Updated: May 19, 2022 by Jennifer Munsell
While turtles make amazing pets and tend to have interesting personalities, creating the perfect home for them that allows them to thrive as they would in their natural habitat is important. Achieving this starts with choosing the best turtle tank to serve as their home. When they are going to be spending the majority of their time in their tank, it matters!
In this article, we are going to share with you our top choices for turtle tanks that you can buy today to start creating a home for your new friend. We have also put together a detailed buying guide that explains everything you need to know about turtle tanks, including how to set up your new tank.
Spoiler alert! Our top pick for the best turtle tank is the Tetra Aquatic kit, which is a high-quality tank that comes with everything you need to make your friend a comfortable home. It is a small tank designed for smaller breeds and baby turtles, but as you get to know your turtle you’ll have a better idea of how to make them the perfect habitat as you grow. When you are just starting out, this kit is exactly what you need.
Presenting… The Best Turtle Tanks
1. Tetra Aquatic Turtle Deluxe Kit 20 Gallon Aquarium – Best Overall
This tank from Tetra is a top choice for anyone just starting out with a smaller turtle since it comes with everything that you need, though you will need to upgrade the pump. We have linked here to the 20-gallon aquarium, but larger options are also available.
- Glass tank – 20 gallons (other options available)
- Two hinged opening doors in top
- Lights, heater, and filter included
It is a solid glass tank that should be highly scratch resistant, and while it isn’t seamless the visibility is excellent. It has a hinged top with two separate doors, so you can open the tank while still keeping your lights in place.
The tank comes in a kit with everything you need including both UVB and basking lights, a water heater, and a pump and filter. For a turtle, though, you will probably want to upgrade to a more powerful filter to deal with the mess they generate.
- Kit comes with everything you need to get started
- Double hinged door is ideal for accessing your reptile friend
- Made from strong, scratch-resistant glass
- Hard to find very large models
- Will need to upgrade to a more powerful pump for turtles
Overall, this is our top recommended starter kit for anyone who wants to get everything together and be sure that all the different pieces will work together properly.
2. REPTIZOO Large Glass Reptile Terrarium
If you are looking for a larger aquarium for bigger turtles, then consider this multi-purpose reptile aquarium that is 120 gallons.
- Glass tank – 120 gallons
- Opening at the top and front
- Reinforced aquatic base
The aquarium is made from high-quality tempered glass that is strong enough to hold the water that you need to add for semi-aquatic reptiles such as turtles as long as the water is not added above the 12-inch base.
Above this base, you can open the tank at the front, or at the top with two separate mesh flaps. The top is covered with a woven screen that allows for ventilation and better penetration of UVB and basking lights. All the closures feature security locks.
- Relatively affordable for such a large tank
- Flexibility for how you set up and access your tank
- Security locks to keep your turtle safe
- You need to purchase all the accessories needed separately
- Water depth is limited to 12 inches
If you want a big tank to give your turtle plenty of space to thrive, but you are on a limited budget, this is one of the most affordable, high-quality options on the market.
3. SC Aquariums 150 Gallon Starfire Glass Aquarium
This is another very large tank that gives your turtle plenty of room to thrive and enjoy life. It is made from very strong Starfire glass, but this does not come cheap. Plus, you will need to buy all the accessories you need separately.
- Starfire glass – 150 gallons
- Central overflow
- Plumbing kit included
Starfire glass is made with low levels of iron, which eliminates the greenish-blue tint that is common in most regular glass. This means better visibility of your little buddy as they play.
The tank has features such as a central overflow, which can allow you to create a water feature that your turtle will enjoy, and it comes with a central plumbing kit as well.
- Large size tank to give your turtle more freedom
- Starfire glass for better visibility
- Professional plumbing kit included
- Quite expensive compared to some options
- You need to buy all your accessories separately
If you are looking for a professional quality tank that will last you and your turtle a lifetime, then this is a perfect choice.
4. Binano Turtle Aquarium
This is a good small tank if you are looking for a habitat for some of the smallest pet turtles such as red-eared sliders, spotted turtles, and musk turtles.
- Plastic tank
- Hidden bottom filtration system
- Rain shower water outlet
Unlike most tanks this is a plastic home for your turtle, but the open-top allows visibility. It is a small tank, with a base of 18.2 inches by 9.1 inches. There is then a water section 4.2 inches tall, and an enclosed section an additional 3.7 inches tall.
The tank has a built-in filtration system, which uses filter sponges, biochemical cotton, and culture balls for filtering, and it comes with a small water pump, though you will probably want to upgrade this to something a bit stronger. A porous design base sits on top of this, allowing dirty water to descend, cycle, and re-emerge. The re-emerging water enters via a rain shower feature, which enhances the habitat.
- Highly affordable
- Easy to use, built-in filtration system
- Stimulating circling water feature
- Relatively small in size
- Tinted walls reduce visibility
This is a nice habitat for very small turtles who enjoy swimming, and the built-in filter is effective at keeping this tank cleaner for longer.
5. SILICAR Tortoise Habitat – Best Budget Option
If you are looking for a very affordable tank, maybe to keep a baby turtle while you invest in a larger model, then this tank will do the job without breaking the bank.
- Glass and ABS Tank
- Open topped
- Bottom drainage system
It combines an ABS platform with a glass tank that is open-topped. The platform is designed with a deep swimming area and a raised platform specifically for basking and rest. It lets lots of natural light in, but you will still require lights. The purpose-built areas allow you to start using the tank right away without buying a lot of things to put inside.
One of the standout features of the tank is that it features bottom draining, making it easier to clean your tank and add new water without disrupting your turtle’s environment. You’ll need to buy equipment such as lights, but you will be able to transfer these to a larger tank when needed.
- Smart design means you can start using it right away
- Easy to drain away water for cleaning
- Small in size
- All accessories will need to be bought separately
If you are just starting out and you need a small, temporary tank for your baby turtle, then this option will do the job without breaking the bank. Whatever accessories your buy can later be transferred to a larger tank.
Choosing the Best Turtle Tank for Your Pet
The first thing to consider is what type of tank you need. Many pet turtles are semi-aquatic, so they will need an aquarium that can also accommodate land areas for them to rest. If you have a terrestrial turtle you are much more flexible in where you can keep your turtle, and can even make your own. In this guide, we will focus on tanks for semi-aquatic turtles.
Probably the most important factor to consider when choosing the right tank is making sure it is the right size. Since turtles are very active animals, they need quite a big tank to be able to engage in behaviors like they would in their natural habitat.
You will probably need a tank that is at least 20 gallons. You will likely not require a tank that is more than 100 gallons, but if you have the space and the resources, the larger the better.
As a general rule of thumb, you need one gallon of space for every inch of your turtle’s shell length. Remember, if you are getting a baby turtle you should consider how big they are likely to get rather than their current size, or you will have to continuously upgrade their tank size as they grow.
As a general rule, you need a tank of about 55 gallons for a painted turtle, 70 gallons for a box turtle, 80 gallons for a map turtle, and 100 gallons for a yellow-bellied slider turtle. You can read our guide to the best pet turtle breeds here.
While it is generally recommended to keep turtles in their own tank, you can keep female groups together. When you have more than one turtle, determine space for the largest turtle and then add at least another square foot per additional turtle.
These tanks may sound like they are pretty large, but don’t worry; your turtle won’t spend all of their time curled up in a corner. They will use all the space that you give them.
This does mean that many of the cheaper options that you find on the market will just be too small for your turtle to have a satisfying lifestyle, and you will probably need to upgrade to something larger if you want your turtle to have a happy and satisfying life.
Most tanks are made from either glass or acrylic material, though there are some other options. These materials are durable, waterproof, and strong enough to hold the significant quantity of water your turtle is likely to need.
Acrylic tanks tend to be lighter and easier to manage, but are also more expensive. Glass tanks are significantly sturdier and heavier, but they also tend to be cheaper and much more widely available.
Of course, if you are putting water in your turtle tank you are going to need a tank that opens at the top, rather than the side as you might use with other reptiles. You can have a screen top for airflow, or no top at all if your tank is tall enough for your turtle not to make an escape attempt; however, the top can also be useful for attaching essential equipment, such as lights.
Ideally, you should look for a case with a hinged lid for easy opening. A tank with a separated lid where you can keep half-closed to support lights and half-open for airflow and access is often ideal.
Things That Go in the Tank
The tank will need certain additional equipment to accommodate your turtle, which may or may not come in a kit with the tank that you choose. A a minimum you will require a UVB light, full-spectrum basking light, floating island or land areas, an aquarium heater, and an aquarium pump and filter.
Turtles need lots of vitamin D in order to properly metabolize calcium. If they aren’t getting enough, they can develop infections and metabolic bone disease. Putting them somewhere sunny probably isn’t enough; they need a dedicated UVB light that is switched on for several hours each day.
While UVB lights provide the essential light spectrum for vitamin D generation, they aren’t generally hot enough. Turtles tend to bask in the sun for several hours each day to regulate their body temperature and keep it at about 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Your turtle will also need a heat light that will allow them to do that.
The light should be focused on a land area in their tank that is large enough for them to fit their entire body on.
The basking light won’t be powerful enough to heat the entire tank, and you need to keep the water in the tank steady at 82 degrees Fahrenheit as well. Heaters should be installed on the bottom of the tank, and secured so that your turtle doesn’t accidentally dislodge one when swimming past.
Worried that your turtle or tortoise has enough to drink?
Pump and Filter
A filter is essential for keeping a tank clean, filtering out waste and turning it into less toxic material, but turtles produce a lot more waste than your average fish or reptile so you need a pretty powerful pump. Generally speaking, you want a pump twice as powerful for the size of the tank that you are using.
How to Set Up a Turtle Tank
Setting up a turtle tank is pretty straightforward, but it will require patience, particularly during the cycling phase.
1. Create Your Underwater Substrate
Start by putting any of the underwater features and toys you want in the tank, as well as your heating system. Be sure to avoid gravel as turtles tend to eat this and it can cause serious digestive problems.
2. Fill Your Tank with Water
Once the underwater features are in place, you can fill your tank with water. The water needs to be at least twice as deep as your turtle’s shell is long. If you are using tap water, use a fish-friendly dechlorinate to remove chlorine from the water.
3. Add Above-Water Equipment
Once the water is in you can add any floating landmasses for your turtle, plus your pump and filter. You can also install the UVB light and basking light, probably on the lid of the tank.
4. Cycle the Tank and Filter
This is the most time-consuming task when it comes to preparing your turtle tank. When your tank is in use, cycling will use bacteria to break down toxic ammonia in your turtle’s waste and turn it into nitrite, and then nitrate, which is significantly less toxic. You need to start the cycling process before you introduce your turtle into the tank, as it takes a while for the required bacteria to develop and start doing their job.
Start cycling by adding a small amount of turtle food to the water, and then test your filter following the instructions. Your aquarium should also come with a testing kit that allows you to monitor levels of ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates, which should be done once a day while you are starting the cycling process, and weekly once levels have stabilized.
After a few days of cycling, you should see a big spike in ammonia levels, followed by a spike in nitrates. This is the sign that you are looking for that your tank is ready to go, as it means that the required bacteria is growing in the filter. After this, you can introduce your turtle into the tank, though it makes take a while for ammonia and nitrites to reach optimum levels.
The ideal levels that you are looking for in your tank are 0 parts per million for ammonia, 0.5 parts per million for nitrites, and 4 parts per million of nitrates.
When you clean the tank, which should be done monthly, make sure not to rinse with fresh water or soap, as this can kill the bacteria needed to cycle the water. The filter should be replaced every 3-4 months.
5. Introduce Your Turtle
Once you have introduced your turtle to the tank, make sure you keep a close eye on tank temperatures and the health and happiness of your turtle to see how they are adapting to their new environment.
6. Maintain Your Tank
While a good filter system and the powerful pump will go a long way to keeping your tank clean, you will still need to clean it pretty regularly, at least on a monthly basis if not more often. Cloudy water is a sign that cleaning is needed.
Remove uneaten food on a daily basis, and replace 25% of their aquatic water on a weekly basis. On a monthly basis you will want to take out and clean items, using white vinegar or a 1:10 bleach and water solution.
What size tank do you need for a turtle?
You need one gallon of space for every inch of your turtle’s shell length, so a three-inch turtle will need at least a three-gallon tank. The larger their space, though, the happier they tend to be.
Can turtles live in a fish tank?
Yes, turtles can live in a fish tank but they need land masses big enough to accommodate their entire body for relaxing and basking. Turtles also tend to produce a lot more waste than fish, so you need a stronger pump.
Do turtles get lonely?
No, and most turtles prefer to live alone. You should generally only have one turtle in your tank. If you want multiple turtles, make sure that they are all female.
A Cozy Watery Home for Your Turtle
Making the perfect habitat for your turtle inside your home starts with the perfect turtle tank. The best tanks are clear glass or acrylic models that let you see as much of your reptile friend as possible, and one that is large enough for them to have an interesting and varied life.
After that, it is all about setting up your tank so that your turtle gets what they need; for example, heat and UVB rays, and also lots of stimulation in terms of plants and obstacles to navigate.
Building and improving your turtle’s home over the years will probably become a project that you are very passionate about.
Do you have any tips for creating the perfect home for a turtle? Share them with the community in the comments section below.