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How to Setup a Turtle tank? : Everything You Need To Know

How to setup a turtle tank

Caring for a turtle can be a very rewarding experience! They are not only adorable, but they are also quite fascinating semi-aquatic creatures. Turtles have an upper and lower shell that protects them from potential predators. Their upper shell is referred to as a carapace, while their lower shell is referred to as a plastron. Their aquarium, like turtle shells, protects them from other home pets, low temperatures, and other potential risks.

Why It Is Important To Have The Right Setup

Why It Is Important To Have The Right Setup

As a pet parent, you most certainly want to provide the safest and healthiest environment for your new pet. If you correctly set up your tank, it will require less maintenance in the long run. Before you begin your turtle adoption journey, you need mentally prepare yourself for the time commitment required to set up and maintain it. If you do not believe you have the time to care for a turtle and its tank, it is best to make this decision before you begin the process of setting up a turtle tank. You can also choose to provide your turtles with an outside environment. This is perfectly OK, although it is not the most common way. Most folks will choose a turtle tank that can be set up to look like an outdoor environment. We will provide you with all of the knowledge required to construct the most turtle-iffic tank setup possible!

Choosing Your Tank

Choosing Your Tank

Type of Tank

There are many different types of tanks depending on which aquatic or semi-aquatic creature you are getting. There are some great turtle tanks that are marketed for turtles specifically, which can be helpful for first-time users. Even if you cannot find a tank made for turtles specifically, as long as you make sure they fit the specifications we mention below, you should be good to go!

Size of Tank

When deciding on tank size for your turtle, make sure you account for their growth. If you do not, you will need to set up a new tank when your turtle develops to a larger size. As a general rule of thumb, you should have 10 gallons of water for every inch of upper shell length of your turtle. You’ll want to be sure that whatever size tank you purchase can carry this much water without bursting at the seams.

Disadvantages to getting a tank that is too small

If you buy a tank that is too tiny, you will have troubles in the long term. As previously stated, it is essential to choose a tank that your turtle can grow into. If you choose a smaller tank, you may have the following issues: 

  • Smaller tanks are more difficult to clean. Not only are they more difficult to physically clean, but they also get dirty faster because all of your turtle’s items are in closer quarters.
  • Smaller tanks can also affect your turtle’s growth. If they feel that they do not have enough room to grow, their growth may be interrupted. This can cause an increased risk for health issues that can harm your turtle.
  • Smaller tanks won’t allow your turtle to swim as often as is healthy for them.
  • If you have more than one turtle, having too small of a tank can cause them to run into conflict with each other.

Shape of Tank

You must also decide on the shape of your tank based on the type of turtle. The amount of water you may safely store in your turtle’s house is determined by the length and width of your tank. Depending on the sort of turtle you get, you need to make sure your tank has ample swimming room. Alternatively, if you are getting a turtle that requires less swimming in their daily activities, you should consider that as well.

Tank Cover

A tank cover is a next thing you’ll need for your tank. The goal of a tank cover is to keep items from falling into the tank and injuring your turtle. The tank cover will help prevent your turtle from escaping from its humble habitat. Tank covers are available in a variety of materials, including plastic mesh and steel mesh. A steel mesh cover is the best type of cover to acquire for your tank. There are several reasons why steel mesh is the perfect material for your tank’s top. 

First and foremost, you want a material that is both protective and breathable for your turtle. Steel mesh provides lots of air to enter, allowing your turtle to breathe freely. The second factor is its durability. When cleaning or changing the water in your turtle tank, items may fall into the tank by accident. Objects may fall into the tank and hurt your turtle if there is no firm base on top. 

Finally, because your lighting is so close to the top of your tank, you must ensure that it can withstand a specific amount of heat. Your lighting should not be so hot that it can melt anything, but having a tank cover made of steel mesh will alleviate that worry.

Choosing Other Tank Materials

Choosing Other Tank Materials


You should include an ultraviolet (UVA/UVB) light in your tank arrangement. This light should be placed as close to the tank as feasible so that your turtle can reap the benefits of having it nearby. The advantages of a UVA/UVB lamp are primarily concerned with ensuring that your turtle’s calcium metabolism is maintained.

Why is lighting so important? 

  • Turtles are reptiles, and they go through the process of thermoregulation. Thermoregulation is the process in which reptiles are able to regulate their body temperature. 
  • Thermoregulation allows your turtle to absorb UV light, which helps their bodies produce vitamin D3, which is associated with calcium metabolism, as previously discussed. 
  • If turtles cannot go through the thermoregulation process, they can develop serious bone diseases that can lead to death.


The best way to keep your turtle happy and healthy is to keep the heat inside (and in the water) of your turtle tank. As a general guideline, the temperature in the turtle tank should be between 74 and 48 degrees Fahrenheit. You can buy an aquarium water warmer that will fit inside your turtle’s tank. Inside your tank, the temperature should be between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to ensuring that the heater is set to the most comfortable temperature for your turtle, it should also be covered or hidden in some way to prevent your turtle from tampering with it. Experts recommend covering the filter with a segment of PVC tubing. The incredible thing about PVC pipe is that it is waterproof and will not harm the rest of the tank’s parts.


The goal of installing a filter in your turtle tank is to reduce the frequency with which you must clean it. Unfortunately, turtles generate a lot of garbage in their daily activities. As a result, having a filter can be quite beneficial in maintaining a healthy atmosphere for your pet.

Finding the best filter 

When selecting a filter for your tank, be sure it can filter as much water as is required in your tank for your turtle to live peacefully. In general, fish habitats contain far less water than turtle aquariums. 

  • Check that your filter’s flow rate is adequate. Your filter should be able to go through all of the water in your turtle tank once every hour. Some filters are designed specifically for turtle aquariums. Buying one of these can make the transition more straightforward for a new turtle pet parent. 
  • You should also ensure that your filter has three critical components: mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration capabilities. 
  • The mechanical component performs essential filter functions, such as ensuring that any loose particles in the water are filtered out. 
  • The biological element of the filter controls the ammonia in the water caused by your turtle’s urination. It also aids in the maintenance of healthy microorganisms in the tank. Yes, there are beneficial bacteria! The chemical composition of the filter cleans out the remaining particles that can be found in tanks. It is critical to have a filter that incorporates all of these components to ensure that your turtle’s tank is clean and that your turtle is as healthy as possible. 
  • Replace the tank’s filter according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Typically, this period lasts a month or two.

If you skip the step of getting a filter for your tank – be prepared to clean your tank more often. Of course, you will always have to clean your tank at some point. But having a good quality filter can dramatically decrease how often you need to clean your tank.

Turtle ledge or dock

Turtles are unique (and adorable) creatures that spend their time split between being above and underwater. They will also need this ledge to be able to lay in the ultraviolet light we mentioned above. Imagine laying on a beach chair on a hot summer day; this is essentially what you want to create inside your turtle’s tank. This is what is referred to as your turtle’s “basking area”.

Size of the ledge

  • Make sure the ledge is bigger than your turtle so they can sit comfortably on it. 
  • You may want to start with a significantly bigger ledge than your turtle so they can grow into it. 

Material of the ledge

The material of the ledge should be sturdy enough to hold the weight of your turtle.  

You can purchase various types of ledges or platforms from pet stores or online retailers. Some of these platforms resemble a miniature version of a dock found at a boat marina. Others are designed to resemble an extensive collection of rocks.

Some even have a tower structure that allows your turtle to climb to a higher part of their tank and bask in ultraviolet light. Regardless of which one you choose, you must be adaptable and adaptable to figure out what works best for your specific turtle. Because each turtle has different preferences, you may need to try a few different types. 

If you struggle to find a basking area for your turtle, you can consider getting a floating basking area. These usually have some sort of suction cups on them to be secured to the side of the tank. Then the actual material that your turtle will bask on is floating. 

Some turtle pet parents even try to build their own basking areas out of flat stones or pieces of driftwood. If you choose the DIY option, you will want to make sure that your platform is sturdy and can’t quickly move around in the tank. If you decide to use driftwood, a helpful tip is to soak the driftwood in water before putting it in the tank. This will prevent it from shedding any unnecessary materials into your freshly cleaned tank.


If you’ve ever set up a tank for fish or other aquatic creatures, you’ll be familiar with the fact that some pet stores sell artificial plants to decorate your tank with. This can be an attractive way to decorate your tank. On the other hand, your turtle has some benefits if you can put living plants in your tank. 

The Benefits of Living Plants 

  • In your turtle’s tank, living plants can act as a natural filter. 
  • Living plants also aid in the prevention of bacteria growth in the tank. 
  • Your turtle will most likely enjoy hiding in live plants and swimming through them! This gives them the impression that they are in their natural environment. 
  • If your turtle eats a living plant, it will not have many digestive problems. On the other hand, if they eat a fake plant, it can cause severe blockages in your turtle. 

Living plants have disadvantages. 

  • Living plants are more challenging to maintain (especially underwater).  
  • Some plants should not be kept in your turtle’s tank. If you used artificial plants, you would not have this problem. 
  • Depending on your turtle’s temperament, they may try to mess with live plants more than artificial ones. 
  • Your turtle may attempt to extract the plants from the “ground” or substrate. 
  • Your turtle may try to pull the plants out of the “ground” or substrate. They can also try to shred plants with their mouths.

Larger stones 

Larger rocks (or rocks of varying sizes) in your turtle’s tank can provide opportunities for them to climb and play. Turtles enjoy moving around. As a result, you should provide your turtle with various items for them to swim around, climb on, and explore all areas of their tank. Having different sizes of rocks spread out throughout the cage can help with this. 


The term “substrate” refers to whatever you use to line the bottom of your turtle tank. When it comes to materials, there are a few options to consider. Gravel Gravel is extremely dangerous to have in your turtle tank. 

When your turtle is eating, it can ingest the gravel much more easily. 

They may not intentionally eat the gravel, but it is still a risk to have it in the tank near where they are eating. Crushed coral, on the other hand, is not an ideal substrate for rooted plants. Crushed coral can also be used as a filter medium to correct low pH conditions, which is usually a better solution than mixing it with the substrate, especially if the low pH problem is only temporary.


  • Sand can be much easier to clean than other materials as the substrate at the bottom of your tank. 
  • Sand is one of the safest substrate options because even if your turtle ingests some of it, it is unlikely to harm them significantly. 
  • Cleaning rocks is more complicated. Waste can become lodged beneath the rocks or between multiple rocks. 
  • Some property owners will use a combination of rocks and sand. 
  • Make sure the rocks are large enough that your turtle cannot eat them. 
  • Many turtle hobbyists prefer fine sand as a substrate. However, I believe that sand is a poor substrate. Even with frequent vacuuming, I find it difficult to keep the tank clean.

Some turtle owners will opt for tile or no substrate at all. There are some advantages to doing so. 

  • It makes cleaning more straightforward because you don’t have to replace or clean underneath anything. 
  • As with sand, there is always the possibility that your turtle will inject whatever material you use as a substrate. This risk is eliminated when the tile is used. 
  • Choosing the best substrate is determined by your personal preferences and the amount of time you are willing to devote to tank cleaning. It is considered best practice to keep the same type of substrate in your tank so that your turtle can become accustomed to it. 

Putting Your Tank Together

Putting Your Tank Together

We’ve arrived at the section of the article where you’ll learn how to actually set up your tank! It may appear daunting to consider all of the steps required to properly set up your turtle’s tank. But we’ll be with you every step of the way. 

  1. The first step in preparing your tank is to place your substrate in the tank’s bottom. You should make sure that if you are using multiple substrate types, you add them to the tank one at a time. 
  2. The second step is to fill the tank with water. It is preferable to gradually add water to the tank rather than dumping the entire amount you intend to fly the tank with all at once. 
  3. The third step is to place your decorations in the tank. Above, we discussed the various types of decorations you can use in your tank. You are free to arrange your decorations however you see fit. You should try to avoid any areas where your turtle could quickly become entangled. Your turtle’s shell is a bit clumsy in shape. As a result, they can easily become stuck in places and struggle to get out on their own. 
  4. The fourth step is to prepare your basking area. You should double-check this before adding more water to the tank. You will also need to set up your light in the basking area during this step. 
  5. The fifth step is to insert your heater into the tank. This is the heater that will heat the water in your tank. This can be placed anywhere in your tank that is convenient for you. It’s best to put it in the tank’s corner, so your turtle has plenty of space to swim and explore. This will also keep them from being too interested in tampering with the heater, which can be hazardous to their health. 
  6. The sixth step is to place your filter in your tank. As previously stated, you can never have too much filtration in your tank. It is preferable to have one that can filter more water than is actually in your tank. 
  7. The final step is to fill the tank with the remainder of your water (if you are adding more). Then you’re ready to put your turtle in your tank! You should keep an eye on them when they first start exploring to make sure they don’t get stuck. 

Keeping Your Tank Clean

Keeping Your Tank Clean

The frequency with which you clean your tank will be determined by several factors. This includes the size of your turtle, the amount of waste they produce daily, and the effectiveness of your filter. We told you that having a filter is highly beneficial! 

Altering the Water 

Changing the water in your tank is the most common type of cleaning you’ll do to keep it clean. As a general rule, you should change half of the tank’s water every two weeks. As previously stated, the frequency with which you change the water in your tank will be determined by the needs of your specific turtle. If you take your turtle out of the tank before you begin cleaning, it will make the job easier. You can put your turtle in any container you have on hand. You should put some water in this container so that they can swim while you clean. 

Algae Removal 

Before you begin this step, make sure to unplug your tank’s heater and filter. You can clean the tank with whatever you want, but we recommend using an algae scraper. These are available at most pet stores and, if necessary, online. Some algae scrapers resemble brooms and are primarily used to scrape algae off of the items in your tank. Scrapers with magnets are also available, which can help make the cleaning process faster and more efficient. These devices are typically inexpensive, ranging from $5 to $15. Purchasing one of these devices is unquestionably worthwhile! They will be handy when cleaning your tank. 

Clean Out Your Tank 

An aquarium vacuum cleaner is another tool you can use to clean your turtle tank. When you use a vacuum, you are also partially changing the water in the tank, which we mentioned earlier is an integral part of the cleaning process. You’ll want to place one end of the vacuum in a bucket and the other end in the tank. Remember not to try to start a siphon-type vacuum with your mouth. Salmonella, which is extremely dangerous to humans, can sometimes be found in turtles. 

Keep Adequate Chemical Levels 

Chemical levels in your tank must be kept at a certain level. Purchasing aquarium water test kits is an easy way to check this. This includes strips that allow you to test the water to see if the chemical levels are sufficient. There are some things you can do if you use the strips and discover that the levels in your tank are not what they should be. If you need to lower the pH of the water, for example, you can try adding peat moss, driftwood, or cappata leaves. If you need to raise the pH of your water, however, you can add small amounts of baking soda to your tank. In both cases, start with small quantities to ensure that the pH does not become too low or too high. 

Levels Desired 

  • 6-8 on the pH scale 
  • 0 ammonia level 
  • 0 chlorination 
  • Nitrite concentration of 0 or 0.5ppm 
  • Nitrate concentrations of less than 40 ppm 

Keeping Fish in Your Aquarium 

Another way to make your filter somewhat self-cleaning is to keep fish in your tank with your turtle. When selecting fish for your tank, make sure that they will naturally eat the algae off the tank’s surfaces. If you decide to add fish to your tank, make sure you aerate the water. Aerate is a verb that means to add water to. To accomplish this, you can instal an aquarium air pump in your tank. 

Including Ghost Shrimp 

Ghost shrimp are inexpensive and do an excellent job of keeping your tank clean. This type of shrimp can eat food that your turtle does not eat and algae, which helps keep the tank clean. The same as with the fish, there is a chance that your turtle will eat these tankmates. 

Allowing Water to Flow in Your Tank 

Another way to keep your tank clean is to use an aquarium circulation pump. You want the water in your tank to move slightly but not too quickly. There should be minimal movement. A circulation pump will also help prevent harmful bacteria from growing as rapidly and slow the rate at which algae will build up in your tank. 

Troubleshooting Manual

Troubleshooting Manual

This section of the guide will go over what you should do if you have problems with your tank. If you are a first-time turtle owner, it may take a few tries to get the tank correctly set up. This is perfectly fine! Continue to practise, and you will discover what works best for you and your turtle. 

What should I do if my turtle isn’t soaking up the rays? 

If your turtle is not basking, make sure the temperature is warm enough. If the temperature of the basking area (or the tank water in general) is too cold, your turtle may lose energy and stop basking as frequently. If possible, take your turtle out into natural sunlight during warmer weather.

However, if the temperature is too high, your turtle may choose not to bask for the same reason. It is critical to maintaining a stable temperature in your tank to avoid this. 

If you just got your turtle, it may be still getting used to its new surroundings. Turtles are easily stressed and scared, so it is natural for them to be cautious at first. You should keep an eye on them to ensure that they eventually begin basking when they feel more at ease. 

You can try moving around the basking area or rearranging your turtle’s setup. It’s possible that your turtle doesn’t like how the arrangement is set up. 

How can I reduce the amount of mess in my tank even more? 

If you want to reduce the mess in your tank even more (which will allow you to clean it less), consider feeding your turtle somewhere other than their tank. 

You can accomplish this by having a specific bin or container filled with water and only feeding your turtle in. 

What if I want to keep multiple turtles in my tank? 

Same as a fish tank, It is possible to have more than one turtle in each tank, but this is dependent on several factors. First and foremost, your turtles must get along and not fight. In the wild, turtles tend to live alone and have few social ties. 

This is especially common if there are multiple male turtles in the same tank. 

You must ensure that the tank is large enough, or you will have to buy a new one. As a general rule, you should have ten gallons of water for each inch of one of the turtle’s lengths and five more gallons for each inch of the second turtle’s length. 

Making sure that both of your turtles have enough space will provide the best environment for them to get along. 

It is best to have separate basking areas for your turtles or at least one for each turtle. You can also have a much larger basking area so that both turtles can bask simultaneously. The issue here is that turtles may prefer to be separated. This is usually preferred if you can have two basking areas. 

What if the power goes out and I cannot heat, filter, or light my tank? 

When it comes to dealing with a power outage, you have a few options. The best option is to buy a backup generator to have on hand in case you need it. 

For the time being, if you live somewhere where the weather is warm, you can consider creating a habitat for them outside. If you choose this option, you must ensure that your turtle is safe from outdoor predators. 

Another thing you can do is insulate your tank with blankets to keep as much heat inside as possible. 

How much water should be in a turtle tank?

Turtles need to have enough space for swimming, so make sure that at least one-third of your tank is filled with water. If you are using a fish tank like aquarium as the enclosure, keep in mind that it will take up about two-thirds of the volume. Make sure there’s enough room left over for a basking area, which is generally the top one-third of the tank. Just remember, It also depends on turtle species; Aquatic turtles require more water than semi-aquatic turtles.

Turtles require warm air temperatures as well as warm water temperatures. Basking bulbs are excellent for warming air but not water. You will also require an aquarium heater.

How many turtles should you put in a tank?

The answer to this question depends on a few things like the size of your tank, what kind of turtle species you have and how big each one is.

  • A good rule of thumb is that there should be at least 50 gallons per inch for every animal in your tank. For example, if you’re thinking about putting two turtles in a 50 gallon tank, then you’ll need at least 100 gallons to give them enough room.
  • If your animal is a little smaller than typical (like a hatchling), use the same rule but divide by two if they’re half as big and multiply by four for double the size

What is the best thing to put in the bottom of a turtle tank?

It is recommended to have a layer of sand or play sand on the bottom and then some type of habitat. Another important thing to include in your turtle tank is water, which should be deep enough for them to submerge head first but not so deep that they can’t touch the ground.

Do you need a filter for a turtle tank?

Yes, similar to a fish tank, an aquarium filter is necessary for the turtle tank to keep it clean and oxygenated.

How do you know how big a filter should be?

Filters are measured in gallons per hour, so measure your tank’s water depth and then multiply by its surface area (length x width). A good filtration system such as a canister would be more than sufficient for most needs

Do I need a basking bulb?

To create the proper temperature, use a basking bulb in conjunction with a reptile thermostat. Keep in mind that temperature requirements differ between species. The tank’s daytime ambient air temperature should be between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with a basking spot between 90 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit over the tank’s land area.

Aquatic Turtles vs Semi Aquatic Turtles

Aquatic Turtles vs Semi Aquatic Turtles

Most turtles are happy in freshwater or saltwater environments. The difference between the two types comes down to habitat and diet.

Similarities: Semi-aquatic turtles live in freshwater habitats for at least some time each day and need a higher food intake, while aquatic turtles spend most of their lives in the water but can also go onto land when necessary

Differences: Semi-aquatic turtles can stay out of the water overnight but eventually need to return because it is needed for them to moult properly, while aquatic turtles have a sealed shell that prevents this from being an issue. Semi-aquatic turtle shells don’t require as much calcium supplementation because they are not submerged in either.


We hope the post gives you a good overview of setting up a turtle tank. Having a turtle as a pet can be a very rewarding experience. Pet turtles are fascinating creatures that often create a calming presence with their slow movements and swimming patterns. Setting up and maintaining a turtle tank can be time-consuming, but it is turtley worth it! 

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

A bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.

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