A lot goes into a turtle’s set up. The basics include the aquarium, heating and lighting, and filtration.
Before introducing any tank mates, it’s crucial to prepare the turtle tank to ensure it’s a suitable environment for both the turtle and its potential fish companions. A well-setup turtle aquarium not only promotes the health of the turtle but also provides a safe haven for fish.
Many turtle keepers also prefer to have a tank mate or two in the same enclosure as the pet turtle.
These tank mates can be other turtles, other reptiles, and even fish. Having a fish and a turtle in the same aquarium can be a gorgeous sight but this doesn’t always work.
This is down to the more carnivorous nature of freshwater turtles. Some turtles such as snapping turtles and map turtles are quite carnivorous and just can’t coexist with fish since they will actively hunt and feed on the fish.
However, regardless of this, there are many species of fishes and several species of turtles that can live peacefully in the same enclosure. Can turtles live with fish? The answer to this is ‘Yes and no, it all depends on the species.
When considering adding fish to a turtle’s habitat, it’s essential to think about the turtle tank size and whether there is enough space for different species to coexist without stress. A general rule of thumb for tank size is to provide 10 gallons of water per inch of shell length for the turtle and additional space for the fish.
Table of Contents
- Turtle Species To Consider
- Fish species to consider
- Fish to Avoid Keeping With Turtles
- Introducing the Fish
- Why placing turtles and fish in the same tank doesn’t always work out
- Do Big Turtles Eat Little Turtles?
- Can Betta Fish And Turtles Live Together?
- Can frogs and turtles live together?
- Can Turtles and Crabs Co-exist?
- Can Turtles Live Together?
Can turtles live with fish?
Turtle Species To Consider
Ensure that the turtle isn’t on a fish diet. If the turtle has been fed feeder guppies or feeder fish most of its life, it will be more inclined to prey on any other fish placed in the tank as it will view them as food. If the turtle is used to eating live fish, then it will be difficult to house it with a fish.
If you decide to pair a fish with a turtle, then you need to choose a turtle species that won’t actively hunt the fish in the aquarium. There are several species to consider.
1. Red-eared Slider
The first species we will look at is the red-eared slider, in particular adult red-eared sliders. Red-eared sliders are among the most common turtles kept as pets.
These turtles are omnivorous and feed on both plants and animals. Juveniles and pre-adults are pretty carnivorous. However, adults are more herbivorous.
Adult males range from 5 to 9 inches while adult females can reach lengths of 12 to 13 inches. Adults generally coexist peacefully with large fishes. Similarly, juveniles are unable to hunt large fishes.
Adult red-eared slider turtles, which are less likely to prey on tank mates, still produce a lot of waste. Therefore, maintaining water quality in the shared habitat is a constant necessity. It’s advisable for turtle owners to invest in a powerful filtration system to keep the water clean and safe for all inhabitants.
Red-eared sliders eat kale, carrot tops, parsley, swiss chard, endive, collard greens, and dark romaine leaves. In addition to this, offer them commercial turtle pellets.
Check out the Red-eared Slider care guide for more on care.
In a turtle aquarium housing red-eared slider turtles, adding fast swimmers such as zebra danios or larger fish like yellow cichlids could be a good tank mate choice, as their speed and size can deter hungry turtles from seeing them as an easy meal.
2. Western Painted Turtle
The second specials we will look at is the western painted turtles. As with any freshwater turtle, the western painted turtle is omnivorous.
They reach lengths 4 to 10 inches. These omnivorous turtles feed on aquatic insects, crustaceans, ad small fish.
They do not hunt fishes that are as large as they are. While the young painted turtles are primarily carnivorous, adults are generally herbivorous.
You can feed western painted turtles commercial turtle pellets, crickets, earthworms, mealworms, and dark leafy vegetables.
Check out the Western Painted Turtle care guide for more on care.
3. Pink Belly Sideneck Turtle
The pink belly sideneck turtle is another species that cohabitate with fish quite easily. These grow to be 5 to 10 inches.
As with the other turtles already mentioned, the pink belly sideneck turtle feed on small fish, insects, mollusks, crustaceans, and plant matter.
While small fish won’t survive in the aquarium with a pink belly sideneck turtle, fishes as large as the turtle can coexist with it.
Learn more about the Pink Belly Sidneck here.
While pink belly sideneck turtles can live with a variety of fish, small tank conditions can lead to aggressive behavior. In such cases, even non-carnivorous turtles may attempt to eat smaller fish like neon tetras. Providing hiding places and ensuring enough space can mitigate this risk.
4. Mud and Musk Turtles
Mud and musk turtles are considered to be among the best species to house with fishes as they are quite uninterested in hunting fish. Also, they are not good at hunting fish.
Even in the wild, these turtles are ambush predators and hide in the muddy bottom for slow-moving water waiting to ambush prey. Since these conditions don’t exist in tanks and aquariums, fish are quite safe around them.
In the mud and musk turtles’ habitat, slow-moving or smaller fish are not ideal as they can easily become a target. Instead, opt for fish that are quick and alert, such as tiger barbs or ghost shrimp, which are often recommended by pet stores for shared environments.
Fish species to consider
When choosing a fish for the aquarium, it is best to consider hearty fishes. This ensures that they can survive alongside the omnivorous turtle. Also, it’s a good idea to choose a large or fast fish. Fast fish are difficult to catch and turtles generally avoid hunting fishes that are as large as they are. Here are some fish species to consider.
1. Suckermouth Catfish (Plecos)
The first fish species we’ll discuss is the suckerfish, also known as plecos (Hypostomus plecostomus, Hypostomus punctatus, Pterygoplichthys pardalis, Pterygoplichthys multiradiatus). These hearty fishes belong to the armored catfish family.
They can grow up to 20 inches and as such are quite large. They are also quite fast and are well-protected by armor-like longitudinal rows of scutes that cover the upper parts of the head and body. They come in many delightful colors and patterns.
However, it’s important to note that in a shared fish tank, even the armor-like scales of suckermouth catfish cannot protect them if housed with certain types of aggressive fish or carnivorous turtles, which might see them as a challenge rather than a companion.
2. Koi (Cyprinus rubrofuscus)
Another species to consider is the koi (Cyprinus rubrofuscus “koi”). These are colored variants of the species C. rubrofuscus and as such belong to the carp family. They are generally kept for decorative purposes in ponds and water gardens. Popular colorations include white, cream, black, blue, red, yellow, and orange. These fish can grow to be quite large, up to several feet. They are also swift strong swimmers.
Despite their size and speed, larger fish like koi or oscar fish must be kept with mature turtles that exhibit less aggressive behavior. Younger turtles or species such as snapping turtles may still display predatory instincts towards bigger fish.
3. Pictus Catfish
The pictus catfish (Pimelodus pictus) is another fish generally housed alongside turtles. They are quick and speedy fish that can grow up to 5 inches. Turtle species have trouble catching them because of their speed. The pictus cat belongs to the catfish family Pimelodidae.
4. Neon Tetra
The neon tetra (Paracheirodon innesi) is another species popularly kept with turtles. They are brightly colored and speedy. When not fed properly, they will destroy plants in the tanks. They aren’t large, reaching just 1.2 inches in length. However, their lighting quick speed makes it near impossible for a turtle to catch.
Neon tetras are a popular choice among types of fish for a community tank due to their speed, but they require optimal water conditions and a larger tank to thrive alongside turtle species. Their vibrant colors can add visual appeal to the aquatic plants and overall aesthetics of the tank conditions.
The guppy is another species you can keep with turtles. There are many different breeds and some are quire colorfully and have large bushy tails. They aren’t that large and grow to ve 0.6 to 2.5 inches in length with the females being much larger than the males. Guppies are quick fish and turtles find them impossible to catch.
6. Rosy Barb
The rosy barb (Pethia conchonius) is another fish that does well with turtles. It is a fast fish and is readily available. Their colorful nature also adds to the aquarium. They grow to 6 inches.
7. Goldfish (Not Advisable)
While goldfish isn’t advisable, both the comet goldfish and shubunkin goldfish are commonly kept. shubunkins can reach lengths of 18 inches. Comets are small and reach lengths of 4 inches in small aquariums and 8 inches in large aquariums. Goldfish are also easy to replace if they get eaten by turtles.
Fish to Avoid Keeping With Turtles
Here’s a list of fish you should never keep with your turtles:
- Rosy Red Minnows
- Gizzard Shad
- Feathered Minnows
The problem with these fish is that your turtle might try to eat them, which is hazardous both for the fish as well as the turtle.
All these fish have really sharp bones, and turtles don’t chew their meals well. The sharp bones will rupture the internal organs and tissues of the turtle and lead to significant blood loss.
At the same time, some of these fish also have high thiamine content. Thiamine blocks the absorption of vitamin B1 which is crucial for a turtle’s survival.
Introducing the Fish
Have a Large enclosure
If you wish to keep turtles and fish in the same enclosure then the tank needs to be large. This gives both the fish and the turtle enough room. A large tank is a must. I recommend a 5-foot long 80-gallon tank.
Knowing that you need a tank big enough to fit all the fish and turtles isn’t enough. You also need to know how much space an individual turtle or fish needs and how the size of the tank varies with the number of fish and turtles you have.
To ensure the well-being of both turtles and fish, it is advisable to select a larger tank, especially if the plan is to house a mix of larger fish and turtle species. A larger aquarium offers enough space for swimming and a basking area for the turtle, essential for their health.
Here’s an estimate for the right size of tank for turtles:
- Turtles up to six inches require 30 gallons of water
- Turtles up to eight inches require 55 to 60 gallons of water
- Turtles over eight inches require 70 to 130 gallons of water, depending on the exact size
The calculation for fish is pretty simple. For each inch of a fish, you need 1 gallon of water. For example, if you have 5, 7-inch fish, you’ll need a total of 35 gallons of water.
Feed the turtle before introducing the fish
You want to make sure that the turtle isn’t hungry when the fish is introduced. A well-fed turtle will be less shocked by the introduction of a fish, and will also be in a better mood.
If the type of fish being introduced is a smaller or more docile species, it’s even more critical to ensure the turtle is not in a predatory state. This precaution helps in establishing a peaceful coexistence between the different species in the turtle’s habitat.
Feeding the turtle before introducing the fish ensures that the turtle doesn’t see the fish as food.
Adult turtles are the best tank mates for fish
As you may have realized, adult freshwater turtles are more herbivorous than juveniles are. As such, mature turtles are less likely to prey on any live fish in the tank as they eat more vegetables.
Different turtle species reach maturity at different larges and sizes. As such, you need to fo your research and know when you turtle matures.
Study the turtle’s reaction to the fish
The turtle may react to a new fish in several ways. It may leave the fish alone and not bother it or it may swim up to the fish and try to nip at it. If the turtle tries to nip at the fish or bother it incessantly, then you can’t house the fish with the turtle.
You’ll need to find the fish a new home or return it. However, if the turtle leaves the fish alone then it is okay to have the fish in the tank with the turtle.
Observing water parameters is vital after introducing new species of fish to a turtle tank. It is not uncommon for turtles to disturb the balance of the tank, affecting both water quality and temperature, which are critical for the health of the fish.
Acclimatize the fish to the water
Fish, unlike turtles, need to acclimatize to a new environment. Failure to acclimatize the fish can send it into shock, killing it.
Start by floating the fish and the bag it came in in the tank. After about 5 minutes, add a bit of the tank’s water into the fish’s bag. After about 10 minutes, take out about half of the bag’s water and replace that with the water in the tank.
After another 5 to 20 mins, use a fish net to transfer the fish to its new home. Alternatively, you can carefully pour both the fish and the water into the turtle’s tank.
This gradual process allows the fish to adapt to the tank’s pH level, temperature, and as well as the turtles presence.
Moreover, it’s essential to monitor the behavior of the turtle and fish over several days to ensure that stress levels do not lead to health issues or aggression. If any negative interactions occur, it may be necessary to rethink the combination of species within the tank.
Adjusting The Temperature & The pH
Turtles and fish have a definite need when it comes to the water temperature and pH level. Luckily, their needs aren’t much different from each other.
Most turtles thrive in a temperature between 75 degrees to 86 degrees Fahrenheit, and for fish, the optimum temperature should be somewhere between 75 degrees to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Regarding the water’s pH level, turtles prefer a more alkaline medium that’s somewhere between 7.4 to 7.8 on the pH scale. The exact pH requirement for fish depends on whether they’re from freshwater or saltwater.
Freshwater fish need a pH level between 5.5 to 7, whereas saltwater fish need a pH of at least 8 or higher. Although you can keep turtles and fish in the same tank, you certainly cannot do the same for freshwater and saltwater fish.
Select The Right Filter
Both fish and turtles produce considerable waste in the water, so you can only imagine the waste they’ll produce together. While submersible filters work great for smaller tanks, you should opt for a canister filter for larger tanks.
The canister filter is set under the tank and doesn’t take up extra space inside, allowing your fish and turtles to swim freely without a filter blocking their way. Canister filters also provide multi-stage filtration for all-around cleaning.
Add several hiding spots to the tank
Incorporating natural barriers within the aquarium design can significantly reduce the likelihood of predatory behavior by the turtle. Strategically placed decorations not only enrich the habitat visually but also serve a practical purpose in maintaining the well-being of tank mates.
You should provide several hiding spots for both the fish and the turtle. This gives both the turtle and the fish space away from each other. A less stressed fish is a healthier fish. Hiding spots can also be decorative.
- Objects used to provide hiding spots include terracotta pots and PVC pipes. These are less decorative but very practical. Alternatively, you can acquire commercially made hiding spots such as miniature sunken ships.
- In addition to these specially made hiding spots, plants also provide a lot of cover. These plants can be natural or synthetic. As both the turtle and the fish may feed to eat the live plants, synthetic plants are best.
- Driftwood and rocks also provide great hiding spots for the fish. They also beautify the enclosure and add to the natural appearance to the tanks
Turtle Tank Mates
There are many reasons why you should not place turtles and fish in the same tank.
- The main one is the feeding habits of freshwater turtles. Freshwater turtles are generally omnivores. In fact, they are generally more carnivorous feeding on snails, clams, crayfish, aquatic insects and small fish. As such, turtles may see the fish you place in the aquarium as prey.
- The turtles and the fish may require different environmental conditions. The basking lamps placed in the aquarium may not be conducive to the fish. For instance, a goldfish requires a different temperature range than what a freshwater turtle requires.
- Some species of turtles such as snapping turtles are territorial. As such, they cannot coexist with another tank mate.
Do Big Turtles Eat Little Turtles?
Actually, among many turtle species such as the red-eared slider, big turtles do eat smaller turtles. Adult turtles are known to feed on hatchlings. For this reason, it’s inadvisable to introduce hatchlings to a communal tank with adults. Keep all the baby turtles in a separate tank until they are big enough.
Can Betta Fish And Turtles Live Together?
The short answer is no. Aquatic turtles feed on fish. If the fish is small enough, then the turtle will see the fish as food. Betta fishes are quite small in nature and will be hunted incessantly.
Can frogs and turtles live together?
No, freshwater turtles feed on frogs in the wild. Similarly, frogs feed on turtles in the wild. The smaller of the two will most likely end up as a meal for the bigger as both animals are predators.
Even if both are of the same size, they will consider each other competition. The stressful nature of the arrangement and the ensuing squabbles will generally result in the death of one or the other. Can turtles and frogs live together? Only if you want to create a disaster.
Can Turtles and Crabs Co-exist?
No, turtles and crabs cannot exist. A turtle feeds among small fish, crabs, crustaceans, and basically everything that’s smaller than itself. A weak and slow creature is an easy meal for the turtle. On the other hand, you cannot introduce crabs that are bigger than your turtles. In this case, the crab may attack the turtles.
Can Turtles Live Together?
This also answers the question, ‘Can two turtles live together?’ Yes. Turtles of the same species generally live peacefully together as long as they are all adults or all juveniles.
Freshwater turtles such as map turtles, musk and mud turtles, painted turtles, cooters, and sliders can all live together. Just make sure that the temperature requirements of the species in question are the same (or similar). With that being said territorial turtles such as snapping turtles, and softshell turtles cannot live with any other turtle.
If you want to house several turtles in the same tank, the tank must be large enough and have several hiding spots as well as a basking platform large enough to fit them all.
There is a lot to consider before placing a fish and a turtle in the same tank. It is important to remember that turtles are omnivores and do eat fish. Young turtles are also more carnivorous than adult turtles.
Also, turtles are more likely to hunt fish that are smaller than they are. As such, it’s best to go for large fish such as koi fish and suckerfish. Also, the enclosure needs to be large enough to accommodate both the turtle and the fish.
Make sure to provide several hiding spots for the fish. Regardless of all this, keep in mind that freshwater turtles are predatory and may still hunt and harass the fish. Some use goldfish as they can be easily replaced if the turtle ever feeds on it. If you have any comments, kindly leave them below.