Can You Put Sand In Turtle Tank? Sand Vs. Gravel.

Dec 2, 2021

Can You Put Sand In Turtle Tank

A tank with no substrate can look dull. As turtle owners, we try our best to simulate a turtle’s natural habitat. Don’t we? And substrate is an indispensable facet of that. 

Some turtle owners like sand as substrate, while some lean towards gravel. So, what substrate works the best for your turtles? 

In this article, we will discuss whether you can use sand for your turtle tank.

Let’s dig in.

Can You Put Sand In Turtle Tank?

Yes, you can put sand in a turtle tank. Soft-shelled turtles like a sandy substrate in their dwelling. Make sure you wash it well before using it as a substrate. 

In the wild, turtle dwellings have a wide variety of substrates. It all depends on the terrain they occupy. Their habitats range from muddy swamps to rocky grounds. 

Different turtle species prefer different substrates. So, it is crucial to recognize your turtle’s preference. 

My soft-shelled turtles like sandy substrate. They dig and cover their bodies with sand. Call it one of their quirks. 

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Why Should You Use Sand As Substrate?

Using sand as a substrate is popular nowadays. Factors like easy upkeep, warmth, and safety have added to its popularity.

Let’s have a brief look.

Cleaning Becomes Easier

Turtle poop is easier to spot on the sand. Commercially available sand, like baby sand, comes in limited options but is mostly bright, which helps spot everything from leftovers to poop.

Another thing I like about sand is that they do not have crevasses like gravel. So, poop will not get into impossible nooks and crannies of the tank. You can easily scoop them out while cleaning.

But finer wastes will be a lot harder to clean on a sandy substrate. So, you need to change water frequently to prevent toxic buildup in the tank.

Sand Is Warmer

Sand has much lower specific heat than water. This means that sand needs minimal heat energy to retain warmth for very long periods. This is why the sand on the beach is warm even at night.

And turtles like warmer climates. They love to bury themselves under the sand on a sunny day.

Turtles Do Not Choke On Sand

Turtles will eat anything they find in the tank. At least, my turtles do. Pebbles and rocks will be no exception. My red-eared sliders used to devour pebbles all the time.

I thought my RES was the only one doing that. But to my surprise, I found other turtle owners asking for assistance on the same issue. They have even had turtles choking on pebbles. 

So, instead of gravel, turtle owners prefer sand as a substrate. Yes, turtles eat sand, too. But, it will be a lot easier to digest sand than gravel.

Related Articles: Why Do Turtles Eat Rocks? 4 Surprising Reasons!

What Kind Of Sand To Keep In A Turtle Tank?

Fine sand is a popular choice among many turtle hobbyists. It is the same sand used to make sandboxes for children, and they cost little. 

Fine sand has contaminants, so wash once before keeping it as substrate. And make sure that you clean it regularly while changing water.

Sand Vs. Gravel: Which One Is Better For Turtle Tank

Different tank owners have different preferences. So when it comes to choosing a particular substrate, there is no right or wrong answer. As I said, it all depends upon a person’s taste in aesthetics. 

I have used both sand and gravel in my turtle tank. And my experience tells me that there are both pros and cons of using each type of substrate. Let me explain them.

And for the record, these are based on my personal experience. 

Cleaning: Sand Vs. Gravel

I have found that it is easier to clean turtle poop on a sandy substrate than on gravel. This is because turtles excrete solid feces atop the sandy surface. 

Whereas, in gravel, the feces seep through the gaps in between the pebbles – making it harder to scoop while cleaning.

The crumbly leftovers and molts will be hard to pick from a sandy substrate. That being said, it is not a piece of cake to clean them off gravel substrate, too.

Water Filter: Sand Vs. Gravel

Gravel is heavy and doesn’t get easily pulled by the aquarium filters, whereas sand easily gets clogged up in filters. This causes the filter to wear out soon. 

Digestion: Sand Vs. Gravel

Turtles often eat gravel. Too much gravel consumption will alter their buoyancy – thus, making it hard for them to reach the surface with heavy loads of rocks in their stomach. 

On the other hand, sand is a fine particle that is easily ingested by turtles and doesn’t trouble their digestive system, let alone buoyancy.

Appearance: Sand Vs. Gravel

It is subjective to say which one’s better, but I like sand better. It gives a minimalistic ambience to your turtle tank, making it a better option than a gravel substrate (at least for me). 

However, for sand color, there’s not much to choose from. The options are limited. On the other hand, gravel provides you with a wide range of colors to transform your imagination into reality. 

So, if you are into aquascaping and want a vibrant setting, it is better to choose a gravel substrate to help you excel in that department.

Cost: Sand Vs. Gravel 

Both these substrates are inexpensive. You will not need to break banks while getting these two substrates. 

I’ll leave the links for both. Check them out yourselves. 

Ease On Digging: Sand Vs. Gravel

Turtles, like any reptile, like to dig and scavenge for food. They will bury themselves beneath the sand for hours and only come up when they need oxygen. So, contrary to gravel, sandy substrate allows turtles to burrow, which is their natural instinct. 

A gravid turtle needs a dry area for nesting. So, a pregnant turtle will feel more comfortable digging and nesting on a sandy surface than on a gravel substrate.

Better Heat Trapper: Sand Vs. Gravel

Sand has a low heat transfer coefficient per square meter, which means it can retain heat longer. As a result, turtles ascend to the basking platform to absorb heat and UV rays. 

As we have established that sand is a better heat trapper than gravel, it is a better-suited substrate on a basking area than gravel.

Keeping Tank Mates: Sand Vs. Gravel

Cichlids make the best tank mates for turtles. And they require ingesting sand to digest their food. So, if you are keeping cichlids with turtles, a sandy substrate will be a better choice. 

Final Words On Can You Put Sand In Turtle Tank

Yes, you can put sand as a substrate in a turtle tank. It is a better alternative to gravel because of its multiple benefits. One critical advantage sandy substrate has over gravel is that it allows turtles to bury themselves, which turtles love.

Sand is a better heat trapper than gravel – thus, helping your turtle keep its body temperature warm during winter. 

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rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.