I want a water turtle!

There are about fifty varieties of water turtles.
Among the most widespread reptiles, we can mention the Florida turtle, the painted turtle but also the Siebenrock’s chelodine, the Reeves’ chinemid, the western Caspian emydid, the red-bellied emydid, the Rusty pelomid, the Schweigger’s pelusa and the Malayan box turtle.


Indeed, the water turtle is subject to a drastic legislation. While 30 or 40 years ago, owning a water turtle was easy because they were sold in large quantities in pet shops and other fairs, today, their possession and trade are extremely supervised and regulated.
Most of the turtles, especially terrestrial ones, are protected by a decree of November 2007 which fixes the list of the protected amphibians and reptiles on the whole French territory and on the various methods of protection.
For years, pet shops have sold water turtles by the thousands because they were bought at low prices and these professionals have very poorly advised the buyers, which leads to a total ignorance of their needs, their habitat, their diet, thinking that they had the same needs as a land turtle or any other reptile. Consequently, water turtles were released massively in the rivers, causing serious catastrophes for the fauna and the flora. For example, the Florida water turtle is now a threat to the ecosystem because it is very voracious and resistant, a true predator that knows no enemies.
Faced with the potential danger that the water turtle represents, the different Directions of Sanitary Services (DSV) have decided to regulate the possession of these animals. To know what it is, it is imperative to contact the DSV of its region which will be able to advise, direct the future purchaser of aquatic tortoise.

The different needs of the water turtle

The water turtle needs to be able to go out entirely of water to heat itself, it needs in this sense heat and UV rays. The temperature of its water must approach the 24 to 26 degrees. When the turtle goes out of the water, it is important that the dry environment, called the “beach”, has a temperature superior of 5 degrees with regard to that of the water. It is necessary to know that a young water turtle of 4-5 cm can reach nearly 30 cm in the adulthood.
At the behavioral level, the aquatic turtle is solitary and territorial: it is thus advised to put only one individual by aquarium, without any other animal.

Its habitat

The habitat of the water turtle is called an aquaterrarium and as its name indicates it, it combines at the same time the function of an aquarium and that of a terrarium. It will be generally made of transparent plastic or glass and it is estimated that a tortoise requires 45 liters of water with a water level corresponding to at least 2 times the size of its shell.

  • The jar, the aquaterrarium can be composed of a beach of sand or gravel with cork.
  • The ideal dimensions are easy to calculate since the length and the width of the habitat must be 7 times the total length of the plastron of an adult turtle.
  • The ideal tank is 80 cm long x 40 cm wide x 50 cm high and never less than that. The water height should be at least 30 cm.
  • The distance between the surface of the water and the top of the aquarium will never be less than 10 cm for juveniles and never less than 20 cm for an adult.
  • The water temperature should be between 24 and 26 degrees.
  • A filter made of gravel and straw as well as a pump can be added to suck and discharge the water properly.
  • It is advisable to make or install the habitat properly 2 weeks before the acquisition of the water turtle in order to allow the filter to be operational and that the bacteria contained in the straw can develop.
  • The entire habitat should be placed in a draft-free area.

Outdoor Habitat

It is necessary to know that most of the water turtles like to spend a part of the year outside: indeed, most of the species can acclimatize. The children’s swimming pools make, for that, offices of excellent basins for an outside maintenance. It is enough then to arrange an island in the center, so the tortoises will be able to go to warm up and to dry themselves.
For those who have a corner of water as a small pond, it is even better: the depth of the biotope must only be at least of 80 centimeters to avoid the freezing for the turtles which hibernate. It is necessary to add some stones, big roots to act as solariums.

In summary, the aquaterrarium must be composed with the following elements, namely a heating system for the aquatic part (1 Watt for 2L of water), a beach to go out of water easily, a lighting UV-B which is going to help him to develop his metabolism, a heating bulb possibly if the outside temperature is too weak and an effective filtration system because the water turtles are big polluters.

For the good health of the aquatic turtle, it is recommended to take it once a year to a veterinary surgeon: this professional will be able to advise on its reproduction, its hibernation, the detection of parasites.


It is necessary to know that aquatic turtles are mainly omnivorous, even carnivorous. It is strongly recommended to give them whole raw fish, shrimps with the carapace, molluscs, water lentils, aquatic plants and even very well washed salad.

Cuttlefish bones can be given if they are crushed and sprinkled on the food for an essential calcium contribution.
To complete the diet of the water turtle, specific pellets can be added.

All the food must be distributed in small quantity and on the emerged part of the tank in order to avoid soiling the water.

This food can obviously be supplemented on occasion with small fish by leaving the bones, small snails, white meat but also liver for a contribution in vitamin A.

The digestion of the tortoises is a long process and this is why the presence of a source of heat gives to the tortoise the opportunity to rest and to digest properly. In order that their organism digests in good conditions, the aquatic turtles must have the possibility of staying in a warm, dry and bright place.

The food must be given only once a day with a quantity as important as the volume of the head of the tortoise.
If the tortoise has a little overweight, it can be prescribed some days of fasting.


The duration of hibernation is of 2 months the first year, from 4 to 6 months the following year. It is strongly recommended to make hibernate the tortoises from a size of 8 to 10 cm approximately.
It is however necessary to watch well the state of health of the tortoises during this period: indeed, in the slightest sign of disease as swollen eyes, a nasal discharge, etc, it is imperative to increase the temperature gradually during 3 weeks.

The material

Having a water turtle requires a basic installation.

As quoted previously, a tank is obligatory. It is advised to buy it big enough to avoid buying a second one in the following years. Moreover, the turtle will feel less stressed if it does not have to change its environment.
Then, you need a beach, if possible floating, which allows the turtle to benefit from more space for swimming and its movements.
An appropriate lighting is also necessary: with a UVB lamp (index between 8 and 10) and a heating lamp, the growth and the development of the metabolism of the tortoise will be done in good conditions.

Moreover, it is necessary to think of heating the beach with 5 degrees more than the temperature of the water.
An external filter can be useful with a start per hour of minimum 4 to 5 times the volume of water contained in the tank. An immersion heater (or aquarium heater) is useful to regulate the water temperature and another thermometer for the air.

Health observation

Some symptoms can alert on the state of health of the water turtle and thus anticipate to face it.
Among the most common symptoms, we can quote the lack of dynamism, the loss of appetite, a desynchronized gait, a noisy or wheezing breathing, diarrhoeas, a constipation, the sinking of the eyeballs but also swollen or watery eyelids, the presence of red spots under the scales.