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Where Do Turtles Live?

| Updated September 26, 2017

Unlike his reptilian cousin the tortoise, the turtle spends at least part of his life in water. Depending on the species of turtle, you'll find turtles in fresh water, such as lakes and rivers, or in the ocean. You should know what type of turtle you have because pet turtle habitat varies widely according to species.

Habitat Size

You have a variety of containers to choose from to build your turtle habitat. Aquarium tanks, plastic tubs and even indoor or outdoor ponds all provide a basic building block for designing a turtle home. Consider how large the turtle will grow and choose his container accordingly.

  • Turtles reaching up to 6 inches in length require at least a 30-gallon container.
  • Turtles growing up to 8 inches long require a 55-gallon container.
  • Turtles larger than 8 inches should live in tanks larger than 75 gallons.

Room to Swim

If your turtle's feet are webbed, that's a hint he'll need ample water for swimming. Painted turtles, sliders and cooters all appreciate deeper water because they spend a lot of time swimming, while mud and musk turtles don't need too much water because they tend to crawl around in water. Turtles who spend more time on land can make do with a pan of water that's easily accessible and allows a turtle to completely submerge, as he sees fit. Aquatic turtles require a habitat with half land and half water. Using an aquarium filter will help keep the aquatic turtle's water clean; if your turtle only needs a pan of water, it should be changed regularly.

Temperature, Lighting and Basking

Turtles are cold-blooded creatures, so it's up to you to ensure your pet's habitat is suitable for him. His home should stay between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit -- it's up to you to maintain a reliable temperature because as a turtle, he can't regulate his body temperature. A basking spot, outfitted with a rock or piece of wood, should be maintained at a temperature between 85 and 95 degrees and the water temperature should be 70 and 85 degrees. Turtles also need UVA and UVB light for growth and mineral absorption. Since different species of turtles have different needs choose a lighting system appropriate for your type of turtle.

Turtle Hibernation: Brumation

As a cold-blooded creature, a turtle who lives in colder climates has to protect himself from extreme temperatures. Some species of turtles burrow into places that offer protection from frigid weather, a process known as brumation. Brumation also facilitates breeding, prompting sperm production and ovulation. Brumation is a stressful, potentially dangerous time for a turtle, making a veterinary exam prior to hibernation important so the vet can determine if the turtle is healthy enough for the process. If the turtle is healthy -- of proper weight and sufficiently hydrated -- he'll need to brumate in a special container called a hibernaculum. A homemade hibernaculum is fine if it's properly prepared, filled with appropriate material sufficient for the turtle to burrow into, and maintained at a temperature between 40 and 50 degrees.


  • Talk to your vet about whether your turtle needs to brumate, and if so, if he's in shape for the process. The vet can explain how to physically prepare your turtle for brumation and how long it should last for your turtle.

Nesting Areas

If your turtle is female, you must provide her with a nesting area because she'll lay eggs, regardless of whether she's mated. A female who is carrying eggs is called gravid, and she must lay her eggs on land or she will develop a life-threatening infection. The ideal nesting area varies according to what type of turtle you have; Tortoise Trust, a London-based organization devoted to promoting tortoise and turtle well-being, recommends researching your turtle so you can replicate her natural habitat as much as possible. If you don't want to have baby turtles and you have a male and female turtle, you should keep them in separate housing or plan to remove and destroy any eggs.