How to Setup the Ideal Baby Turtle Tank

Learn what do you to consider to setup the ideal aquarium for your baby turtle's new tank.

This guide is designed to explain the differences in equipment that a baby turtle might need compared to an adult. This doesn't cover all the equpment you need! Make sure you go to our equipment guide for a more complete list!

Common Pitfalls

When buying one or more baby turtles people often don't plan far enough in advance for how quickly they grow. People buy too small of a tank or too small of a filter then need to spend more money re-buying stuff they thought they had covered. Thats exactly why we put together this page.

So without any further to do, here are the most common things that you will need to scale up as your turtles grow:

  • Aquarium Tank (or other enclosure)
  • Aquarium Filter
  • Basking Area


Your turtle's enclosure and filter are by far the most important things to get right. We advise new owners to purchase a larger enclosure and a larger filter than you currently need so that you don't have to spend the money twice. In our opinion, water quality, and therefore tank size and filter are the most important factors in your turtle's health.

Why do we believe so strongly in tank size and water filtering? One fact not a lot of people realize is that turtles have no saliva, meaning in order to chew and swallow food they require their food to be in the water. Your turtle's tank water is also their only source of drinkable water. Another fact is that turtles get the vast majority of their exercise from swimming. With those 2 facts in mind, where do you think turtles go to the bathroom? Exactly, they do their business right in the water. Thats why you need to properly size the aquarium tank and filter!

How do you pick the right size enclosure? Sizing is actually really easy. Use these steps:

Determining The Correct Enclosure Size

  1. Measure your turtle. Take a tape measure and measure the length and width of your turtle's shell.
  2. Multiply. Take the largest measurement in inches and multiply it by 10 (multiply by 15 if you use centimeters). That number is the number of gallons your tank should have for your turtle's current size. If you used a metric rule and multiplied by 15 you will get the size in liters.
  3. Factor in the number of turtles. If you have multiple turtles you'll need to ensure that they have enough space to swim. This is more subjective, but a good rule of thumb is to multiply that aquarium size by the number of turtles you have in the habitat. You may want to consider splitting the turtles up as well if it becomes unmanageable.
  4. Add the growth factor. If your turtle is very young (under an inch long), you can safely assume that in the next year or two they will grow to be at least 2 inches. That growth means the correct tank size will double. If your turtle is a bit larger -- 1-2 inches -- they will grow quickly but probably won't double in size. For 1-2 inch turtles we recommend buying a tank roughly 50% larger than you need right now.
  5. Buy a tank with that final capacity.

For more detailed advice on picking the correct aquarium tank and recommendations for sales take a look at our page on aquarium tanks.


We always recommend a canister filter for turtles. We've had the waterfall style filters in the past, and those are ok for very small tanks with baby turtles. Your turtle will quickly outgrow the very small capacity of this style. Waterfall filters also require more cleaning and cartridge replacement than the canister filters. However if you do have very small turtles and don't might purchasing equipment again in a year or so the waterfall style can be a good choice.

Our Recommended Mini Waterfall Filter

Recommended Product

Tetra Whisper In-Tank Filter

This is the small waterfall filter filter we used for a while when our turtle was a baby. The replacement catridges are cheap but need to be replaced often. After a while algae will grow on the filter so it will require rinsing as well.

Canister Filters

We have written a very in-depth page reviewing filter brands at our filter reviews page, so I won't go into too much detail here on specific filters. Instead I'll focus more on determining the correct filter capacity.

The main concern when purchasing a filter is the amount of water that needs to be filtered. If you have put together a fish aquarium in the past, you might be tempted to simply buy the same size filter you would use for a fish tank. But, that filter simply won't be strong enough! Turtles are very different than fish in the sheer quantity of waste that they produce. This waste production means you'll need to overcompensate with a larger capacity filter.

How to Choose the Correct Filter Capacity

  • Start with the right tank. First determine the correct tank size with the above instructions so you know approximately how much water you will have in the tank.
  • Multiply the tank's capacity by 2 or 3. This is where it becomes more of a judgement call. If you only have a single turtle and do water changes often you can multiply your tanks capacity by 2. If you have more than one turtle multiply the capacity of your tank by 3.
  • Buy a canister filter with that rated capacity. Again, take a look at our filter reviews and pick one that works well for your tank.


Basking space may not seem like a big deal, but it actually is very important to your turtle's overall health. Turtles are cold blooded so it is vital that they warm up by basking under some heat source. Additionally, the only way a turtle can dry off is by climbing up out of the water. If a turtle doesn't dry off occasionlly they will be prone to disease and infections.

In our experience a simple floating basking platform is the easiest way to setup a basking area for your turtle.

Our Recommended Mini Basking Dock

Recommended Product

Zoo Med Mini Floating Dock

We actually used this one for a quite a while, until our turtle started sinking it with his weight. Its a very simple floating platform that just suctions to the aquarium glass. One downside to these is that sometimes they don't stay attached to the glass, but we never had problems with ours.

More Information

Thats not all! A turtle will still need a basking lamp, water heater, proper food, and water treatment to thrive! Make sure you go to our equipment guide for the full list of equipment you need to ensure your turtle stays healthy and happy.