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Inexpensive Homes for Sliders, Painted Turtles and other Semi-Aquatic Species – Part 2

Chitra indicaTurtle-keepers have a great many options when designing their pets’ homes…plastic bins, filtered aquariums, outdoor ponds, and many others all have their place.  In this article I’ll cover everything you’ll need to create an inexpensive habitat for most semi-aquatic and aquatic turtles, including Red-Eared Sliders, Painted and Map Turtles, Cooters, Reeve’s Turtles and others.  I’ll also mention money-saving alternatives to certain products, along with non-essential “extras” that can be added if you wish.  Please see Part 1 for information on enclosures, basking sites and shelters.

Ultra-violet “B” Light

Turtles that bask in the sun (heliothermic species) need a UVB source in captivity.  Most commonly-kept species, such as Sliders, Cooters, Painted and Map Turtles, fall into this category.  Musk, Snapping, Soft-shelled and other largely aquatic species seem to do fine without, but many keepers provide UVB as “insurance”.


The Zoomed 10.0 UVB Bulb provides high levels of UVB if placed within 12 inches of the basking site.  For greater distances, go with a Mercury Vapor Bulb, which will provide both heat and UVB.

Low Cost Alternative

Unfiltered sunlight is the best possible UVB source for turtles (and it’s free!).  Window glass and plastic filters-out UVB, so you’ll need direct sun; 1-3 hours daily will suffice for most species; a UVB bulb should be used during the winter, especially for growing turtles.


Be sure to write in for recommendations as to proper water, air and basking temperatures, as each varies by species.


The Exo-Terra Submersible Turtle Heater is designed to withstand the havoc that active turtles can unleash on “lesser” heaters.

Turtle Tough Halogen Bulbs provide UVA and heat for basking sites, and can stand up to the splashing that turtles are likely to produce.

Low Cost Alternatives

Enclosing tropical fish aquarium heaters in a sleeve of perforated PVC pipe will render them “turtle-proof”.


Baby Malayan Box TurtlesTurtles delight in dismantling filters, and most are very good at it!  They are also hard on water quality, so please review all the following options.


A wide variety of filters designed for use with turtles are now available.  The Zoo Med Canister is my favorite for most situations (please see article below).

Low Cost Alternatives

Housing your turtle in a plastic bin that is easily emptied and rinsed is a great option (please see “Enclosures” in Part 1 of this article).

Siphon-based Gravel Washers are very useful for making partial water changes, especially right after feeding.

You can also cut costs by not feeding your turtle in its aquarium (please see article below).  In this way, you can use a smaller filter, or perhaps dispense with filtration altogether.

Non-Essential Items

Ultra-violet “A” (UVA) radiation, while perhaps not essential, encourages natural behavior.  The Reptisun 2.0 Bulb and Turtle Tough Halogen Bulbs provide UVA.

A Night-Viewing Bulb will help you to observe your pet’s nocturnal activities and is useful for cold nights.

If your aquarium is large enough, consider adding artificial stumps, roots and hollow logs.  The Pure Aquatic Line is very impressive.

There are infinite variations on the above theme…please write in with your own habitat ideas and questions.   

Further Reading

Filtering Turtle Tanks

The Ganges Soft-shelled Turtle: great photos and info on this rare turtle, illustrating that some aquatic species do bask

Feeding Turtles: Water Quality


Chitra indica image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Krishna Kumar Mishra
Baby Malayan Box Turtles image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by M Noth


  1. avatar

    I have written before about my two fast-growing red ear sliders, and I think we have made the decision that our current habitat and filtration is not equipped to handle them both. We are considering finding a home for one of the turtles, but we don’t want to give it to anyone who isn’t well educated about their needs. Do you have any suggestions/leads on someone who may want to add a large slider to their tank? They each have approximately a 8″ long shell and are at least 3 years old. They both live in an aquarium that is 18w x 36l right now and we are constantly cleaning the filter and water. It will be sad to divide them, but we have already upgraded their tank and equipment three times in two years and just don’t have the room to go bigger again. Any information would be appreciated. Thanks.

    • avatar

      Hello Jessica, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Nice to hear from you again. Sounds like a good decision – they need a great deal of room, and aggression often develops in time when crowded. (even between 2 females, which yours may be given their size). Feeding the remaining turtle in a separate enclosure will greatly ease the strain on your filter.

      Unfortunately, red eared sliders are very difficult to place, as rehabbers and turtle rescue centers are usually over-stocked. But please let me know where you are located, and I’ll see if I can call in a favor or have any leads to someone nearby.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  2. avatar

    The turtle lives with us in East Earl (new New Holland in Eastern Lancaster County).

    We were given these turtles about 3 years ago by a neighbor who couldn’t care for them. We had no idea they would get so big! We should have done our homework and not just taken the small bit of info we got from our neighbor – lesson learned.

    We just want the turtles to be “happy” and healthy.

  3. avatar

    I just adopted a large red eared slider and i’m in love. The only problem is its claws. Is there any way to trim them or dull them? can i add something to her climbing rock?

    • avatar

      Hello Colette, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest. Slider claws (esp males) are normally rather long. However, unlike tortoises, they rarely become overgrown. Do they seem to be curling under, or otherwise causing a problem?

      Trimming is possible but you would need an experienced person, as there are veins within the nails.

      Please let me know a bit more about the situation when you have a moment,

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  4. avatar

    Thanks for your response Frank,
    This is a 9in long female red eared slider I just acquired. When I attempt to lift her out of her habitat she has large rear claws that have actually broken my skin. They are not curling under or prohibiting her from getting to her sunning rocks but I need to be able to remove her to properly clean the tank. She is alone, in a large enough tank. Can I put some sandpaper like thing on the ramp to her sunning rack? Just so she is easier to handle?

    • avatar

      Hello Colette, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for the feedback. Sandpaper would not likely work (might even sharpen the claws!). I suggest a pair of work gloves. If you prefer, Aqua gloves would work well also; they are designed for use in deep aquariums; will stand up to claws and keep hands clean as well. Not necessary, but give Salmonella concerns and all, worth considering. Please check this article for details.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    I have a very large habitat with a 15 year old three-toed ornate box turtle and a 7 year old red eared slider. both are rescues. The habitat has dirt/bark and a pond. Just recently The male slider has been flipping the female box turtle over, and one time he bit her while she was upside down. After being together for 7 years why would he turn on her?

    • avatar

      Hello Rose, Difficult to say, and they wouldn’t normally encounter each other in the wild, but male sliders are notorious for attempting to breed with anything remotely turtle-shaped; slider courtship involves biting, and if the object of the male’s affection cannot get away then injuries can occur. Slider pairs must often be separated for the same reason. Let me know if you need anything further, best, Frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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