If you’re looking to get a pet turtle for your 10 gallon tank, you’ll want one that stays relatively small and doesn’t require a ton of swimming space. Here’s a quick answer: the best options are a musk turtle or mud turtle under 4 inches shell length.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about selecting the right turtle for a 10 gallon aquarium. We’ll go over turtle species that can thrive in a 10 gallon tank, ideal tank setup, proper tank maintenance, ideal tank mates, diet considerations, and more.

Turtle Species for a 10 Gallon Tank

Musk Turtles

The common musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) is one of the best small turtle species for a 10 gallon aquarium. These small turtles reach 4-5 inches in length, making them a great fit for a small tank. Musk turtles have an omnivorous diet and enjoy vegetables, insects, and small fish.

They are relatively easy to care for but do require an aquarium with both water and a basking area. Some key facts about musk turtles in a 10 gallon tank:

  • Require 2-3 gallons of water and a basking platform
  • Prefer a pH between 6.5-7.5 and temperatures around 75°F
  • Can be kept alone or in small groups of 2-3 turtles
  • Should have strong filtration and regular partial water changes

Mud & Musk Turtles

In addition to common musk turtles, other mud and musk turtles make good choices for small 10 gallon aquariums. Some examples include:

  • Stripe-necked musk turtle – only reaches 3-5 inches in length
  • Eastern mud turtle – max size is 5 inches for males, 8 inches for females
  • Razor-backed musk turtle – stays under 5 inches in length

These small turtle species have similar care requirements to common musk turtles. Key elements include clean, filtered water with adequate basking areas. They are relatively easy reptiles to care for when set up properly in a 10 gallon tank.

Avoid These Species

There are several medium to large turtle species that require much more space than a 10 gallon aquarium can provide. Some common turtles that are not suitable for small tanks include:

  • Red-eared slider – require a minimum 75 gallon tank
  • Painted turtle – minimum 55 gallon aquarium
  • Snapping turtle – cannot thrive in small environments
  • Spotted turtle – require 20+ gallon tank

Keeping these larger growing turtles in a 10 gallon tank will cause health issues including shell deformities, infections, and stunted growth. It is best to avoid them and choose a smaller turtle species for a 10 gallon habitat.

Ideal 10 Gallon Turtle Tank Setup

Tank & Lid

The most important component is choosing an appropriate 10 gallon glass aquarium tank. Make sure to also get a secure, properly fitted lid to prevent escapes. Turtles are skilled climbers and will take any opportunity to get out of the enclosure.

The lid should contain ventilation holes but small enough to prevent getting stuck.


Small gravel or large aquarium rocks make a good turtle tank substrate. They allow waste and uneaten food to fall through to be filtered out instead of accumulating. Sand is not recommended as it can be ingested accidentally when feeding. Bare bottom tanks are also suitable, making cleaning easier.


As messy eaters and frequent poopers, strong filtration is a must to keep water clean. Invest in a high quality external canister filter rated for at least a 20 gallon tank, along with an internal power filter for extra circulation and mechanical/biological filtration.

Plan for at least one filter turnover per hour.


All aquatic turtles require UVB exposure for shell and bone health, whether from direct or artificial lighting. A Reptisun 10.0 or Arcadia ProT5 UVB kit spanning around half the tank is perfect (https://www.arcadiareptile.com). Combine with an aquarium light for heat and visibility.

Place heat and light above a basking area.

Decorations & Hiding Spots

Though small, a 10 gallon turtle habitat should offer enriching elements. Incorporate smooth rocks or logs for basking under heat lamps, aquatic plants like Anubias or Java Fern for shelter (https://www.fishlore.com), and a feeding dish in the water area.

Artificial decor can work too but natural plants and materials are best.

Water Conditions & Maintenance

Water Changes

Performing regular water changes is crucial for keeping water turtles healthy in a 10 gallon tank. Turtles produce a lot of waste, which can quickly deteriorate water quality. It’s generally recommended to change out 25-50% of the water at least once per week.

Use a gravel vacuum to siphon out waste from the substrate during water changes. Completely replace all of the water every 4-6 weeks. More frequent water changes may be needed if housing small turtles that produce a lot of waste relative to tank size.

Water Temperature

Proper water temperature is vital for turtle health. Most small turtle species do best with water temps between 75-80°F. Use a submersible aquarium heater to maintain a stable temperature. Place the heater near the filter output to help evenly distribute heat.

Water that is too cold can suppress a turtle’s immune system and appetite. On the other hand, overly warm water can lead to bacterial blooms. Invest in a reliable aquarium thermometer to monitor the temperature.

Water Quality Testing

Test the water 1-2 times per week with test strips or a liquid kit to monitor ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and pH levels. Ammonia and nitrites should always read zero, as these compounds are highly toxic. Nitrates should be below 40 ppm.

Use water conditioner when replacing water to remove chlorine/chloramines. Well water may also need to be treated before adding to the tank. Keep pH between 7.0-7.5 for most small turtle species. Adding live plants can help absorb waste and stabilize water parameters.

Tank Cleaning

In addition to water changes, thoroughly clean the tank itself every 4-6 weeks. Place the turtle in a holding tub while you clean. Scrub algae off the glass with an algae brush or pad. Wipe decorations clean and rinse filter media in old tank water.

Gravel vacuuming during water changes keeps the substrate relatively clean, but a complete substrate change is recommended every 3-4 months. Make sure to match water temps when moving turtles between containers during tank cleaning.

Thorough tank maintenance removes built-up waste and keeps the habitat clean.

Ideal Tank Mates for a 10 Gallon Turtle Tank

Shrimp & Snails

When choosing tank mates for a 10 gallon turtle tank, small invertebrates like shrimp and snails are great options. Here are some of the best shrimp and snail species to consider:

  • Ghost shrimp – These small, translucent shrimp are peaceful and make great tank janitors. They help eat excess food and algae.
  • Amano shrimp – Slightly larger than ghost shrimp, amanos are efficient algae eaters but may get eaten by larger turtles.
  • Red cherry shrimp – Adding a pop of color, these dwarf shrimp breed readily if conditions are right.
  • Nerite snails – With colorful, patterned shells, nerites do a great job cleaning algae off surfaces.
  • Mystery snails – These larger snails come in many colors and are fun to watch glide around the tank.

The key is to choose shrimp and snails that are small enough not to be seen as food by the turtle, yet large enough not to be eaten accidentally. For a 10 gallon tank, aim for 3-5 shrimp and 1-2 snails at most. Their small bio loads make them ideal for nano tanks.

Small Fish Species

Certain hardy, small fish can also make for nice tank mates with a 10 gallon turtle. Some top options include:

  • Endler’s livebearers – These tiny, colorful fish only reach 1.5 inches and readily breed.
  • Ember tetras – Peaceful schooling fish that stay under 1.5 inches.
  • Celestial pearl danios – Tiny fish with a neon glow that remain under 1 inch.
  • Green neon tetras – A brightly colored tetra species that max out around 1.5 inches.
  • Ghost or cherry shrimp – See notes above on keeping shrimp with turtles.

For a 10 gallon tank, limit fish tank mates to 1-2 small schools or 5-8 individuals total. Avoid common beginner fish like guppies, mollies, and platies that will outgrow this size tank. Potential tank mates should be researched carefully to ensure they can handle a turtle’s care requirements.

When mixing turtle and fish tank mates, heavy filtration and frequent partial water changes are a must. Never overstock the tank, and provide plenty of plants, rocks and driftwood for fish to shelter in and feel secure sharing space with a turtle.

Feeding Your 10 Gallon Turtle

Commercial Foods

When it comes to feeding pet turtles, commercial turtle-specific foods like pellets and flakes are the most convenient and nutritionally complete options. Popular high-quality brands like Zoo Med’s Aquatic Turtle Food and Fluker’s Aquatic Turtle Diet contain optimal levels of protein, fat, fiber and essential vitamins and minerals.

Feeder fish, shrimp, krill and worms can also be fed but should be supplementary. Follow package instructions for amount and frequency of feeding based on your turtle’s size and age. Overfeeding commercial foods can cause shell deformities, fungal shell infections and other health issues so it’s important to not exceed recommendations.

Vegetables & Fruits

Turtles omnivores so in addition to animal protein, fruits and veggies help provide balanced nutrition. Some great options include dark leafy greens like kale, lettuce and spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, berries and melons.

Introduce new foods slowly and in moderation to avoid upsetting your turtle’s digestive system. Always wash produce thoroughly. Only feed fruits sparingly due to their high sugar content. According to the My Turtle Cam experts, vegetables and fruits should comprise around 20% of a turtle’s diet.

Protein Sources

While commercial turtle diets contain protein, offering some high-quality animal-based proteins can further support your turtle’s health. Great options include crickets, worms, small feeder fish and shrimp. Fish provides omega-3 fatty acids that boost brain and eye development.

Shrimp gives a healthy dose of astaxanthin and calcium. When feeding fish and shrimp, select wild-caught varieties whenever possible. Animal proteins should make up around 40% of your turtle’s diet according to veterinarians.

Only feed proteins that are small enough for your turtle to easily and safely swallow to prevent choking hazards.


In captivity, deficiencies can develop so vitamin and calcium supplements support a turtle’s nutritional needs. A multivitamin 2-3 times a week promotes general health. Calcium supplements like cuttlebone, calcium blocks and powdered calcium carbonate aid bone and shell development.

Vitamin D3 and vitamin A are especially important. Nutritional gel mixes that contain both vitamins and calcium offer an all-in-one supplement option. Providing full spectrum lighting also boosts vitamin D3 synthesis.

Work with your vet to determine the best supplements and dosages for your specific turtle.


A 10 gallon tank can make a great home for a small turtle species like a musk or mud turtle. Focus on selecting a turtle under 4 inches in shell length and provide proper tank setup, filtration, basking area, and diet. With good tank maintenance and care, your petite turtle will thrive.

We’ve covered the key things to know when choosing a turtle for a 10 gallon aquarium. Be sure to thoroughly research any species you are considering and set up the tank ahead of time. Enjoy watching your new turtle explore their aquatic habitat!

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