nitrite
is produced by bacteria in your biological filter
as it breaks down ammonia. Regular testing for nitrite
is important because high levels of nitrite affect
the red blood cells of fish and turtles, and reduce
their ability to carry oxygen. This could cause suffocation
and death if it is at serious levels.
Nitrate: Nitrate is a waste material found in varying
concentrations in most aquariums. It is produced by
nitrifying bacteria in the biological filter as it
breaks down ammonia and nitrite. As the biological
filter grows, the nitrifying bacteria, and Nitrobacteria
feed on nitrite, converting it to less harmful nitrate.
Nitrate levels should be maintained below 40 ppm.
High levels of nitrate may also cause algae to bloom
in both fresh and saltwater aquariums.
The best way to keep the tank water clean
is to change it everyday. But that can be quite a
tedious and time-consuming activity. Therefore, a
most people adopt a partial water-changing schedule
along with a filtration system.
The water that you put in the turtle tank doesn't
need any special treatment, as long as it is fit for
consumption by human beings. Tap water is fine, but
its better if you can use water filtered through an
AquaGuard or similar device (considering the poor
municipal water quality in a lot of Indian cities).
If you are not filtering the water, we recommend standing
the water overnight in a bucket to remove the chlorine.
Chlorine removal tablets that are easily available
can also be added, but these increase the water alkalinity
and if possible should be avoided.
we suggest (you can follow anyone based on your convenience).
These are merely suggestive you can alter the water-changing
schedule based on your tank requirements.
20% of the water every 2 days, replace full tank every
OPTION 2: Change 50% of the water every 5 days,
replace full tank every 12-14 days
OPTION 3: Change 50% of the water every 7 days,
replace full tank every 17-19 days
(Option 1 is recommended for small
tanks, Option 2 is the most convenient for medium
to large tanks, Option 3 should be followed only if
you have invested in a high quality external filter!)
recommend cleaning and disinfecting the tank, every
time the full tank water is replaced or atleast once
every 45 days. You can also add 1 level teaspoon of common
salt for every 4-5 liters of water. This prevents
the growth of 'bad' bacteria and prevents shell and
Some solutions that help disinfect/keep the water
clean are readily available at most pet stores. These
can be added as required.
All filters need to be cleaned regularly.
The bigger the filter, the less often you will have
to clean it, so if you can afford it, go for a bigger
filter. Most submersible filters use foam as the filtering
medium. We recommend you clean the foam every week,
by rinsing it thoroughly under a strong jet of cool
clean water. It is also advisable to rinse the filter
Filter foam should not be subjected to strong detergents,
or other cleaning ingredients, as it tends to absorb
these. It could release these chemicals into the tank
water later, polluting it.
The water-changing schedules and filtration capacity
selection process are suggestive - every tank has
its unique water purification requirement that is
dependent on a multitude of factors. Eventually
(through experience) you will be able to observe the
color and smell of water to diagnose when it requires
changing. A strong stench or change in watercolor
- requires immediate water replacement and a full
While you spend a few months with your habitat observing
water quality and climbing up that experience curve,
we recommend you monitor water quality using a simple
water-testing kit (for pH level). These are easily
obtainable from your local pet store. Use it every
4 days for the first month, changing the water or
modifying the filtration equipment to get the desired
A pH level of 7 is neutral, anything more is alkaline
and less is acidic. In a turtle tank the desirable pH level
is between 5.5 to 7 (i.e., slightly acidic).
Fishes are natural monitors of water quality. And
while a fish enthusiast might scrounge at the thought
being used as testers -
one cant escape the fact that their increased sensitivity
to deterioration in water quality can provide 'visible'
early warnings. So you may keep a few fish, and observe
their fins, eyes and gills carefully for any changes.
(But please don't get too attached to them, as they
CAN end up as your turtles' snacks!)