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Aquarium Setup Ideas for Turtles

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Beneath the lights and the aquarium top is where all the fun goes down in turtle world. Knowing how to set up your pal's aquarium will help him enjoy his home and live a stress-free life. From adding a cave structure to setting him up with a basking platform, you'll have quite a few design choices to make.

Water and Feeding Dish

Aquatic turtles do drink the water from their tank, but they also appreciate a shallow water dish on their landing when they decide to dry off for a bit. Because they eat in the water, you don't need to provide them with a food dish. Box turtles enjoy a water dish large enough for them to climb into but shallow enough to wet only their underside. A feeding dish keeps their munchies nice and tidy.


Box turtles and aquatic turtles love plants, but sometimes their love is a little too strong. They tend to eat or roughhouse live plants, requiring you to frequently replace the greenery. Plastic plants can suffer the same fate. But your turtle's penchant for ruining plants doesn't mean you can't add a few greens. Tough plastic plants can foil your turtle's destructive plan for live plants. If your shelled friend can take bites out of plastic plants, remove them.

Hiding Spots

No turtle enjoys everyone being able to peer at him through glass walls. These reptiles prefer a dark hiding spot or two. Plenty of possibilities exist for such hiding places. One classic is a carved-out log that your turtle can hide under. Another option is a terracotta pot turned on its side to create a little den. Decorations that look like big rock caves also work. Even plants can be hiding spots, especially those with dense foliage. Just make sure that whatever you use, it can't collapse and trap your turtle.

Basking Rock

Most turtles enjoy basking on a platform slightly above their substrate or water. That platform can be something simple, such as a rock large enough to accommodate your turtle, or something more complex and imaginative, such as a water dock featuring a ramp. For aquatic turtles, it's easiest to purchase a platform or landing that you can attach by suction to the glass.


To allow your turtle to bask, install a heat bulb above his tank and his basking rock. Position the bulb off to the side to achieve a temperature gradient that lets your turtle seek out cooler and warmer areas throughout the tank. You'll also need a bulb that produces ultraviolet B light above his basking rock. To lessen the clutter at the top of your tank, consider a mercury vapor bulb, which combines the heating and UVB elements into one bulb. For aquatic turtles, All Creatures Animal Hospital suggests keeping the basking spot 90 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit and choosing a 5 percent or 10 percent UVB output bulb. Box turtles require the same UVB output, but a basking temperature of 85 to 90 degrees is more appropriate for them, according to the Animal and Avian Medical Center. Use a timer to keep the bulbs at a constant cycle of 12 hours on, 12 hours off.


Aquatic turtles don't need substrate, and adding it makes it more difficult for you to clean their aquarium. For box turtle substrate, the American Animal Hospital Association suggests combining soil and sand or peat moss and wood chips. If you use wood chips, don't use pine or cedar chips, and use only chips that are too large for your turtle to ingest.