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Can I Keep a Turtle in a 30 Gallon Tank?

Can I Keep a Turtle in a 30 Gallon Tank

Yes, as long as your turtle is one of the smaller varieties ranging from 4 – 6 inches in length. Even with these smaller kinds of turtles, 30 gallons is considered the minimum size your tank should be, and you should opt for larger whenever possible. 

The rest of this article will tell you everything you need to know about choosing and setting up a tank for your pet turtle. 

How Much Space do Turtles Need? 

According to Reptile Magazine, bigger is better when it comes to choosing a tank for your pet turtle, since turtles are active swimmers and need enough space to swim freely in their tanks. The following table outlines the minimum space needs per turtle size:

Small turtles (4 – 6 inches adult size)30 gallons
Medium turtles (6 – 8 inches adult size)55 gallons
Large turtles (8+ inches adult size)75 – 125 gallons

Keep in mind that the above table outlines the bare minimum size for your turtle, and that you should opt for larger than the minimum if possible. 

If the tank is too small, it will get dirty quicker, prompting you to clean it more often. Your turtle may get stressed and is more likely to become sick from a combination of a dirty tank and a compromised immune system brought on by stress and anxiety. 

Temporary 15 gallon starter tanks are carried in pet stores for hatchlings. However, even if you plan on raising your turtle from a hatchling, remember that they outgrow the starter tank quickly. To avoid having to change tanks when your hatchling gets bigger, it’s recommend to buy the tank to suit your hatchling’s adult size. 

An important note on hatchlings: If you are putting your hatchlings in an adult tank, remember to keep the water shallow (slightly deeper than they are wide), since hatchlings’ lungs aren’t fully developed. 

How Do I Set Up My Turtle Tank? 

The following are the most important things to include once your choose the right tank:

  • Water – First and foremost, water is the most important aspect of your turtle’s tank. Petco.com suggests turtles need 10 gallons of water for each inch their shell measures in length, easily remembered as “rule of shell.”
    • As you’ve probably noticed, Petco’s rule exceeds the minimum tank sizes listed in the above table, which highlights the debate on the topic of tank sizes for pet turtles. 
    • It’s strongly recommended that one-half to two-thirds of your tank should be water. 
  • Basking spot – This can be a flat stone, piece of driftwood, or a plastic turtle platform sold in pet stores.
    • Experts strongly suggest putting the basking area above the tank, where your pet can leave the water completely and dry off in their basking spot.   
  • Heater – Since turtles are reptiles and therefore cold-blooded, they cannot regulate their body temperatures like warm-blooded mammals can. The temperature on both sides of your tank – wet and dry – will need to be regulated.

    • Water – between 74 – 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure to choose a unit strong enough to heat all water in tank. 
    • Basking area – between 85 – 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Mount heat lamp directly over basking space, on opposite side of tank cover.
    • If you suspect the temperature in your tank is too hot or too cold, use a thermometer to measure both the wet and dry areas of your tank.

BuildYourAquarium.com recommends the following table as a guide for your tank’s water and heating needs:

Amount of Water in Tank (Gallons)Minimum Heater Wattage Needed
20 gallons75 watts
40 gallons100 watts
65 gallons150 watts
75 gallons300 watts
  • Light source – you need to have UVA and UVB lighting
    • UVA light: essential for maintaining your turtle’s mood and feeding habits
    • UVB: helps boost Vitamin D3, which is vital for your turtle’s bone and shell growth
    • Turtles rely on their circadian rhythms to distinguish day from night, so it’s important to switch off your light source at night.
  • Tank covers – usually steel mesh, tank covers are vital to keep your turtle from climbing out of their enclosure and to separate them from your light and heat sources. Make sure your tank cover has a locking mechanism in place to keep your turtle from pushing it aside. 
    • Important note: don’t use a glass or Plexiglass tank cover, as UVB light can’t penetrate either material
  • Hiding Places – to mimic their natural habitat, turtles need logs, rocks, and other objects to form natural places they can hide
  • Plants – can be live or fake
  • Water testing kit – for periodically testing the nitrates in your tank’s water

What Does it Mean to Cycle Your Tank?

Before introducing your turtle into its new home, it’s essential to “cycle” the tank – which means cultivating good bacteria through fluctuating ammonia and nitrate levels. The following steps detail how to effectively cycle your tank:

  1. Add ammonia to your tank
  2. Wait a few days, then test the water. Ammonia level should be around 3 ppm. Level dips periodically as bacteria develop. Add more ammonia to bring level back up
  3. After about a week, bacteria should begin producing nitrates. Measure nitrate levels with testing kit and keep adding ammonia to maintain 3 ppm
  4. An increase in nitrates and decrease in ammonia signal cycle is almost complete. Keep testing until ammonia and nitrate levels cancel out. 
  5. Tank is now fully cycled

Turtle Tank Set-Ups Kits: What Kind Should I Get?

 While set-up kits are often cost-effective and include many of the things you need to get started, remember that they usually don’t come with heat lamps, which are an essential part of setting up your tanks. 

Do I Need a Filter for My Turtle Tank? 

Yes. In order to keep your water clean and your turtle healthy, a filtration system for your tank is vital. If using an aquarium tank, an aquarium filter is sufficient for your turtle. Other filter systems include canister filters, internal filters, and under-gravel filters.

Whichever filter you choose, remember that the filter must work for your tank size. This information is most often found on the manufacturer’s label. 

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