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Habitat Setup

The habitat you develop is your turtle’s home. A standard glass aquarium is the best solution for the Red-Eared Sliders, unless you can provide them an outside pond, or something else. Turtle habitats are of two types - indoor and outdoor. The indoor ones are very similar to fish aquariums/tanks, while the outdoor ones resemble garden ponds.

The glass aquarium: there is one nice aspect about the glass aquarium, that they are easy to clean thoroughly. The aquarium has to be clean since the health of your turtle depends on it. Remember that the Red-Eared Sliders are aquatic animals, and they will release their solid and liquid waste into the water. That creates a perfect nest to the bacteria.

Red-Eared Sliders need a freshwater aquarium.

Basic requirements of water turtles: The following are the basic requirements that need to be addressed if one is to successfully keep water turtles in captivity.

15 gallons of tank size for each inch of turtle
Enough water for them to swim (usually 4-6 inches)
A basking area-something where they can climb onto completely out of the water
A basking lamp- a full spectrum fluorescent bulb that provides both UVA and UVB rays
A submersible heater- water temperature should be between 21.1°C-26.6°C (70°F-80°F) and a small thermometer to keep track of the temperature
A good filte-filter is very important
Clean water
Tank should be cleaned frequently (every 1-2 weeks)-depending on how good your filter works
The right type of food
Regular monitoring and maintenance of animals and setup


Tank Size And Structure

Most turtle habitats are rectangular or square fish tanks(glass aquariums). This shapes are preferred, because they can be sate easily against a wall and a conserve space. The Red-Eared Sliders grow fast the first years of their life, and an adult can measure up to 26 cm (10 inches). The bigger the tank is, the better it will be for the turtle.For an adult turtle of 13 cm (5 inches) a 100L(30 gallon) will be the minimal size. Fill up with enough water so that the turtle can turn around if he/she were to fall backwards(about 3/4 the length of the turtle).

Minimum tank dimensions

Tank length: 3-4 times the length of the turtle Tank width: 2 times the length of the turtle Tank height: 1.5-2 times the length of the turtle + 8-12 inches above the highest level the turtle can reach in the tank

Minimum water area dimensions

Length: same as aboveWidth: same as aboveHeight: 1.5-2 times the length of the turtleRemember that if you want to add any big stone or any large decorations that may obstruct or reduce the swimming area, make the tank larger.

Minimum land area dimensions

Diameter: 1.5 times the length of the turtleLand area provide generally 25-35% of a surface area in a turtle tank. But do make sure that you have additional height of 10-12 inches above the land area height, so that the turtle can’t escape.


It is easiest to get the rectangular fish tank that is made of glass. You can get a piece of glass as big as required land area stuck just above the water level, and add rocks or gravel to make a basking area for the turtle. Most glass used for tanks are 10 mm or above. Don’t get the tank made in lighter glass, because it can break under the water pressure inside!!! A land area makes the aquarium look more attractive and is quite functional in addition. It is an absolute requirement if you intend to breed your turtles, as they will need an area in which to bury their eggs.

cost: $30 and up depending on size.

cost: Filters start around $25 dollars.

Rock or platform
cost: $20 and up. Can also use rocks from your backyard free!

Underwater heater
cost: from $25 and up depending on size

Full spectrum heat lamp
cost: depending on what type you purchase, cost of lamp runs from $25 and up. Bulbs for the lamp start at $9 up to $45.


General about the habitat setup (tank setup)

Thankfully, turtle care has progressed in the last two decades. Many different types of aquatic turtles can be raised, maintained and bred when provided with the appropriate environment. The most common way to keep water turtles in captivity is in a glass aquarium. But, very functional habitats can be constructed out of large plastic tubs, from utility sinks, as long as the set-up meets a few basic requirements. Selection of an appropriately-sized tank is one of the most important elements in successful turtle-keeping. The aquarium must be large enough to give the turtle adequate swimming room in both length and depth. A 110L (35 gallon) is a minimum size tank, but bigger is always better. Only juvenile turtles should be kept in smaller aquariums, and they will outgrow them, so you might as well start with a bigger tank and save yourself money! So-called "long" or "breeder" tanks are usually better investments than "high" aquariums, as they provide a larger surface area for your animals. The water level should be deeper than the turtle is wide, if the water is shallower and the turtle manages to land upside-down in the water it may not be able to flip back over and will drown. Also there should be no place underwater in the tank where the turtle could get wedged in such a way that it cannot get to the surface to breathe larger aquariums are definitely better. Turtles are avid swimmers, feeding only in water, and are religious baskers. Therefore equal amount of attention has to be paid to both water and land areas. Land area should be equivalent to 25-35% of the water area. (i.e., if the water surface area [l x b] is 800 sq. inch, then the land area can be anything between  200-280 sq. inch).

Water Area

The water area should allow for unobstructed swimming, so most equipment and decorations should be placed along the edges. For space as well ornamental considerations, it is recommended to distribute equipment along the corners, or below the land area, hiding it behind tank decorations. You can place a couple of clumps of plants in the center of the tank to break the monotony of empty water. Tall decorations should be put ONLY in the edges. Avoid putting high decorations (especially solid ones like rocks, plants being flexible are fine) in the middle of the tank. But, the aquarium does not need to have decorations, nor does it require sand or gravel on the bottom. These actually make it more difficult to clean and are not necessary for the turtle. Many turtles will eat any water plants that are placed in their enclosure.

Land Area

Land area can be made of glass, acrylic, thick wood plastic, or merely a large stone! We personally recommend land areas that can be anchored above the water level, so that the space below them can be used as water area. If you place a large stone or a series of large stones from the base of the tank to above the water level, they might look nice, but would eat into the water area, requiring you to increase the overall tank dimensions. one necessity is an area that is totally out of the water on which the turtle can haul out and dry off. Worn driftwood, cork bark floats, or smooth flat rocks work well, as they are not likely to rub or scratch a turtle's shell as it climbs out of the water. Position a spotlight over the rock or wood to simulate the sun, allowing the turtle to bask. Take care not to put the aquarium in full direct sunlight, however if the turtle cannot get out of the sun, you may end up with a baked dead turtle. Most turtles do very well with this minimal set-up: a large, deep undecorated aquarium with a spotlight over a flat rock out of the water on which they can dry off and sun themselves. A land area makes the aquarium look more attractive and is quite functional in addition. It is an absolute requirement if you intend to breed your turtles, as they will need an area in which to bury their eggs. With no access to a land area, a female turtle will retain her eggs as long as possible and then drop them into the water or on her basking area. Retaining eggs for too long can injure a turtle. For example, an egg might rupture while still inside the female, leading to a massive infection. The size and depth of the land area is determined by the type of turtle, larger turtles will need a deeper area than smaller turtles to bury eggs. Also, some turtles are more terrestrial than others, and so benefit from a large land area. To make a land area, glue pieces of clear plastic into place with silicone aquarium sealant. For example, one end of the tank can be walled off with a vertical or diagonal piece of plastic. More intricate arrangements are also possible. As an example, three pieces of plastic can be glued into a "U" shape in the middle of the aquarium. This set-up lets the turtles pass underneath, allowing them to move from one end of the tank to the other without going up onto the land area. Note that plastics are flexible; when glued to glass it is possible they will separate due to flexing if they are not supported or if the plastic is not thick enough. Your decorations : Land areas are generally designed as flat pieces of glass/plastic anchored to three sides of the tank, half an inch above water level. This give them three-sided support which is essential to bear the weight of stones and turtles. Often a 2-4 inch high wall is stuck on the side opening into water, so that the turtles don't manage to shove/throw any stones/gravel over the side into the water! But you could create a more natural wall by sticking together a few medium sized stones with strong, waterproof adhesive. Alternatively you could design a gently sloping land area, by providing a slight tilt towards the water to the flat glass/plastic piece. A thin layer of stones and gravel can be stuck/placed on this. This would provide the turtles a gripping surface to pull themselves out of the water as also a partially submerged area, on which they can rest at their discretion. Based on your tank design, the land area would be partially submerged in water or fully above it. Eitherways it is critical to ensure that the turtles have easy access to an area that is completely dry. They need this area to completely dry and bask in sunlight. It is best to place a large flat smooth rock on which they easily clamber to dry and bask. You could landscape the land area as creatively as you want! Just make sure there are no sharp edges on any decorations. And avoid gravel less than 1.5cms in diameter.

Water to Land Area Ramp

If you haven't designed a sloping land area, you need to provide a way for the turtles to climb out of the water area onto the land area .A curved/sloping log or plastic piece can be stuck to the land area from one side, with the other side partially submerged in water. Use gentle slopes/curves to ensure that this is easy for the turtles to clamber on - you don't want to create an obstacle course for them!

Basic requirements

A fully submersible water heater helps keep the water at a reasonable temperature year-round, as many water turtles prefer water temperatures that are above ambient room temperature. However, the temperature of the water will depend on the type of turtle that you keep, and therefore you should investigate the natural environment of your turtle, if you are not sure of its requirements. Most underwater heaters attach to the side of an aquarium with suction cups. If your turtle is very active, it may become necessary to wall off the heater to some degree to prevent the turtle from breaking it. Also, buy an aquarium thermometer. Many heaters are not accurate and require monitoring to assure that the desired temperature is maintained.

A filter of some type can also be quite useful. I prefer the canister filter, they are a good investment. Although their initial cost can be high, the time saved in water and filter changes makes them well worth the money. Many different models are available, from a number of different manufacturers. As with aquariums, larger is usually better. The greater the volume of water moved and the larger the filtering surface, the cleaner the water will remain. This will reduce the frequency of water changes required. Undergravel filters can be used, but often become clogged too quickly due to the large amount of waste material that turtles are capable of producing. A final item that might be beneficial is a fluorescent hood with a full-spectrum light bulb, such as a VitaliteTM. There is considerable debate as to the effectiveness of fluorescent full-spectrum lights in providing enough ultra-violet radiation of the correct frequency to stimulate production of the Vitamin D3 necessary for proper calcium utilization. A full-spectrum light does deliver a more natural type of light, and this may have a beneficial psychological effect on your turtles. A fluorescent lamp should not be used as a replacement for a spotlight, as the fluorescent tube does not get warm enough to be a proper basking light. For convenience, the light or lights over your turtle tank can be controlled using an ordinary timing device to turn them on in the morning and off in the evening. The timer should be adjusted periodically to reflect the changing length of the day. This lengthening and shortening of the photoperiod signals the passing of the seasons and can act as a stimulus for mating, if you are keeping multiple turtles with the intention of breeding them. The set-up for your turtle should be completed and functioning before acquiring a turtle. This allows time to monitor for problems in filters, heaters or in the arrangement of the tank. It is a lot harder to patch a leaking land area when the tank is full of turtles! Having the enclosure up and running also places less stress on the newly arrived turtle, allowing it to adjust more quickly to its new environment. Choosing an appropriate turtle is very important. Final size of the turtle is often a major factor in deciding which turtle to keep. A number of the more commonly available turtles can grow to a large size. Red-Eared Sliders may reach a foot or longer in size, depending on the specific species, while snapping turtles can get even larger. Do not buy a turtle just because it looks interesting, find out what type of turtle it is, read up on it, and decide if you can provide it with a good home. A number of good books on turtles have been published within the last few years. The most comprehensive is Carl Ernst and Roger Barbour's "Turtles of the World". More recently they, along with Jeffrey Lovich, wrote "Turtles of the United States and Canada". Both of these books are oriented towards the natural history of the turtle. Adult females of Red-Eared Sliders can grow to be 30 cm (16 inches) in length; males tend to be smaller than females. A turtle that is just about indestructible is the common snapper but, like the sliders and painted turtles, will require a large amount of room. Eventually it will outgrow most aquariums. More exotic aquatic turtles are available occasionally through reptile dealers. Food for turtles varies widely, depending on the type of turtle that is being kept. Some turtles are mainly carnivorous, while others are omnivorous and will eat just about anything you give them. Basically, it pays to determine the food requirements of the type of turtle you want to keep. Some common items are various types of lettuces such as Romaine or Red-leaf (avoid Iceberg), collard greens, or finely chopped mixed vegetables. Many turtles will eagerly consume earthworms, small feeder guppies, raw beef heart, cooked chicken or a low-fat dog food. A number of commercial products are available, such as Tetra's ReptoMin, Wardley's Reptile Ten, and Purina's Trout Chow. Above all, remember to provide a varied diet. Do not allow your turtles to fixate on one particular food item to the exclusion of all others. More in FEEDING. If a well-balanced diet is provided, most turtles, especially adults, will not require a lot of additional vitamin supplementation. However, rapidly growing hatchlings and females producing eggs can benefit from extra vitamins and calcium. One easy means of providing more calcium is in the form of a calcium block. Calcium carbonate, in the form of "Plaster of Paris", is mixed with water, poured into molds, and allowed to solidify. A vitamin powder can be added while the "Plaster of Paris" is still liquid. Art supply stores are a good source of "Plaster of Paris". Before purchasing it, check the ingredients list to verify that no anti-fungal compounds have been added. Adult turtles do not require daily feeding. Once every second or third day, they should be fed as much as they will eat in a few minutes. Do not overfeed your turtles. Turtles will over-eat and become fat, with the same consequences to their health as with any other overweight animal. Fat turtles can be recognized by their inability to retract their head and legs fully, or at least not all at the same time. Hatchlings and small juveniles can be fed daily until their growth rate begins to slow down. I recommend that you feed your animals in a separate container or deep as turtles can be rather messy eaters. Broken up food bits will quickly foul the water if you feed turtles in their aquarium, forcing a water change every couple of days. If the turtles are fed outside the tank, and it contains a large filter, the water may remain clear for months at a time. However, the filter itself should be cleaned routinely to prevent a buildup of debris. Similarly, at least a portion (one-third to one-half) of the water volume should be replaced every few weeks. This prevents the accumulation of compounds that might be detrimental to your turtle. Infrequent water changes may also result in alterations in water pH that could affect a turtle's health. In conclusion, water turtles can do quite well in captivity if their needs and lifestyles are taken into account. If they are provided with a good diet, clean water, light, and enough room, they will more than repay you for the moderate amount of work that it takes to maintain them successfully. But please, when acquiring a turtle, consider carefully your ability to provide it with a reasonable living environment. If you are willing to make that commitment, you will not regret it.

Habitat Decorations

A lot of turtle literature suggests keeping the turtle tank devoid of any gravel/rocks/shells/tank decorations. I feel that your turtle deserves a more "homely" habitat. A pleasantly decorated turtle tank would also provide "ornamental" value in your house.

Don'ts for tank decorations

  Never pick up something from the road/park/river/beach etc and put into the tank without sterilization
  Never put any decoration into the tank that has a diameter less than 2cm
  Avoid any decorations that have sharp, hard pointed edges
  Avoid any enclosure kind of decoration under which the turtle can get stuck!

Budget Turtle Housing

If you can't afford a bigger tank at this time but need a bigger tank for your turtle, look what other turtle owners have come up with. It will open up in another window.

Turtle Budget housing




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Site Created: 1/8/2002, Last modified: 12/7/2003 by Petra Grujic