Bringing home your baby turtle can be a memory worth 1000 smiles and even more pictures on your phone but it can also be stressful if you are not prepared. Turtles are resilient and ancient creatures that figuratively and literally have a hard shell but they need a basic environment to live a long healthy life.


Baby turtles or hatchlings can be purchased but commercial selling of hatchlings is illegal in the United States primarily because they may carry Salmonella. Salmonella can be deadly when contracted by children and elderly. Small turtles are the cutest thing to a child but can be harmful to them. Flea markets and some city stores, like one’s you may find in Chinatown, sell baby turtles illegally out of their back room or even right on the street. If you acquire your turtle this way please remember that it needs your loving care and be mindful to wash your hands after handling them.


So, however you may have come across your baby turtle there are specific things you must provide for him/her. Speaking of him/her, when buying a small turtle it is near imossible to tell its gender. This can be a big difference when it comes to turtles such as red-eared slider where females can reach up to 12″ while males reach around 6-8″ long.

Last but not least turtles live a long time, like 20+ years long if cared for correctly. Keep this in mind when planning down the road.

With these things in mind, if you think you are ready to take on the worlds most ancient pet here are some necessities when bringing your lil buddy home for the first time.

    1. Enclosure: Your turtle needs a contained area of which can hold water and to which it cannot escape. Turtles need ample space to swim, exercise and well, be turtles! Out of the water they love to run and hide as soon as you turn your head, its really quite impressive seeing as they are…turtles…. I would suggest, if you have a 1″ baby turtle to get at least a 10 gallon fish tank to start him off in a home that will last at least a several months. Turtles grow fast so don’t plan on keeping him in a small tank for years. A great place to buy cheap 10 gallon aquariums is Petco and Petsmart. IMPORTANT: turtles love finding ways to get out of the tank. To stop the, from doing so I suggest a screen cover for the top of the tank. This will also be a platform for your lighting.

    2. Lighting: Correct lighting is extremely important for a turtles health. Turtles are cold blooded. In order for them to regulate their body temperature they must have access to direct sunlight. Of course your turtle is inside a fish tank so in order to mimic the benefits of the sun, bulbs emmiting UV rays must be used. UVA is acquired from a typical halogen light. This light acts as your heat source for your turtle. UVB lights are a bit pricier as they provide the full light spectrum to the habitat. It is essential turtles are exposed to this light, without it turtles could experience limited shell growth, metabolic bone disease and even death. UV lighting is one of the most important, and often over looked part of a turtles habitat. A cheap and very reliable way to set up this lighting for a 10 gallon tank would be to get a compact flourescent UVB bulb and a 50W-100W halogen bulb. As the tank grows or if the light is farther away, larger lights power outputs may be necessary.

    3. Basking Area: As you learned from above, turtles need heat to regulate their body temperatures. In order for a turtle to be exposed to the sun in an aquarium they need a platform out of the water and under the heat lamp to which they can literally (its adorable) stretch out their heads and appendages to soak up the sun (bask). This can easily be done by getting a specially designed floating dock or log that can be found in pet stores or online (Floating Basking Dock).

    4. Filtration: Turtles poo and there’s nothing you can do about it except get the best filters on the market. Hatchlings don’t produce tons of waste but still more than fish so special consideration should be taken when getting a filter for your turtle tank. See the best filters page to get great suggestions!

    5. Food: Turtles need to eat of course and there are a few different types of food you can give them. Hatchlings need a more protein loaded diet and the hatchling formula in the form of small pellets (Hatchling Formula). As they grow older more general formulas of larger pellets making feeding your turtle easy and hassle free. Their are more natural ways to fill their hungry bellies including leafy greens, freeze-dried shrimp or krill, crickets, superworms, rosy red minnows and even pinky mice? (ew to that last one) These can all be obtained at your local pet store.

That’s it! Those are the basics for you new turtle buddy. Just watch out as he grows! He will need a bigger tank, bigger food, bigger filter and a bigger basking area.

Zoo Med Laboratories Turtle Starter Kit

To make it really easy for you Zoo Med has a All in One aquatic turtle starter kit: