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The Ultimate Spotted Turtle Care Guide

The Spotted Turtle is one of my favorite turtle species to recommend to beginning reptile keepers. Their size is very manageable while their constellation of yellow spots against a black background is quite endearing. 

Clemmys guttata

Spotted Turtles also need less water to swim in, which means less filter maintenance and smaller water changes. They are a great turtle to keep if you are time and space limited.

What is the Spotted Turtle?

Spotted Turtles are a North American native reptile that is found very far north; as far as the Great Lakes region of the USA and Canada. These turtles can also be found all along the East Coast of the USA, from Maine to Florida.

Unlike most of the semi-aquatic turtles we’ve covered so far the Spotted Turtle is not a very good swimmer. They do spend a lot of time near and in the water. But they prefer the shallows and don’t go too deep.

When setting up a Spotted Turtle tank the water area should be no deeper than the height of the turtle standing on its hind legs. It should be able to reach the surface without trouble. Spotted Turtles don’t swim as well as Painted Turtles or Red Ear Sliders.

Spotted Turtles are a good choice for hobbyists who don’t want a large turtle. As one of the smallest pet turtle choices they don’t grow beyond 6 inches. 

Common Names: Spotted Turtle, Michigan Spotted Turtle, Indian Spotted Turtle

Scientific Name: Clemmys guttata

Origin: Great Lakes region & East Coast of the United States

Length: 4 to 6 inches

Tank Size: 40+ Gallons

Temperament: Peaceful; Shy

Ease of Care: Easy

Spotted Turtle Care

Indian Spotted Turtles are quite undemanding and easy to care for. Well filtered water, a warm and dry place to bask, and a variety of whole and prepared foods are all they need to thrive.

Spotted Turtle Care
The Spruce Pets

Indian Spotted Turtle Lifespan

Even though they are small, Spotted Turtle lifespan is quite generous. They will live up to 50 years if well cared for. And a few extraordinary specimens have lived to be close to 100 years of age. 

Any Spotted Turtle you buy is a lifelong commitment for you or your children so choose one with care. No pet is disposable. But pets that live this long need to be chosen only after a lot of thought.

Setting Up a Spotted Turtle Tank

The first step to caring for a Spotted Turtle is to set up a tank that caters to its needs. Here is all you need to know in order to give your turtle pet a solid start.

Spotted Turtle Water Conditions

Like all semi-aquatic and fully aquatic turtles Spotted Turtles do need an area to swim and cool off after a long bask. This zone should be deep enough for the turtle to submerge its shell. But not so deep that the Spotted Turtle cannot reach the surface by standing on its hind legs.

These turtles are not strong swimmers and can drown if the water is too deep and cold. The water in the tank should also be well filtered using a power filter rated for a turtle paludarium. Spotted Turtles will not just eat but even poop in their water.

A cycled power filter processes ammonia, which is a pollutant that is poisonous to all aquatic life. Ammonia comes from rotting food and animal waste. The mechanical screens of filters also pluck out floating bits of leftovers so the beneficial bacteria inside can work on them.

As important as filters are, you still need to do regular water changes on a Spotted Turtle tank. Without water changes the conditions will grow not just stinky but downright dangerous. Turtles in wet and dirty conditions will start to harbor salmonella bacteria. Salmonella is not fatal to them but it will make humans very sick if passed on.

Water Temperature

The water temperature for Spotted Turtles should be 70-80°F. Any warmer or colder is not ideal. A submersible heater is what I recommend using for warming a turtle tank’s water. And whenever possible, choose a model that has a heater guard. 

Diving turtles will sometimes slam into the glass portion of the heater. These repeated impacts could crack or even shatter the glass, maybe electrocuting your Spotted Turtle.

Spotted Turtle Tank Size

The Indian Spotted Turtle is one of the smallest pet turtles that you will find in pet stores. A full grown Spotted Turtle will be 4 to 6 inches long, depending on the sex. Female turtles are always bigger than male turtles.

Besides Spotted Turtle size you can also tell the sexes apart by looking at their claws. Males will have longer claws on their front legs. They use these claws to hold onto females when preparing to mate.

Lighting for Spotted Turtles

Lighting for Spotted Turtles

Lighting for Spotted Turtles is more complicated than just buying a single fluorescent light fixture. Reptiles need full-spectrum lighting that includes both infrared and ultraviolet output for proper health.

Michigan Spotted Turtle Basking Setup

Spotted box turtle pets are endothermic, like all reptiles. As endotherms their metabolism is regulated by the external environment. Digestion, growth, immunity, and so on are all more active when they are warm. But if they get cold, these activities all slow down – sometimes to dangerous levels.

That’s why a basking area that gives off infrared light (heat) is important to Spotted Turtle care. They will bask every day under a heat bulb, warming up enough to move, swim, and eat. 

A basking spot should cover around 50% of the area of the enclosure, with the other half being shallow water. You could also take your Spotted Turtles outside to bask if the weather is nice.

Use a thermometer to gauge both the air and surface temperature. The air temperature can fall between 70 and 95°F and still be comfortable. The basking zone’s surface temperature should be between 85-95°F. Any hotter could cause burns to the belly of your Spotted Turtle.

Spotted Turtle Pet UV Lighting

All reptiles, including snakes, turtles, and lizards, need more than just a place to bask. Spotted Turtles also need UV lighting. This critical component of sunlight is absorbed through the skin and helps these animals synthesize Vitamin D3. We humans do the same thing, in fact.

Some turtle keepers believe that food that is enriched with Vitamin D3 can supplement or even replace a UVb light. But how true this is remains a mystery. 

No scientists have done a comprehensive study yet on this subject. Whether turtles and tortoises can get all of their Vitamin D3 needs from dietary additives or not remains unknown. 

So it’s better to play things safe by giving your Spotted Turtle the light it needs for good health. A Vitamin D3 bulb placed alongside the infrared bulb ensures your turtle gets both warmth and vitamins at the same time.

What Do Spotted Turtles Eat?

Spotted Turtles are omnivorous so they eat both plant and animal matter. But they tend to lean more towards the meat-eating side. At least 75% of their diet should be animal protein. Earthworms, fresh pieces of shellfish and fish, mealworms, snails, insects, and other items are all good. 

For vegetables, offer leafy greens like lettuce, kale, and spinach. Dandelion, chard, and even garden greens and aquatic plants will also be eaten. Chunks of cantaloupe, apple, zucchini, squash, and other soft vegetables round out the salad portion.

Last, you should also offer a turtle pellet formula along with your whole food selection. Choose a brand rich in quality ingredients and few fillers.


Spotted Turtle care is not difficult thanks to their willingness to eat anything. Their smaller size makes them good choices for space-limited turtle keepers. And their longevity makes them great lifelong companions, to boot.

More Frequently Asked Questions about Spotted Turtles

Spotted Turtles are a great turtle for beginners to try keeping. Since they aren’t as common as Red Eared Sliders and other turtle types you might be hesitant to start out with one. So what are a few more tips on proper care for Indian Spotted Pond Turtles?

How Big Do Spotted Turtles Get?

Spotted Turtles are one of the smallest pet turtle types found in pet stores. They will grow no larger than 4 to 6 inches. Females will be the largest while male Spotted Turtles stay small. 

Can You Have a Spotted Turtle As a Pet?

Yes, you can have a Spotted Turtle as a pet. They are also one of the better turtles to keep in outdoor koi ponds. Spotted Turtles are much smaller than Koi fish and are native to the cooler regions of the United States. They also won’t try to bite adult Koi fish as long as they are well fed.

Can Spotted Turtles Swim?

Spotted Turtles do swim but not as well as other aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles. The swimming area should be deep enough for the turtle to submerge its shell and swim around. But the Spotted Turtle needs to be able to reach the surface with little effort. A ramp leading out of the water also helps them return to land with ease.

Jason Roberts
About Jason Roberts
Jason is an aquarium fanatic that has been a fish hobbyist for almost three decades.