Long-lived, responsive and intelligent, Red-Eared Sliders and similar turtles are among the most popular of reptile pets. However, aquatic turtles feed in water and are quite messy about it, and produce a great deal of waste. Keeping their water clear and odor-free, and in a state that promotes good health, is a challenge faced by all turtle-keepers. Today I’ll review some filters that are especially designed for use with aquatic turtles and other reptiles and amphibians; you can view other available models here.
Your turtle’s natural history and feeding behavior will greatly influence the type of filter that should be used, so be sure to research these topics before making your selection. For example, Spotted Turtles will be stressed by fast currents, Soft-shelled Turtles will kick sand about and dislodge intake tubes, the carapaces of Pig-Nosed Turtles are prone to bacterial attack in highly-oxygenated waters, and so on. Please write in if you need help in selecting a filter.
You can greatly ease the burden on your filter by habituating your turtle to feeding in a separate container, outside of its home aquarium. Please see the article below for details.
Always leave a bit of old material in your filter when changing carbon or filter pads, so that beneficial aerobic bacteria will seed the new filter medium.
The considerations below apply to aquatic frogs, newts, lizards and other creatures as well; please write in for further information on the species in your collection.
Zoo Med Turtle Clean Canister Filter
This is my favorite choice in many situations, and is the most powerful filter designed specifically for turtles. Resembling a fish canister filter in general form, it has chambers for carbon, filter pads and aerobic bacteria colonies, and is simple to clean. It is placed next to (not below) the tank, operates in as little as 2 inches of water, and can be used to create a waterfall effect. The largest model can handle tanks of up to 60 gallons in capacity.
Supreme Ovation Submersible Power Jet Filter
The original model of this filter was the first submersible pump/filter combination available in theUSA, and it remains my favorite. The first that I purchased operated continuously, under great strain, for nearly 20 years!
Today’s models are extremely powerful, and are equipped with a movable outlet tube and a spray bar so that strong currents can be avoided if necessary (i.e. for hatchlings). The Supreme Ovation 1000 pushes 265 gallons per minute, yet is compact and easy to service.
I’m particularly fond of the powerful suction cups attached to all Ovation Filters. This tiny detail is extremely important but frequently overlooked…turtles often “insist” on detaching lesser filters, which can lead to injuries and motor burnout.
This unique product is actually a basking site, waterfall and powerful filter (to 96 gpm) rolled into one. Resembling a rock in appearance, the Cliff Filter is a real space saver and great for use with frogs and newts as well as turtles.
The Tetra In-Tank Filter hangs from the side of the aquarium, but mounts inside the tank rather than outside as do older models. This makes it an ideal choice where tanks are backed up against walls or one-another.
I like the fact that the convenient filter cartridges are changed from the top, without the need to open or even move the filter box. It can operate in low water (2 inches) or a full tank, and so is suitable for use with a wide variety of turtles.
Fish Tank and Pond Filters
Hard core turtle enthusiasts will no doubt run into situations that are not addressed above. For example, adult Common and Alligator Snappers will require huge tanks or ponds equipped with pool filters, while planted aquariums housing groups of Bog Turtles or other small species might best be served by Fluidized Bed Filters.
Please see our line of 150+ Aquarium and Pond Filters for other options.
C insculpta image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Dawson
i had questions about filters for turtles. i want something that would be suitable for a full grown Mississippi map turtle or red ear slider (i know size varies) something that would be good for a 55-120 gallon tank is what i was looking for. there are so many types from canister filters, submersible filters, water fall filters it is just confusing. are you able to use two 50 gallon filters in a 100 gallon tank? how does the gallons per minute play a factor in picking out a filter? if the tank filters 92 gallons a min is that okay for a 100 gallon tank?
any and all help would be great i want to but a turtle but i want to know what filters i need and have the best set-up before buying one thank you
The Zoo Med Turtle Clean Canister and the Supreme Ovation are my favorites…either one alone may be enough if you feed the turtle outside of the aquarium (see this article) and do partial water changes regularly. You can also pair them if need be, just be sure currents do not disturb swimming ability etc. GPM ratings are just to give a general idea of power…that changes rapidly once debris enters filter. larger size of either above filters will be fine…feeding outside the tank is the most effective way to keep water clean, reduce filter wear/tear. Best, frank
my wife asked what if we put a pleco(larger or close to the size of the turtle) in the tank would this help?
Plecos are largely herbivorous, feed upon greens, vegetables, decaying plant matter; but in any event no catfish will keep water quality under control; ammonia and urates released with the feces quickly foul the water. Also, maps and sliders will attack any fish in the tank, even those to large to be consumed in one siting…outside of a large, planted pool, it’s very difficult to house fish with turtles. best, frank
I purchased a Filstar XP-L for 90 gal. fish tank. It truly is meant for fish, not large red ear slider turtle. The filter starts and stops. Turtles are messy and I don’t know if there is anything out there specifically designed for aquatic turtles aside from being a mechanical engineer and designing one yourself or hiring a professional to do it.
thanks for your input; I’ve run into the same with fish filters. the Zoo med turtle clean mentioned in the article is least likely to clog, but even with it, and in zoo exhibits, I feed outside of the home enclosure when possible. This really lessens the filter’s work. Pl see this article for further info. best, frank
I have two RES that aren’t quite a year old yet. They’ve outgrown their Zoo Med 20 gallon aquatic turtle starter tank, and we recently purchased a 125 gallon for their new home. We already feed in a separate enclosure, but we’re looking for the best filters we can purchase. So far we were looking into Rena, Eheim, & Fluval. I’ve heard good things about the Fluval FX-5 (self carborates). I’m planning on running an undergravel filter as well, in addition to the other filter. Do you have any experience with these filters? Any help would be greatly appreciated!
I’ve not used that model fluval, but all are generally very good. I’ve also used the zoo med Turtle Clean with good results, but not in a 125. It’s rated for a 60 gallon, but if you remove turtles for feeding it may do the job. Wide tubes, et…not prone to clogging. I favor UG;s as well. However, with turtles it’s generally much simpler to use a bare bottomed tank. Gravel holds lots of debris, and the biological action of the UG may not be able to keep up with the job at hand. bests, Frank
About 2 months ago, I found an RES in my backyard in FL. After realizing he was missing one of his legs, I decided to make him my pet. I estimate he is approximately 2 years old. I’ve been struggling with filtration for his tank. Right now, I have a small 30 gallon and a 90 gallon filter running in 5-6 gallons of water. The water still looks cloudy. Besides feeding him in a separate container (which I read above), do you have any other tips? Should I do water changes, etc.?
Feeding in seperate container is most effective; partial water changes also. Another option is to set the animal up in an easily cleaned container, ai.e a plastic sweater box, storage container…dump/re-fill often. If you use an aquarium, do not put gravel on bottom, as this complicates cleaning. Pl let me know if you need more info, best, Frank
I found a 8 inch long and 5 inch wide female red ear slider in a very urban area full of outdoor dogs cats and plenty of crows and seagulls overhead. I found her near the Atlantic Ocean an area with no freshwater pounds for miles. It appears she was dumped so I rescued her as oppose to releasing her in NY. I need to find a better filter and a basking platform that can hold her weight. I have a 30 gallon tank with about 10 gallons of water and penn place cascade 300 filter for up to 10 gallons and 70 gph. I feed in a seperate container. other than the turle the tank has river rocks and a large floating basking dock. I have had the setup for 3 days and the filter is stuck everyday w shed skinn so I am cleaning the filter and tank everyday I use Turtle Clean in the tank and the tank is cloudy and full of she’d skin the next morning please help. Also the turtle refuses to use he platform except to hide under or to escape being taken out to feed
Unfortunately, It’s difficult to manage a turtle of that size in a small aquarium; you’ll need a 55 gallon at least, but even then water quality will take lots of monitoring. The Turtle Clean would be a good choice, but if turtle is in rapid shed, or fed in tank, it may clog as well. Turtles do not usually shed skin in lg quantities all-at-once…can be a sign of skin ailments (bacterial infection, exposure to certain chemicals, etc) but not necessarily.
Best not to use any substrate (you mentioned river rocks). Bare bottom tank much better.
Don’t bother with water-cleaning preparations.
partial water changes useful.
Cork bark wedged between glass sides or affixed with silicone against sides of tank, or a home-made “table type” platform that allows for a hiding spot below, are simplest options for larger turtle basking sites.
If the turtle has been living outdoors (they will wander very far from water if seeking a new habitat) it will try to escape, seek to hide rather than bask for some time.
UVB exposure and proper diet important, let me know if you need details.
Adult sliders are not ideal for most homes…active, cramped even in a 55 gallon tank, better in wading pool type setups, or one of the newer turtle tub enclosures (Zoo med makes one). The NY turtle/Tortoise Society has an adoption service, although sliders are hard to place;
release should not be encouraged, but Central Park’s turtle pond supports dozens, no concerns with native species interactions, etc.
be sure to take proper precautions against Salmonella and related, which the turtle is harboring. Please see this article and let me know if you need info, Best, Frank
This is truly sad for red ear turtles that rescues won’t even deal with them.smh… I tried to do the right thing and help a turtle in distress and I feel like I got punked for my efforts. If I get the zoo med tub would that give her enough room or would she be cramped in that also because the measurements for the only tub which is 13 gallons seems similar to the measurements for the 30 gallon tank she is in. also the zoo med kit does not come with a heater which one do you recommend foe heating the water? I apologize for so many question but I know nothing about turtle keeping and I need to,figure this out fast as the cold weather will soon be upon us. Thanks for the info on handling her properly and I do have her nutrition and lighting taken care of. It’s the tank and filter I’m still very concerned about.
Your efforts are admirable, but there really is no way around the problem…there are thousands, literally, in nature centers/rehab centers etc, and millions established in 30 or more countries outside of their native range, and in most USA states. Try contacting NYTTS.org and LI Turtle Homes, just in case. Again, they do fine on their own (“too fine” – they invariably out-compete painted turtles, other natives), in urban setting where others are seen; might be preferable to getting involved yourself, they are lots of work and wild caught adults kept in small enclosures can take a long time to adjust.
I thought ZooMed had a larger model; the tub bottom can be drilled to allow for a drain, which can simplify cleaning, but not possible in most homes. No sense in spending extra money if it will not simplify care.
These heaters have protective coverings designed to withstand banging around by turtles, but are pre-set to 78F. In winter, you can let water dip to high 60’s, as long as you have a basking site and the turtle is in good health. Metabolism will slow, which means less feeding/cleaning.
My son (so me) is the proud owner of 2 yellow-bellied sliders. I am unclear of there age, but they were about 1 inch when they came home 6 weeks ago. We got them set up in a Zilla 20 gallon turtle starter aquarium. I had no knowledge on raising turtles when these cane home so I was ran to the pet store for help. We have a UVB and heat light, basking rock, gravel (which I read you you don’t recommend). One if the turtles has grown significantly and is almost twice s big as the other. Should I be concerned. They eat Zoo Med Hatchling Formula. I’m looking to upgrade filter too, but I think I’ve read your suggestions. (Starting w/ditch the rocks) thanks in advance!
Feeding outside of the tank (pl see this article) and getting rid of gravel are most impt stepos to improving water qualtiy; I’d hold off on buying a new filter for now, but can send suggestions if need be; here’s a related article with links to some useful models.
There can be vast differences in growth levels; genetic, sexual (females get much larger than males, etc); just be sure one is not dominating other. Zoo Med is a good food for basis of diet, but impt to add small whole fishes (minnows, guppies) and freeze dried prawn as Calcium sources, also reptomin; add greens as they grow (may not be accepted now).
Bear in mind that they will grow very large, good idea to plan well ahead (tank, pool, filter, etc) Pl let me know if you need more info.
Frank, our yellow-belly sliders have a stringy almost paper-like substance hanging off of them. Do they usually shed skin or is a concerning factor? There behavior is normal
Turtles shed scutes (shell scales) in that way….not all at once, likely most other reptiles, and months may go by without seeing any; not as closely linked to growth as in others. Best, Frank
Thank you for all your help!
My pleasure…enjoy and pl let me know if you need anything, Frank
Do you have exact dimensions for the Ovation 1000 filter itself? I saw a discription somewhere saying it was 10Hx4Lx5D but I figured that the depth and length seemed to be too long so I didn’t buy it yet. Also, do you think the flow from it would be too powerful being 265 gph? It’s either that or the smaller 700 at 180 gph. I’ll be using it for two small turtles around an inch in length kept in a 36Lx16Dx18H aquarium with 6 inch deep water. Thanks
Judging by the specs for the 700 (see here), what you list sounds about right (I have a 1000 but it is not nearby right now). The 10 inch figure is actually the length…they list as height as it is often used in the “standing position”. But works well in 6″ of water; I’ve used since their intro in the early 80’s.
You can direct the flow straight up or at any angle, and in that way avoid strong currents.
I noticed your email address…you might enjoy this article.
Please let me know if you need anything, best, Frank
So do you think I should stick with the 1000 or would it be overkill and just go with the 700?
I use this address mostly for animal related emails. Crocodilians are by far my favorite animals, with the false gharial at the top of the list. That article is very interesting, going into college herpetology would be my other major. I’ve always wondered how you guys go South America or Asia or Africa to catch and study crocs. How does that even get started and where do the funds come from?
The 750 would handle it…you might need to get the larger as the turtles mature, depending upon species, diet, whether you feed in or out of tank etc.
My field work has been through the Bronx Zoo…sometimes as part of my job, other times just as an unpaid helper on interesting work being done by co-workers. Funding is a tough one..especially when the ecomony is slow. Larger institutions – Bx Zoo, Am Museum Nat History, Smithsonian are best options, but opportunities limited. Most of my work was at the zoo, as a keeper, herpetologist, etc. People who want to do field work only generally work from grant-to-grant (grant writing is a filed onto itself) or are PHD’s hired specifically for research by various institutions. Some friends work as college professors, then do university-sponsored field work in the summer; others (the lucky ones) have access to private donors. Volunteering is a good way to build up the CV, but this can be costly, depending on project. Please let me know if you need more info. Best, Frank
I have tons and tons of questions to ask on lots of turtle issues but it would take me forever to ask them all in one email, I type slow and tend to babble on endleslly. So I’ll start at the top and work my way down.
I have 3 turtles, 4 if you count Debby the boxy, I know she is in her habitat, but she found a hiddy hole and I havent seen her since the day I got her.
Debby is fine; Ted, Sam and Bigun are the issue.
They are all water turtles, Sam and Ted are yellow sliders, Bigun is a mud turtle.
We will start with Sam. I found him under a bag of mulch, he had just hatched and was tiny. He took a while to start growing but all a sudden he he had a growth spurt and hasn’t stopped since. He has out grown 5 tanks so far and on his way to need a larger one.
My number one problem is filtration. I cannot keep the tank clean. I have to do a complete cleaning and refill every week, sometimes twice. I cannot keep it clean. I never had a problem in the smaller tanks. It started when I put him in the 40 gallon tank hes in now. I have tried seveveral types of filters. I always got the highest rated and different types. The ones that are in the tank, he tears them apart and it doesnt matter if they are suppose to be impossible for the turtle to damage; he can and it doesnt take him long. I have a zoomed 501 now. I have had the best luck with it, he cant tear it up, he yanks off the pipes, the sction cups and chews the hoses but thats an easy fix. at first the filter was doing great, I only had to do a complet cleaning and water change every two weeks. I take the filter apart completly, clean every pipe, hose, the little turny thing inside.. I use pipe cleaners to get into the little holes and tubes. I clean the sponge each time and get a new one every month or so. I clean the carbon bag every time and replace it every month or so. I wash the white thingys, I try to give the just a quick rinse as the directions say but they are too nasty, I have to rinse them good to get out the muck. I resently got new ones, not the same brand and they are a diff shape but the store said they al work the same… othere than being a bitch to open and close it was working pretty well. But the last few weeks the tank ihas started getting nasty again, after just a few days. the filter must be filtering, because it is full of crud in every nock, cranny, hole, tube pipes,,
I told you I tend to babble.
My question in a nutshell………… My tank is filthy, I cant keep it clean… what am I doing wrong?
forgot to tell you I also got a sucky thing, like a vacume cleaner for a tank, it helps some but it makes him poop.
Please write in as often as you wish…great questions faced by many turtle owners. Feeding outside the aquarium…i.e. in a plastic sweater storage box etc., will help with water quality. Please see this article.
Filters are useful but with large turtles they are often not up to the task. Many also dismantle filters, as you describe. You might be better off keeping the most troublesome of your turtles in plastic sweater boxes or similar lightweight containers that can be dumped and cleaned. Carrying these can be difficult…some folks keep a bucket nearby dumping some water into there before lifting the sweated box to the place where it will be emptied. Although you lose the side-views of a glass aquarium, the turtles are readily visible from above, and your workload will likely decrease. You can rig a UVB and heat lamp over most plastic containers, and outfit with cork-bark etc. as a basking site.
Please keep me posted, best, Frank
So, if I’m understanding you…. it’s not that I’m doing anything wrong, turtles are nasty creatures regardless; the filth factor is dependent on size. When Sam was the size of a quarter, the filth was not as noticable; now that he is the size of a medium pepperoni pizza….. ahhhh…. I get it… Turtles are filty…. If you want a creature floating around in a nice clean tank get a fish, no fuss no muss no personality. If you want a creature with personality, cognitive behavior, the perseption of recognition, the ability/tenacity to destroy the indestructible and make you laugh at the end of a crappy day… get a turtle and deal with the filth. One can not exist without the other… yin yang ….. wow…. thank you…. I wish I’d found your site sooner…. I would have avoided needless worry and saved a butt load of money.
That answer actually made some of my other questions moot.
I’m not doing so bad after all.
I was going to ask if Sam is a mutation of some sort, an abnomaly or possibly from the planet krypton. I’ve always liked turtles. I had lots boxys growing up, never for long; for some reason every year in mid October every boxy would somehow figure out how to ecscape. It took me a few years to realize the boxys always ecsaped on fridays shortly after supper, when papa went out to smoke his pipe.
I use to buy red ear sliders at woolworths for 50 cents and they lasted a couple weeks. I just figured that was how long a turtle lasted.
When I found Sam, I realized all I really knew about turtles was I liked them very much. I googled ‘little turtle’…………. holy cow…. no wonder all those poor dime store turtles died! The require a lot more than a bowl of water and fish flakes. They didnt stand a chance.
But I digress…
Until Sam, I had no idea what turtles needed, how long they lived, how big they got, they had to bask, they can’t swim at first…. after dropping Sam in the aquarium and he sunk like a rock.
If I understand correctly, Sam is not a mutation or from Krypton. His behavior …. even the really weird stuff, like eating his basking log and his heater….. is how they are. They are nasty and do strange stuff sometimes.
My question was going to be- Ted is a yellow slider like Sam. Can I pretty much expect the same behavior from him? Kids found him in the middle of a golf cart path next to his brother who didnt quite make it. He wasnt a hatchling like Sam, but he was only a few days old. He was dehidraded badly when they brought him to me, I didnt have much hope. The area I live in doesnt have creeks, or lakes or ponds, so I duno where these little critters come from.
Even though Ted was massivly dehidrated- he bounced back in a couple days. He was active, aggresive, swimming, hissing, climbing up the basking areas and hungry as hell. Sam was nothing like that. Ted was a little older than Sam when I found him, but not much, a day or two. Sam was timid, hiding in the grass or under something, I never saw him, he came out to eat but only after I was gone. Obviously he changed; now he’s demanding, aggressive( not mean but he wont hide or back off from strangers), to get attention he smacks the water so loud you can hear it in the next room, he reacts differently to people, he can tell if your a stranger. Even if he knows you, he reacts according to your purpose. If you are a feeder or a looker. And he does an exceptional Moe Howard imitation.
I know it makes sense that as Ted matures his behavior will be that of a yellow slider. but its hard to imagion he will act like Sam. Itwas about 6 months before Sam stopped hiding and started swimming. Ted was swiming the second day and instead of hiding he will charge at the glass if you come near.
Thanks for the feedback…the difficulties in cleaning etc have to do with their nature, and how we keep them. In the wild, they spend most of their non-basking time searching for food or mates, moving about etc….even the largest tank is tiny compared to the ground they cover, Much of the dismantling of filters etc is re-directed foraging behavior, etc. As for feeding, they tear into things, spreading bits and pieces all over (which in nature becomes food for fishes, invertebrates, etc); even in zoos we have a job keeping up on water quality. A small turtle ie a musk in a 75 gallon filtere aquarium might be okay, but large active species are a lot of work. Be sure to keep tank bottom bare..gravel will add to your workload.
Actually, many fish are even more trouble, since you also have pH, ammonia, water hardness and other concerns to deal with. Many have surprising learning abilities, extremely cpmplicate dbehaviors, although these may be harder to detect w/o experience.
I’m guessing your father knew it’d be difficult to over-winter a box turtle in captivity…
Individuals of the same species show a good deal of variation in behavior, etc. Captivity changes all, so it’s difficult to draw parallels to natural behaviors. In the wild, hatchlings are on the menu of everything from giant water bugs and bullfrogs to herons, and so tent to hide…rare;y bask other than at the surface of the water.
This article covers the basic care of these and related species; mud turtles vary a bit. Note the importance of diet, esp. whole fishes and UVB exposure…related problems can take years to manifest. Pl let me know of you need any more info, enjoy, Frank
Thanks for your info.
Let me ask one more question and I’ll stop pestering you…. for a while!
I have another turtle, Lil Tiny Bigun. A friend found him paddling around in his pool, fished him out and brought him to me. He was tiny. I’d never seen such a little bitty thing. He was about the size of a dime. Coz he was so small I figured he was a hatchling; then I remembered hatchlings cant swim. I didnt know what he was, I googled found a picture that looked like him. A mud turtle. The discription said they are very small, even when mature. Since he was swiming, I figured he had to be older, not a hatchling. Sam was smaller at that time so I had them in the same tank. That was fine until Sam started getting bigger. He wasnt being agressive with Tiny but Sam would stand on hiim and tiny would bite Sams toes. I got another tank. then another, then Ted came along. Mudders dont seem to like the same set up as sliders, they dont bask, stay on the bottum and dig around in the gravel. They are not strong swimmers. OK, now I will shut up and ask the question. I’d like to have one less tank to clean. I have a huge tank that Sam grew out of. Is there a way to put Ted and Tiny in the same tank, but put a divider so each can have his own space? Ted can have his basking and swimming area; Tiny can have his hiddy hoes and gravel and I will have one less tank to deal with.
Please write as often as you’d like..other readers benefit as well; if possible, best use the turtle’s common name i.e. mud turtle, slider etc as opposed to pet names, so that others can more easily follow, thanks.
It’s difficult to arrange dividers unless you silicone an plastic aquarium divider or pane of glass permanently in place. And you’d need a huge tank in order to provide enough room. Mud turtles are ideal to set up in plastic bins as described earlier, as they prefer low water, not much of a resting site, no UVB.
You mentioned gravel…it will be impossible under most circumstances to keep a tank clean if gravel is present…bare bottomed tanks far superior for all except softshelled and certain others; much healthier situation for the turtles.
Hatchlings semi-aquatic turtles can swim right out of the egg, but tend to stay in shallow water as they are not strong swimmers and can also hide more easily among shoreline vegetation, etc. Best, Frank
I need help! I came to this site becaues I need help with a filter, im having such a horrible time finding one that works. but I also need to know what the water level should be in a tank. I currently have a 6 month old in a 40 gallon tank and my brother insists that the water level should be more than half. about 3/4 full. I feel its too much water! Can you help with this? A bit off subject, but your help is greatly appreciated. Thank you
Thanks for your interest.
Sliders are strong swimmers..deeper water is fine as long as the animal seems not to be struggling. Driftwood can be added to the tank to provide a “ladder” of sorts, and sub-surface resting spots. A basking platform that is easy to get onto is essential. This one has a sloping ramp and also provides a sub-surface resting spot; it adjusts to the water level, so you can add water as the turtle grows if you wish. Or you can go with one like this, or simply wedge a piece of cork bark between the aquariums walls, taking care not to put too much pressure on the glass. One good aspect of deeper water is that the basking site will be closed to the UVB source; ideally, the turtle should be within 6-12 inches of a fluorescent UVB bulb. The heat bulb can be placed as close as well, depending on wattage.
Filtration is always difficult…be sure to keep the tank bottom bare – no gravel, and to feed the turtle in another enclosure; i.e. remove it to a plastic sweater box, 5 gallon plastic bucket etc for feeding; these to steps will help the filter to do its work. please see this article for more info.
You may be interested in this article on general care and diet as well.
Please let me know if you need anything, enjoy, Frank
I really need some help! I have a red ear slider in 40 gal turtle tank with three filters running in this tank. No gravel just bare bottom, I have had the turtle for a few years, since he was a baby. I am having issues with the water staying clean and clear. The filters I am using are API NEXX, Aqueon Quietflow 10 and a Filstar XP3. Do you have any suggestions?
Best advice I can give is to feed the turtle outside the tank, in a plastic bin or similar, and leave there for 15-20 min after feeding, as they often defecate soon after feeding. This may allow you to cut back to a single filter. Scoop water out of tank and use to fill feeding container; replace with fresh water, so as to effect a partial water change each time. Here’s a bit more info. Pl keep me posted, best, Frank
I’m very new to the turtle scene and have a red eared slider and have a few questions. I have come to realize I need a better filter along with feeding in a separate container to keep the water cleaner.
I have read through a few posts and am I reading correctly that rock is not a necessity for this type of turtle? If it only hampers me keeping up with the cleanliness it can go.
The last time I made a water change which is a weekly thing right now it was very aggressive when I returned it to the tank like it was trying to climb up the side of the pump trying to get out. The water was room temp when it was refilled. His actions seemed very odd.
The turtle also doesn’t seem to have much of an appetite. How much food do they normally consume during a feeding and is there a certain type of food I should be using?
Also is water temp a big concern for this breed? In other words is a heater needed? We keep our house temp below 68 degrees and at night when the basking light is off the morning water temp is usually below 65.
Thanks in advance.
They do need a dry place to haul out, and a heat lamp and a UVB bulb above that spot. For large turtles, cork bark wedged between the aquarium walls is a good oprion..allows for swimming pace below, etc. Please see the article linked below for other ideas. Rocks are not ideal…plastron may become abraded.
Rapid swimming like that is typical when they are returned…moving is a bit of a stress, but they adjust; always best to feed outside of the tank. Size can be a stressor also..an adult will need a 55-75 gallon tank; a small male might get by in a 30 long.
The cool temperatures are likely suppressing the appetite. While they can stay at room temps for winter, this i not ideal, as the immune system and digestion do not function well. Best to keep water at 75 F or so, and provide a warm basking spot and UVB exposure. They are hardy, but any problem that arises in cool temps will be serious. Please see the article for specific info;
Please check this article on care and feel free to write back with any questions you may have; enjoy, best, Frank
We had rescued a midwestern painted turtle seven years ago. Never had a problem with routine water changes including filter cleaning with new activated charcoal, etc until about nine months ago. It appears the water becomes cloudy and stinky by day three after change. Been having to change water practically every five days or so. Can’t find any info on the matter until recently coming across a product to use called Turtle Clean, than I found you. We do use tap water and never had to put anything extra in except maybe a ReptoGuard turtle condition sulfa block. The product that I am trying is by EXO TERRA. I read all good reviews about this including Nutrafin but this one always out of stock. We are thinking that it has something to do with the chorine keeping the product from working? Have not read anywhere about not being able to use this product with tap water. Can you give any suggestions on what we need to do, we are at wits end? Thank you, Sharon
The products you mention can help, and chlorine should not be a concern. Sometimes a different bacteria species will become established, and may change the filter’s environment, etc. Are you feeding in the tank? The best way to keep good water quality is to remove the turtle to another enclosure to fee, and to do partial water changes each week. Pl let me know if you need more info, best, Frank
Yes we are feeding in the tank and will immediately start doing as you suggest. He is fed Reptomin floating sticks– as of late 3 times a day and once a week a big piece of romaine lettuce; he is presentlly shedding scutes. Do we feed the lettuce separately too? Right now this is day fiive from the complete water change that was made and it is horrible in smell & extremely cloudy. You mentioned (in a article) to take the tank water to use for feeding time. In this case should we be using this water before we change it? Frank, is there anything that we need to change or get to help this cause? Do I continue to use the Turtle Clean (just recently purchased) used 3 times so far?
Your site has such a wealth of information along with reviews from others to read. This is sooo very helpful.
Again Thank you very much, Sharon
Thanks for the kind words,
I suggest using tank water in feeding container just as a time saving measure; main thing is do frequent partial water changes…scoop out some, add fresh.
Neglected to ask if you have gravel in tank…removing will help gratly.
Not as impt tp remove when feeding lettuce.
Most turtles will eat as much and as often as possible…useful in wild, not in captivity. You can give 1 larger meal daily if you prefer, and skip 1-2 days week…turtle will appear to be “starving”, but it’s not!
Impt to add small whole fishes to the diet, along with other types of produce and some of the foods mentioned in this article.
Turtle Clean may help…it contains live aerobic bacteria that help break down wastes (these live in your filter also).
Please keep me posted., frank
Can I use a pool filter for a water turtle pond?
Many sand-based pool filters are very effective…backwashing serves as a water change; just be sure to arrange outflow so that it desn’t create currents that disturb the turtles. Best, Frank
Checking out information as I am having the same problems most are having in regards to keeping water clear. I have 4 River Cooters in a 120 gallon tank. Each turtle is around 20 years old and weighs in at 9lbs. Up until about 4 months ago we had no problems keeping water clean and clear. I’m beginning to think something has changed in our water which by the way is well water. The water is still clean, just can’t seem to clear it up. Feeding out of the tank is difficult unless I put them in the bath tub. Besides that they really don’t eat well out of their tank. Any suggestions other than a larger filter like the ovation 1000. By the way, where would I look for one? Thanks Joyce
A change in water chemistry can complicate filtration, although I’m not familiar with what may happen where well water is concerned. 4 cooters are a tough job no matter what you use..but congrats on keeping them well for 20 yrs. Could a local water authority perhaps provide some guidance as to possible change? I’ve also seen problems when a new species of suspended algae becomes established…hard to distinguish from cloudiness due to other reasons, however. Here is a link to the Ovation 1000. Sorry I could not be of more help..please let me know if you learn anything re this problem , best Frank
Frank, Thank you for your quick response. We keep working on the problem and at times the water does clear a little bit more. Perhaps when the weather cools off here in Arizona the water may change again. In case it doesn’t we will just have to look into a larger stronger filter. Thanks, Joyce
My pleasure…weather can certainly play a role; please keep me posted, best regards, Frank
I’m in the process of building a indoor (basement) habit for my 3 res’s … 6″ male, 6″ female, 10″ female.
The habit will be 4′ x 16′ with an upper 15 gal. pond cascading into a lower 25 gal. pond. i plan on feeding outside the habitat only occasionally. I’ll be using a water fountain pump for circulation from the
lower pond to the upper pond. I am also installing an aerator in the lower pond. Now my question… FILTERING ! I’d like to make a homemade inline canister filter, maybe out of 4″-6″ PVC. Any suggestions?
Sounds like a nice situation; unfortunately I’m not great at constructing filters (or anything!); If you enjoy building filters, you’ll likely find some useful discussions on the various tropical fish or pond sites. Or you may be able to fit the system with a small outdoor pool (sand-based) filter. I can look into this further if you wish, enjoy, Frank
Hello I have a pink belly side neck turtle that I love dearly. My biggest problem is how often I have to clean the tank (55 gal). I have a 55 gallon filter plus another 35 gallon canister filter but it’s very old. Point is could you please recommend a filter that is VERY good at picking up waste? Price is not so much an issue, just looking for the most effective filter to keep my turtle tank as clean as possible thank you in advance
The technology has not changed all that much from what is supplied in your canister; with 2 filters going on that sized tank you should be fine. Are you feeding the turtle in the tank? Hard to maintain water quality if so. Also, is there any substrate?…same as with feeding, complicates filtration/ Please let me know, and also send filter names etc if you wish, best, Frank
We have a Red Eared Slider that is approximately 6.5 inches long in shell length and have had problems with selecting the correct filter, media options and natural habitat equipment and supplies. We currently have a glass tank that is 36 inches wide by 18 inches and is 17 inches tall. We’ve researched many filters and tried a few, but the water still remains mucky and stinky and would love to get your opinion on “the best filter (cannister filter’s I’ve read to be the best, but not sure if you agree or not), if we have the proper size tank, what the best items to purchase are that would create the best habitat for him, and if there are any other living creatures we should add to help the tank environment or not. Would you please share your thought, opinions and suggestions on these issues specific to the red eared slider? Thank you very much!
All The Best,
Wilson of Oklahoma
The best way to keep the water clean is to feed the turtle outside of the tank, in a plastic bin etc. Also, do not use gravel…will make it impossible to maintain clean water. For sliders, best to keep tank simple – basking area, plenty of swimming space, UVB and heat lamp. They will try to eat fish, crayfish and snails…not possible to keep together. Many filters are suitable, if turtles are not fed in tank…canisters are good because they do not take up space in tank, but Ovation submersibles are small and also excellent. Please see the linked articles below and let me know if you have any questions..enjoy, Frank
After these past months, given your expertise we finally have our problem under control. It was definitely the feeding situation we were doing. Also backed off to feeding once a day with some skips in between. Never would of guessed the food was the cause. No more stinky or murky water. THANK YOU!
You are listed on my favorites and I read your articles & post comments all the time–very interesting and helpful.
Until next time – Happy Holidays
I appreciate your taking the time to write back – thanks very much. Glad to hear it is working out. Please keep me posted, and, in case we are not in touch,a happy, healthy holiday season to you and yours also, best, Frank
I recieved a baby red earied slider from my friend he gave it to me cuz i have a pond in my dinning room with two other red sliders the baby is doing better in my controled environment he had real bad puffy eyeys the swelling went down and are starting to open but how so i get him to eat my one is 12 and the other 3 idk where he got a hatchling at i need him to eat i olny have had him for two days but dont know how long before that he hasn’t eaten im realy good with reptiles but dont want to force him ro eat yet any help is good for me
Best to have a vet check as the eyes can be a symptom of an infection, and there are likely associated problems; eye drops are for relief, but will not cure a bacterial infection. Also be sure it can bask under heat lamp (may not do so with adults present) and has plenty of access to UVB…a smaller tank may be best until it improves, best, Frank
Hi there! I just saw your blog and it really helped me a lot!
So one of my house mates found a red eared terrapin, and we don’t really know how to take care of it besides changing the water, feeding (her) food pellets. Is there any more tips you could spare? We place her in a plastic container without any thing but water, will it be dangerous because she might drown? But the water isn’t deep it’s like about 2/3 my finger .. And we change it almost everyday cause we feed her in the same bowl and it gets dirty
Thanks for the kind words.
Actually there’s quite a bit involved with proper care…not the best species to start off with. Please see this article for details. It would be best to try to place the turtle with a local turtle/tortoise club/interest group if possible. Please let me know if you need more info, best, Frank
I am so glad I found this site, you have so much insight, it is very helpful. Thank you. I do have some questions though. My dream for my turtle tank is to make it as natural as possible, as close to their natural habitat as possible. I started with two small baby turtles and recently acquired 3 more in an attempt to rescue them. I am scrambling to keep up with the extra load and have bought two more filters to lessen the load on the one, they are all currently in one tank and are all yellow bellied sliders. My first two are now about 2 1/2 inches across, while the new ones are about the size of a US dollar coin. The original owner knew nothing of keeping turtles and ignored what I told him when he got them. His kids found them in a pond, and he thought they’d be an easy cool pet for them to have so he put then all in a 10 gallon tank with no heat and no light in their bedroom. He had them for about 3 months or so and at any rate are now suffering from soft shell. They eat well though and are active and dont seem to have any other issues. Ive had them for about a month now and just want to make sure that their shells will harden now that they have proper lighting on them. And that they will begin to grow now. They didnt the whole time the other guy had them. Which brings me to my next question, is one “day” lamp enough? It puts off heat and UV rays like the sun would. And I have it fairly close to their basking platform, withing 5 inches or so. Im just concerned and want to make a full recovery and live full happy lives. Thanks in advance, Katharine.
Thanks for the kind words.
UBV exposure will depend upon the type of bulb used; please send name and specs for your bulb.
Please see this article re diet and other aspects of care. Small whole fishes are essential Calcium sources….without that, UVB will not be of much use (UVB allows for Vit D synthesis in skin; D3 allows turtles to utilize dietary calcium). Florescent UVB bulbs will not provide much heat…not sure if this is what you are using? Please send temperature info (water, basking site) as this will also affect metabolism, etc.
Best to keep turtle tanks simple – bare bottom, feed outside tank, etc…impossible to provide anything close to a natural situation, even in huge zoo exhibits. main concerns are proper conditions, water quality, diet, etc. Once they are in good health, you can always provide hunting opportunities, larger quarters, etc. best, Frank
The bulb is a Fluker’s 75 watt “day” light bulb that I got from Walmart just to get by, we dont have a pet store near here and have to travel an hour to get to one. Do I need a “day” and “night” bulb or should I just make the trip to the store and get better more specialized bulbs. I feed them ReptoMin floating food sticks by tetra. Their basking area is a floating turtle dock big enough for all of them to get on at once. I keep minnows in there with them, for them to hunt and eat if they want, and they do occasionally, as well as tadpoles if I can find some. I also sometimes get the variety canister by this same food maker that has krill and freshwater shrimp as options. I read earlier about your preference of feeding outside the living tank, so I have made preparations to do that, to help with keeping the main tank clean.
The bulb you listed does not provide UVB. You can use to create a warm basking site, but for UVB you’ll need to add a florescent or compact florescent (works in a typical clamp lamp) bulb. For turtles, I recommend these:
Reptomin is a good choice as a base diet; alternate with the other items mentioned in the article.
Minnows should be fed at least once weekly; turtles are gen not good at catching them; best to pre-kill so that you can check intake. Some in tank to chase is also a good idea.
A water heater alone is fine for nightime use; no need for a red/black incandescent bulb.
If shells do not improve with proper diet/UVB, a vet visit would be advisable.
Please see here for more on reptile UVB requirements.
Best regards, Frank
I have an adult red eared slider in and outdoor pond (~ 500 Gallon pond). What kind of pump and filter do you recommend?
Nice to hear the turtle is in such a good situation…too many are crammed into 20 gallon aquariums!
I suggest a large capacity filter designed for use in outdoor ponds. Please check the link below for examples. I’m not familiar with all the models listed, so I’ll speak with a knowledgeable staff member and will get back to you with some specific suggestions.
Our pond filter expert suggests this model...rated for 700 gallons, and has a backwash feature that will greatly simplify cleaning and help to maintain water quality. There are similar models with UVB sterilizers (Not essential, these eliminate algae and many micro-organisms) but those rated for your pond do not have a backwash feature. You’ll need a pump to go along with the suggested filter. please see link at end of product description. Please let me know if you need anything further, and let me know how all goes. Do you get visitors to the pond – frogs, birds, etc?…very interesting prospect, enjoy, Frank
I have a 5 year old red ear slider and the current filter I have now is a Fluval 3. I would like to know your opinion on that particular filter. It appears to be blowing very strong now and my turtle is staying at one end of the tank. He isn’t eating too well anymore either. I really want to set him up where he can bask eat out of a dish and the water. My tank is a 40 breeder and the docks that I see in the store are too small for him. Please tell me how I can set him up properly.
That is a good filter; if the current is too strong you may be able to modify by directing it against glass, using a rock to break up outflow, etc. An Ovation is also a good option, as there are many ways to divert to flow (pointing upwards, using spray bar) and it is powerful and easy to change.
Removing the turtle to a plastic bin for feeding will help with water quality; as will removing gravle or other substrate.
Adult sliders generally sink most of the available ramps, docks etc. The best option I’ve found is to buy a suitably-sized piece of cork bark and wedge it between the tank’s glass walls…turtle may dislodge on occasion, but generally very effective.
You might consider a larger tank as well when possible..females especially need lots of room. A 55-75 gallon may be easier to keep clean as well…more water volume, larger filter etc. Please let me know if you need more info, best, Frank
Hello. I have 3 RES (two year area few years old, one baby) and baby of another specie but not sure of what.
anyways I have a 150 gallon tank, one that is more cube-like or a short rectangle, not a long tank. Its probably filled with 75-100 gallons of water, and then it has a homemade dock. anyways i have the zoo med 511 filter already. And i was looking into the ovation1000 as an additional filter. Since my water is steeper, would i be able to use that filter?
The Ovation would be a good choice…can be places on it’s side at the bottom or upright, against a side wall of the aquarium. The outflow is very powerful, so use the spray bar or direct outflow against glass or behind a rock, etc. Please let me know if you need anything. frank
I have 2 RES and my tank filters keep clogging. I have the very first filter mentioned but it still clogs no matter how many times I clean it. Am I doing something wrong? Also what do you recommend as a good platform? I feel like mine may be a bit small which as turned my RES into to circus turtles, climbing on top of each other to bask. I have a 50 gallon tank. Do you recommend taking them outside to walk around? I have so many questions, but I will not bombard you. Hopefully I hear from you soon.
Please send along as many questions as you wish…others will appreciate as well.
If you are not doing so, feeding outside the tank, and doing frequent partial water changes, is the best way to reduce the filter’s workload; please see this article.
You’re at the maximum capacity for that size tank,,,2 adults would be easier to accommodate in a 75-100 gallon…greater water volume would disperse /dilute some of the waste material, but feeding outside is always a good idea.
Yes, Adults will likely sink most of the commercial platforms. I use cork bark which is slightly wider than the tank (or use 2 pieces, one flat against wall, the other as a platform, for very wide tanks). Wedge this between the tank’s walls..allows swimming space below; turtles may dislodge on occasion, but otherwise this works well.
I would not have them walk about for exercise…not something they would normally do, could be a stressful situation. Outdoor kiddie pools are useful if space permits and you can exclude predators..and a few hours of natural sunlight will be much more beneficial than even the best UVB lamps. Please let me know if you need more info, enjoy, Frank
I have a small 2 in red ear slider. I just put a filter in his tank. I had to make it low because his water is so low. I have the water about 3 inches high or so, to where he has to stretch his neck in order to get his head above the water. I am wondering if he is to small to swim, or can he? Am i able to fill the water up higher to where he has to swim to get to the top. I am just worried if i fill it up that he will not be able to swim, and that he will drown. Please reply as soon as possible
Hatchlings are good swimmers; but if kept in deeper water, i.e. 6-12 inches, it’s best to have something to provide a “ladder” to the surface…stout plastic plants, or driftwood (driftwood attached to a slate base, as sold for tropical fish tanks is ideal.). These also serve as below surface resting sites..always good to have floating plastic plants also, so the turtle can rest w/o leaving the water.
If you add water, do so at a time when you’ll be around for several hours, so you can keep an eye on it.
They will tire if blown about by the filter outflow, so check that and adjust if need be.
They are sometimes reluctant to bask, as they are naturally shy (on the menu of everything from bullfrogs to bass to herons!). It should adjust in time, just be sure basking site has a sloped edge, so it can get on easily.
Most important points for young sliders are a UVB source and high calcium diet…small whole fishes, i.e. guppies, should be offered at least 1x weekly;
Please see this article and let me know if you have any questions, best, Frank
also i have never seen my turtle bask only get halfway out of the water. Also i want to fill his tank up, I’m just afraid he will drown and will not be able to swim. How do i know if he can swim?
thank you so much and right now the filter does not have a strong current being that it is high above the water due to the water being very low. i will ad some tomorrow and watch him to see how he does. i have to basking sights one is a log that will float, another is a plastic ramp which is like a ladder. i also have a plastic plant with a wooden base in the aquarium as well. For the first time today i bought some tiny small fish and put three of them and tried to feed to him, he showed no interest so i just pu them in the tank with him to see if he would eat them. Still no.
My pleasure, Cameron,
They aren’t good at catching fish best to offer pre-killed. It may take time to settle in and feed, do not disturb/handle and check that water/basking temps are warm enough; let me know if you need anything, frank
I have a red-ear slider, Rocky. About 9″ long. Left behind (temporarily) by my pet collecting offspring when they flew the nest. After having her for seventeen years, I found out she’s a female. Very sweet but very dirty. I have to clean her tank every two days, I don’t use a filter any more, it’s more hassle to clean each part of the filter once a week, and very expensive. I now use a shop vac, specifically bought for this purpose. It suctions out water in no time at all and gets dumped straight into the toilet. Cleaning is a cynch. I like your idea of feeding outside the tank and I will try it out as soon as I buy a large enough container with a handle, so it can also be dumped into the toilet. I will let you know how she adjusts to feeding outside her tank.
Thanks very much for your observations, I’ll pass along. I hope all goes well, frank
I have a 6 month old yellow bellied slider currently in a 10 gal tank with an barely adequate filter. I am upgrading to a 20 gal long tank. I have purchased a 3 chambered canister filter that filters 264 gph. I will direct the water flow against the side of the tank, because the flow is really powerful. Will this make too much current for my little guy?
I have a baby red ear slider. He was given to me in a tiny plastic container. I moved him in a 10 gallon tank. (only filled with about 6 gallons of water), Rocks on the bottom, filter and turtle dock, heat lamp. He will swim into the water but cant get back out. He does not use the correct part of the log that hangs into the water. My guess is he don’t want to go near the filter?? Please advise. I scooped him out a couple times because he was beginning to get tired of swimming. Again, he tries to climb the side vs. the ramp.. any suggestions??
It is most likely the current..they are weak swimmers and will quickly become depleted, refuse to feed etc at that age if battling a current…in the wild, they stay in shallow, quiet waters. If you cannot modify filter outflow, best to use another type…simple corner filter, or the smallest Ovation, which has a spray bar to diffuse current. Try starting out with 2-3 inches of water, add in time as it adjusts. You can also keep in shallow water and just dump/clean w/o a filter for now. Best to remove gravel, …even with filter, greatly complicates cleaning, water quality. Once it feeds regularly, try feeding outside of tank, to help keep tank clean, limit need for total water changes.
Be sure to provide ample UVB (you didn’t mention this, let me know if you need info) and plenty of calcium. Please see this article on care and let me know if you have any questions, best, Frank
I have a 4 year old RES (about 7″ long) in a 40 gal. long aquarium with about 20-30 gals of water. I need to replace the filter. I had the Tetra-Fauna filter that looks like a decorative rock, but the pump died. I purchased a Fluval 106, but during setup, I called Fluval with a question and was informed that it will not work if the water level is lower than 7″ from the top of the tank. They recommended the Fluval U3 or U4 submersible filters, but I can get two Exo-Terra FX-200s for about what I spent on the 106. I’m concerned that the U3 or U4 will not be big enough and that the media is not flexible enough. (I don’t know if I need different media or not since I’ve only been using the Tetra-Fauna with only charcoal/fiber cartridge)
I do know that the FX-200s are flexible and I was thinking I could set one up on each end of the tank. Have you had any experience with these filters? The two FX-200s are on sale for about $25 each, but the U3 would cost me about $75 and the U4 is $85. I think the FX-200 is very similar to the Zoo-Med canister that you mentioned in your post.
I have not used the FX 200’s, and 1 on either side of the tank may create too much turbulence. I recall that the U series (it’s been awhile) work well in low water, and are easy to change. I often use Ovation filters for turtles..these operate on the same principle as the U series, and do a good job. try to feed outside of the tank if possible, makes a big difference, Best, frank
Hi, we have an african sideneck turtle that is about 6 inches right now. My first concern is that we currently have a 20 gallon tank with about 10 gallons of water and the filter we are using is not worth much. In a couple months we will be getting a bigger tank (40-60 gallons) but I want to get a new filter now because the water quality is not good right now. I am interested in the Ovation 1000 from the research I have done. Does this seem appropriate? Any other tips or recommendations are welcome, this is our first experience with a turtle.
Generally the rule of thumb for turtle filtration is the more filtration, the better! We typically recommend oversizing filtration for turtles because they produce so much waste (as you’re seeing!).
The Ovation model is OK, but will ultimately not keep up with the waste of a turtle. They’re rated for aquarium fish. We have had success with the XP-series Canister filters – http://www.thatpetplace.com/Rena-filstar-xp-series-canister-filters for turtles. They contain several media containers (depending on the model), and are great for packing in the biological media to support filtration. They also have been better at maintaining flow in lower-water environments than some of the other canister filters we’ve tried. The smallest model would be sufficient for your current size tank, but, if possible, you’ll want to get one larger to keep up with the growth of your turtle and his tank.
Another suggestion would be – if possible – feed your turtle in a separate location or do your best to remove large pieces of waste or food. You’ll also want to make sure you’re doing regular water changes. As I noted – even with the best filtration – turtles are DIRTY. Good luck!
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