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Red-cheeked Mud Turtle Care Guide

Caring for a Red-cheeked Mud turtle is similar to most mud turtles in general. In this guide you will find everything needed to ensure you provide the right environment for yours to thrive in.

Originally from South America, Red-cheeked Mud turtles have fairly straightforward care requirements. They are mainly carnivorous and require a standard aquatic set up similar to other Mud turtles.

Red-cheeked Mud turtle facts

Red cheeked mud turtle (Kinosternon scorpioides cruentatum) close up on dark background
Red cheeked mud turtle (Kinosternon scorpioides cruentatum) close up on dark background
  • Experience level: Intermediate
  • Scientific name: Kinosternon Scorpioides Cruentatum
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Alternate names: N/A
  • Size and weight: Up to 7 inches
  • Lifespan: Between 30 and 50 years
  • Diet: Mainly carnivorous – mollusks, freshwater fish, and carrion
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

Red-cheeked Mud turtles are a vibrantly colored subspecies of the Scorpion Mud turtle (Kinosternon Scorpioides).

Red-cheeked Mud turtles were first recorded in 1857 by Swiss-American biologist Louis Agassiz, who at one point lectured at Cornell University.

Red-cheeked Mud turtles can be housed with other similar turtles, but can become cannibalistic if not fed correctly.

What does a Red-cheeked Mud turtle look like?

Red cheeked mud turtle (Kinosternon scorpioides cruentatum)

Red-cheeked Mud turtles have smooth domed dark brown shells. Their undersides have bright orange plastrons. This distinctive orange and red coloration continues on their faces, and is speckled with black spots.

Their shells do not have serrated scutes or keels. Males are slightly larger than females and can be distinguished by longer tails which are thicker and also have a horned tip.

Where can Red-cheeked Mud turtles be found?

Red-cheeked Mud turtles originate from broad areas of South America. They are mainly found in countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and southern areas of Mexico.

What kind of habitat do Red-cheeked Mud turtles live in?

The habitats favored by the Red-cheeked Mud turtle are generally warmer waters such as lakes and rivers with sandy or silty bottoms. They will spend most of their time underwater and bask while floating at the water surface.

What does the Red-cheeked Mud turtle eat?

Red-cheeked Mud turtles are carnivores who mainly feed on amphibians, crustaceans, aquatic invertebrates, small freshwater fish and mollusks. They will also eat carrion and have a large appetite.

How do Red-cheeked Mud turtles breed?

Female Red-cheeked Mud turtles will typically lay up to four eggs in a shallow nesting burrow on land.

What predators do Red-cheeked Mud turtles face?

Snakes, lizards and other larger reptiles are common predators for the Red-cheeked Mud turtle. These predators mainly eat the eggs. Birds can also prey on these turtles.

Where can I buy a Red-cheeked Mud turtle?

Red-cheeked Mud turtles aren’t widely bred, but you can buy specimens from either or Prices range between $100 for hatchlings and $200 for individual adults.

Red-cheeked Mud Turtle Care sheet



Red-cheeked Mud turtles require a mainly aquatic enclosure, much like other species of Mud turtle. A tank as large as 75 gallons is needed for a fully-grown adult. Since Red-cheeked Mud turtles prefer slightly warmer waters, a palludarium set up is a good route.

You can also keep your Red-cheeked Mud turtle in a warm water pond outside. But if your pond is at risk of freezing in winter, your turtle should be housed inside during the colder season.

This enclosure should have a relatively large land section, whilst the aquatic part should take up around 65% of the whole tank. Some form of ramp will allow your turtle to easily reach the land section whenever they want.

The deepest part of the water should be deep enough to cover the length of your turtle twice. Red-cheeked Mud turtles may walk along the bottom of their tank often.

For basking, you should provide both aquatic and terrestrial sections for the basking area. For aquatic basking, a section of shallow water under a lamp is ideal, close to a terrestrial area. In the wild these turtles will often bask while floating at the surface of the water. Your turtle can then choose whether to bask on land or in the water.

A substrate is not strictly necessary, and it’s sometimes better to either leave the bottom of the tank bare or to use larger rocks that are too large for your Red-cheeked Mud turtle to swallow. These rocks will need to be cleaned every two to four weeks.

Water quality is extremely important for Red-cheeked Mud turtles, so you’ll need an underwater filtration system. A canister set up can work well. Around once a week you’ll also need to regularly change at least a quarter of the water. Use dechlorinated water as this will prevent any contaminants from entering the water supply.


Using a filter system and doing partial water changes will help keep your Red-cheeked Mud turtle’s tank clean. It’s also advised to clean the rocks and any other decorations every two to four weeks.


The water temperature for Red-cheeked Mud turtles needs to be kept between 74 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit. To keep track of this, use a thermometer safe for aquarium use. If you live in a colder region where the ambient temperature is at risk of dropping below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, you might need to use an underwater heater in the tank of your Red-cheeked Mud turtle.

Your Red-cheeked Mud turtle’s basking area should be kept at around 77 degrees Fahrenheit, using a heat lamp. This is true for both the aquatic and terrestrial sections of the basking area.


In addition to the basking light, you’ll also need to provide UVB for your Red-cheeked Mud turtle. This helps your turtle get the right amount of vitamins and nutrients it would receive while basking in the sun, such as Vitamin D3. Use something like a Zoo Med Reptisun 10.0 if possible.

Put your lamps on a 12 hour day/night cycle. This will help replicate the normal course of a day for your Red-cheeked Mud turtle. You should turn off the lights in the room during the night cycle.

If your Red-cheeked Mud turtle is living in a warm outdoor pond, they should get enough natural sunlight for their requirements.


As part of a palludarium tank, you can use both aquatic and terrestrial plants to provide some cover for your Red-cheeked Mud turtle. This will help simulate the warm rainforest environment that they favor in the wild.

Providing some hiding places with rocks will also be helpful, but make sure they are not precarious and in danger of falling on your turtle. A ramp to help your turtle access their land area easily is also advised.


Red-cheeked Mud turtles are voracious carnivores so take care to regulate their feeding. Commercial turtle pellets are a good staple, but make sure to use a variety. You can also feed them mollusks and earthworms or cut strips of fish and meat occasionally.

Adults should be fed as much as they can consume in about 15 minutes once a day. Dust a calcium supplement on their food three times a week, and sprinkle a multi-vitamin supplement on one meal per week.

If you have Red-cheeked Mud turtle hatchlings, you should feed them about two times a day. During feeding they should eat as much as they can in about 15 minutes. Calcium supplements should be used once per day for hatchlings, as well as a multi-vitamin once per week. Feed hatchlings cut strips of meat or fish once or twice per week alongside their main diet of pellets.

Mud turtles are infamous for being messy eaters, so you may need to do a spot clean after feeding time. Some owners will feed their turtles in a separate smaller enclosure to cut down on mess.

Temperament and handling

Like most other Mud turtles, you should handle your Red-cheeked Mud turtles as infrequently as possible. While some keepers will pick their turtles up to move them to a feeding enclosure, this isn’t necessary and should be avoided if you can.

Although they aren’t great for handling, Red-cheeked Mud turtles are still really fun to watch. They are pretty active and inquisitive, walking along the bottom of their tank or swimming for much of the day.

If your turtle sees you enter the room, they will likely push against the glass of their tank to see what you are up to, especially if it’s feeding time. When feeding, you may want to make use of tweezers or forceps as these turtles are aggressive eaters.

Red-cheeked Mud turtles will happily coexist with other similarly sized turtles. Make sure to feed them consistently or they may start to try and cannibalize the other turtles.

Signs of good health

When first choosing your Red-cheeked Mud turtle, healthy specimens will have smooth shells, without any strange bumps or flaking of their skin or scales.

Healthy turtles will be active while in the water, with clear and bright eyes. Sluggish and lethargic specimens may have health problems.

Health concerns

Like most other species of Mud turtles, Red-cheeked Mud turtles can develop problems if they have insufficient lighting conditions or poorly filtered water.

You will first notice symptoms of these problems in their shells. Flaking or deformities like pyramiding may indicate a lack of proper lighting or supplement intake.

Other common health concerns include ear infections, metabolic bone disease, or parasitic infections.

You can fix many of these problems by making sure your Red-cheeked Mud turtle has the correct lighting, diet, and water filtration conditions.

An interesting YouTube video about the Red-cheeked Mud turtle

Frequently Asked Questions about Red-cheeked Mud turtles

What is the general size of a Red-cheeked Mud turtle?

A Red-cheeked Mud turtle will rarely exceed seven inches long. Males are slightly bigger than females.

What is the diet for a Red-cheeked Mud turtle?

Red-cheeked Mud turtles have a very carnivorous diet. The bulk of this should be made up of a varied rotation of commercial high-quality turtle pellets. You should also feed them mollusks or cut strips of meat and fish occasionally.

When feeding, adults should consume as much as they can in about 15 minutes once per day. Calcium supplements should be dusted over three meals per week, while multi-vitamins should be added to one feeding per week.

For hatchlings, feed them as much as they can eat twice a day for 15 minutes. Hatchlings need calcium supplementation on one meal a day and a multi-vitamin dusting on one meal per week.

How big an enclosure does a Red-cheeked Mud turtle need?

For an adult Red-cheeked Mud turtle, a 75 gallon glass water tank/aquarium or palludarium enclosure is a good size. They need a lot of room for swimming and also require a terrestrial section.


Caring for Red-cheeked Mud turtles can be a fun and joyful experience for an intermediate turtle owner. Here are some pros and cons of owning Red-cheeked Mud turtles.

Red-cheeked Mud turtles aren’t commonly bred in captivity and are not widely available. Because of this they can be a very unique choice of pet turtle to set you apart from other owners.

For the most part, Red-cheeked Mud turtles can happily coexist with other similarly sized Mud or Musk turtles. They are active and inquisitive turtles to watch.

If already have experience of aquatic turtle set ups, the needs of a Red-cheeked Mud turtles are fairly easy to meet.

However, Red-cheeked Mud turtles do come with some cons. They don’t like to be handled often, so if you want a turtle that you can physically interact with it’s best to look at other species.

Red-cheeked Mud turtles can also be messy eaters, and if not fed properly while housed with other turtles they may become cannibalistic.

Overall though, Red-cheeked Mud turtles are a rewarding and unique species to keep. If you do want a pet turtle that you can handle regularly, a Red-eared Slider may be a better choice.

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