Can a Turtle Live in a 10 Gallon Tank – Read On To Find Out

Alison Page

Alison Page


Can a Turtle Live in a 10 Gallon Tank

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So, you have a 10-gallon aquarium, and you’re wondering what you can keep in it.

How about a turtle?

Unfortunately, you can’t keep a turtle in a 10-gallon tank. That tank size is simply too small for any species of turtle.

But what’s the ideal tank size for a turtle? And what creatures can live in a 10-gallon tank?

Keep reading to find out whether a 10-gallon tank is big enough for a turtle.

Can a Turtle Live in a 10-Gallon Tank?

Let’s cut right to the chase – no, you can’t keep a turtle in a 10-gallon tank.

The minimum tank size suitable for a turtle is a 40-gallon setup, and that’s a temporary fix for a small species, such as a musk or mud turtle, or a hatchling.

Basically, your pet turtle needs a BIG tank; the bigger, the better, in fact.

What Tank Size Do You Need for a Turtle?

The tank size you need for your turtle depends on the size of the animal.

Essentially, you should follow the “rule of the shell.” That rule states that the tank should provide at least 10 gallons of water per inch of the turtle’s shell. You also need to add a further 5 gallons for every additional turtle inch.

As a rough guide, turtles of 6 to 8 inches in length need a tank of at least 55 gallons. However, smaller species of 4 to 6 inches long can live in a 40-gallon tank. Large turtles that grow in excess of 8 inches long need a much bigger tank of around 75 to 125 gallons!

How Do I Set up a Turtle Tank?

As previously mentioned, at a pinch, you could use a 10-gallon tank for turtle hatchlings.

Here’s how to set up a temporary turtle hatchling tank:

  1. Spread your substrate across the tank bottom. The best substrate for a turtle tank is gravel, sand, or fluorite.
  2. Build a “land area” that occupies around 50% of the tank area. Rather than using rocks or logs that you’ve picked up outside, buy a special, floating turtle dock from a pet store.
  3. Add a few artificial plants and other decorations, but avoid using items that your turtle could accidentally get stuck inside.
  4. Fill the turtle tank with clean water. The water should be at least ¾ of the turtle’s length. Distilled or tap water is fine since most of the pet turtles you can buy are freshwater species.
  5. Fix a lamp with both UVB and UVA bulbs to the side of the turtle tank just above the land area. You need to leave the lights on for 12 hours every day, followed by a nighttime period of 12 hours.
  6. Place a fully submersible heater in the tank to ensure a stable, consistent temperature. The temperature you want depends on the type of turtle you keep.
  7. Fit a large canister filter in the tank. Turtles are very messy creatures, and a powerful filter is necessary to keep the water healthy. Even so, you still need to carry out water changes every two weeks or so.
  8. Your turtle tank cover should be fitted with a heat-resistant metal screen. This helps protect your pet turtle from hazards such as a broken light bulb. Don’t choose a glass or plexiglass cover, which could melt or shatter.
  9. Use a thermostat to check the land area and water temperature regularly. Turtles generally like a water temperature of around 78 degrees Fahrenheit and a land temperature of between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

You might also want to consider using a hygrometer to monitor the relative humidity of your turtle tank. The humidity level depends on the turtle species you choose.

How Much Water Do I Put In My Turtle Tank?

The water level in your turtle tank depends on the species of turtle you keep.

Aquatic Turtles

Aquatic turtles need all or most of their tank filled with water.

As a general rule, most turtle keepers fill their turtle tanks with at least 60% full of water. So, if you have a 100-gallon tank, you’ll need to add at least 60 gallons of water.

That said, most aquatic turtle species also need a dry land area to bask and warm up.

Land Turtles or Tortoises

Land turtles or tortoises need very little water in their environment, and generally, a small, shallow dish of water is quite sufficient.

The habitat in a land turtle enclosure should be pretty much completely terrestrial. All you need to add is some water for the turtle to soak in or drink.

Semi-Aquatic Turtles

Semi-aquatic species of turtles, such as box turtles, should have a few inches of water and a land area in their habitat.

Ideally, the turtle tank should have at least 25% water and the remainder of the space should be made up of land.

A Quick Check!

If you’re not sure what kind of turtle you have, take a quick look at his feet.

Your turtle will have webbed or non-webbed feet. Turtles with webbed feet need more water in their tank than those with non-webbed feet. That’s simply because webbed feet enable the turtle to swim, whereas non-webbed feet are more suited to spending most of their life on land.

What Water Depth Do Turtles Need?

The tank should contain enough water for the turtle to be able to swim comfortably.

The water depth should always be deeper than the turtle’s width and at least three-quarters of the turtle’s length. The water must be of sufficient depth to enable the turtle to flip itself over in case it inadvertently turns upside-down in the water.

Baby turtles need shallower water. Although it’s rare, a turtle can drown if the water is too deep and the creature is unable to get onto dry land.

What Water Conditions Do Turtles Need?

Can a Turtle Live in a 10 Gallon Tank

Turtles can tolerate a wide range of water conditions, depending on their species. However, all turtles prefer the conditions to remain stable.

The most important water parameters for turtles are as follows:

  • water temperature for hatchlings: 80 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit
  • water temperature for adult turtles: 77 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH level: 7.4 to 7.8, slightly alkaline

In captivity, pet turtles prefer living conditions that are similar to their species’ outdoor environment.

The correct temperature is essential in a turtle tank. Prolonged or excessively cold temperatures can cause gastrointestinal problems and respiratory illness.

How Long Can Turtles Stay Underwater?

All turtles can breathe atmospheric air. However, aquatic turtles, such as painted turtles and sliders, can remain underwater for quite a long time.

In fact, some turtle species have a very slow metabolism and have developed some special physical adaptations that enable them to extract dissolved oxygen from the water.

What Creatures Can You Keep in a 10-Gallon Aquarium?

If you have a 10-gallon tank, you now know that you can’t keep a turtle in it. However, there are plenty of other creatures that can live happily in a 10-gallon aquarium, provided you create the correct environmental conditions.


The obvious choice of pet for a 10-gallon tank is fish.

There are plenty of tropical nano fish species that can live in a small tank. Choose from tiny, brightly colored tetras and danios, cute corydoras catfish, Dwarf Powder Blue gouramis, or a beautiful betta full of personality.

The list is almost endless!


Invertebrates can make excellent pets, many of which are straightforward to care for and can live in a 10-gallon tank.

Choose from aquatic inverts such as snails, clams, hermit crabs, and shrimp, or consider terrestrial animals, including spiders, millipedes, tarantulas, and scorpions.


Frogs make excellent pets, and they can live in a 10-gallon tank.

There are a few different frog species to choose from, including African Clawed frogs, African Dwarf frogs, and Fire Belly frogs. Some frogs can live with fish, too!


Small lizard species can be kept in a 10-gallon tank, including:

  • Flying geckos
  • Panther geckos
  • Leopard geckos
  • Golden geckos
  • Pygmy chameleons

Before buying a lizard, always check with the pet store to find out what size the lizard could grow to. Some of these creatures can reach quite a large size and would quickly outgrow a 10-gallon tank.


There are several small snakes that could potentially live in a 10-gallon tank, including Rosy boas, Garter snakes, and Egg-eating snakes.

However, we recommend that you do plenty of research before taking on a snake, as many of these animals will eventually outgrow a small tank and your vivarium will require upsizing in the future.


In this section of our guide, we answer some of the most commonly asked questions by people considering keeping turtles in a 10-gallon tank.

Q: Can You Keep a Turtle in a 10-Gallon Tank?

A: No, you shouldn’t keep a turtle in a 10-gallon tank, regardless of the species of turtle. You need to allow 10 gallons of water per inch of the turtle’s shell, plus an additional 5 gallons to allow enough room for the turtle to grow.

That said, if you have a baby hatchling turtle, you could initially keep it in a 10-gallon tank until the creature grows too large and you upsize your setup.

Q: How Big Is a 10-Gallon Tank?

A: A rectangular 10-gallon fish tank typically follows a standard aquarium size of 20” L x 10” W x 12” H.

Q: How Much Water Should You Put in a 10-Gallon Tank?

A: When filling your tank, you need to allow for the water displacement that will happen when you add substrate, decorations, plants, and filtration equipment.

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed our guide to keeping turtles in a 10-gallon tank. If you found the information we provided helpful, please take a moment to share the article!

Unfortunately, a 10-gallon tank is too small for even the tiniest turtle. As a general rule of thumb, you should allow 10 gallons of water per inch of the turtle’s shell and an extra 5 gallons to allow for growth.

If you don’t have the space in your home for a larger tank, you could consider keeping nano fish species, frogs, or even small lizards instead of turtles.

What size tank do you have for your turtles? Tell us about your pets in the comments box below!

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