Can Turtles Live On Land? Yes and No – Here’s Why…

Image of a land

Turtles, with their hardy exterior, quiet nature, and unique personalities, are fascinating creatures. Although exotic pets live for decades, they are high maintenance and need a lot of care. The more you know about these animals, the better equipped you will be to keep them as pets. Which brings us to one of the most basic but important questions about turtles, can turtles live on land?

Whether turtles can live on land depends on the species. Land turtles can spend several hours on land, while aquatic turtles spend most of their life in water. However, all turtles need access to water. As turtles are ectoderms, water helps them regulate their body temperature and stay hydrated.

Let us explore more about turtles as pets and find out how dependent they are on land for survival.

Why Do Turtles Need Land?

Did you know that turtles cannot breathe underwater?

Although turtles are excellent swimmers and spend several hours underwater, they need to come up to the surface to breathe air.

Turtles are of two types: terrestrial and aquatic.

Terrestrial turtles, like box turtles, spend most of their time on land. Although they live on dry land, they need access to moisture.

In the wild, terrestrial turtles prefer moist and swampy places in forested areas. So, when keeping such turtles as pets, you should provide them access to moisture.

Aquatic turtles like red-eared sliders and painted turtles need ample amounts of clean water as they spend most of their time swimming. However, aquatic turtles also come up to land to breathe and rest. During this occasional break, they bask in the sun.

Regardless of whether they are terrestrial or aquatic, all turtles must sunbathe to stay healthy. Sunlight helps them to produce adequate amounts of Vitamin D for optimal health. So, turtles need access to dry land for this activity.

Related Further Reading:

How To Set Up The Right Environment For Pet Turtles?

Your turtle will need a relatively large enclosure or terrarium to live in. Other housing requirements will depend on whether you have a land turtle or an aquatic turtle. Let us look at each of them separately.

Land Turtles

You can keep a land turtle in an enclosure with tall walls that it cannot break. If you live in a cold place, set this space indoors. Line the enclosure with potting soil, dirt, and rocks that your turtle can enjoy digging. Your pet will also appreciate the availability of logs or sticks that it can burrow into and hide.

Meet the moisture needs of your turtle by adding wet soil, rotting leaves, and mud to their habitat. It will create a similar experience to what they enjoy in the wild. You can also use a spray with a misting function to moisten the air and increase the humidity of the turtle’s dwelling space.

Since land turtles need ample heat and light, make sure that their space receives sunlight. You can also use a heat lamp if sunlight isn’t available.

Avoid using a glass enclosure for your land turtle as glass will heat up when the temperature rises and harm your pet.

Aquatic Turtles

An aquatic turtle needs a tank that can hold enough water for swimming. It should be at least five times the maximum length that the turtle will grow to. It should also contain water that is more than two and a half times the turtle’s length.

Apart from water, the tank should have a large rock or stretch of dry land. If there are rocks in the dry space, make sure that none of them are too small to fit the turtle’s mouth. Turtles like to eat rocks and eating any small rocks can cause digestive problems.

Your aquatic turtle will need clean filtered water for swimming and drinking. Change the water frequently or use a water filter to ensure continuous access to clean water in the tank.

You should also set up a UV light source if sunlight doesn’t reach the tank or enclosure. Turtles need UVA and UVB light to produce Vitamin D. Place the lamp high enough, so it does not pose any danger to your turtle.

Add aquatic plants to your turtle tank to make it feel like a natural habitat. The live plants will increase the oxygen content of the water and filter ammonia, nitrates, and other harmful compounds.

However, take special care when choosing plants for your tank. Since turtles tend to eat aquatic plants, they should not poison your pet. Java Moss, moneywort, and hornwort are plants that can beautify your tank and serve as tasty treats for your turtle.

Recommended Further Reading:

Feeding Your Pet Turtle

Most turtles are omnivores, which means that they eat both plants and animals. Young turtles need more meat-based food to meet their protein needs. While adult turtles also eat meat, they tend to prefer vegetarian food as they age.

Since turtles always look hungry and have an enormous appetite, be careful about overfeeding. Pet turtles have limited space to exercise and burn calories. So, overfeeding is bad for their health.

Just like their habitat needs are different, land turtles and aquatic turtles have different feeding requirements too. Here is how you can go about it.

Feeding Land Turtles

Land turtles eat a variety of meat like slugs, snails, earthworms, and insects in the wild. They also like carrion or the flesh of dead animals like frogs and fish. Additionally, feed your turtles plant-based food to balance their nutritional needs.

At home, you can feed them a mix of plant-based and animal-based food. Earthworms and crickets are good sources of protein. You can also treat them to mealworms occasionally. For plant-based nutrition, offer your turtle salad vegetables like lettuce, cucumbers, and kale. They will eat fruits like blueberries, strawberries, and bananas.

Feeding Aquatic Turtles

Unlike land turtles, aquatic turtles must be fed while they are in water because they need water to swallow their food.

Store-bought turtle food is a great choice as it is rich in protein and plant-matter. You can also offer live treats like earthworms, blood worms, and brine shrimp. If you run out of store-bought food, offer them shredded vegetables, boiled and crumbled egg yolk, and pieces of fruit.

Interesting Further Reading:

In A Nutshell…

Turtles are unusual but exciting pets. Unlike most animals, they live for several decades when they receive good care.

Make your pet turtle comfortable and happy by setting up a comfortable habitat for it. The exact needs will depend on whether your pet is a land turtle or an aquatic turtle. While terrestrial turtles need less moisture, aquatic turtles need plenty of water to swim in.

However, one common need for all turtles is dry land. Turtles, being reptiles, can’t breathe underwater. They must come to the surface to breathe air. Turtles also need a dry spot to bask in the sun and dry their shells. Regular exposure to sunlight or UV light helps them produce Vitamin D.

So, set up a dry patch of land in your terrarium or tank for your turtle. It can either be a rock or a dry piece of land lined with mud and soil. Add a few logs or bedding, and your turtle will be delighted to dig, explore, and find hiding places to relax in.