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13 Essential Turtle Supplies to Get You Started

turtle inside tank

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Dr. Lorna Whittemore Photo

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Dr. Lorna Whittemore

Vet, MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Turtles are a very popular and interesting pet to keep. Providing your pet turtle with the proper setup and care must be your top priority. It’s a good idea to have everything you need ready before you bring your turtle home. This will be less stressful for both you and your turtle.

There are plenty of supplies you will need to get started on the right foot, regardless of what species you are bringing home, and that’s where we come in.

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Top 13 Essential Turtle Supplies

Aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles are going to need a habitat that is secure and replicates their natural environment. You will need an aquarium that will hold plenty of water and provide enough space for your turtle to swim comfortably, as well as an area that allows them to get up out of the water.

Most species will not get much larger than 12 inches when fully grown. An adult will require an aquarium size of about 120 gallons while a baby will do fine in a 20-gallon to 30-gallon aquarium. Keep in mind that they will grow quickly, so there’s no harm in buying a larger habitat.  There are also plenty of starter kits available on the market.


In the wild, turtles will receive proper lighting by basking in the sun. UVA and UVB light are essential to a turtle’s health and survival. The UVB is converted by the skin into vitamin D3, which is essential for calcium absorption and UVA is essential for metabolism, activity, and reproduction.

Even if kept in a sunny area within the home, the aquarium glass will block out much of the sun’s natural rays and that’s where the lighting comes in. The lighting can be mounted on top of the aquarium or somewhere on the outside of the aquarium facing down into it. The bulbs will need replacing regularly.

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Heat Source

As cold-blooded animals, turtles are very temperature sensitive. You must keep their water and their basking area in a specific temperature range to keep them healthy and active. The most efficient and highly recommended way to maintain the water temperature within the aquarium is to use a submersible aquarium heater.

The capacity of the heater will need to match the size of your aquarium, so keep this in mind while shopping around.  Water temperature should be kept between 75- and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Adjustable heaters are recommended because you may need to alter the temperature to suit your turtle’s age or health condition at some point.


Since basking is a requirement for your turtle, you will need a basking lamp that will allow them to dry and warm themselves while out of the water.  Basking helps them regulate their body temperature and increases their metabolism, which allows them to stay active. Keep in mind that a basking lamp is not a UVB lamp, so you will still need to provide proper UVB lighting.


Turtles are cold-blooded animals that need an external heat source to allow them to regulate their body temperature. Aquatic turtles need both a basking lamp and a water heater to thrive.

Normally, a turtle would find a place to bask under the sun, but a pet turtle will need a proper basking area set up within its aquarium.

Your turtle will need an area that is heated to approximately 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the water temperature to properly bask.

You need to ensure they have enough space to get completely dry to prevent shell rot.  Since the water temperature is kept between 75 and 80 degrees, that means the basking site should be between 85 and 90 degrees.


Cold-blooded reptiles like turtles should always have a thermometer that monitors the temperature within their enclosure or aquarium.

For aquatic turtles, you can get a floating thermometer that can keep track of the water temperature and a regular thermometer to monitor the basking area.

This will allow you to check up on these temperatures to make sure they are in the ideal ranges since this is so important for the health of your turtle.


Most aquatic turtles follow the same feeding guidelines. If you ever have any questions about your specific turtle’s dietary requirements, you need to reach out to your veterinarian to ensure you are providing the proper diet. That being said, here are some of the food sources you should have on hand:

Commercial Pellet Food

Many commercial pellet foods are designed specifically for turtles. These pellets will usually float and won’t fall apart very easily. Experts recommend that pellets make up about 25 percent of your turtle’s diet.

Feeder Fish and/or Insects

Feeder fish and live insects are a great source of protein and other vitamins and minerals. They also provide your turtle with exercise and stimulation, which is great for their health. Like with pellet foods, this should make up about 25 percent of your turtle’s diet.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh fruits and vegetables should make up for the remainder of your turtle’s diet. Dark leafy greens, squash, zucchini, chopped melons and berries, and shredded apples and carrots are all great options to offer your turtle.

You can also offer duckweed, water lily, water lettuce, water fern, and water hyacinth within the enclosure as safe snacks.

Supplements like reptile calcium and vitamin powders may also be necessary but make sure to check with your veterinarian.

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Substrate

There are different types of substrates you can use in the aquarium, ranging from sand to river rock, or even crushed coral. Not only is this a good thing to have in the aquarium, but it also gives it a more natural appeal.

8. Sand

Nature's Ocean Bio-Activ Live Aragonite Aquarium Sand

Sand is a popular choice of substrate for turtles but not all types of sand are well suited for their environment. You will need large grains of sand to prevent it from getting stirred up around their habitat. Soft sand is messy, gets kicked up easily, and will diminish visibility into the aquarium and even make it difficult for your turtle to navigate through their own habitat.


9. River Rock

Zoo Med Aquatic River Turtle Tank Pebbles

River rocks are smooth pebbles of varying sizes that are typically gathered directly from rivers. Since they are heavier, they stay in place very easily and are also very easy to remove when it’s time to do a thorough cleaning of the tank. You must ensure the pebbles are large enough that you won’t have to worry about your turtle ingesting them.


10. Crushed Coral

Carib Sea ACS00120 Crushed Coral for Aquarium

Crushed coral may be the least popular substrate for turtle tanks, but it helps maintain pH levels and can even be mixed with sand. It does well for those wanting a more beach-like vibe for their turtles. Most turtles will not eat coral but if you were to notice your turtle eating the substrate, you would need to remove it and replace it with another option.


A filtration system is necessary for the sake of your turtle’s health. You want to opt for a high-quality water filter so that the job gets done right. This will also minimize the amount of cleaning you will have to do and reduce the smell.  Skimping on quality can cost you more in the long run.

A good filter will pull solid waste out from the water and some of the ammonia and nitrates excreted by your turtle.

Canister aquarium filters are the most highly recommended and it’s best to purchase a filter that has at least twice the capacity of your tank’s size.


If you choose to use tap water in your turtle’s aquarium, you will need to get a water conditioner. That is because tap water contains small amounts of chlorine and other chemicals that make conditioning their water a necessity. Most turtle owners prefer to go this route because it is much easier and more convenient, though some will use distilled water.


Plant décor is a great additive to a turtle’s aquarium because it provides a naturalistic feel and enhances the aesthetic of the environment. While artificial plants are common, you can also choose to add live plants.

Live plants can provide benefits such as improving water quality, oxygenating the water, and preventing the growth of certain bacteria. Turtles love hiding within the plants and will occasionally snack on the live varieties. There are some downsides to living plants including mess, and potential rooting.

You will also want to make sure you do not put any plants within the habitat that are toxic to turtles. Java fern, hornwort, and common waterweed are examples of safe and suitable live plants.

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Conclusion

There may be quite a few things you need to prepare for your turtle, but once you get them crossed off the checklist you will be well on your way to providing a wonderful, happy new home for your new pet. Remember to always have a veterinarian available for any care questions you may have.


Featured Image Credit: Manuel Manteiga, Pixabay

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