How to set up a water turtle aquarium with fish

Written by sarah goodwin-nguyen
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How to set up a water turtle aquarium with fish
In the wild, turtles and fish inhabit the same places. (turtle 2 image by Stjepan Banovic from

The secret to setting up a successful turtle aquarium with fish is to gear the tank towards turtles rather than fish. Turtles are generally more difficult to keep, and should be the main exhibit in the tank. The turtles and fish that are most likely to survive coexistence come from ecosystems of the same climate and water conditions. In the wild, turtles eat fish, and even a well-fed turtle may decide to snack on fishy tank-mates.

Things you need

  • Acrylic or glass fish tank
  • River rock
  • Dechlorinated fresh water
  • Water heater and water thermometer
  • Filter
  • Large rocks and slate
  • UVB and UVA reptile lighting
  • Heat Lamp and thermometer
  • Fast-moving school of fish

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  1. 1

    Provide an acrylic or glass fishtank placed on a level surface. The aquarium should live away from loud noises and out of drafts and direct sunlight. The tank's size will depend on the species of turtle you are housing--keeping in mind their full adult size--as well as how many you will house. Larger is always better for turtles. Snapper and wood turtles may need even more room than sliders.

  2. 2

    Add a thin layer of river rocks to the tank's bottom. The rocks should be large enough that your turtle cannot fit them in its mouth.

  3. 3

    Add dechlorinated fresh water. According to, the water should be deep enough to for the turtles to immerse themselves entirely and swim at least some distance. Most species of turtles will require a water heater (and reptile-safe thermometer). Optimal water temperature depends on the species of turtle being kept. For example, according to "Basic Care for Snapping Turtles" By Jean Adamson, the temperature should be between 20 to 25 degrees Celsius (65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit), which is slightly cooler than water preferred by other species.

  4. 4

    Add a strong hang-on-back or cannister filter. Turtles prefer ample water movement, and many turtle-keepers utilise a waterfall in their turtle habitats.

  5. 5

    Add a dry area that can be easily accessed by the turtles. Use sturdy rocks and slate to create a natural incline up out of the water. The size of your dry area will depend on whether you are housing aquatic turtles (snappers) who spend less time on land, or semi-aquatic species (sliders and wood turtles) who spend a bit more time basking than fully aquatic turtles.

  6. 6

    Provide full-spectrum, UVB and UVA reptile lighting, as well as a heat lamp for basking and a thermometer. The optimal basking temperature will depend on the species of turtle you are keeping.

  7. 7

    Add freshwater fish that move fast enough to avoid being eaten by the turtles. Choose fish which will be comfortable in the same water temperature and conditions as your turtles. A small school of livebearing fish has the best chance of survival in a turtle tank. Some possibilities include guppies, mollies, gambusia, blue danios or comets. A turtle tank is not the place to display delicate ornamental fishes.

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