One of the most common questions we get asked here at Urban Fishkeeping is, “do turtles really need a water heater?”. And the answer every single time is, “yes, yes, and yes.”
There’s a common misconception that turtles can make do without a water heater since they survive freezing winter every year. And while it is true that a lot of them survive harsh winters in the wild, it’s also true that a lot of them don’t.
So yes, turtles need a water heater. There’s no alternate.
But a turtle’s heater requirement differs significantly from your regular fish heaters.
As ectothermic beings, turtles require warm water to survive and function.
If the turtle is exposed to cooler temperatures for longer, it’s only a matter of time before it develops illness and infections. Even worse, it will go into hibernation, and the chances are it will never wake up.
Therefore, you must get your turtle a reliable heater. It’s not something to be stingy with and cut corners.
I sat down for hours and came up with excellent recommendations so you can find the perfect heater for the turtle. Honestly, there’s so much information out there on the subject that a new hobbyist will find it overwhelming.
But fret not! I’ve put together this guide to help you find the perfect water heater for your turtle tank.
I’ll also shed some light on why turtles really need a water heater in the first place, what to look for in the heater, what temperature is too hot or too cold for the turtle, and so much more!
Best Water Heater For Turtle Tank
If you are in a hurry and just want to know what heater is the best of the best, here’s the one that ticks all the right boxes.
I personally use this heater by Cobalt Aquatics. It’s been years, and I’ve yet to see anything wrong with the heater. It is safe, efficient, and sturdy. Needless to say, it provides excellent value for money. No complaints at all.
Our Pick Of Best Water Heaters For Turtle Tank
- Cobalt Aquatic Flat Submersible Heater
- ViaAqua Quartz Glass Submersible Heater
- Fluval E Electronic Heater
- Aqueon Pro Submersible Heater
- Finnex Hang-On Titanium Heater
- Eheim Jager Thermostat Heater
- Hydor In-Line External Heater
Why Do Turtles Need A Water Heater?
Turtles are ectothermic beings. As ectotherm/cold-blooded animals, these reptiles regulate their body temperature based on their external environment.
If the temperature in the room is 30 degrees Fahrenheit, the turtle’s body temperature is also most likely 30 degrees Fahrenheit. I know it sounds weird, but it is what it is.
So, when the temperature plummets, a turtle’s metabolism will drop drastically. Also, their immunity will be compromised, and they’ll become susceptible to infections and illnesses. This is especially true for baby and juvenile turtles.
If the temperature is too low, the turtle risks getting “cold-stunned.”
Yes, the turtle can actually get too cold and become immobile.
The Turtle Hospital in Florida reports that they received 178 cold-stunned turtles in 3 days due to a sudden drop in water temperature in 2010.
So you see, buying a safe and decent heater for your turtle is really important.
Now, let’s move on to our next question.
How Cold Is Too Cold For A Turtle?
Any temperature lower than 72 degrees F (22 degrees C) is too low for a turtle. It will not kill the turtle immediately but weaken the immune system and slow down the reptile’s metabolism, giving way to other secondary complications.
Studies have shown that adult painted turtles can survive in water as cold as 37 degrees F (3 degrees celsius) without oxygen or food for up to 100 days. But just because they can doesn’t mean you can expose them to extreme conditions.
How Hot Is Too Hot For A Turtle?
Just because a turtle needs warmer water, don’t commit the mistake of letting the water temperature get too high. For adult turtles, 78 degrees F (25 degrees C) is the highest you want to go unless you are treating them for an illness.
Warm temperature doesn’t just make the turtle sluggish and discourage basking but also creates a favorable environment for bacteria growth.
If consistently exposed to hot temperatures, the turtle will get sick, suffer brain damage, and potentially die.
Yes, hot water is just as dangerous as cold water, if not more!
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What Is The Right Water Temperature For A Turtle?
The water temperature should be maintained between 72-77 degrees F (22 to 25 degrees C) throughout the day and night. Likewise, the basking spot’s temperature should be maintained between 85 to 90 degrees F (29 to 32 degrees C).
I don’t want to sound like a Captain Obvious but don’t set the temperature at the extreme points. Instead, you should aim for a number somewhere in the mid-range.
Best Water Heaters For Turtle Tank Explained
Cobalt Aquatic Flat Submersible Heater
As I mentioned above, this one from Cobalt is the top pick. And judging by the massive surge of positive reviews it enjoys online, it’s safe to say I’m not the only one who has had a great experience with this heater.
The makers haven’t cut corners while making this submersible heater. It is well-designed, safe, powerful, and super accurate. Also, Cobalt Aquatics has been in the game for a while, and it’s a name that we can trust.
What I like the best about this heater is that the footprint it leaves in the tank is minimal. That, combined with impressive output, is a game-changer.
I don’t want to sound overly enthusiastic, but everything about this heater is perfect. For starters, the design is excellent. It features a bracket that enables you to position the heater however you want. Gives you that liberty.
Also, the temperature calibration is superb – extremely accurate. So you can place full confidence in the temperature that you see on display.
Another aspect of the heater that I love the most is its sheer durability. The thermoplastic base and a shatterproof exterior mean you don’t have to fret about accidents affecting your turtle.
Lastly, I love the heater’s auto-shutoff function that constantly monitors the water temperature and turns the heat off before it exceeds the right number.
I must also add that the interior circuit is pretty well protected from the rest of the heater. So, you don’t have to worry about malfunctioning.
- Super accurate and well-calibrated
- Minimal footprint
- Bracket offers flexibility in placement
- No compromises on durability and safety
- Tad bit expensive
ViaAqua Quartz Glass Submersible Heater
The heater that provides the most bang for the buck is the ViaAqua Quartz glass submersible heater. It is the most affordable heater on our list tonight. And to be honest, given the quality and the performance the heater delivers, I was quite surprised to look at the price tag.
If you are on a budget, this is the heater we recommend.
The built quality is exceptional. By its look and feel, I could tell that this thing would last for years. So I skimmed through hundreds of reviews on Amazon and got in touch with the people who had bought this heater.
In both instances, I was only met with positive responses.
The heater comes with bells and whistles you’d expect from a high-end heater. The durable quartz body is resistant to shattering and heat. There’s also an extremely accurate temperature gauge that lets you examine how warm the water is.
To be honest, the accuracy of this heater isn’t as perfect or accurate as some high-priced models, but that is to be expected given the affordable price. That’s why, with this heater, we recommend using an external thermometer.
- Excellent built quality
- Includes features you’d find in premium heaters
- Temperature accuracy can fluctuate
- Lack of auto-shutoff feature
Fluval E Electronic Heater
The Fluval E electronic heater is a cult favorite. The best feature of this heater is that it has dual temperature sensors that ensure accuracy and quick data about the temperature. The temperature is displayed via a high-quality LCD display.
The heater is also equipped with reliable safety measures, so it doesn’t overheat and inflict harm on your pet turtles. This feature, coupled with the protective barrier it has to stop pets from touching it, makes this one of the safest heaters available on the market.
The temperature reading is also pretty accurate compared to lots of other heaters. You can be assured that if the temperature reads 80 degrees F, it’s actually 80 degrees F.
In most cases, heaters meant for large tanks do not have reliable readings. For instance, if it is 75 degrees F, the heater might show 77 degrees F. But that’s not the case with this heater.
We’ve been using Fluval’s products for years, and I can confidently vouch for this heater. It’s a company that really cares about the built quality and functionality of the products it manufactures. And products like this definitely show that.
Aqueon Pro Submersible Heater
Frankly speaking, there’s no specific wow factor about this heater by Aqueon. But there are no weaknesses either. For example, this heater has no issue heating any tank that fits within the corresponding wattage range.
Also, the reading is super accurate. Although we always and still advocate the installation of a secondary thermometer, during our trial, we were pleased to find that the heater is exceptionally well-calibrated.
Build-wise, it’s built like a tank. It’s shatterproof. Also, there’s an auto-shutoff function that works quickly and reliably, too – thus, you don’t have to worry about things getting too heated.
The one thing I didn’t like about this heater was the rudimentary temperature knob at the top. While this certainly helps keep the cost down, I think we have been conditioned to find reading on the actual screen more reliable than some knob indicating the temperature.
I didn’t come across anyone dissatisfied with the heater during my research. Also, Aqueon offers a limited lifetime warranty.
Very accurate readings
- Old-fashioned temperature knob
- Limited wattage options (50 and 100 only)
Finnex Hang-On Titanium Heater
I didn’t just include this Finnex heater to ensure diversity and representation – it truly is a remarkable heater. Although it’s not as popular as its submersible competitors, the heater has one too many good features.
The one thing that stood out the best was the heater’s built quality. The titanium built is super strong and reliable. I did my share of research and didn’t come across a single anecdote about the heater falling apart no matter how old it is. The main tube is corrosion-resistant, which only adds to the durability factor.
The heater is also uber powerful. Even the lower wattage models pack a punch. With these heaters, you have to worry about them not being strong enough to get the job done – but not with this one. It gets the job done.
The design is minimal. So, you’ll have to spend a few bucks on an additional thermometer for convenience. But again, that’s something you need regardless of what heater you have, in my opinion.
If you’re not a fan of submersible heaters, I can confidently say this is the right choice for you.
- Super powerful
- Sturdy and good build quality
- Limited temperature indicator
Eheim Jager Thermostat Heater
Eheim Jager’s thermostat heater is a household name in the fishkeeping hobby. Apparently, it has also amassed hundreds of happy followers from the turtle-keeping scene.
This heater is extremely popular. When I conducted a poll on Facebook to ask about this heater, it seemed like half of the respondents owned it at some point.
Well, the reason is understandable. Eheim is a reliable company; the heater is super easy to use and moderately priced.
This is also one of the most powerful heaters we have reviewed at Urban Fishkeeping. The heater does quite well on the safety front too. It boasts of neat features like shatterproof glass and shock-resistant technology.
Once again, although this heater comes with standard safety control buttons, I think it’s wise to get a backup thermometer.
Any heater tends to display inaccurate readings once they are worn out. So, an additional thermometer will be very reassuring.
- Fully submersible
- Strong heater
- Can overheat once worn out
- Can display the wrong temperature once worn out
- Some plastic components come loose easily
Hydor In-Line External Heater
If you’re looking for a non-submersible heater, I’d wholeheartedly recommend the Hydor in-line external heater.
As an external heater, this unit works by heating the water it pulls from the tank before sending it back in. While this is not a design many turtle owners are familiar with, it isn’t an inferior heater in any way.
During our experiment, we found this heater to be super-efficient while keeping the water warm for a prolonged period. Moreover, the accuracy is on point, and the build quality is impressive too.
Once you check the heater in person, you’ll see that the makers have really put in a lot of thought and effort to make this product.
The heater is equipped with a safety limiter that stops it from overheating or getting the water temperature too high. The display indicator is precisely accurate too.
If you’ve never used an external heater before, setting it up for the first time can be daunting. But don’t worry – Hydor has done an excellent job making the instructions clear and easy to understand. As a result, we didn’t encounter any problems while setting it up for our experiment.
The main advantage of getting a heater like this is that it complements the setups that use sumps or canister filters. In addition, it allows the heater to stay out of the way – keeping your design nice and clean.
- Accurate and efficient
- The best external heater, according to our research
- Reliable safety limiter
- Great for tanks using sump or canister filter
- The display is relatively small
What To Look For In A Water Heater For A Turtle?
There’s so much information out there on water heaters for a turtle that it will perplex a new owner who isn’t sure of what features to look for. While we have meticulously researched and finalized the aforementioned heaters for the recommendation, we want you to be able to gauge and make a selection on your own.
Look for the following features when purchasing a heater for a turtle tank:
Safety is our number one priority. Safety above everything – the turtle’s safety and your safety.
Dig through a few forums, and you will come across one too many horror stories of how a heater failed, shattered, overheated, or electrocuted the turtle.
I said this before, but I’ll say it again – don’t pinch pennies when buying a heater for your turtle tank. The heater should be the last thing you want to compromise on.
You’d want to look for safety features like auto-shutoff function, shatterproof material, shockproof design, etc. Besides keeping the pet safe, these functions will also offer you peace of mind.
Heating capability is another important feature you’d want to look into. The tank’s size and the wattage it needs should be gauged before buying a heater. If the heater cannot heat the water in the first place, there’s no point in installing it.
Here’s a quick look at different tank sizes and corresponding watts required.
Design And Type
Although many heaters featured on our list today are submersible since that’s the most popular design, some other types can be more suitable for your aquarium.
For instance, an external heater might work best if you have a sump or canister filter since it stays out of the way and keeps the tank free of any equipment.
Substrate heaters can be a good choice if the tank is heavily planted. However, it is expensive and not as efficient.
Ascertaining your tank’s layout first is crucial to finding the perfect heater for your pet turtle. While submersible heaters are the most popular and convenient option, it’s not the only choice available to you.
Frequently Asked Questions
How To Calculate What Size Heater My Turtle Tank Needs?
The standard practice in the hobby is that you want to maintain a wattage range between 2.5 and 5 watts for every gallon. However, the watts per gallon is a simplified and general guideline and may not be accurate at all times. This method tends to be on the conservative side.
It takes about ½ watt to increase the 1-gallon water temperature by 1 degree.
So, for a more accurate calculation, subtract the room temperature from your target aquarium temperature and then multiply by the number of gallons and divide the total by 2.
Should I Get An Extra Thermometer For My Turtle Tank?
Yes, you need to get an extra thermometer for your turtle tank, even though it sounds redundant right off the bat.
Though your heater is super reliable, sometimes, things go haywire. Therefore, it’s crucial to have an additional data source to ensure the water temperature is accurate.
Here’s a link to the one I use. This model doesn’t cost much but helps me sleep better at night.
How To Set Up Heater For Turtle Tank?
First, read the manual carefully. Don’t skip any information and take all the precautions you’ll need to take – especially when plugging it into an electrical outlet.
Second, use clean water to test the heater. It’s better to first test the heater’s heating capacity in a small tub and examine how fast it reaches your desired temperature. You must use an accurate thermometer to test the heater like the one I recommended above.
If the heater is submersible (most probably it is), mount it properly in a spot that the turtle cannot access. If it is an external heater, ensure that you set it up correctly with the canister filter or water pump and test the water flow before turning it on.
Once the water reaches the desired temperature and is stable, you can place the turtle in the tank.
Here are some quick tips you shouldn’t skip:
- The submersible heater should be in the water, and the external heater should have water flowing through them before you turn it on.
- Double-check that the wiring is going towards the electrical output and is waterproof and safe.
- Install an extra thermometer to err on the side of caution.
I’d recommend getting a protective cover like a heater guard to keep the heater from breaking. Since turtles are pretty heavy and have a knack for digging, a heater guard will prevent the heating element from becoming exposed and accidentally burning or electrocuting the turtle.
Do I Need Dual Heaters For My Turtle Tank?
This might sound overkill, but there are a few pros to having two heaters. First, splitting the needed wattage between two heaters will protect the turtle tank on both ends of the danger spectrum.
Also, if one of the heaters stops working, you will at least have one heat source in charge until you can manage another one.
It may sound far-fetched but getting two heaters is also suitable for protecting the tank from overheating. That’s because each heater will not have the required wattage to wreak havoc.
Before we end this article, let’s briefly look at some of the most asked questions below.
How Do I Keep My Turtle’s Water Warm?
You need to install a heater to keep your turtle’s water warm. The water temperature should be maintained between 72 to 77 degrees F (24 to 29 degrees C).
How Warm Should A Turtle Tank Water Be?
Ideally, the turtle tank water’s temperature should fall between 72 to 77 degrees F (24 to 29 degrees C). Likewise, the basking area’s temperature should be maintained between 85 to 90 degrees F (29 to 32 degrees C).
What Happens If Turtle Water Is Too Cold?
If the water is too cold for your turtle, its metabolism will slow down, and the reptile will feel sluggish. In severe cases, the turtle may even get cold stunted, and die.
Do Turtles Need A Heat Lamp?
Yes, turtles most definitely need a heat lamp. The heat lamp will compensate for the lack of sunlight.
I wrote a detailed article on heat lamps and turtles a year back. I’m sure you will find this helpful.
Related: Do Turtles Need A Heat Lamp?
How Hot Should A Turtle Basking Area Be?
The basking area’s temperature should clock between 85 to 90 degrees F (29 to 32 degrees C).
Do Turtles Need To Stay In The Water All The Time?
No, turtles do not always need to stay in the water. They need a designated dry area where they can bask and receive light and heat as required.
Final Words: Best Water Heater For Turtle Tank
So, we’ve come to the end of the article. Cobalt Aquatics Flat Neo-Therm Heater is our top pick. I’ve personally used this heater for my turtle tanks for a few years now, and I can confidently say this one ticks all the right boxes.
The rest of the heaters mentioned in the article are also equally good. The list was prepared meticulously based on our experiments and going through the hundreds of reviews shared by hobbyists.
So, you can be assured that all of the heaters mentioned in the article are reliable and precise and are made in a durable fashion.
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