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Basic Aquatic / Basking Turtle Indoor Habitat by Nathan N. Aileo

This is an excerpt from a more detailed article on Nathan and Alesia's turtle information site.
AileoNA Turtles,

Over the past fifteen years I've probably kept over fifty different turtles at some time or another, the species that ranked highest in number and easiest in care were the eastern painted turtles. I would recommend that you purchase these items:

A forty gallon "breeder" tank. Its dimensions are 36x18x16 inches (90x45x40 centimeters) and it is the perfect size for a single adult painted turtle, and you could add another turtle if you chose to later

A good filter, A magnum H.O.T. is a good one, or a Fluval 4. I use Fluval 4's in my 40 gallon (150 liter) tanks.

Don't bother to buy a hood for the tank, it is simple and cheaper to make one. You can simply cut a piece of plywood to fit the top of the tank, screw handles into  the top of it, and put a fluorescent 24 inch ( 60 centimeter) light fixture on top of it over a hole that allows the light through. You do NOT want ANYTHING interfering with the light from this, which I would recommend being a QUALITY full spectrum fluorescent bulb.  Also get a dome light, they are available at hardware stores and take an incandescent bulb. this can also be set on top of the tank over a hole in the lid.

A submersible heater is necessary, unless you plan to keep your room at 75 degrees F (24 degrees C)  all year long, even at night and on holidays. they are available at most pet shops or mail-order and have a thermostat built in so you can set them to the proper temperature. A small thermometer is a good thing to have also, they are cheap and also available at any pet shop.

You will then need something to construct a basking area. I would recommend something simple, like a large piece of cork bark that is slightly longer than the 18 inch (45 centimeter) width of the tank so that you can wedge it into one end of the tank so that it dips into the water, making it easy for the animal to climb up on it to bask.

Another option is to put in some bricks at one end, and lay slate across them so that it makes a cave, then put a few more pieces of slate on the first one to make a stair step up to the highest which should be above the waterline.

I would recommend the water be half the depth of the tank. In a 40 gallon breeder, half full with a Fluval 4 filtering it, you could probably change the water fully every 3-4 weeks. 


40 Breeder tank $ 70.00
Fluval 4 $ 40.00
Heater $ 20.00
Incandescent dome light $  8.00
Fluorescent fixture 24" $ 20.00
Quality Full Spectrum Fluorescent Bulb $ 25.00
Thermometer $  1.00

So you can see turtles are not cheap to start, but over the long run they become pretty inexpensive pets.

Set up your tank with the basking area at one end with the incandescent bulb above it, the temp on the basking area should be around 80 - 85 degrees F (27 - 30 degrees C), use the thermometer to check it. The water temp should be kept at around 78 degrees F (25 degrees C). Make sure the basking area is easy for the turtle to get onto. The filter can lay on it's side if you are using a Fluval 4, and the submersible heater suctions to the side as well. you may decide to put a couple of rocks around these to keep the turtle from popping them off the wall of the tank.  I do not recommend gravel, but if you want something on the floor of the tank, try river stones that are about an inch or two in size, so the turtle can't eat them, as this can cause problems.

The tank can be kept very plain like this, or you can decorate it with aquatic plants. Be prepared for  your turtle to eat these plants. I like to buy bunches of anacharis, which costs about a dollar for  a good sized bunch, and just release the bunch and let it float around. Whether or not you put fish  in the tank is up to you, if you do, I would recommend feeder fish, because they will probably disappear.

Once your tank is set up, let it get up to temperature, then place the animal in it.

I would recommend that it is fed in a separate container. I bought a cat litter box for two bucks and I put enough water in it for the turtle to be under it slightly, then I feed it in there, as much as it will eat in half an hour. If the animal is an adult, feeding two or three times a week is fine, if it is a baby, once a day.

Diet: Tetra "Reptomin" food sticks are a good staple, but it should have a varied diet. If it is being fed three times a week, I would give it "Reptomin" two of these times and the third time a week it should get something else, rotate between things like earthworms, crickets, feeder fish, kale, romaine, dandelion leaves, apple, etc. if you are unsure about a food item, just ask us. In addition to it's diet, I would recommend you buy a cuttlebone, they are sold for birds in most pet stores. they are pure calcium, which is one of the most important parts of a turtles diet. If you just drop it in the tank and let it float around,  the turtle will nibble on it as it sees fit and get it's own calcium levels where they should be, just replace it when it's gone, which could take a month with one turtle.... they are cheap too, about a dollar each.

I also have to say this piece: NEVER LET THE CHILDREN TOUCH THE ANIMAL. There are many reasons for this. Turtles are not pets like dogs or guinea pigs, but like tropical fish. The look but don't touch rule is a good one for your kids. Yes, you will have to grab it and put it in another bin for feeding times, but this handling is minimal.

ALWAYS WASH YOUR HANDS AFTER HANDLING THE ANIMAL OR TOUCHING "ITS" THINGS (tank, filter, etc.) turtles can pass diseases, though rarely nowadays, and you can pass diseases to your turtles, though a healthy painted turtle should have no problem being handled once a day or less for feedings.  Kids can also drop a squirming fighting turtle which can be very bad for the animal.

Just remember these basics:

Housing: as big as possible (40 gallon breeder tank  is minimum for an adult painted)

Light: MUST have UVA and UVB light (quality full spectrum fluorescent) or it will die.

Heat: 78 degrees F (25 degrees C)  in water, 80 - 85 degrees F (27 - 30 degrees C) on basking spot.

Filter: keep water clean, change it as soon as it begins to dirty.

Diet: cuttlebone bone at all times, and varied diet, as much as it will eat in 30 minutes - three times a week.

If you keep these in mind you will likely have a turtle that sees not only these kids but their kids as well, and possibly even their grand kids.

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