The terrapin and water turtle terrarium

The pond and water turtle terrarium

Das Terrarium/Aqua-Terrarium/Paludarium

The aqua-terrarium or paludarium (lat. palus = swamp) is basically The rainforest terrarium combined with an aquarium. Large aqua-terrariums can be used to create breathtaking tropical landscapes with waterfalls and river courses or lakes. But even smaller terrariums can be expanded into an aqua-terrarium by adding a shallow aquarium. The water section then of course extends the maintenance, which then resembles the maintenance of an aquarium.

Terrariums are often given different names depending on the size of the water section. The term terrarium refers to a container that consists mainly of a land section which only contains a water bowl or a small water container. An aquarium is therefore a container that mainly contains water. All terrariums in between are referred to as paludariums or aqua-terrariums, whereby the term aqua-terrarium is much more widespread and displays almost twice as many search hits on Google as the term paludarium. However, both mean the same thing: a terrarium with a large water section, often half the size of the land section.

Terrarium size

Always assume you’re keeping the adult turtle and not the cute, small, matchbox-sized baby turtle! The water section of the terrarium or aqua-terrarium should be about 5-6 times the length of the adult turtle's shell. The height of the air section above the water and the land section does not matter to the turtles. It should only be ensured that the correct distance (usually 30-40 cm) can be maintained between the tortoise and the UV lamp!

Terrestrial species such as wood turtles do not need a water section. A bathing area with shallow water is sufficient.

Terrarium set up

It really depends on the species of turtle. Common musk turtles spend a lot of time in shallow water. For species that swim a lot, the water level needs to be at least twice the height of the shell and they all need a basking area. Nevertheless, a shallow area is important for their lethargic phases. Here the turtles do not have to SWIM to the surface, they only have to stretch their necks to breathe.

For some species, a piece of cork or wood is sufficient for basking, others need a bit of bank area. When it comes to laying eggs, a sandy bank area that is HIGHER than the water level is essential. Apart from snake-necked turtles, many swimming turtles are absolute sun worshippers and can be observed basking in the wild a lot. The turtles need to reach this part of the land easily, without any complicated climbing acrobatics. The animals simply drop from their basking spot into the water if they are in “danger,” therefore please avoid sharp stones and ensure a sufficient water depth.

If the land section is glued into the water section, make sure that there is air under the land section so that the turtles can surface and breathe there (this is actually sometimes a problem!). The land section should be made of sand (not too fine, ideally JBL Sansibar River) for the swimming species. For more crawling species such as the musk turtle, JBL TerraBark is more suitable, as they can burrow in it.

Aquatic plants look beautiful, but usually get eaten. If this doesn’t bother you, then do use aquatic plants. They will improve the water quality and supplement the food in a sensible way. Fast-growing species such as hornwort and waterweed are ideal. Be careful with floating plants. Duckweed is invasive and is difficult to control. It’s best to fish it out immediately and completely if it starts to appear.

Do not build mountains of stones under water that could collapse. Glue stones well if you use them. Be on the safe side with suitable adhesives such as JBL ProHaru Rapid (superglue), JBL ProHaru Universal (also sticks under water) or JBL AquaSil (silicone).

Make sure your wood and stones cannot result in your turtles getting stuck under water!

The grain size of the gravel in the water section does not matter to the turtles. Only softshell turtles need soft sand such as JBL Sansibar White or Snow for burrowing. However, a substrate is always needed so that the turtles don’t get stuck, by giving them a grip on the slippery bare floor pane.

The right lighting

You need two types of lighting: On the one hand, you need to illuminate the terrarium so that it appears bright and friendly and provides any plants it may have with light. LED light bars are ideal for elongated terrariums. With the JBL LED SOLAR NATUR, JBL offers a sun-like light, but without UV, in lengths from 44 to 145 cm. Alternatively, other lamp types without UV are also suitable (e.g. JBL Reptil LED Daylight, an energy-saving lamp).

Spot lighting with UV radiation is also vital for the animals. There are various options here, depending on the height of the terrarium and the distance from the animal to the lamp. It’s important this is neither too far, nor too near. For the lamps mentioned below, the ideal distance from the turtle to the lamp is 30-40 cm.

JBL UV-Spot Plus: Extra powerful UV spotlight with daylight spectrum for terrariums. It generates light, heat and UV radiation. Does not require a ballast.

JBL ReptilDesert L-U-W Light alu: Metal-halide Solar spot light for desert terrariums. It generates light, heat and UV radiation. Requires a special ballast.

JBL ReptilJungle L-U-W Light alu: Wide-beam spotlight for rainforest terrariums. Like JBL ReptilDesert L-U-W Light alu, but with slightly less UV content and a wider 40° beam angle.

Tortoises associate light with heat and will head for the area under the spotlight when they need heat. When installing the light, it is important NOT to position it in the centre of the terrarium, but rather off-centre so that the tortoise can seek out sheltered spots. The temperature under the UV spotlight should be 35-40 °C.

For crawling species such as the musk turtle, the heat source should be above the shallow water section. For other species, it should rather be above their terrestrial basking area.

Heat/humidity/day and night temperature

Unlike with tortoises, the air space in the terrarium shouldn’t be much cooler than the water part. The ideal water temperature for most aquatic and pond turtles is 25-28 °C. For the European pond turtle, it may be slightly cooler. As most of the heat in the aquatic turtle terrarium is generated by the UV lamp, the night temperature automatically drops when the light is switched off. If the terrarium is located in an unheated room, an additional heater thermostat (JBL ProTemp S) is recommended. The JBL PROTEMP S heaters are made of particularly thick glass and are therefore break-proof and bite-proof. The JBL heaters also have a protective plastic basket.

If you use an external filter to keep the water section clean, you can use the JBL ProTemp e external heater, which is simply inserted into the water return filter hose. This eliminates the problem of turtles biting the heater cable or, in the case of larger species, the entire heater. Although it is unclear which natural prey animal resembles a heater, turtles do unfortunately like to bite into it.

It is therefore advisable NOT to use a normal aquarium thermometer, but one that is glued to the outside of the pane (JBL aquarium thermometer DigiScan or JBL aquarium thermometer DigiScan Tube).

The water section: filtering, water values, tap water

Water and pond turtles require a larger water section, which also needs to be kept clean. You can treat the water section like an aquarium and therefore also use aquarium filters to keep it clean. Internal filters have the advantage that they lie in the water and only ONE cable leaves the terrarium.

External filters do not take up any space in the water section, but require a water inlet and a water outlet hose.

Both filter types are efficient, although the external filters need to be cleaned less frequently due to their larger filter volume. JBL recommends the JBL CristalProfi i range of internal filters, which contains filters of different lengths. The JBL CristalProfi e external filter range comprises 5 filters of different sizes, which keep water volumes between 40 and 800 litres clean very effectively and with low energy consumption. It is important that the water section also has low-flow areas!


As already mentioned in the POND KEEPING chapter, only a few species are "hardy". However, most species come to us from temperate zones. They should be given a winter rest during which the heater is switched off. The region of origin plays a decisive role here. Check where your tortoise originally lives. The country alone is not enough. Let’s say that the US is the country, yet within this there are subtropical states like Florida and temperate states like North Carolina where turtles originate. Mud turtles come from tropical latitudes and therefore do NOT need to hibernate. Otherwise, hibernation lasts 2-3 months and the temperature should be 10-15 °C.

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