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The Best Turtle Aquarium Ideas

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Owning turtles as pets is an excellent alternative for people that want to have a low maintenance pet, either because they have busy lives and want to avoid the hassle of constant care or because they don’t have a lot of free time. However, if you’re going to own a turtle or many, you need to build an aquarium for them. The best turtle aquarium ideas are those that resemble and emulate the natural habitat of turtles. If the environment mirrors the natural habitat, turtles can live happily and comfortably inside without problems.

Because some turtles spend most of their time swimming underwater, a mandatory feature for any turtle aquarium is size and space. Your tank must not only be big; you need to fill it in a way that turtles can move swim around with ease. Furthermore, your turtle aquarium must include land as well. Turtles need access to a dry spot so they can go and sunbathe, for that, you will use UV light bulbs.

  • what are the best turtle aquarium ideas
  • deep learning about  turtle aquarium accessories and equipment

Best Turtle Aquarium Set Up Ideas

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Turtle Ideas

The first things you need to consider before setting up a turtle aquarium are your budget and the available space in your home. Turtles come in various shapes and sizes, with some species growing more than 30 centimeters in length. Depending on the turtle species you choose to get, you are going to buy the corresponding necessities.

The size of the budget that you have to invest for your aquarium comes in relation to the size of your turtles and the number of turtles you want inside. Below you will be presented with the most common types of turtles that people put in their home aquariums in case you have run out of ideas.

Small Turtle Aquarium

We call small turtles, the turtle species that stay relatively small throughout their life and don’t grow size. Among the other turtle species, small turtles need the least amount of effort to be taken care of; this makes them a low maintenance type of turtle. The most common types in the small turtle category are:

  • Mud Turtles – The mud turtle will not grow more than 12 centimeters long, lives up to 50 years on average, and originates from Africa.
  • Musk Turtles – Although quite identical to the mud turtle, musk turtle is a different species, the also live almost 50 years, and they grow in size a little bit less than the mud turtle, around 10 centimeters long.
  • Box Turtles – is another species in the small turtle category. Box turtle also grows 12 centimeters long at best, and they live 30-50 years. You can distinguish the box turtle among others easily because of its dome-like shell. Another fact you should bear in mind about them is that they borrow in their habitat, so you need to put a substrate in your aquarium if you choose this turtle.

The above species are an excellent choice for a beginner turtle keeper. An aquarium designed to keep mud and musk turtles will be easier to maintain because it will be smaller in size.

Small aquariums hosting these species are ideal for apartments due to their size, and the animals living in these aquariums will be more manageable, this is important in case you have kids.
Another point that we need to be mention about small turtle aquariums is that it is easier and faster to clean it, and the same goes for feeding the turtles since they require less food than the bigger ones.

The tank you will need for this type of aquarium should be at least a 20-gallon tank. If you have anything smaller, you will run into problems as the turtle grows. They also need a decent size tank to give them room to get the exercise that they need.

You may also like: How to raise or lower the pH of the aquarium

Sea Turtle Aquarium

As their name suggests, sea turtles are the turtle species whose natural habitat is the sea. We formally call them aquatic turtles. In contrast with the previous turtle type, and with what is the widespread belief about turtles, sea turtles can get very big. Imagine getting a turtle without knowing what kind of turtle it is, and after some time it starts outgrowing its tank.

In that case, you would need to build a new aquarium from the beginning. To avoid having a turtle grow larger than your tank, you always have to educate yourself about the turtle you are going to get, and ideally buy it from a certified breeder. Of course, building your aquarium beforehand and have your setup ready helps a lot, but knowing how big your turtle will get is an essential part.

The most popular sea turtle kept as a pet in a home aquarium is the red-eared slider. This turtle can grow as long as 30 centimeters and even longer; thus, you need to get at least a 50-gallon tank.

Turtle Aquarium Accessories and Equipment

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While the tank is the basis of the aquarium, there are a couple of essential components which contribute to your turtle’s health and to the owner’s convenience too, these are:

  • Water filtration system
  • Air pump
  • Water heater
  • Lighting bulbs
  • Basking area
  • Substrate(optional)

Water Filtration System

Clean water is vital for the turtle’s habitat. However, the turtles tend to get the water dirty relatively fast through feces and uneaten food. To keep the water in your aquarium clean, you need a quality functioning filter, ideally, one designed for a larger tank to ensure its effectiveness. For a turtle aquarium, it is advised to get a filter at least two times bigger.

Air Pump

The function of this piece of equipment is self-explanatory, it pumps air In the water. There are two reasons to pump air inside the aquarium’s water:

  • It keeps the water cleaner and healthier because it prevents the survival of certain bacteria; these bacteria are called anaerobic and cannot survive in the presence of oxygen.
  • Occasionally turtles play with the bubbles made from the pump, which is a pleasant sight.

Water Heater

Keeping the temperature in the water of your aquarium steady is essential for the turtles’ health. Most turtles spend almost their whole day swimming, which means they are underwater. If the temperature of the water is not steady and ideal for the turtle species you have, usually between 21 and 26 Celcius, there is a high chance your turtle will develop health problems. If the water is warmer than it should be, turtles develop bacteria, and if it is colder, they develop infections, that’s why a thermostat heater is vital. A useful piece of advice you should remember is that it is wise to have always a second thermostat heater at your aquarium in case one of them stops working. That way, you put an extra safety layer to the stability of your aquarium.

Lighting Bulbs

Another vital aspect of turtle keeping is the lighting of your aquarium. Turtles need three kinds of light in their habitat, these are:

  • UVA (Ultraviolet A) light bulb. The importance of this kind of light for the turtles’ health has to do with its mood, feed patterns, and breed patterns.
  • UVB (Ultraviolet B) light bulb. This light is an essential component for the production of Vitamin D3 in the turtles’ body. Vitamin D3 is responsible for the turtle’s shell and bone to grow correctly. Another use of UVB light is about calcium absorption in the turtle’s body.UVB is of utmost importance for the turtle’s health, and if a turtle isn’t exposed enough to it, it will develop metabolic bone disease. If a long time passes for the turtle without getting UVB light, it dies.
  • Basking light bulb for warmth. Basking is a necessary procedure for turtles in their everyday life. To us, they look like they sit there doing nothing, but in reality, they get their body warmer to kill various germs on their body.

Like every animal, even humans, turtles have their circadian rhythms; this means that the turtle’s body has a couple of functions that follow the day and night cycle. If something disrupts the cycle, stress is induced, sleep is disturbed, and immunity in the turtle’s body. Since your aquarium is kept indoors, you need a way to emulate the day and night cycle, that’s where these lights come into play.

Basking Area

As it was previously mentioned, a necessary part of a turtle’s routine is basking. Basking is sunbathing. When turtles want to sunbathe, they emerge from the water and look for a warm spot that is exposed to light.

To achieve a natural-looking basking spot, and a turtle aquarium, you can use cut pieces of log, or a rock wide enough for your turtle to lay and absorb heat. Because the basking spot needs to be a little high, it is thoughtful to form a staircase of some sort using, again, rocks and wood to allow your turtle easy access.

There are a few things that you need to keep in mind while choosing your turtle basking area.

  • Do not use an area that is too small for the turtle.
  • Ensure that they can climb and descend the slope easily. Remember, the slopes will become slippery when they get wet.
  • Do not have a basking area that takes up too much space. The turtle needs to have enough room to swim. You can get suspended basking platforms that sit above the water but remember their entry and exit.
  • The last point, some turtles can be quite substantial. Remember to ensure that, whatever you do, it will hold the weight of the turtle. You do not want to injure them.


We call substrate they layer at the bottom of the aquarium. An aquarium’s substrate usually consists of sand and rocks. Typically, in an aquarium hosting turtles, there is not a reason to put a substrate. Two main reasons exist for placing a substrate at the bottom of an aquarium:

  • The use of live plants to stimulate a more natural environment.
  • Aesthetic reasons.

Some are against using a substrate unless, we talk about a specific species that need it, like box turtle. There are two fundamental reasons not to use a substrate:

  • If the bottom of the aquarium is empty, it is way easier to clean.
  • On some rare occasions, turtles eat some substrate unintentionally and end up injuring themselves

If you are adamant about putting a substrate for any of the two reasons mentioned above. There are a lot of options available, but people commonly use:

  1. Fine sand – is the most popular substrate component for a turtle keeping aquarium. Although it brings difficulties to the cleaning process, a vacuum will help. Also, sand is friendly to plants and even to some turtle species. Some of them will hide underneath the sand as if they were in their natural habitat. The last thing to remember about sand substrates is it needs frequent cleaning because turtle waste tends to mix with it.
  2. Fluorite – Fluorite is the best choice for a planted turtle tank. It is gravel made of clay, and it was made precisely for this purpose, aquariums. Extremely friendly to plants and aesthetically pleasing. Although, when you introduce fluorite the aquarium, there is a catch. The water will become cloudy because of the dust. Leave your filter on for a day or two until the water is clean.
  3. Flat Rock – this is the easy way out. An excellent alternative for people who hate cleaning their substrate, although not so friendly to the roots of live plants. Keep in mind that you should boil the stones before putting them inside the aquarium to kill germs and bacteria.


Building an aquarium for turtles can get very interesting. Since there so many options to choose from regarding equipment and decorations, you need to inform yourself. Bear in mind that when making an aquarium, you are a host. You are building the home of a living being, and that’s why you should be extremely careful with it. The internet is full of information, and this makes it is to educate yourself about the natural habitat of the species you will put inside to emulate that environment in the most accurate way possible.

Of course, a beautiful aquarium is nice, but the health and safety of your pet have higher priority over aesthetics. Lastly, you should have in mind that a cleaning routine is vital for the aquarium. Even if you use filters, you should always pay attention to your water.

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