Cute and entertaining, aquatic turtles have tons of personality to spare. These pets are clean, quiet and reasonably easy to care for. But don’t let a baby turtle fool you! Water turtles are still a big responsibility. They are long-lived, can grow to over 3 pounds (1360 gm), can reach 12 inches (30.5 cm) in length, and they require a proper environment in order to stay healthy. Provide your turtle with a clean cage, good diet, adequate heat and light, and he will bring you joy for many, many years.

Biological Facts

  • The slider and the painted turtle are the most common varieties found in the pet trade.
    • Slider turtles (e.g. Red-eared, Yellow-bellied), Genus Trachemys: Native to the southern United States
    • Painted turtles (e.g. Western, Eastern), Genus Chrysemys: Range throughout the US and into southern Canada.
  • Adult females generally larger than males, and their vent opening lies near the base of the tail, under the edge of the “carapace” (upper shell). Adult males have very long toenails, and their vent opening lies closer to the end of the tail, beyond the edge of the carapace.
  • Turtles for sale in pet stores are generally farm raised. Wild caught turtles may not adapt well to captivity, and keeping native wildlife as pets is usually illegal.
  • Pet turtles that are released into the wild may introduce disease into local waters, and compete with or displace native turtle species.
  • Life span: 20-30 years or more with proper care
  • Sexual maturity: 3-5 years for males; 5-10 years for females
  • Gestation: egg laying occurs about 60 days after breeding
  • Incubation: hatching occurs about 55-75 days after laying
  • Clutch size: 2-20 eggs


  • Most active during the day
  • Forage for water plants and small prey such as minnows, crayfish and worms
  • Bask in the sun during the warmest part of the day to aid digestion, immunity, and promote normal growth.
  • Regulate internal body temperature by moving between warm and cool areas of enclosure
  • Prefer to eat in the water


  • Omnivorous, with the majority of the diet coming from animal protein when they are young, and plant material as they grow older.
  • Whole fish (e.g. minnows, feeder goldfish), insects, frozen/dried krill, worms
  • Floating aquatic turtle pellets
  • Dark leafy green vegetables (e.g. kale, collards, dandelion leaves, mustard greens, romaine lettuce) and broccoli
  • Avoid iceberg lettuce and meat; these do not contain a balanced nutritional profile.
  • Young turtles can be fed once a day; older ones every other day


  • Large habitat that mimics the natural environment as closely as possible
  • Pond or aquarium setup large enough to grow into. Provide enough room for your turtle to swim the length and width of his cage. Water depth should allow for the turtle to dive, as well.
  • Provide a ledge, limb, or area of dry land for your turtle to “haul out”, dry off, and bask.
  • Water temperature should range from 75-82ºF (23.9-27.8ºC).
  • Basking area should be 90-95ºF (32.2-35ºF) to provide heat for proper digestion and strong immunity. It should also provide UVB radiation for proper growth.
    • If housed indoors, this will require a heat lamp and an ultraviolet light, or one of the newer, more expensive mercury-vapor light bulbs that can provide both heat and UVB rays.
    • Place UVB light within 12-18 inches (30.5-45.7 cm) of the turtle’s basking area. The light should not be blocked by glass or plastic, which will filter out beneficial ultraviolet rays.
  • Check daily to ensure that the heat source and UVB lamp are working. Turtles kept indoors at room temperature often succumb to infection and stunting.
  • If housed outdoors, it is also important to provide a shaded area to provide shelter from the sun.
  • Tank bottom can be bare or covered with sand or gravel. If covered with gravel, the pebbles should be bigger than the turtle can swallow in order to avoid accidental ingestion.

Preventive Care

  • Complete physical examination every 6 to 12 months
    • Consult a veterinarian with experience treating reptiles if you have any questions or concerns about your turtle’s health.
  • Annual fecal examination for parasites
  • Blood tests as recommended by your veterinarian

Common Medical Disorders

  • Vitamin A deficiency
  • Stunting, soft shell, metabolic bone disease
  • Bacterial shell and skin infection
  • Foreign body ingestion
  • Pneumonia