How to Setup a Turtle Terrarium or Aquarium? How to DIY Build an Aqua Terrarium for Turtles?

Preparing an aquarium for turtles can be difficult but if you successfully setup the right tank, then it will keep your turtle happy & healthy. If you are looking forward to setting up an aquarium for turtles, then I can help you with a step-by-step tutorial.

Every turtle is small when they are juvenile, but some of them can become very large. Before preparing an aquarium for turtles, it is recommended to know how much space your turtles will need when they grow mature. Make sure you choose an aquarium that is big enough for adult turtles.

Turtles require a place for swimming & basking. Setting up a turtle tank depends on which species of turtle you are keeping. Some of them like swimming but they are not good swimmers, so they like shallow water. Some of them like basking so they require more region. Other turtles remain underwater so they do not need a large basking region.

DIY Build | Setup a Turtle Terrarium or Aquarium
DIY Build | How to Setup a Turtle Terrarium - Aquarium

Selecting the right aquaterrarium for turtle:

After knowing the adult size of the turtle, & how big a tank you need for your turtle, it is time to select the right aquarium for them.

Turtles need a swimming & basking area, therefore if they need 50 gallons of water, then their aquarium should be bigger than that.

As a rule of thumb, a turtle needs 10 gallons of water for an inch of shell. The water should be deep enough to avoid turtles from being stuck when they flip over therefore, the water should be 1.5 times deeper than the length of your turtle.

For semi-aquatic turtles, it is recommended to offer fifty percent basking region in your aquarium. For aquatic turtles, twenty-five percent basking region is required. However, the basking area is different from one turtle species to another.


Where to keep your turtle tank?

It is important to decide where you can keep your turtle aquarium in your home or office. If the tank is placed near a window, then sunlight will enhance the water temperature, & your turtle will have difficulty in regulating their body temperature. In addition, there will be more algae in your tank water.


Heater for turtle aquaterrarium:

The ideal water temperature for turtles is b/w 74 to 82 F. Different species of turtles need different temperatures.

Do not use glass heaters as turtles can break them with their shells.

Fully immerse the submersible heaters otherwise they will burn out.

External heaters can be used for turtle aquariums. They are located outside of the turtle tank. Water flows through them & warm water is pumped into the turtle tank.


Gallons of water

Watts of Bulb










For monitoring temperature, a thermometer can be used.


Bulb for basking region:

Similar to the submersible region, the basking region needs heating too.

The hottest location of the basking area needs to be kept from 85 to 90 F.

Fix a bulb on top of the basking region.

The temperature for the basking area should be different, & the hottest place is directly below the bulb. Turtles can move around in the basking area with different temperature scales to regulate body temperature in the best possible way.

The height of the tank light determines how hot the basking area will be. If light is located very close to the basking region, then it could burn your turtle.


UVA & UVB lights for turtle terrarium:

Turtles need both UVA & UVB lights. Everyday turtles need UVA light for improving their mood, eating properly, & for breeding.

UVB light is required for Vitamin D3 that is important for strong bone & shell. If UVB light is not available, then turtles will not be able to process calcium & other required nutrition.

UVB light is not able to penetrate through the glass; therefore, mesh covers are required for the turtle aquarium.


Filter for turtle terrarium:

Turtles need clear water. They make heaps of poop, therefore it is suggested to setup a canister filter for cleaning water. Canister filters mechanically & biologically clean water. They have multiple large baskets for storing foams & different types of bio media for pristine water quality.


Substrate for turtle terrarium:

Substrate is not suggested for turtle aquariums, & many hobbyists leave their terrarium bare bottom to enhance filter efficiency & reducing maintenance time. If you are keeping live plants in the terrarium, then it is advisable to add substrate that helps growth of plants.


Setup basking region, & fill your terrarium with water:

Setup a floating platform, tank topper or some rocks to build a basking region for your turtle. Organize ramps so your turtle can move to each level. Setup heat lamp, UVA & UVB lights on top of the basking region. Either fill your aquarium with water to the base of the basking region or completely fill water for an aquatic turtle home. It is important to dechlorinate water. 


Add heater, filter & ornaments:

Setup tank heater, filter & any ornaments but do not add aquatic plants. Adjust the temperature of the heater & power it on. Cycle your aquarium by starting your filter before adding any turtle.


Finalize setting up turtle aquaterrarium & add turtle:

After your terrarium conditions are stable, it is time to power on lights & introduce aquatic plants. Keep checking water & basking area temperatures. If conditions are fine, then it is time to add turtle to your terrarium.

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