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Painted Turtle Tank Setup: Size, Lighting, Temperature & More

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Painted turtles are known to be relatively easy-care pets. But only after you have created a perfect tank setup, of course. 

This species requires a specific environment to thrive. But don’t panic; setting up a painted turtle tank is not as hard as it sounds.

This guide provides you with everything you need to know to get your tank set up and running correctly. We’ll discuss the required UVB lighting, proper tank size and furnishings, and how to create the perfect environment for your turtles.

So if you’re ready to take the plunge into turtle ownership, read on.

Tank Setup for an Adult Painted Turtle Overview

ItemRequirements
Tank size50+ gallons
TemperaturesBasking area: 85–95°F, Ambient: 80–85°F, Water: 75–80°F, Night: 65–75°F.
UVI (Ultra-violet index)3.0–4.0
Water depth10–14 inches
FurnishingsDock, basking spot, plants, hides
SubstrateSand or gravel
Lighting12/12 hours (on/off)

Painted Turtle Tank Setup

A painted turtle tank setup needs a large tank with deep, warm water and a portion of land for basking positioned under a UVB and heat lamp. A good filter and a lamp for temperature control are essential.

Painted turtles are semi-aquatic. They spend a lot of their time in the water and on land.

It is vital to have a large tank to have plenty of room to swim and explore and a basking area where they can climb out of the water to rest and warm themselves. 

Set the basking area up under a UVB light and a heat lamp.

Painted Turtle on a Tank Setup
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How Big of a Tank Does a Painted Turtle Need?

The size of the turtle determines the size of the tank. As a general rule, you should have at least ten gallons of water per inch of shell. 

For example, if you have a 4-inch turtle, you’ll need at least a 40-gallon tank. But bigger is always better when it comes to turtle tanks. 

The more space there is, the more room your painted turtle has to express natural behaviors and engage with their environment—critical aspects of their wellbeing.

If you have the space, opt for a larger tank.

Tank Requirements

A glass aquarium is the best type of tank for an indoor painted turtle. Glass is sturdier and more resistant to scratches than an acrylic tank.

The tank must have a tight-fitting lid to prevent your turtle from escaping and keep other animals out. The cover should have a wire mesh screen to allow proper ventilation.

There is also the option to create an outdoor habitat for your painted turtle. In this case, create a space with a large, deep pond in a secured area.

Baby Painted Turtle Tank Size
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Tank Placement

Place the tank in an area of your home that doesn’t have too much traffic or activity. Turtles are sensitive to stress and loud noises. It’s essential to create a calm environment.

In addition to noise, they are sensitive to vibrations around them. This is because they use vibrations for communication in murky waters.[1]

Ensure the tank is placed out of direct sunlight as this causes it to heat up to extreme temperatures. UV rays do not penetrate glass, so sunlight through the tank offers no benefit.

Painted Turtle Water Requirements

Painted Turtles are semi-aquatic and spend a lot of time in the water. In captivity, they need clean, warm water to thrive. The water should be deep enough for them to swim comfortably, filtered, and cleaned regularly.

Water Level

Painted Turtles Tank Set-Up
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The water level should be deep enough that your painted turtle can completely submerge itself. As a general rule, the water should be at least twice deep as the turtle is long. 

If you have a 4-inch turtle, the water should be at least eight inches deep. If the water is too low, your turtle won’t be able to swim and exercise properly. 

This can lead to several health problems:

  • Shell deformities[2]
  • Respiratory infections
  • Obesity

Water Quality

It’s important to keep the water clean and free of bacteria. The best way to do this is to use a filter. A good filter removes debris and waste from the water and helps to keep the water quality high.

Normal drinking water is fine to fill the tank. Sometimes this water has high chlorine levels, so we recommend using a water conditioner that you can purchase at most pet shops.[3]

Water Temperature

Painted turtle tank Water Temperature
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Turtles are ectotherms, meaning they rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature. In the wild, turtles bask in the sun to warm up and cool down in the water to cool off.

Maintaining the proper water temperature is crucial for a painted turtle’s health. The water should be between 75–85°F

Use a quality aquarium heater to maintain the water temperature and a fixed thermometer for temperature monitoring.

Cleaning

You should perform regular water changes, about once a week or as needed. When changing the water, be sure to use dechlorinated or distilled water.

Total water changes can shock a painted turtle’s system. Instead, do a partial water change weekly. Remove 25% of the old water and top up with fresh, treated water.[4]

Perform a complete water change every 4–6 weeks. When you do so, remove the turtle to a separate holding tank or container and scrub the tank and all furnishings down with disinfectant and a freshwater rinse.

Related: How to Take Care of a Painted Turtle

Painted Turtle UVB Lighting Requirements

Painted turtles need UVB lighting to help them process calcium and produce vitamin D. This is essential for their health and helps prevent metabolic bone disease and other developmental issues.

Without UVB, your turtle can not correctly process calcium, leading to serious health problems.[5]

Painted Turtles naturally source UV from basking in the sunlight. In captivity, they require artificial UVB, which comes from specialized UV lamps. Standard household bulbs are not suitable as they do not produce UV.

UVB Bulbs

Painted Turtle UVB Lighting Requirements
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There are a few different types of UVB bulbs available. The most common type is the fluorescent tube. These come in a variety of sizes and lengths to fit most tanks.

Compact fluorescent bulbs are another option and are becoming increasingly popular. These emit more UVB than traditional tubes and can be a good choice for smaller tanks.

The wattage of bulbs varies. The wattage required for your painted turtle depends on your tank size and bulb placement.

UVB Placement

Place the UV lamp above a dry area alongside a heat bulb. This combination emulates the sun and becomes the basking spot.

Invest in a solar meter to measure the UVI (UV index) reaching the basking area based on the bulb’s position. This helps to find the perfect height positioning for the UV bulb.

Painted turtles need a basking spot with 3.0-4.0 UVI.

How Many Hours of UVB Do Turtles Need?

How Many Hours of UVB Do Turtles Need
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In the wild, turtles get UVB from the sun all day long. In captivity, they need 12 hours of UVB exposure every day.

As long as the basking area is available during these times, your painted turtle basks and absorbs UV as they need to.

Lighting Schedule

Your turtle’s day should have a natural light cycle, mimicking their environment in the wild. This means 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness. This natural photoperiod encourages restful sleep and promotes growth and development.[6]

Your UVB bulb is usually enough to provide adequate light, but larger tanks may need supplemental light. A regular household bulb can suffice.

Painted Turtle Temperatures

A painted turtle tank needs a range of temperatures for thermoregulation. The basking area should be 85–95°F, the ambient air 80–85°F, the water 75–80°F, and a nighttime drop of 65–75°F.

Painted turtles are ectotherms, meaning they rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature. In the wild, turtles bask in the sun to warm up and cool down in the water to cool off.

It is vital to provide a range of temperatures and gradients across the tank so your painted turtle can self-regulate their thermoregulation.

TypeTemperature
Basking85–95°F
Ambient (air)80–85°F
Water75–80°F
Night65–75

Basking

The basking area of the tank should be 85–95°F. This can be achieved with a basking light and/or a ceramic bulb.

Basking temperatures are vital for your painted turtle’s digestion. Improper temperatures may contribute to issues such as digestive impaction or malnutrition.

turtle tank basking area
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Water

Your painted turtle needs a water heater to maintain the water temperature in its tank. The water should be 75-80°.

The water temperature is warm enough to encourage activity but cool enough to provide respite from the heat of the basking area.

Night

At night, the temperature should drop to 65-75°F. Turn off all lights and basking bulbs at night to allow the temperature to fall naturally.

These cooler temperatures, combined with darkness, encourage your painted turtle to sleep.

Measuring Temperatures

Use a quality aquarium thermometer to achieve reliable basking and water temperatures. A digital stick-on thermometer is best as they are accurate and easy to use.

A “point-and-shoot” thermometer is also beneficial to help you get an idea of the temperatures across the entire enclosure.

Regular measurement of temperatures is vital. Unexplained temperature drops can indicate equipment or power malfunction.

Painted Turtle Habitat Setup

A painted turtle’s habitat should mimic its natural environment. A natural habitat with a basking spot, hides, plants, and other furnishings encourages the display of natural behaviors that keeps a painted turtle physically and mentally healthy.

Basking Spot

Painted Turtle Habitat Setup Basking Spot
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Your turtle needs both a basking and swimming area. The basking area should be large enough for all of your turtles to rest on simultaneously, with room to spare.

The basking spot sits under a basking lamp and a UVB light. A basking spot warms up to 95°F. The basking lamp provides your turtles with the heat they need to digest their food properly.

You can create a basking spot using the following items:

  • Rocks.
  • Driftwood.
  • A pre-made reptile dock. 

Be sure any basking platforms are stable and won’t tip over or float if your turtle climbs on them.

Plants

Plants add a natural element to your painted turtle’s tank. Vegetation provides a natural cover for a sense of security and an enriching environment to explore while foraging.

Painted turtles are omnivores and eat most aquatic plants. Here are some of their favorites:

  • Duckweed
  • Water lettuce
  • Anacharsis
  • Hornwort

It’s best to avoid plants with spikes or thorns as they can harm your turtle. Research any plants before adding them to the tank, as some are toxic to turtles.

Hides

Painted Turtle Hides Setup
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Hides are essential for painted turtles as they provide a place for them to rest and feel safe. Hides can be rock caves, driftwood, or commercially available reptile caves.

There should be one hide for each turtle in the tank. Multiple hides also give your turtles options and encourage natural behaviors.

Substrate

The substrate is the material you put on the bottom of the tank. It can be rocks, gravel, sand, or a mixture. Painted turtles are bottom feeders and often ingest substrate while foraging for food.

Use a safe substrate that won’t harm your turtle if ingested. Sand and small gravel are good choices.

Baby Painted Turtle Tank Setup

Baby-painted turtles are tiny and need a slightly different setup than adults. Their general requirements are the same, but they require less space and a safer tank.

A baby turtle tank should have a water depth of no more than two inches. The basking area should be large enough for the turtle to get out of the water completely.

A ramp or dock can help your baby turtle get out of the water while they are small. Be sure to remove any obstacles in the tank that could impede their exit from the water.

Baby-painted turtles do not need as much space as an adult. For a 4-inch hatchling, a 40-50 gallon tank is fine.  They need a larger space as they grow. Giving even small turtles a large 80–100 gallon tank allows them to grow into it.

Baby-Painted Turtle Tank Setup
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Can You Keep Two Painted Turtles Together?

It is possible to keep two painted turtles in the same tank, but it is best to provide a larger space. Two turtles may fight for dominance or territory if they are of the same sex. If you keep two turtles together, monitor their behavior and health closely.

Tank Size for Multiple Painted Turtles

If you want to keep multiple turtles together, you need to add an extra 50 gallons of space for each additional turtle housed together. If you already have a 7-inch turtle in an 80-gallon tank, you need a minimum tank of 120 gallons when adding a second turtle.

The more space, the better.

If the two turtles do not get along, they need the opportunity to be apart from each other. Turtles can become stressed and more susceptible to illness if confined in close proximity to each other.

Hides

Similarly, the enclosure should have an abundance of hides and cover. This reduces the amount of time the turtles are in eyeshot of each other and lets them have time alone.

Feed Separately

It is best to feed your turtles separately. This ensures each turtle gets the food and nutrition they need. It also reduces the risk of one turtle being bullied or harassed by the other.

If you must feed them together, be sure to watch closely and remove any uneaten food so that it does not rot and pollute the tank.

Conclusion

Painted turtles require a specific tank setup. They need a large tank with deep, warm water and a dry land area with UV exposure, and a heat lamp. A perfect environment is enriched with natural plants, furnishings, and hides to encourage natural movement and behaviors.

Painted turtles are a popular pet for reptile enthusiasts of all experience levels. They are relatively easy to care for and make a great addition to any home.

With the proper setup, your painted turtle will thrive and provide you with years of enjoyment.

About Sophie Herlihy (Zoologist)

Sophie Herlihy, a trained zoologist, is a lover of true misfit animals. With a specialty in insects, birds, and rodents, she helps the Misfit Animals craft factual and valuable informational pieces on various animals.

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