While your pet turtle is content to live alone, some pet turtles cohabitate well and thrive with others. While you should generally house tortoises with members of their own species, and a few aggressive species cannot have any cage mates, many aquatic and terrestrial turtle species cohabitate well. By choosing species that inhabit different niches, you can maximize cage space and achieve success with a multi-species vivarium.
Neighbors from Different Niches
Scientists use the term “niche” to categorize species according to their microhabitat preference, diet, activity and a variety of other factors. For example, red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) are aquatic, diurnal, omnivorous turtles that spend a lot of time near the surface of the water. Other turtles that share these preferences -- painted turtles (Chrysemys picta), river cooters (Pseudemys concinna) and yellow-bellied sliders (Trachemys scripta scripta) -- are said to share the same niche. An example from a different niche would be stinkpot turtles (Sternotherus odoratus), who are nocturnal, aquatic scavengers that walk along the bottom of rivers and ponds. While it is possible to house animals of the same niche together, it requires more total cage space; it is more efficient to house turtles together that inhabit different niches and results in less competition.
Most popular aquatic turtles are basking species that require large water areas and plentiful basking opportunities. If the cage is large enough, painted turtles (Chrysemys picta), slider turtles (Trachemys scripta ssp.) and river cooters (Pseudemys concinna) cohabitate with each other well. Many successful, multi-species vivariums incorporate one or two basking turtles with a few bottom dwellers. In the wild, basking turtles of various sizes and species often stack themselves on top of one another when basking locations are at a premium -- thus demonstrating their tolerant personalities.
Bottom dwellers include stinkpots and other musk (Sternotherus ssp.) and mud turtles (Kinosternon ssp.). Many of these species are nocturnal scavengers. Because they inhabit a different niche than the basking species do, they cohabitate well with painted turtles, sliders and cooters. Bottom dwellers are most comfortable in relatively shallow water and require objects along the bottom of the tank for hiding.
In general, you should avoid housing different tortoise species together; most fill similar niches, compete for similar resources and may be stressed from the cohabitation. However, some keepers achieve success with species from similar habitats, such as keeping red-footed (Geochelone carbonaria) and yellow-footed tortoises (Geochelone denticulata) together. You can usually keep individuals of the same species together as long as the cage is very large and you only place one male in each cage. Box turtles and other semi-aquatic to terrestrial species often cohabitate well with members of their own species, but be sure to include enough visual barriers and hiding spots for all inhabitants.
Some species do not make acceptable specimens for group tanks. You must house large or highly predatory species singly; common snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina), alligator snapping turtles (Macrochelys temminckii) and softshell turtles (Apalone ssp.) view anything else living in their cage as potential food. Even if their cagemates are not small enough to be consumed, aggressive turtles may severe the limbs or cause large, traumatic wounds to their cagemates.
- Austin's Turtle Page: What Can I Keep with a Turtle?
- Animal Diversity Web: Chelydra Serpentina
- Animal Diversity Web: Macrochelys temminckii
- Animal Diversity Web: Apalone Spinifera
- Saint Louis Zoo: Common Musk Turtle
- Tortoise Trust: Taking Care of Pet Tortoises
- Tortoise Trust: The Care and Breeding of Musk Turtles
- Melissa Kaplan's Herp Care Collection: Red-Eared Sliders