Turtle and Fish Together? These 3 Species Can Be Your Best Bets!

Apr 28, 2021

turtle and fish together

Are you thinking of spicing up the appearance of your turtle’s tank? What do you think would make a great addition? Driftwood? Some plants? Or what about fish? 

Wait – you’ll want to read this. 

Can You Keep Turtle And Fish Together? 

Yes, you can keep your pet turtle and fish together in the same tank. However, there are lots of baggage and responsibilities that come with this decision. Factors like the right species of fish and turtle, the tank’s space, and timing of introduction are keys to successful cohabitation. 

Having a turtle and fish in the same aquascape makes a splendid sight. But if you don’t pay attention to the tank’s setup and your pets’ behavior, you’ll simply end up with a dead fish and a turtle with a newfound zeal for hunting. 

Now, that’s not what you want, right?

One by one, I’ll tell you everything you need to know. In this case, little knowledge can put someone’s life at stake. Stick till the end!

7 Expert Tips To Keep Turtle And Fish Together 

Trying to keep a turtle and fish together is a risky business. There’s zero margin for errors. Providing ample tank space and hideouts, choosing the right turtle and fish species, patient acclimatization, and installing a potent filter are some key points to a successful cohabitation. 

Adequate Tank Space 

If you’re looking to keep turtle and fish together, you must invest in a large tank that can ensure enough space for both turtle and fish. Even if kept alone, turtles need a large enclosure. So, the addition of fish means a spacious tank is a must.

The rule of thumb is at least 10 gallons for every inch of the turtle.

For example, let’s say you have a 12-inch-long red-eared slider. And if you want to introduce fish in the same tank, the ideal tank size would be 150 gallons – 120 gallons for the turtle and 30 gallons for fish. 

Here’s one I found on Amazon that I really loved. 

This is a 150-gallon tank by SC Aquariums. The images posted by buyers for the reviews are simply gorgeous! 

Even if your turtle is small, the minimum size recommendation from my side would be an 80-gallon and 5-foot long tank. 

Here’s a just as beautiful 80-gallon option from SC Aquariums. 

A small tank means frequent confrontations between fish and turtle. And it definitely won’t go down well with naturally territorial turtles. 

So, it’s best to buy a large tank, even if it means shelling out a bit more money. Having to upgrade midway is costlier.

Several Hiding Spots 

Adding several hiding spots for both turtles and fish is extremely important for happily coexisting. This will help both parties relax and spend some alone time away from each other’s company when needed. These hiding spots will also increase your fish’ survival rate. 

Plants make a great cover. You can choose from both live and synthetic options. 

Live plants can also double as an extra source of food. But if you think the plant will have a hard time surviving, synthetic options are amazing too. 

I personally love small hideout caves like this one. 

The holes in this are just the right size to fit fish and keep them safe from turtles. Plus, its natural look will fit just right in any tank setup. 

You can also choose from PVC pipes, terracotta pots, driftwoods, and rocks to create hideouts. 

Just make sure it doesn’t have coatings harmful to the tank or sharp edges poking out. 

Feed The Turtle Before Adding Fish

Before you keep turtle and fish together, make sure to feed the turtle adequately. Otherwise, the hungry turtle will think that the fish is its food and jump right at the poor guy. When hungry, turtles also tend to get cranky and are inclined to bite and attack. 

For food, you can give pellets, live worms, or veggies. Either way, just be sure that your turtle is full. 

Study Turtle’s Reaction To Fish

Turtles aren’t the most curious creature we know. But their reaction to new fish can vary in several ways. It may simply leave the fish alone and go its own way. On the other hand, it may swim up to the new member and try to nip at the fins.

If the latter’s the case, there’s not much you can do. It’s not like training cats and dogs to live together. 

The stubborn turtle will injure and gobble up the fish sooner or later. 

And this brings us to our next point. 

Pair Adult Turtle And Fish

As you already know, adult turtles prefer an herbivore diet. So, they are less likely to prey on fish or other inhabitants of the tank. Plus, they prefer minding their own business and spend time on their own. Thus, your fish have better chances of survival with older turtles. 

However, juveniles love the carnivore diet. And on top of that, these curious creatures can chase up any fish pretty fast. If you have young turtles at home, you might want to rethink your decision. 

Different turtle species reach maturity at different ages. Don’t forget to look into your turtle’s type.

Acclimate Fish To Water 

Fish are more vulnerable than turtles to health hazards and stress when they’re acclimatizing to a new environment. Failure to adapt to the new environment will shock your fish and even kill it. So, slowly start the acclimatization process by letting the pouch with the fish float in water for about 5 minutes. 

Next, you can add a bit of the tank’s water into the pouch. And after about 15 minutes, you can perform half water change. Lastly, in the next 10-20 minutes, gently transfer the fish into its new home using a fishnet. 

This gradual process helps the fish acclimatize to the new parameters and environment. Skipping any of the processes or speeding up can be fatal for your fish. 

A Reliable Filtration System

Turtles poop a lot. That’s why a turtle tank is always prone to toxic ammonia levels. And while it’s hazardous to turtles, for fishes, it’s straight-up fatal. You need to set up a sturdy filtration system that is capable of eliminating most of the waste build-up.

I would recommend a canister filtration system to get rid of all small bits of food effectively. And since these filters come equipped with three kinds of filtration systems – mechanical, biological, and chemical – the water in your tank will remain pristine for a longer time.

Here’s one that I love from a brand that I trust: Aqueon QuietFlow Canister Filter. 

From hoses to bio-balls, this well-built filter comes with everything you need to get your filtration system up and kicking in no time. 

And it’s equally important to pay attention to your tank’s pH level. Depending on your turtle and fish species, it’s ideal to set pH levels somewhere between 6 and 9. 

Also, be mindful of the ammonia and chlorine levels, as these should be maintained at bare minimum levels.

You need to check the water parameters at least once every month to ensure everything is in tune. 

And lastly, if your filtration system isn’t doing a job good enough, adding an aerating water pump can help produce oxygen faster and keep the tank cleaner.

Suggested Readings:

Do Red-Eared Sliders Bite? Be Careful In These 6 Situations!

Barnacles On Turtles? Can They Kill Turtles? | A Look Into Unique Interspecies Friendship

Can Turtles Eat Celery? | Read These 4 Side Effects First!

What Turtles Are Compatible With Fish?

None of the above tips will work out if your turtle is naturally not compatible with fish. 

For example, fish form a large part of a snapping turtle’s diet. Thus, there’s no chance they can live together. Red-eared sliders and Western Painted turtles are known to live with fish – although there’s no 100% guarantee of harmony. 

It’s just that some species of turtles are more adept at preying than others. 

As for your captive pet turtle, it is crucial to ensure that it’s not on a fish diet. 

If your turtle is/was being fed feeder fish for a good part of its life, it’ll naturally be inclined to assume anything with fins and gills is food.

Here’s a list of some compatible turtle species to choose from:

turtle and fish together

Red-Eared Slider 

The first species we’ll look into is red-eared sliders, everyone’s favorite. These omnivores love nibbling on both live creatures and plants. However, as they grow old, they’re less inclined to eat meat – making them suitable candidates for fish tanks. 

However, juveniles are curious carnivores. Thus, adding fish to a juvenile red-eared slider’s tank is just asking for trouble. 

Adult males can grow anywhere between 5 to 9 inches, while females can reach lengths of 11-12 inches. 

On many occasions, I’ve seen older red-eared sliders and large fishes living peacefully.

Although juveniles can’t hunt down big fishes, I’d still recommend against keeping turtles and fish together as this will inevitably result in torn fins and bite wounds. 

Mud Turtles 

Mud turtles are one of the top choices to keep alongside fish for two reasons. First, they’re not interested in hunting at all. Second, they kind of suck at it. 

Even in their natural habitat, these ambush predators have to hide in the muddy bottom of slow-moving water for hours to catch prey. Since these conditions don’t exist in a tank, your fish have a heightened chance of survival. 

Pink Belly Sideneck Turtle 

Pink belly side neck turtles aren’t just striking to look at. They’re also compatible coexisting peacefully with fish. But there’s a catch. These fish in question must be bigger in size. 

These turtles can grow anywhere between 5 to 10 inches. And in the wild, they feed on plants, crustaceans, mollusks, insects, and small feeder fish. 

Thus, keeping pink belly side neck turtles and fish together, smaller species, will be a mistake. 

Western Painted Turtle 

One more super popular turtle in our list today – western painted turtle. These freshwater turtles can reach lengths of 4-10 inches and are omnivores by nature. 

Thus, little fish do form a part of their diet in the wild, alongside worms and critters. 

But since they’re not adept at hunting down bigger fish, they can be kept together. 

And as western painted turtles get older, they shift towards a herbivore diet – making them good companions for fish.

What Fish Are Compatible With Turtles?

When it comes to keeping turtle and fish together, another crucial thing to consider is the fish type. Adding feeder fish like guppies and platies is a big no-no. You should choose from fish species that have sharp brains, quick reflexes, and a brave heart like neon tetras and yellow cichlids. 

From what I have seen, all the fish that peacefully coexist with turtles have the following traits in common:

Slender Bodies 

Slender doesn’t necessarily have to mean small or slim. Medium-sized and even big fishes with longer fins and tails have excellent reflexes – making it easier for them to make quick escapes. 

Fast Movements

Slow swimmers like platies and bettas do not stand a chance in a turtle tank. The fish of choice should be quick and speedy so that the lumbering turtle cannot chase it.

Smart Brains 

You can keep the world’s fastest fish in a turtle tank, but if it’s going to stand still in a turtle’s way, it’ll get attacked. Therefore, the fish should be intelligent and have a strong self-defense instinct. 

Here’s a list of some fish species that can survive in the same tank as a turtle:

turtle and fish together

Neon Tetras 

If you’re trying to keep turtle and fish together for the first time, I’d suggest you start with a small school of tetras. Their lightning-quick movements and smart reflexes will make it almost impossible for a turtle to attack them. 

Another reason I recommend tetras is because they’re cheap and easily available. 

So, introducing a small school of neon tetras, which grow between 1-2 inches, is a great way to test the waters and see how your turtle reacts. 

Yellow Cichlids

If you taste success with neon tetras, you can move to the next level by adding yellow cichlids to the tank. Natives of the African waters, these fishes are just the right amount of feisty to live in the same tank as turtles. 

These stunning fish only grow up to 4 inches, but you should only keep a small number of yellow cichlids because they are quite territorial too. 

If there’s a big school of these fish, they may collectively bully the turtle instead! 

Koi Fish

Yes, turtles and koi fish can live together, but I’d still not recommend koi fish over neon tetras and yellow cichlids. If you have an older herbivore turtle, this can be a good possibility. But adding koi fish to a juvenile’s tank is equivalent to giving your turtle a gourmet meal. 

One more consideration is that koi fish will outgrow your turtle in size. If you have multiple of these fish, they can turn the table and bully the reptile instead. 

Plus, you should only consider this combination if you have a pond. A tank will be a high-maintenance hassle in this case. 

What Fish Are Not Compatible With Turtles?

Well, the list of fish that don’t go well with turtles can get really long. Basically, you shouldn’t keep anything that’s too small, too big, too fast, too slow, too social, or too aggressive. Lobsters, piranhas, catfish, goldfish, and feeder fish should be avoided at all costs. 

Can Turtles And Goldfish Live Together?

I’ve seen goldfish and turtles sharing a pond on a few occasions, but I’d advise against it. Factors like their size, water parameters, and amount of waste they produce are the main reasons. 

As tropical fish, goldfish thrive in colder temperatures that are slightly less ideal for turtles. Generally, anything warmer than 74 degrees Fahrenheit is deemed to be too warm for goldfish.

Also, both turtles and goldfish produce a lot of waste. In fact, goldfish are the turtles of the fish world.

The amount of ammonia and nitrite they’ll produce together is crazy.

And what it means for you is frequent water changes. 

And then again, frequent water changes aren’t good for their health as these creatures tend to get too stressed during the process. 

Can Turtles Live With Tropical Fish?

Keeping turtles and fish together (tropical species) isn’t a good idea. Once again, the water parameters do not match as turtles need relatively warmer water than tropical fish. On top of that, the long and colorful fins and tails will only attract a turtle’s unsolicited attraction. 

If the tropical fish in question is a fast swimmer like tetras and zebras, the turtles and fish together can coexist. But if it’s a slow and small fish, that won’t make a great match. 

Summary On Keeping Turtles And Fish Together

I tried to include everything I know about keeping turtles and fish together in this blog’s same tank. So, I hope that was helpful. 

To answer in a nutshell, yes, turtles and fish can share the same tank. But there are lots of buts and ifs that come into play. 

For starters, your tank needs to be generously big to accommodate both species easily. 

You can find 120-gallon and 80-gallon variants that I cherry-picked for you above. 

Next, the species of turtles and fish play a pivotal role. Some species like snapping turtles are naturally inclined to have stronger predatory skills. Thus, it’s never a good idea to keep them with any kind of fish. 

And when it comes to fish, you need to be very selective about the choices you make once again. 

For example, goldfish and turtles in the same habitat is a recipe for mayhem. 

Lastly, factors like feeding your turtle a herbivorous diet, adding a strong filtration system, and pairing an older turtle with fish are some helpful ideas that can help you create a sustainable habitat for your turtles and fish together!

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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.