Caring for a pet turtle comes down to providing the right foods, lighting, heating and filtration in an appropriate habitat. Step 1 is to acquire an suitable enclosure. A turtle’s home must be sufficiently spacious to allow him to exercise and engage in natural behaviors, and few commercially made aquariums are large enough to accomplish these goals. Building a custom turtle pond or aquarium is an acceptable solution provided you have the necessary skill, resources and dedication.
Most commonly kept turtle species, like red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) and painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) have similar space requirements. While hatchling and juvenile turtles can be adequately housed in 20- to 40-gallon aquariums, most adult turtles should be provided with about 125 gallons of space per turtle. When constructing a custom habitat, provide each adult with at least eight square feet of space and 12 to 18 inches of water depth. Adjust the habitats size to match the species; smaller turtles, like musk turtles (Sternotherus odoratus) will need slightly less space, while larger species like snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) or softshelled turtles (Trionyx sp.) will require slightly larger enclosures.
Most aquatic turtles should be provided with an area to leave the water and bask, though snapping turtles and similar species may never use it. You can provide this basking spot inside the footprint of an aquarium by installing a floating or stationary island made of wood or rock. For ponds and other types of enclosures, you can construct a “beach” area. Basking platforms should be at least as big as the turtle, though your turtle will appreciate extra space.
Many fish hobbyists build their own aquariums, and turtle keepers can do so as well. Homemade aquariums may be made entirely from glass or acrylic, like most commercial aquariums are; or, they can be made by lining a wooden box or frame with glass or acrylic. If you're inexperienced with glass or acrylic projects, make a wooden box or frame for structural support and use the glass or acrylic only to contain the water. Be sure to use pure silicone to seal the edges, rather than mold-resistant types that may harm your turtles.
Custom-Built Turtle Ponds
Creating an outdoor turtle pond is a wonderful option if you live in an appropriate climate. Design your pond to take advantage of both natural sunlight and shade. While a beach may be provided as a basking location for the turtles, it is helpful to include a basking spot located in the middle of the pond. By doing so, you will provide your turtles with a safer place to sleep, keeping them out of reach of all but the most dedicated predators.
Stock Tanks and Pools
Pools, stock tanks and other containers can be repurposed for use as an aquarium. Modifications may be necessary to make the container appropriate for turtles, but the end product can far outperform a store-bought aquarium designed to house fish. One of the biggest advantages of using a stock tank or plastic pool is that it is easy to install drains and cut openings for filters, hoses and other items.