turtle-care

Spotted Turtle Care Sheet

September 09, 2021

spotted turtle

Spotted turtles (Clemmys guttata) are 4.5-5.5” long, semi-aquatic reptiles found along the eastern coast of the United States and a significant chunk of the Great Lakes region. These turtles prefer shallow, slow-moving freshwater habitats such as swamps, marshes, streams, and drainage ditches.

Spotted turtles have streamlined heads and shells with a long tapered tail. They can be easily distinguished by their unique black base color with a pattern of small yellow dots. The plastron is pale with dark blotches, and gets darker with the turtle’s age. The underside of the limbs may be orange or salmon-colored.

Captive-bred spotted turtles generally do well as pets. With good care, they can easily have a 50+ year lifespan, and may live as long as 100 years!

Do not steal wild turtles from the wild to keep as pets!

Minimum enclosure size for spotted turtles

The minimum size enclosure for housing one adult spotted turtle should be at least 36”L x 18”W x 18”H, but bigger is always better! Waterland tubs are particularly good for housing spotted turtles because they offer a shallow aquatic area and ramp that leads to a generous land area for basking and exploring. Roughly half of your turtle’s enclosure should be water, and just deep enough that the turtle can breathe by stretching tiptoe from the bottom.

If your local climate and housing situation allows, spotted turtles tend to do well when housed in an outdoor pond for at least part of the year. Waterland tubs work for this purpose as well, but make sure to top it with a wide mesh lid to keep out potential predators!

It’s best not to house more than one spotted turtle per enclosure.

Do spotted turtles need UVB?

Yes! Spotted turtles require exposure to appropriate amounts of UVB in order to maintain good health and wellbeing. Providing UVB lighting to your turtle offers several benefits, including all of the vitamin D that their body needs, better appetite and activity, and a stronger immune system.

The best UVB bulbs for spotted turtles are:

  • Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 5.0
  • Arcadia Forest 6%

Yes, brand matters!

The UVB bulb should be half the length of the enclosure and housed in a reflective fixture like the Arcadia ProT5 or Vivarium Electronics. Place the lamp close to the heat lamps, about 8-11” above the basking platform if there is mesh obstruction, and 13-15” away if no mesh. UVB bulbs decay over time, so don’t forget to replace your bulb every 12 months to maintain good performance. 

It’s best practice to provide extra illumination via a strong LED or T5 HO 6500K daylight lamp. This helps better replicate daylight and is also good for any live plants you may be using.

Lights should be on for 14 hours/day during summer and 10 hours/day during winter. However, if you are housing your turtle outdoors in a pond, then supplementary lighting is not required.

Best temperature for spotted turtles

Unlike mammals, which control their own body temperature internally, spotted turtles and other reptiles rely on external sources to regulate their body temperature and metabolism. 

Different reptiles require different temperatures for best health. For spotted turtles, the basking area should have an air temperature of 86-90°F, and the water should stay between 70-80°F. Measure basking temperature with a digital probe thermometer, and water temperature with a high-quality aquarium thermometer.

Provide basking heat for your turtle with a halogen flood heat lamp on one side of the enclosure, positioned directly over the basking area at the same height as the UVB lamp. Avoid ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective. Use a higher wattage bulb if you need more heat, or use a plug-in lamp dimmer if it’s too warm.

If you need to heat your turtle’s water, use an aquarium heater rated for the amount of water in the enclosure and placed inside a protective plastic tube to prevent your turtle from getting burned by accidental contact.

If you are housing your turtle outdoors in an appropriate climate, heating equipment is not required.

Water conditions for spotted turtles

Given that spotted turtles are semi-aquatic reptiles, the water portion of their enclosure is a pretty significant part of their life. In other words, you’ll be essentially maintaining a small pond or aquarium with an accessible land area. Your turtle’s water must be kept as clean as possible to promote good health.

For filtration, you will need a canister-style filter capable of handling at least 2x the amount of water in the enclosure. For example, if you have an enclosure with 20 gallons of water, you will need a filter rated for at least 40 gallons of water. This is another aspect of your setup where it’s very important to invest in excellent equipment!

Make sure the filter is low-flow for minimal water disturbance — a strong current will stress your turtle! Alternatively, place a stone or other décor under the filter’s outflow to diffuse the current.

You will also need to perform routine water changes. Once every 1-2 weeks, remove and replace approximately 30% of the enclosure’s total water volume. As essential as filters are, periodically removing “old” water and replacing it with “new” water helps prevent toxic compounds from building up. To make water changes easier, use a siphon or water pump.

Both indoor and outdoor ponds require filtration and routine water changes.

Best substrate for spotted turtles

Spotted turtles spend a significant amount of time on land and like to burrow, so it’s important to have of sandy soil within easy access at all times. Zoo Med Reptisoil works well for this purpose, or you can create your own mix of approximately 80% clean topsoil and 20% play sand (measured by volume).

Substrate isn’t required for the pond part of the enclosure, but it does improve its appearance and functionality, as spotted turtles like to root around in it. Use fine sand for this application. Avoid gravel and small pebbles, as they can become life-threatening if ingested.

Leaf litter and sphagnum moss can be used as part of the substrate on land or in the water.

How to decorate a spotted turtle enclosure

Décor is about more than just creating an attractive enclosure — it’s also about boosting the enclosure’s functionality. Here are some ideas:

  • live/artificial plants
  • driftwood
  • hollow logs
  • terracotta pots

Plenty of aquatic vegetation is an especially important consideration in a spotted turtle setup, so be sure to clutter it up. However, do note that any artificial plants need to be sturdy enough not to break if your turtle tries to eat them.

Whatever you choose to add, make sure to create at least a couple places where your turtle can hide from view. This helps them feel more secure. Just make sure that these hidey-holes are big enough that the turtle can’t get stuck!

What to feed to a spotted turtle

Spotted turtles are omnivorous, which means that they need both plant- and animal-based foods in their diet to get the nutrition that they need. Here is a general feeding schedule to follow:

Hatchling and growing spotted turtles:

  • prey or pellets daily to every other day
  • greens daily

Adult spotted turtles:

  • prey or pellets 2-3x/week
  • greens daily

A portion of protein food or pellets should be more or less the same size as your turtle’s head. A portion of vegetable food should be roughly the same size as your turtle’s shell.

Animal-based foods for spotted turtles: crickets, earthworms, dubias, discoids, shrimp/krill, bloodworms, mealworms, hornworms, silkworms, snails

Vegetable foods for spotted turtles: spirulina algae wafers, duckweed, pond lily, eelgrass, water hyacinth, collard greens, dandelion greens, endive, green leaf lettuce, kale, red leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, filamentous algae, cranberries

Pellets for spotted turtles: Omega One Juvenile Turtle Pellets, Omega One Adult Turtle Sticks, Tetra ReptoMin, Zoo Med Natural Aquatic Turtle Food, Mazuri Aquatic Turtle Diet

Variety is the key to a balanced diet, so don’t feed your turtle the same thing every day.

How to handle your spotted turtle

Unlike some other reptiles, turtles aren’t the kind of pet that you can handle regularly. If you want to try bonding with your turtle, try tong-feeding it instead!


*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet!


"Spotted Turtle, Clemmys guttata (Schneider, 1792)" by Misenus1 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


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