Do Turtles Need A Heater?


You’ve got your turtle a tank, basking lamp, heating lamp ,and place to bask. Do you need to get them a water heater as well? Turtles are ectothermic creatures meaning that their inner body temperature depends upon the temperature of their environment. So its up to us turtle keepers to make sure that environment is right where your turtles body need it.

A pet aquatic turtle needs a water temperature between 75 degrees Fahrenheit and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re in a warmer climate and your tanks water ranges in those temperatures, then you might be able to due without a water heater. But if you find your turtles water often colder than that then, you’re going to need to get them a water heater.

Depending upon how cold you like to set the thermostat, even if you live in a very warm climate like Texas or Florida your turtles water may still be too cold, especially in the winters. If you live in a colder climate then a water heater for your shelled companion is probably going to be a must.

If the water inside a turtle tank is too cold your turtle may always be basking which isnt good in the long term. Or they may even get sick. The temperature of the environment determines the speed of a turtles metabolism. If its too cold then their metabolism just doesn’t work right.

They need their environment to be at a certain temperature so that they can properly digest food and keep their body healthy. With too cold of water (below 75 degrees Fahrenheit) your turtle wont be able to metabolize their food properly and they may come down with the dreaded respiratory infection. Which can be deadly for turtles and can often be caused by water that’s too cold.

Specific species of turtles can have unique temperature needs. Usually your more tropical living specimens will need a water temperature closer to that of 80 degrees Fahrenheit. While turtles originating in colder climates might be find with water temps closer to the 75 degree Fahrenheit number.

Likewise baby turtles will need water higher in temperature as their metabolism needs to run hotter to help fuel their growth. They also don’tut have as well developed of an immune system, so the higher temperatures help with that as well. Older more mature turtles are bit hardier and can handle temps closer to the 75 degree range.

Thermometers Are Needed Too

Being that turtles are so particular about the temperature their body needs, a thermometer can be a huge help in regulating their environment. Without a thermometer you wont be able to get any kind of accurate readings on your turtles enviroment and if its just right for them.

Generally you’re going to want to have two types of thermometers. One for the water, these can often be gotten in the fish section of your local pet store. While not completely necessary it is a good idea to try to go with one that is not made of glass. As sometimes accidents can happen and you don’t want to risk your turtle getting hurt.

The other kind of thermometer your going to want to get is a reptile thermometer. These can be found at your local pet store usually somewhere in the reptile section. These often go on the glass outside your tank and will measure the air temperature of your tank and basking area. Generally your going to want the temperatures inside your basking area to be at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter.

Having your tank set up with one of each of these kinds of thermometers, one for the water and the other for the land will take out the guess work of knowing the temperature of your turtle’s environment. This will make your turtle happier and your life as a turtle keeper much easier.

What Kind of Water Heater Do You Need?

It’s recommended that you should get a heater that has a tough protective cover and not one with glass. This is because accidents can happen and if your glass heater breaks not only could your turtle be harmed by the glass shards, but they could also get electrocuted.

The water heater should be adjustable and should be able to cover temperature between 73 degrees fahrenheight up to 85 degrees fahrenheight. Even though your generally not going to want your turtles water that hot but sometimes when their ill a vet may recommend you turn their heat up higher than normal. This way you have a heater that you know can handle the job if called for.

If you get a submersible aquarium heater then you will need to mount it an inch or so below the lowest level your water will every drop due to evaporation. If the heater is ever operated without water around it then it can quickly burn out and you’ll have to buy another one. So make sure your water levels don’t ever drop too low and if you need to empty the tank for some reason be sure to turn the water heater off before you do so.

Unless there are special circumstances, like your turtle is sick for example, generally you don’t want your water temps to be much higher than 78 degrees Fahrenheit. The main reason for this if the water is too warm it might discourage your turtle from ever getting out to bask which isn’t good for their health. Also too much warmth in the water can cause excessive bacteria growth in your tank, which definitely is not a good thing.

How Powerful of a Water Heater Do You Need?

The power of water heater that you get will depend upon the size of your turtle and the amount of water that needs to be heated in your tank. The rule of shell is that for ever inch of straight shell length on a turtle then you need ten gallons of water. So a 5 inch turtle would need about 50 gallons and a ten inch turtle could need over 100 gallons.

These numbers are for each inch of shell and should include any other turtles you might have in the same tank.

The power of water heater is measure in watts. Generally you’re going to want an equal amount of watts for liters of water you have in your tank. So 150 liters of water would need about 150 watts of total heating. While 300 liters would need as much as 300 watts of heating power in order to properly heat the water.

You may want to split up your necessary heating power between two different water heaters. There are several advantages to this. One being that this was the heat is more diffused throughout all the water in the tank, giving more evenly heated water. Another reason is that sometimes a very powerful water heater can run very hot and if your turtle gets too close to they might get burned. So for these reasons having multiple heaters might not be a bad idea.

No matter what level of power you decide to go with your heater make sure to check the water temps with your aquarium thermometer to make sure its getting heated up to the proper level.

What Temperature Should Your Heater Be Set To?

Baby aquatic turtles like Red-Eared Sliders, Musk Turtles and Painted Turtles will be happiest with a water temperature around 78 degrees fahrenheight. The babies need hotter water to help them grow and to strengthen their immune systems.

Older turtles though, usually those who are about 2 inches in shell length or so. Will do better with water that’s slightly colder. Usually for these bigger guys and gals you want water temps around 74 to 76 degrees Fahrenheit. Double check the temperature needs however for your specific turtle as it does vary by species.

Generally though younger turtles are going to need warmer water than those turtles that are bigger and older. If your turtle is sick they may have special temperature requirements as well.

Turning Up the Heat For a Sick Turtle

Sometimes when our bodies are fighting a pathogen of some kind, Our body will cause us to have a fever. This fever strengthen our antibodies and helps our immune system to fight off whatever it is that is causing us to be sick.

Turtles need fevers too when they sick as well. But because their cold blooded or ectothermic, they cant heat their body up by themselves. They need to environment to heat up for them. A sick turtle in the wild will probably try to find the hottest and driest spot that can and just bask their for a very long time. You could say that this is their way of having a fever to strengthen their immune system.

As turtles keepers our turtles often can’t do this on their own so we need to provide them a helping hand. One way we can do this is by turning the temperatures in a sick turtles water and air up about 4 degree Fahrenheit hotter than their normal tank temperatures. This makes their immune system better able to fight off whatever their sick with.

Don’t underestimate this as many turtle diseases can eventually be overcome just by turning up the average temperature in their tank. Its important to note however that this should only be done for sick turtles as having water that’s too warm when their well can encourage the growth of bacteria that we don’t want in their tank.

So only do this for sick turtles, and above all listen to the advice of your turtles vet. The advice in this article is general advice and may not be suitable for all situations. So make sure you set your tanks temperature to whatever it is that the vet asks you too. As they are able to asses the unique health needs of your specific turtle.

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