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Can Pet Turtles Live with Fish? Here’s What You Need to Know

Nicole Cosgrove

June 19, 2021

Setting up a proper habitat for a pet turtle takes some planning, time, and money. If you’re in the process of creating the ideal set-up for your pet turtle that includes an aquarium, heating, lighting, and filtration, you’re well on your way to caring for a healthy and happy turtle!

If you’d like to add a few fish to your turtle’s habitat but aren’t sure if pet turtles can live with fish, the answer is yes. Pet turtles can live in harmony with fish, with a few exceptions.

There are a few important factors you need to think through before you add fish to your turtle’s habitat to ensure the two can live in harmony. These factors include the compatibility of the species, the aquarium size, the aquarium conditions, and the type of filter system you use.

We’ll take a close look at these factors below to help you set up the ideal environment for a pet turtle and a few fish.

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The Compatibility of the Species

algae eater fish_Swapan Photography_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Swapan Photography, Shutterstock

Many species of turtles will chase fish and eat as many as they can capture. If you were to put some small, slow-swimming fish in with a turtle that sees fish as prey, you can bet those fish wouldn’t last long. That’s why you must carefully choose compatible species.

A good rule of thumb to follow is to choose fish that aren’t too small and a type that’s known to be fast-swimming so they can easily steer clear of the turtle.

It’s always wise to provide fish with hiding spots that protect them from the turtle. These hiding spots can be PVC pipes, aquarium decor, dense plants, and other objects that fish can hide in or around.

When you visit a pet store to buy fish for your turtle’s habitat, don’t even look at the goldfish because they wouldn’t survive long with a turtle. Goldfish are large, slow swimmers. Some good fish to keep with turtles include:

  • Algae eaters
  • Neon tetras
  • Peppered corydoras
  • Zebra danios
  • Golden barbs

The Aquarium Size

aquarium cycle_hedgehog94_Shutterstock
Image Credit: hedgehog94, Shutterstock

The aquarium you use must be big enough for both your turtle and fish to coexist happily. An aquarium that’s too small will put a strain on the filter you’re using which can lead to a bacterial invasion, fungus, and overall poor living conditions.

A turtle that is up to six inches in size needs 30 gallons of water. A turtle that is six to eight inches in size needs 55 gallons, and a turtle larger than eight inches needs at least 75 gallons of water. A few fish can live in harmony with a turtle if you follow the guidelines above. When we say a few fish, we mean less than 10 fish and not a whole school.

Be practical when buying fish to put in with your turtle and don’t go overboard. Your turtle would become stressed and overwhelmed if he is suddenly surrounded by a school of fish swimming every which way.

The water must be deep enough for both the turtle and fish to swim about freely. The water should be twice as deep as the length of the turtle. For example, a six-inch-long painted turtle needs a water depth of 12 inches.

Don’t forget that a painted turtle needs land to rest on too. Be sure there’s plenty of dry land in your aquarium to accommodate your turtle when it wants to leave the water and bask under the light.

The Aquarium Conditions

turtle and fish aquarium_Andrej Jakubik_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Andrej Jakubik, Shutterstock

The aquarium you use must offer the optimal environment for both your pet turtle and fish. These conditions include the temperature of the water and the pH level. If you provide your turtle and fish with water that’s 76°F with a pH level of 7.5, both species should be very happy.

The Filter System

When your turtle is cohabitating with fish, both species will be creating waste in the water. This means you have to have a more powerful filtration system than a common submersible filter that most turtle owners use.

The best choice for a large aquarium housing a turtle and a few fish is a canister filter that is mounted outside the aquarium. This external filter won’t take up any space inside the habitat, which is great for your turtle and the fish! A canister filter cleans the water in stages and does an excellent job of filtering away waste.

Types of Turtles That Can Live with Fish

red-eared slider turtle_matos11_Pixabay
Image Credit: matos11, Pixabay

Some turtles should never inhabit aquariums with fish, such as snapping turtles and map turtles. These are highly carnivorous turtles that will actively hunt and feed on fish.

Several species of turtles can live with fish including the red-eared slider which is a commonly kept pet turtle. Other species that can coexist with fish include the painted turtle, the mud turtle, and the musk turtle.

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Conclusion

As discussed above, make sure you buy fast-swimming fish that aren’t too small. Don’t forget to provide the fish with some hiding places to keep them safe from the turtle. If you get everything right, your pet turtle won’t eat your fish and you can enjoy keeping both species as pets!


Featured Image Credit: Sergey_m, Pixabay

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.