Turtles make fascinating pets, but their ideal housing isn’t always as straightforward as you might think. Many species of turtle need adequate amounts of time both in and out of the water. So how can you provide the perfect environment? The answer: a paludarium.
But what turtles are best suited for a paludarium?
Semi-aquatic turtle species are ideal for a paludarium setup. This unique environment provides the opportunity for the turtles to spend time in the water and bask on dry land. Most pet turtles fall into this semi-aquatic category, among them, you will find the false map turtles, mud turtles, box turtles, chicken turtles, and many more!
We’ll cover the benefits of a paludarium and twelve of the top types of turtles that are best suited for this type of home. Additionally, we will review which turtles should not be housed in a paludarium. However, before we go any further, we should address the burning question: what is a paludarium?
What Is a Paludarium?
A paludarium is an enclosure that provides both water and dry land for a variety of species (typically reptilian, amphibian, fish, and bugs). Whereas an aquarium is a tank filled with water and no land and a terrarium is all terrestrial and no water, a paludarium is a happy hybrid of both.
Typical paludariums are deeper and taller than your average aquarium or terrarium to allow for an appropriate amount of both land and water. The front bottom portion is usually filled with water while the back half provides dry ground and even the opportunity to place branches for climbing and arboreal species.
The way a paludarium is set up depends on the kind of species you want to house, but most semi-aquatic turtle species do best with a 50/50 split of land and water.
Check out one way to build your own turtle paludarium (although the options are endless and variable depending on turtle species preference):
Why Is a Paludarium Better Than an Aquarium or Terrarium for Turtles?
Paludariums are usually preferable to either aquariums or terrariums for most pet turtle species because it allows for an environment closest to their natural home. For turtles that spend most of their time in or near water, mimicking a riverbank or pond shore will help your turtle thrive.
Paludariums also enable you to keep a biodiverse enclosure with fish, amphibians, and other reptiles that get along with turtles. If you choose the right tankmates, they may help keep the paludarium clean as well as further lend themselves to feeling like a natural home.
What Are the Best Turtles for a Paludarium?
Let’s take a look at the best types of turtles for a paludarium so you can start figuring out what turtle you’ll be adding to your semi-aquatic paradise.
1. False Map Turtle
False map turtles love the water and spend most of their time swimming around. A deeper water paludarium is a must for this species, but make sure that you leave a little island of land close to the heat lamp for basking.
For as much as these turtles love to swim, they equally love to lay out and soak up those ultraviolet rays. False map turtles make great paludarium turtles because they are very peaceful and can get along with many other semi-aquatic species like mud turtles, sliders, map turtles, musk turtles, and painted turtles.
2. Mud Turtles
Mud turtles are perfect for a paludarium since they are avid swimmers but also enjoy some terrestrial time soaking up the sun. These turtles are very easy to take care of and make great pets for beginner turtle keepers.
Take note that mud turtles are also voracious eaters and will happily snack on certain species of fish. If you choose to stock your paludarium with fish, especially goldfish, don’t be surprised if they mysteriously disappear and your mud turtle looks suspiciously satisfied.
3. Box Turtles
Box turtles are the opposite of false map turtles when it comes to a paludarium setup. While they are considered semi-aquatic, they prefer to spend more time on land than in the water. Having a small, shallow pool of water just large enough for your box turtle to bathe in is appropriate for this type of paludarium.
The rest of the tank should aim to mimic the wooded and marshy areas where box turtles are typically found with lots of leaf litter and vegetation. Your box turtle will thoroughly enjoy its new home while not being overwhelmed by too much available water.
4. Chicken Turtle
With its egg-shaped shell and affinity for basking in ponds and other bodies of water, it’s hard to see where the chicken turtle got its name. Truthfully, it was named for the fact that its meat has a similar taste to chicken. However, they are more common as pets than food.
Paludariums are the perfect enclosures for chicken turtles which are typically found in the wetlands of the southeastern United States. They can be housed with many other paludarium suited animals just be cautious of what types of fish and amphibians you choose since chicken turtles will see small fish and tadpoles as a tasty snack.
5. Yellow Belly Slider
Yellow belly sliders spend most of their time swimming and need lots of room. Typically, a paludarium volume size of 100 gallons is appropriate for these turtles with at least 12 to 16 inches of water depth.
While you could go fully aquatic and only provide them with a floating perch, the true paludarium still with an actual island may be preferable especially if you wish to house your yellow belly slider with other semi-aquatic species.
6. Painted Turtles
Painted turtles are all about the water and will spend most of their days swimming, eating, and even sleeping in the water. They do need a little bit of dry land to bask in the UV rays though when they get tired of swimming.
One thing to note about painted turtles is their requirement for a warm environment. Heat lamps are essential for them to lounge under on land but also ensuring that the water is warm is necessary for optimal living conditions.
7. Musk Turtles
Although musk turtles are semi-aquatic, ironically they aren’t the best swimmers. A paludarium with a shallow water setup is best so that your turtle can essentially stand on its hind legs and be able to poke its head out of the water to breathe.
Musk turtles are also known for being solitary creatures so there aren’t many species that can peacefully cohabitate with them. As long as your musk turtle has plenty of water to splash around in and land to bask under a UV lamp, he will be very happy with his new home.
8. Wood Turtles
Wood turtles are the perfect example of a typical paludarium species. They are easy to maintain and thrive in an environment that is half water, and half land. Wood turtles spend about half of their time wallowing in water and the other half lazily lounging under the ultraviolet rays.
A unique feature of wood turtles is that they tend to burrow. Having an area of the substrate that is sandy and also has leaf litter or moss will make your wood turtle one happy reptile! If you take exceptionally good care of your wood turtle that can live for several decades in captivity.
9. Florida Red Belly Turtle
Florida red belly turtles are striking in appearance with their tomato-red undersides and the swirling patterns of gray and black on their shells. Like the false map turtle, Florida red belly turtles love to swim, and a deeper water enclosure is more suitable to their needs.
However, just like most other turtle species, they need their time in the sun. Having a little secluded rock island or spit of land from them to dry out on is essential for a happy Florida red belly turtle. Since this species is from a warmer clime, heat lamps and water heaters are a must to keep their paludarium at a comfortable temperature.
10. Red Eared Slider
Red eared sliders call ponds and other smaller bodies of water their natural home, so it makes perfect sense to set up a paludarium for this species. While they love to swim, they also equally love to bask in the sun.
While red eared sliders seem to be fairly social in the wild living in groups, captive turtles may become more territorial because of limited space. Use caution when housing multiple red eared sliders together and try to keep turtles around the same size or you may find larger turtles outcompeting smaller ones for food.
11. Spotted Turtle
Like the musk turtles, spotted turtles need water in their environment but aren’t the best swimmers. A shallow pool that allows your spotted turtle to walk around while still keeping his head above water is ideal.
Spotted turtles are more terrestrial than aquatic so a paludarium with a greater percentage of land than water is more appropriate. Fish may not be the best companions as there won’t be enough water volume, but other terrestrial and semi-aquatic reptiles can fare well with spotted turtles.
12. Map Turtles
Map turtles are closely related to their cousins the false map turtle and share a lot in common including their love of water. Map turtles spend most of their time swimming around so having a lot of water space in your paludarium is essential. They also need a bit of land to bask in the UV rays so don’t neglect the non-water spaces as well.
Map turtles are fairly easy to care for making them great beginner pets for those who are new to turtle husbandry. Adding aquatic plants and heating to the water in order to keep it at a comfortable temperature are also great ways to build the best enclosure possible for your map turtle.
What Turtles Should Not Be Kept in a Paludarium?
While paludariums are the perfect environment for a lot of turtles, especially semi-aquatic species, there are some species of turtle that would not thrive in this type of enclosure. Let’s take a look at a few examples so that you can provide your pet turtle with the best living conditions.
Terrariums are more appropriate for terrestrial tortoises than paludariums. Terrestrial tortoises are not avid swimmers (otherwise they would be classified as semi-aquatic) and cutting their living environment in half with an unusable type of substrate can stress your tortoise out.
While terrestrial tortoises will need a water bowl to drink from because no animal can survive without water, a full fledged pond may pose a danger of drowning. Even for terrestrial tortoise species that enjoy the humidity, you are better off providing a fully equipped terrarium rather than a paludarium.
Fully Aquatic Turtles and Terrapins (Proceed with Caution)
While it’s not the worst thing in the world to house fully aquatic turtle and terrapin species in a paludarium, it may not be the most optimal environment. Most species still need places to back out of the water, but sometimes providing a whole half-tank of land is too much and cuts into the available space needed for water.
These kinds of turtles are better suited to fully aquatic aquariums with a floating dock or log if a basking area is needed. Unless you want to buy an enormous paludarium (which would cost an arm and a leg), providing adequate swimming space for a fully aquatic turtle may be tricky in a tank made for half-land, half-water.
Check to see what your turtle species needs before buying an enclosure, that way you can be confident in your choice of terrarium, aquarium, or paludarium.
Turtles are enjoyable pets, but unlike fish who clearly require an all-water home, or some reptiles and most snakes who just need terrestrial setup, most turtles need a little bit of both. A paludarium is the perfect solution for the best of both worlds.
Many common pet turtles like musk turtles, mud turtles, map turtles, wood turtles, and more can benefit from a paludarium setup. What’s even better is the opportunity to provide a dynamic biodiverse environment for those who can live well with other animals. Paludariums open up a whole new world for both you and your turtle.