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Aquatic Turtle Care Sheet

Aquatic Turtle

map, red ear and painted

Aquatic turtles can be found in or near water. Most aquatic turtles will leave the water to bask on dry land, but spend most of their time in the water.

Aquatic Turtle

Aquatic Turtle Facts

Includes: map, red ear and painted turtles
Average Adult Size 5 to 11 inches long depending on species
Average Life Span 20 to 40+ years with proper care, depending on species
Diet juvenile - carnivore adult - omnivore

Will reach adult size in 1 to 2 years, depending on species and under ideal conditions; upgrade habitat size as your turtle grows.


A well-balanced aquatic turtle diet consists of:

  • These aquatic turtles need a pelleted commercial diet.
  • Commercial turtle treats and freeze-dried krill may be given as treats.
  • Painted wood, map and red ear - Dark, leafy green veggies and finely chopped vegetables. They also benefit from comet goldfish, earthworms and insects as treats.


Things to remember when feeding your aquatic turtle:

  • Fresh, clean, chlorinefree water should be available at all times.
  • Feed daily; need to be fed in water to eat.
  • Consider a separate feeding tank as aquatic turtles are messy eaters.


  • Size - Appropriately sized habitat (at least a 40 gallon breeder tank) with a screened lid so the turtle can't escape. A good rule of thumb is 10 gallons per inch of turtle; adult turtles will require more room.
  • Habitat - Aquatic turtles drink the water they swim in, so it needs to be changed frequently.
  • Substrate - Slate, rock or gravel that is too large to eat is optional; water for swimming area; some aquatic turtles require a shallow area they can rest in the water with their head sticking out and they all require a turtle dock area to bask out of the water. Create basking areas for easy entry and exit to water.
  • Temperature - Temperature gradient (95°F for the warm end/basking area and 75°F for the cool end/water); use a basking bulb and submersible heater as primary heat source.
  • Lighting - UVB rays with full spectrum lighting for 10 to 12 hours a day is required. Incandescent lighting is needed for basking area.
  • Do not house different turtle species together.

Normal Behavior

  • Turtles do not like frequent handling and may bite when frightened.
  • Aquatic turtles are excellent swimmers.

Habitat Maintenance

  • Keep the habitat clean and remove uneaten food and feces right away.
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect the habitat at least once a week: place turtle in a secure habitat; scrub the tank and furnishings with a 3% bleach solution; rinse thoroughly with water, removing all traces of bleach smell.
  • Add clean, dechlorinated water, with a temperature range from 70 to 75°F before returning turtle.

Grooming & Hygiene

  • Aquatic turtles occasionally replace their individual scutes as they grow.


Signs of a Healthy Animal

  • Active and alert
  • Eats regularly
  • Healthy, hard shell with no lesions
  • Clear, bright eyes with no swelling
  • Healthy skin with no sores
  • Clear nose and vent

Red Flags

  • Eye, nose or mouth discharge
  • Discoloration, bumps or spots on shell or skin
  • Lethargic
  • Frantic swimming
  • Abnormal feces
  • Sneezing, runny nose
  • Overgrown beak
  • Swelling behind the tympanum

If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian.

Common Health Issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Health Issue GI tract parasites Symptoms or Causes Poor appetite, listlessness, possibly diarrhea and anal prolapse. Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Health Issue Respiratory infection Symptoms or Causes Open mouth breathing, eye, nose and/or mouth discharge, sneezing; can be caused by a cold habitat. Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian and ensure habitat is the correct temperature.
Health Issue Shell rot/ulcers Symptoms or Causes Discolored or foul-smelling patches or pits on the shell that can become infected; may be caused by an unclean habitat or improper diet. Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian and ensure daily cleanings and/or diet changes.
Health Issue Eye or respiratory infection Symptoms or Causes Swollen eyes and sides of head; may be caused by a vitamin A deficiency. Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian and use a vitamin supplement.


Ask a store partner about Petco's selection of books on aquatic turtles and the variety of private brand products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All private brand products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all reptiles are potential carriers of infectious diseases, such as Salmonella, always wash your hands before and after handling your reptile or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physician before purchasing or caring for reptiles and should consider not having a reptile as a pet.

Go to for more information about reptiles and disease.

This Care Sheet can cover the care needs of other species.

Note:The information on this Care Sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, refer to the Sources on the back of this Care Sheet or contact your veterinarian as appropriate.

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

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