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Reeve’s Turtle – Perfect Pet Turtles for Red Eared Slider Fans

The Reeve’s Turtle, Mauremys reevesii, (a/k/a Chinese Three-Keeled Pond Turtle, Japanese Coin Turtle, Golden Turtle) was one of the first Asian species available to aspiring herpetologists of my generation.  Early-on, I found it to be as hardy, even-tempered and willing to breed as the Red-eared Slider, but easier to accommodate in, especially for one with limited space.  In time, it appeared less often in the trade, and my work with rarer Asian turtles at the Bronx Zoo kept the species “off my radar” for some years.  Today I’m happy to see that both new and experienced turtle fans are again keeping this fascinating denizen of East Asia’s wetlands.  In my opinion, Reeve’s Turtles make better “first reptile pets” than does the slider, yet is interesting enough for the most advanced turtle-enthusiasts.  Today I’ll review its care and natural history…please post your own thoughts and experiences below.

Reeves Turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Σ64


Reeve’s Turtles vary from tan to black in carapace color, with many sporting a pleasing combination of several shades, and the head and neck are marked with broken yellow lines.  The carapace’s 3 sharp keels lend interest to its appearance.  Most top out at 5 inches in length, but I’ve seen a number of 8-9 inch long individuals.  Some Japanese populations produce turtles in the 12 inch range.

Color, pattern, size and head width vary widely across the huge range.  Although 1 species is recognized at present, genetic evaluation may lead to the naming of additional species or sub-species.

Natural History

The Reeve’s Turtle’s range extends from southeastern mainland China to Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong.  Feral populations are established in the USA and Canada.

It is a wetland species, favoring the quiet, shallow, waters of canals, swamps, ponds and weeded riverbanks.  Youngsters are highly aquatic; adults spend more time on land, but remain close water.

A wide variety of foods, including fishes, frogs, insects, crayfishes, plants and fallen fruits, is taken.

Over-collection for the food trade has caused Chinese populations, which are listed on CITES Appendix III, to plummet.  Pet trade animals in the USA are usually captive-bred.

Head, close-up.

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Σ64

Behavior in Captivity

Active and responsive, Reeve’s Turtles quickly learn to “beg” for food as soon as their owner appears.  They are quite calm – one might say “trusting” – in demeanor and do well in busy locations.   If provided proper accommodations, captive breeding is possible (please post below for details).

The Aquarium

Reeve’s Turtles are not strong swimmers, at least when compared to Map Turtles, Sliders and other North American species.  If provided with easy access to land, adults do fine in deep water.  In very large tanks, the water area should be stocked with driftwood and other structures that can be used as sub-surface resting sites.  Hatchlings should be kept in low water…just enough so that they can breathe without swimming.  Floating live or plastic plants will provide hatchlings with security (they are on quite a few creatures’ menus, and remain shy for a time!).

A single adult will require a “long-style” 20-30 gallon aquarium; as with all turtles, more room is preferable to less.  Zoo Med’s Turtle Tub, equipped with land and water sections, can house several adults.

Wading pools or koi ponds can be fashioned into excellent Reeve’s Turtle habitats.  Outdoor housing is ideal, assuming that raccoons and other predators can be excluded.

Although wild adults spend a good deal of time on land, captive Reeve’s Turtles can be kept in the same manner as Sliders and other semi-aquatic species.  Except when keeping gravid females, an extensive land area is not necessary.

A dry basking surface is necessary.  Commercial turtle docks and ramps work for smaller specimens, but large adults may sink anything that is not affixed to the glass with silicone adhesive.  Cork bark wedged between the aquarium’s sides is another option.


mediaSemi-aquatic turtles are messy feeders and very hard on water quality.  Powerful submersible turtle filters or canister filters are necessary unless the enclosure can be emptied and cleaned several times weekly.  Even with filtration, partial water changes are essential.

Removing your turtles to an easily-cleaned container for feeding will lessen the filter’s workload and help to keep the water clean; please see this article for further information.


Reeve’s Turtles are best kept in bare-bottomed aquariums; gravel traps waste material, greatly complicating cleaning, and may be swallowed.


Reeve’s Turtles must be provided with a source of UVB radiation.  Natural sunlight is best, but it must be direct, as glass and plastic filter-out UVB rays.

If a florescent bulb is used (the Zoo Med 10.0 UVB Bulb is ideal), be sure that the turtle can bask within 6-12 inches of it.  Mercury vapor bulbs broadcast UVB over greater distances.  They and halogen bulbs also provide beneficial UVA radiation; water resistant bulbs are ideal for turtle aquariums.


Water temperatures of 75-82 F should be maintained.  Large individuals may break typical aquarium heaters, so choose a model designed for use with turtles (please see photo).  An incandescent bulb should be employed to heat the basking site to 90 F.


Wild Reeve’s Turtles start life as meat-eaters but increasingly consume aquatic plants as they mature.

Dandelion, kale, mustard greens, romaine and other produce should be offered.  Elodea, water sprite and duckweed, easily reared in outdoor tubs, may also be accepted.  Spinach, beet leaves and other greens high in oxalic acid have been implicated in stone formation and should be avoided.

Reptomin Food Sticks provide excellent nutrition and can serve as 50-75% of the diet.  Other commercial aquatic turtle diets should also be offered.

Whole freshwater fishes such as minnows and shiners are the best source of calcium for turtles, and provide other important nutrients not present in prepared foods.  Offer fish at least once weekly; a steady goldfish diet has been implicated in liver problems in other species.

Other important food items include earthworms, shrimp, canned snails, and freeze-dried krill.  Crickets, blackworms, calci-worms, roaches and other invertebrates will also be consumed with gusto.



Further Reading

Filtering Turtle Tanks

UVB Light in the Terrarium


  1. avatar

    I currently look after 7 Reeve’s turtles, 3 females(it seems) and 4 males.
    I would second everything in the article and also have a few things to add.
    I find Reeve’s turtles particularly easy to care for due to their varied taste in food as well as their ability to tolerate a fairly wide range of temperatures. Living in a subtropical climate, it is hot and humid most of the time, with a colder and drier winter and they are totally unphased by the changes occurring throughout the year. Only their amount of time on the basking dock seems to be affected: hot nights see them up there more, especially when their water temps end up being the same as the dock. It’s really sweet to see them all in their individual tanks sleeping on their docks as their night begins.

    They may not be great swimmers, but are surprisingly agile and can make escapes from unlikely habitats, so watch out for that!

    Of course they all have great varied personalities, blatant likes and dislikes, be it in response to me, food or surroundings.
    I have a female who has never shown interest in her live food and has kept the same 6 fish from day one. Another young one(now apparently female) although very active and food-crazy let herself be bullied by a fish, which had to be removed once I spotted the problem. And although they all got into their greens at some point, I have one who has decided lasy year he did not like them anymore, once I had move it to another tank. He eats great but just no longer touches his greens.

    5 of them were taken in as rescues , purchased because of their bad health(advanced fungus and rot) and their tough constitution allowed for steady recovery in all of those cases. As time passes, I am noticing them getting friendlier and quiet when handled, which is very nice.

    I had no experienc at all when I started with my 1st Reeves’s but it’s been a wonderful journey so far proof that they are indeed, a suitable beginner’s species.

    • avatar

      Nice to see you here…thanks so much for the interesting comment and kind words! Congrats on nursing the turtles to good health…they are tough, but still it takes quite a bit of care and concern to bring them along.

      Very interesting observations on their personalities and food preferences…the food part especially is not always given enough attention.

      Common musk turtles under my care always leave the water on hot nights as well, even though they are largely aquatic.

      Please keep me posted, enjoy, Frank

  2. avatar

    I will be getting a male Reeves turtle very soon. I’m in the process of designing and setting up the tank and will be putting together an above tank basking area. I have found information regarding the typical length of the turtles just as you have in this article. My question is what the typical width and height of the carapace is. I want to ensure that I have a sufficient enough ramp and opening into the basking area. Thank you in advance for any guidance you can provide.

    • avatar

      Hello Jay,

      Good that you’re planning ahead. They vary a good deal re width, with some being nearly as wide as they are long; in general, the width is 2-3 inches less than length, but best not to count on that if quarters are tight, allow more room. The carapace is domed, more like that of an American Box Turtle (altho not quite so high) than a slider or other typical semi-aquatic turtle; allow at least 4 inches for an adult, plus extra for lift provided by legs, extension of head. Please keep me posted, enjoy, Frank

  3. avatar

    Frank, thanks for the info! I should be in pretty good shape for how I’ve been calculating it out based on your numbers. One more quick question. Do you think that a ramp at 45 degrees will be too steep? I may be able to go as little as 35 degrees or so without a major change in design. And the ramp should have pretty good grip but without sharp edges.

  4. avatar

    Thank you again. I’ll definitely keep you posted. And I can send pictures when it’s all set…not sure if I can post pictures here or perhaps just the links to a picture hosting site.

  5. avatar

    Does there need to be 2 reeves turtles. And can you hold them?

    • avatar


      They are not social and can be kept alone. Reeve’s turtles are not aggressive, but turtles in general merely “tolerate” handling and are best considered as pets to observe.

      Best, Frank

  6. avatar

    All in all a very informative article, however as the keeper of a couple of 25mm Reeves I would dispute the depth requirements. Mine are in 15″ of water, with plenty of plants to climb and hauling out points, and revel in it, fully utilising the depth of the tank very comfortably.

    • avatar


      Thanks for your input. I prefer to advise new keepers to begin with shallow water for youngsters, but if the tank is set up properly, as described under “The Aquarium”, they can be kept in deeper water. Best, Frank

  7. avatar

    I have 2 red eared sliders a boy and an d girl they live in a 80 gallon tank is it to small they are both about 5in long and bout 2 1/2in wide do i need to get a bigger tank.

    • avatar

      Hello lance

      They can be kept in that sized tank, but more space is always better…see the link to the Zoo Med Turtle Tub in this article; that is one option; children’s wading pools work as well.

      Males often harass females with mating attempts,…in that case, separation may be your only option.

      Feeding them outside of the tank will help with water quality (see note in article linked).

      Let me know if you nee anything further, best, Frank

  8. avatar

    oh because i have a strong filter it is what is fot a 60gal to 100 gal and i replace it filter about once every other week and i had 6 gold fish in there was that safe and in case of any diseses i put reptoguard in there

  9. avatar

    and how large will they get

  10. avatar

    do red eared sliders have a temper

  11. avatar

    and i think my turtles have mated what am i sopposed to do when she lays her eggs

  12. avatar

    my turtles do this wired ting the male puts his front legs in the females face

    • avatar

      Hello Lance,

      That is normal courtship behavior for male sliders, cooters, painted and map turtles, and related species. You may notice the male’s nails are considerably longer than the females. Keep an eye on them..males often harass non-receptive females, prevent them from feeding, basking; either sex may bite as well. best, frank

  13. avatar

    oh cause my female i think scared my male but i do not think that they hade or dislike each other they both bask together

  14. avatar

    what is a good water temp

  15. avatar

    I have a male and female reeve about 5 years old. The male has started biting the female excessively leaving big holes on her legs and neck. She now only has a stub for a tail. What can I do to stop him? He does this on a daily basis.

    • avatar

      Hi Gail,

      Very common problem, unfortunately – males go into breeding condition…if female is not ready to mate, the normal biting associated with courtship becomes serious, There’s no way to keep a pair together when male is in this state, and they may be so almost year-round. Female should be removed and checked carefully by a vet, as bite wounds easily become infected…systemic infections will lead to death id untreated. Pl let me know if you need more info, Frank

  16. avatar

    is it normal for the female to get alot bigger than the male faster my male was bigger than the female and now he is much smaller and does not seem to eat alot what do i do so he will eat more cause i put enough food in there for both he just dont seem to eat

    • avatar

      Hello Lance,

      Yes, that is common. But if the male is not feeding there could be a health problem or he may be intimidated by the female. Is he less active also? A vet visit would be useful if it continues…please let me know if you need help in finding a local vet, best, Frank

  17. avatar

    he is still active and are u soposeto clean there shells and how do u get dead skin of

  18. avatar

    Hi, I’ve got my 3in male Reeves turtle a couple of days ago, but he seems to be trying to dig the corners of his tank. Is it normal and is he just trying to adjust?

    • avatar

      Hello Joseph,

      It may need cover/a hiding spot, more room etc..they can take time to adjust, but shouldn’t be persistently trying to escape…pleas send some info on tank size, set-up, temps etc…best,. Frank

  19. avatar

    my female has gone about 2/12 in and the male has not grown i give him food he eats it but he has not grown in 3 to 4 months i feed him freezer dried mealworms

    • avatar

      Hello Lance,

      Mealworms are not an adequate diet, and should only be used as an occasional treat. Please check the information in the article concerning diet, and let me know if you have any questions.

      Growth varies among individuals, but in addition to diet it depends on their environment…please send info concerning water temperature, UVB bulb used, basking site temperature, and tank size, and I’ll review if you wish. best, Frank

  20. avatar

    Already sent you a friend request and some pics and descriptions. Thanks Frank! 😀

  21. avatar

    I sent it on your FB. 😀

  22. avatar

    Oh, sorry. But how can I post pics here? 😀

    • avatar

      Hi Joseph,

      Photos do not post here…what is it you were interested in showing, usually better to explain (photos not usually helpful in ID’s, health problems etc), best, frank

  23. avatar

    I recently acquired a very large definitely female reeves that had been released into a pond. She was quite tame and swam right up when i offered food and i’m keeping her in an enclosed outdoor pond. I want to get an adult male. A local breeder has some that he says are about 3.5″ long. Can they be sexed reliably at that size?

    • avatar

      Hi vallerie,

      Size at sexual maturity varies greatly…depends upon origin of animals within range and on diet, general care. Males have slightly convex plastrons, longer thicker tails, but most would not show this by that size. Keep in mind also that it can be difficult to house pairs together long term, as male may harass female with continued mating attempts, bite in process etc…housing in large outdoor pool helps, but they mey need to be separated at times. 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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