The best substrate for turtles

It is easy to get carried away with excitement while you are in the process of decorating your pet turtle’s tank. While the process requires a great deal of creativity, you also need to think about the best substrate to use to line the bottom of the tank.

If you decide to buy or adopt an aquatic turtle, you have to set up where it is going to live, commonly known as a habitat. Different aquatic turtles need different types of habitats. Some of the essential requirements of the home of an aquatic turtle include proper lighting, clean water, adequate heating, and the right diet. Once you setup these basics, you can proceed to add other fancy materials, such as aquatic plants and substrates.

Additional accessories like substrates, aquatic plants, and rocks aid in making the habitat look more natural. In this article, we will discuss the best substrate for turtles and how to choose the most suitable one for your reptile.

What is a turtle’s substrate?

Generally, a substrate is any material that you put at the bottom of a turtle’s tub or tank. It varies from gravel to sand to charcoal to fluorite to nothing at all, with most people preferring gravel. However, popular aquatic turtle species like red-eared sliders and painted turtle do not need a substrate, unless you opt for live plants. More so, having a glass-bottomed aquarium aids in eliminating the possibility that your turtle will eat the substrate or get injured by it. It is also quite easy to clean and maintain.

If you are a turtle keeper who thinks a bare-bottom tank is not aesthetically pleasing and you would like to decorate it with substrates, here is a guide to choosing the best substrate for your aquatic turtle.

What should you consider when buying a substrate for your pet turtle?

Depending on the species of the turtle you own, there are a variety of substrates available in the market. For instance, aquatic turtles spend most of their time in the water, meaning that you may not require a substrate as long as you provide them with a basking area. Alternatively, land turtles do require substrate for generating body heat and providing them with something to burrow or dig into. Here is a list of vital considerations when buying the best substrate for your turtle.

Natural feel

The primary goal of decorating a tank is to ensure that it looks as natural as possible. Once you replicate your turtle’s natural habitat, they are likely to feel more at home. Therefore, it is advisable to use substrates like sand, natural fibers, and small pebbles.

Safety

When choosing a substrate for your turtle’s tank or tub, you should opt for one that is soft enough to walk on safely. More so, if your turtle chooses to burrow or dig into it, the substrate should not get hurt. You can use small pebbles to line the bottom of the tank of your aquatic turtle since the turtle will be floating above it instead of walking on it.

Avoid dangerous materials

With numerous types of substrates available in the market, not all of them are good options for your pet turtle. Avoid small gravel and calcium sand since they are too small and can be ingested to cause impaction. Similarly, they can also have harmful ingredients that could impact your turtle’s health negatively.

Unnatural additives

You may find that some substrates go through treatments with dyes or chemicals that are harmful to the overall health of your turtle. Ensure that you choose substrates that are all-natural and wash them thoroughly before placing them in your turtle’s tank.

The best substrate for turtles

Now that you have an idea of what to look for in a substrate, let us delve into this list of six of the best substrates for your pet turtle.

Comparison Table

Name
Type
Quantity
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Exo Terra Turtle Pebbles
Small pebbles
10 pounds
Zoo Med Eco Earth Coconut Fiber Substrate
Natural fiber
8 quarts
Carib Sea Crushed Coral Substrate
Crushed corals
10 pounds
Seachem Fluorite Planted Turtle Aquaria
Gravel
7.7 pounds
Carib Sea Supernaturals Premium Aquarium Sand
Sand
5 pounds
Pure Water Pebbles Aquarium Gravel
Gravel
5 pounds

Exo Terra Turtle Pebbles

If you are not sure about which substrate is best for your pet turtle, Exo Terra Turtle Pebbles is the perfect option. This product provides small, smooth, and fine pebbles that will not injure your turtle. However, the pebbles are of the right size to ensure that your turtle will not chew on them, which would alternatively lead to impaction. This substrate also aids in creating a natural appearance that your terrestrial turtle will appreciate and love as it works incredibly well when used for lining the bottom of your tank.

Available in different colors and patterns, these pebbles are easy to clean and maintain. They can also be re-used by simply soaking and disinfecting them in a bucket of water for approximately 15 minutes. After soaking, make sure you rinse them thoroughly until the water runs clean.

Pros

  • Smooth surfaces that do not injure foraging turtles
  • Available in different variations of colors and patterns
  • Reusable
  • Easy to clean and maintain

Cons

  • Turtles cannot dig or burrow into it

Verdict

The Exo Terra Turtle Pebbles are one of the most popular substrate choice for turtle owners and for good reason. It consists of sizable pebbles that are smooth and fine, ideal for any terrestrial turtle.
 

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Zoo Med Eco Earth Coconut Fiber Substrate

Land turtles need a different type of substrate than aquatic turtles as they enjoy digging and burrowing. Zoo Med Eco Earth Coconut Fiber Substrate contains loose coco fibers that maintain a good level of humidity in your turtle’s enclosure. Most turtle species require a specific level of moisture to maintain healthy bodies. Lack of the proper humidity level may cause them health complications, and even death.

More so, this substrate not only provides a very naturalistic look in your turtle’s tank, but it is also soft enough to ensure optimum comfort for your turtle. Zoo Med Eco Earth Coconut Fiber Substrate is an all-natural substrate that is easy to use and maintain. Similarly, you may choose to use it damp or dry, depending on your turtle’s needs.

Pros

  • Provides a natural look for your turtle’s tank
  • An all-natural substrate made from natural coconut fibers
  • Maintains proper humidity levels in the tank

Cons

  • Not advisable for use for aquatic turtles

Verdict

This Coconut Fiber substrate from Zoo Med is an all-natural alternative to terrestrial turtles. Not only is it pleasing to look at in the tank, but it also provides the proper humidity levels for optimal turtle health.
 

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Carib Sea Crushed Coral Substrate

As opposed to sand, the Carib Sea Crushed Coral Substrate is the perfect choice for turtle owners who are looking for a more natural and aesthetically pleasing substrate. This substrate is one of the best-crushed coral beddings available in the market.

It is a naturalized and size-screened product that contains aragonite, which originates from the ocean and is rich in minerals and calcium. As a result, the aragonite content naturally buffers the water to a higher pH level. The more you use, the more the acidity of the water increase, up to a certain point. The weight of this product keeps it from blowing around. More so, you can choose to mix this substrate with smooth and fine pebbles for a more eye-catching appearance.

Pros

  • Contains aragonite
  • Gives a tank a more natural look
  • Ideal for diamondback terrapins as they enjoy crushing hard shells with their beak
  • A naturalized product

Cons

  • You have to be careful when using this substrate since the more you use, the more acidic your water becomes

Verdict

If you have a saltwater or brackish-water turtle, the Carib Sea Crushed Coral Substrate is the best substrate to use. The crushed coral in your turtle’s aquarium aids in raising the pH levels and stabilizing them. Similarly, this substrate looks fantastic in a tank due to its natural look.
 

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Seachem Fluorite Planted Turtle Aquaria

Nothing can give your turtle’s aquarium a more natural look more than adding live plants in it. Furthermore, live plants also aid in maintaining clean water in your tank, and they can be an additional source of food for your pet turtle. As such, the Seachem Fluorite Planted Turtle Aquaria is one of the best substrates for using in a turtle’s tank.

It is an all-natural porous clay that supports the growth of plants in an aquatic environment. This substrate consists of a specially fracted and durable porous clay gravel ideal for planted aquaria but can be used in any freshwater aquarium setting. You may opt to mix it with other gravels, but fluorite works best when used alone.

Pros

  • Supports growth of healthy aquatic plant life
  • Made from all-natural porous clay material
  • Easy to use and rinse
  • Looks great in the turtle’s tank

Cons

  • It needs proper rinsing before use as it tends to be dusty

Verdict

Fluorite is a natural product and does not require modifiers like laterite when using it. More so, it is not chemically covered or treated, meaning it will not alter your water’s Ph. This product is also viable for an entire lifetime and does not need replacement.
 

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Carib Sea Supernaturals Premium Aquarium Sand

Since aquatic turtles enjoy spending most of their time in the water, it is best to choose a substrate that will not alter the water’s chemical status or cloud it. As such, Carib Sea Super Naturals Premium Aquarium Sand is an excellent choice as it is all-natural, has an extremely fine texture, as well as a neutral pH level.

Available in a natural white color, this substrate is easy to use and maintain. Its fine texture guarantees the safety of your pet turtle.

Pros

  • Looks great in an aquarium due to its natural white color
  • It does not have any dyes or chemical, making it pH neutral
  • It is safe for turtles as it has a fine texture

Cons

  • It does not allow burrowing as it is too compact

Verdict

The Carib Sea Super Naturals Premium Aquatic Sand is the best choice for aquatic turtles. It comes in a white color that looks great in a tank and does not pose any safety threat to your pet turtle.
 

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Pure Water Pebbles Aquarium Gravel

Aquarium gravel is one of the most affordable and easy to maintain options for a turtle’s tank. Similarly, Pure Water Pebbles Aquarium Gravel costs about $1 and is available in a variety of colors. The product is aesthetically pleasing in an aquarium, and turtles can use it safely. It is also effortless to use and maintain and does not alter the chemical composition or pH level in your tank.

Pros

  • Safe for turtles due to its fine texture
  • Does not alter the pH or chemistry of your turtle’s tank
  • Made from natural materials with a non-toxic color coating

Cons

  • Some pebbles have rough edges

Verdict

Pure Water Pebbles Aquarium Gravel is an affordable substrate that will leave your aquarium looking great. It is all-natural gravel that contains a unique and durable coating that does not change the chemistry or pH of the water in your tank.
 

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Conclusion

Choosing the type of substrate that best suits your pet turtle requires careful consideration when it comes to safety. Stick to branded substrates to avoid any complications in your tank, as well as any concerning your reptilian friend. You may choose to mix different types of substrates, depending on your turtle’s species. Each turtle is different, and you need to do your research until you find something that fits them comfortably.

Kerry Blake

Since I was young, I have always had a thing for sea creatures. Being raised along the beach gave me the chance to interact with all kinds of reptiles, including turtles. I have always found this creature quite fascinating, and at a young age, I asked my parents to get me one as a pet. My love for turtles is what inspired me to pursue marine science when I got to college. Specializing in this field made learning so much about such reptiles. If you would like to get a pet turtle at your home, this guide will be of great help.

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