Creating the Perfect Aquatic Turtle Habitat

red-eared slider

Aquatic turtles make a wonderful addition to an outdoor pond but before you run to the pet store to pick out your new pet, it is important to make sure your turtle’s new home is properly equipped to keep him healthy and happy. As with any new pet, be sure to research proper care and feeding requirements as well as temperament and living habits in order to create the perfect aquatic turtle habitat.

The most popular and hardy aquatic turtle is the Red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans). The Red-eared slider is a semi-aquatic turtle that spends the majority of time in the water only coming out to bask in the sun or to lay eggs. You can identify the Red-eared slider by the red stripe on each side of the head. They are very quick both in and out of the water. Generally, the female will grow up to 12″ in length while the male is slightly smaller growing up to 10″ in length and can live up to 30 years if cared for properly.

Feeding time

Aquatic turtles are omnivores and require a varied diet of plants and animal materials such as fish, tadpoles, snails, crickets, mealworms, aquatic and land plants and occasionally a treat of shrimp or cucumbers. Adding commercial turtle pellets to the diet is fine but should not be the only source of nutrition. If you have Koi or Goldfish in your pond, the turtles may nip at their fins or even eat small fish, but as long as the fish are larger than the turtle there should not be an issue.


Proper living environment

Water quality is of utmost importance. Since aquatic turtles spend the majority of the time in the water a large surface area is preferable and should include a shallow wading area that slopes down to a depth of 2’. Turtles enjoy spending time basking in the sun so be sure to include a “beach” area out of the water which can also be used by the female for egg laying. Adding an aquatic plant bog will help to create a more natural environment. Keep in mind the turtles may eat some of the plants so be sure to only include plants that are not toxic. If you do not want your turtles to wander off installing a fence or creating a rock wall will help to keep them confined. The proper sized filtration system takes into consideration the gallons of water in the pond & the fish/turtle load.  Perform water changes on a regular basis and maintain water temperature at around 78-82 degrees. Submersible and in line heaters are available to help maintain the water temperature in the winter.

Common misconceptions

Turtles hibernate in winter. Truth is turtles do not hibernate they brumate, which means they become less active when the temperature drops below 50 degrees. They will occasionally come up for food and sun. In Florida, you will notice your turtle will become active as soon as the weather warms up and return to brumation when a cold snap returns. Another misconception is that only turtles carry salmonella. All reptiles and amphibians carry salmonella.  Following good hygiene rules will greatly reduce the risk. Of course, careful handling, cleaning and hand washing is important when handling any animal.

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