How to Pick the Right Turtle Tank Filter and Tank

By PetMD Editorial on Nov. 26, 2018

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By John Virata

Aquatic turtles are some of the most popular reptiles in the hobby, and proper care of their environment goes a long way in regard to their health. Because they live most of their lives in water, it is imperative that you choose not only the right turtle tank, but also the right turtle tank filter.

Picking a Turtle Tank

The turtle tank setup that you choose for your pet turtle depends entirely on the species of the turtle that you keep and the adult size of that species. For example, if you acquired a red-eared slider (the most popular pet turtle) that is just 6 to 8 inches in carapace length (size of the shell), you can—until he outgrows the tank, which he will—keep him in a turtle tank of about 50 gallons. The tank should have a water heater, proper UVB lights, a basking area where he can haul out, and an appropriately sized water filter system.

Smaller turtles, such as painted turtles that don't grow as large as red-eared sliders, can be housed in a 75-gallon turtle tank, at minimum. Larger tanks are best, as this gives them more room to swim, and there is also more space for a larger basking spot to soak up the needed UVB from a UVB light source.

An alternative to a turtle tank setup is a turtle tub. Some folks even use small wading pools to house their chelonians. As with a turtle tank, water filters are essential in turtle tubs to ensure the good health and well-being of your turtles.

A general rule of thumb is that for every inch in carapace length your turtle is, provide 10 gallons of water.

Turtle Tank Filtration

If you keep more than one aquatic turtle in your tank, consider larger filtration systems, as your tank is now accommodating twice the waste. It is also important to establish a water change schedule and stick to it.

Two TetraFauna 125 GPH ReptoFilters rated at 55 gallons, or a pair of Zoo Med turtle clean canister turtle filters will help to keep the water clean in a 20- to 55-gallon tank. Two turtle tank filters are recommended, as this will help keep the water cleaner and will reduce the amount of water changes that you will have to perform.

When your turtle grows larger, you will have to provide a larger tank. Turtles that are larger than 8 inches in carapace length should be housed in a 75- to 125-gallon tank with a filtration system that can appropriately filter that volume of water. The larger canister filters, such as the Marineland multi-stage canister filter, size C-530, which is ideal for tanks up to 150 gallons, would be a good choice for these bigger turtle tanks.

Because your aquatic turtle spends most of his life in the water, he is essentially swimming in his own filth. Sloughing of skin, bodily functions—all this material ends up in the water, so he is relying on you as his responsible keeper to maintain his living quarters.

Clean water is the single most important aspect of keeping a healthy aquatic pet turtle. Many conditions that negatively impact the health of a chelonian can be attributed to dirty water. A filtration system will remove the solid wastes generated by your turtle and will also help to clean the water in which it lives.

Internal and Canister Turtle Tank Filters

Picking the right filtration system for your turtle tank will ensure that your pet turtle has the cleanest water possible in between water changes. For an aquatic turtle tank, you have two choices; internal water filters and external canister filters.

Internal water filters are ideal for keeping a clean and seamless look to your turtle's enclosure. For example, the Tetrafauna Viquarium terrarium and aquarium filter, which is an ideal internal filter solution for most 20- to 55-gallon turtle tanks, hides the filter within faux rock formations, giving your enclosure a more naturalistic look. The formations also serve as a haul out spot for your young turtles.

External canister filters sit outside your turtle's tank and have a pair of water hoses that go into the tank. One hose is an input hose, which draws water from the tank into the filter where the water is cleaned, and the other hose sends that filtered water back into the tank.

Quality canister filters rely on mechanical, chemical and biological filtration to clean the water in your turtle tank. Other canister filters may have a combination of two of these filtration systems, but the best ones combine the three. This makes for much cleaner water.

The advantage with the external canister filter is maintenance and support for larger volume turtle tanks. Because an external canister filter is located outside the turtle tank, maintenance takes place outside the tank.

These systems are serviced by unbuckling large buckles that seal the filter, and cleaning, removing and replacing the filter elements. Not so with an internal filter solution. Because these systems are located in the tank, the maintenance of these systems are a bit more challenging.

For many, the choice is just a preference. It is imperative that you choose the right-sized filter for your turtle tank and that you perform regular water changes as a part of routine turtle care. Whatever you choose, and you can't go wrong with either, log your water changes, keep a maintenance schedule and stick to it.

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