Turtle Habitat: Make Your Turtle Feel Right at Home

What Does Your Turtle Habitat Need?

My Turtle Tank
Basic Turtle Tank Checklist:

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  • Tank (Enclosure that can hold water)
  • Basking Area (Dock/platform)
  • Heat Lamp and UVB Lamp
  • Turtle Food
  • Filter (check out filter page)
  • Water Conditioner
  • Water Heater (for colder climates)Optional but Beneficial:
  • Air Pump (Bubble maker)
  • Decor (fake plants, substrate, rocks)


Let’s Slide Into the Details Shall We!


Turtle Tank

  • Provides natural home where there is room to swim, float, and well… be a turtle
  • Certain species of aquatic turtles prefer more room to swim than others, make sure you know what habitat your type of turtle comes from. For example red-eared sliders come from ponds and rivers and like plenty of water to swim around in.
  • Aquatic turtles NEED aquariums, meaning the tank is built to hold water. Terrariums are not designed to do this and will leave a wet mess on the ground if filled like an aquarium.
  • Bigger is ALWAYS better as long as you can afford it. Your turtle will grow and need a larger tank in time. Buying slightly larger tanks when they grow can be costly.

There is a simple rule of thumb when is comes to choosing the right tank size for your turtle:

Measure him/her from front(head) of the shell to the back(tail) of the shell. Every inch means an additional 10 gallons of water. Take these examples (for male red-eared sliders):

  • 1″ (Hatchling) – 10 Gallon Tank
  • 4″ (Adolescent) – 40 Gallon Tank
  • 7″ (Adult) – 75 Gallon Aquarium

Each additional turtle, depending on their size should increase the recommended tank sizes. I have 3 red-eared sliders (two 4-inch and one 6-inch) and they do fine in a 75 gallon tank. I do plan to upgrade though.

  • Filters

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Basking Dock/Platform

  • Turtles are cold blooded and take on the temperature of their surroundings. In order to regulate their body temperature (to maintain the most efficient temperature for internal bodily  functions) they need a place to exit the water and absorb heat from a heat lamp or the sun (known as basking).
  • There are many ways to design your tank so that your turtle can bask. This includes foam platforms that rise and fall with your tank water level, smooth, flat rock or logs that stick out of the water, or the infinite do it yourself platform designs that allow for awesome creativity in a tank.
  • It is important that the dock resides directly under the heat lamp and is accessible to the turtle with a ramp or slope. It also needs to dry out so your turtle can bask efficiently.
  • It is also VERY important ensure there is no way for your turtle to escape. They are curious and determined creatures and will eventually try and climb out, this can be quite a fall for your little shelled friend.

Pictured above is my DIY above tank basking platform. I have included the general design and materials used in my blog post: Turtle Basking Dock DIY Above Tank

Choose your turtle basking dock or platform based on your turtle’s size: Measure him/her from front(head) of the shell to the back(tail) of the shell and compare the measurements to the dock or platform. Will the turtle fit? You want your turtle to have a bit of space to stretch out and soak up the sun.  REMEMBER, young turtle grow quickly, my RES turtles grew over 4 inches in 3 years. Again, bigger is better in the turtle world as long as it fits in the tank.

  • Basking Docks/Platforms

    11 ItemsBasking Docks/Platforms



Lighting (Heat & UVB)

  • UV lights are required for your turtle to regulate its temperature and bask as well as obtain the essential UVB light for a healthy shell and body.
  • There are a few versions of heat emitting bulbs that can be used on the basking area for your turtle. This heat is typically produced by an incandescent bulb of which come in varying wattages.
  • The wattage required for your turtle’s basking area depends on how large the basking area is, how far away the light fixture is placed, and what the light fixture that the bulb is screwed into can handle.
  • The main function of a heat lamp is to provide the natural temperature your turtle needs to bask. This depends on the turtle of course but a red-eared slider likes a warm 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. For my basking platform, shown in an earlier picture, I have a 75 watt bulb about 8 inches over the surface of the platform. This keeps the basking area at around 90 degrees.
  • BUT WAIT! You cannot forget the bulb that emits UVB radiation. It is essential turtles are exposed to this light, without it turtles could experience limited shell growth, metabolic bone disease and even death.
  • UVB bulbs, usually halogen, are more expensive than incandescent bulbs but last longer. They produce very little heat but produce a bright white light. Depending on your setup this bulb can be beside your heat lamp on the basking platform (prefered) or in a light strip spanning the tank. The bulb can accomodate both a compact light fixture and a strip light (tube) fixture. Like incandescent bulbs, there are varying sizes (intensities) that are designed to suit several sized aquraiujms and applications. For my turtles I use a UVB ZooMed  Reptisun 10.0 which is a larger compact UVB bulb.
  • LAST BUT NOT LEAST! There are bulbs that combine both heat and UVB in one! They are mercury vapor bulbs and although they are more expensive they require only one light fixture for the turtle tank. Its a two for one deal. I plan on taking advantage of this awesome bulb once my current bulbs expire.

  • Lighting

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  • 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.
  • As they grow older more general formulas of larger pellets making feeding your turtle easy and hassle free. You can find them in all shapes and sizes including sticks, pebbles, and even mixed with freeze fried shrimp and insects.
  • 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.

Turtles LOVE fresh food! Check out the fruits and vegetables your shelled friend will love chomping on:

VEGETABLES: shaved and grated carrots, squash, cooked corn kernels, peas, and most leafy greens  like romaine lettuce, collard, kale, mustard, dandelion, watercress, arugula, and parsley.

FRUIT: Apples and pears (sliced), tropical fruits  like bananas, papayas, guavas, grapes as well as most berries  like strawberries or raspberries, and lastly melons  like cantaloupe, honeydew, or watermelon!

  • Food

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