Can Pet Turtles Live on Fish? Here’s What You Need To Know

Setting up the right habitat for pet turtles takes planning, time, and money. If you’re in the process of creating the ideal setup for your pet turtle that includes an aquarium, heating, lighting and filtration, you’re ready to take care of a healthy and happy turtle!

If you’d like to add some fish to your turtle’s habitat but aren’t sure if your pet turtle can live with fish, the answer is yes. Pet turtles can live in harmony with fish, with a few exceptions.

There are several important factors you need to think about before adding fish to your turtle’s habitat to ensure the two can live in harmony. These factors include species compatibility, aquarium size, aquarium conditions, and the type of filter system you are using.

We’ll take a close look at the factors below to help you set up the ideal environment for pet turtles and some fish.


Species Compatibility

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Many species of turtle will chase fish and eat as much as they can catch. If you include some slow-swimming small fish with a turtle that sees the fish as prey, you can bet that the fish won’t last long. That’s why you have to carefully choose compatible species.

A good rule of thumb to follow is to choose fish that are not too small and of a type that are known to swim quickly so that they can easily avoid turtles.

It is always wise to provide the fish with a hiding place that protects them from turtles. These hiding places can be PVC pipes, aquarium decorations, bushy plants, and other objects that fish can hide in or around them.

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When you visit a pet store to buy fish for your turtle habitat, don’t look at the goldfish as they won’t last long with the turtles. Goldfish are big, slow swimmers. Some good fish to keep with turtles include:

  • algae eater

  • neon tetra

  • spiced corydoras

  • Zebra danios

  • golden thorn

Aquarium Size

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The aquarium you use must be large enough for your turtles and fish to coexist happily. An aquarium that is too small will overload the filter you are using which can lead to bacterial, fungal invasion and overall poor living conditions.

A tortoise measuring up to six inches requires 30 gallons of water. A tortoise measuring six to eight inches requires 55 gallons, and a tortoise larger than eight inches requires at least 75 gallons of water. Some fish can live in harmony with turtles if you follow the guidelines above. When we say multiple fish, we mean less than 10 fish and not a school.

Be practical when buying fish to put in your turtle and don’t overdo it. Your tortoise will become stressed and overwhelmed if he is suddenly surrounded by schools of fish swimming in all directions.

The water should be deep enough for turtles and fish to swim freely. The water depth should be twice the turtle’s length. For example, a painted turtle six inches long requires a water depth of 12 inches.

Don’t forget that painted turtles also need soil to rest. Make sure there is plenty of dry land in your tank to accommodate your turtle when it wants to leave the water and bask in the light.

Aquarium Condition

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The aquarium you use should offer an optimal environment for your turtles and pet fish. These conditions include water temperature and pH level. If you give turtles and fish water that is 76°F with a pH level of 7.5, both species will be very happy.

Filter System

When your turtle coexists with fish, both species will produce waste in the water. This means you should have a more powerful filtration system than the common submersible filters most turtle owners use.

The best option for large aquariums that house turtles and several fish is a canister filter that is installed outside the tank. This external filter will take up no space in the habitat, which is great for your turtles and fish! The canister filter cleans the water gradually and does an excellent job of filtering waste.

Types of Turtles That Can Live With Fish

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Some turtles should not inhabit aquariums with fish, such as snapping turtles and map turtles. This is a very carnivorous turtle that will actively hunt and eat fish.

Several species of turtles can live with fish, including the red-eared turtle, which is a common pet turtle. Other species that can coexist with fish include the painted turtle, mud turtle, and musk turtle.



As discussed above, make sure you buy fast swimming fish that are not too small. Don’t forget to provide a hiding place for the fish to keep them safe from the turtles. If you do everything right, your pet turtle won’t eat your fish and you can enjoy keeping both species as pets!

Featured Image Credit: Sergey_m, Pixabay