Combining turtles with fish?

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We regularly see turtles being purchased in a spur of the moment as a 'cool' addition to an existing aquarium. Unfortunately, in many cases this means that a turtle ends up in a situation that is not optimal and/or there are victims in the form of fish that are being eaten. Not a pleasant experience for animal nor caretaker. We therefore do not recommend combining turtles with aquarium fish. Should you still consider this choice, we hope that this article will ensure that it can be done better substantiated.

In several articles about aquatic turtles we have briefly explained this subject and it is stated whether this is possible with the species discussed. In this article we will go deeper into the pros and cons, aspects you want to take into account and possible combinations.


Turtles in a community aquarium?  The purchase of a turtle to place as a 'cool' addition in a standard community aquarium is in short absolutely not recommended. It can look very appealing a small turtle in a petstore or at an expo and unfortunately it is sometimes said that this is a good option. For example with Sternotherus (musk turtles) because people think they do not bask. Below is a brief summary of why this is not a wise choice:

  • As previously reported, most turtles are predators and will therefore try to eat the fish.
  • Even a fish that seems too big can be bitten and often the wounds are fatal for the fish.
  • Some fish, including Botia sp. and many types of catfish have sharp gill covers or spines that may damage the turtle if it eats or bites them.
  • Turtles are seen as 'polluters'. Their way of feeding and the excrement causes a lot of waste in the water. This means regular water changes, of course you want to change enough for the health of the turtle. But the differences in water values ​​between these changes are not good for all fish. These require more stable water values ​​and one with less waste.
  • Some fish will eat leftovers that the turtles leave behind during feeding. But fish also produce waste themselves and sometimes need a different diet. This means that even more waste ends up in the water, which means better filtration and more maintenance is required.
  • Many aquarium fish are caught in the wild and can carry possible parasites or other diseases. (Quarantine and treatment is required)

One can therefore conclude that one cannot just put fish in with the turtles. It often requires more work and it is important to study the requirements of the turtles and the fish to avoid victims or shortcomings.


Possible combinations?  As mentioned earlier, our descriptions of our species in the #terrariumlibrary describe whether a turtle can possibly be combined with fish, we recommend to read these carefully. There are possible options, for the choice of these options it is necessary to consider some aspects:

  • Adapt the aqua-terrarium to the requirements of the turtle and choose fish that can live in this situation.
  • Choose fish from the same region of origin so the requirements regarding temperature, strength of the flow and other conditions match.
  • Choose fish that are very small so that the turtle will have no direct interest. Or fish that are clearly too big to be eaten.
  • Choose fish that are resistant to the active swimming of the turtle and do not get stressed by this.
  • Choose fish that have a similar diet.
  • Choose fish that cannot damage your turtle, attack (aggression or territorial) or eat.
  • Provide extra space so that the animals can easily get out of the way, offer hides where only the fish fit.

When considering these criteria, some combinations may be possible. 'Successful' combinations are mainly found in Zoos, here, large fish are regularly combined with turtles. The turtles are well fed and there is a lot of space. As mentioned, combining continues to be a risk and besides what you read below there are other options, below you will find a list of some fish that seem to be 'successful' with turtles combined:

  • Barbs: Asian Barbus and Puntius species, especially the Puntius tetrazona, Puntius nigrofasciatus, (Puntius conchonius) and similar species are small, fast moving fish. They like to live in schools. These fish do not get stressed easily.
  • Guppies (Poecilia sp): This popular fish is small, breeds easily and can adapt to many circumstances.
  • Danio’s:  (Brachydanio) are small Asian fast moving fish that need to be kept in schools. Popular species are: Danio rerio, D. frankei, Danio aequipinnatus, and the Chinese danio (Tanichthys albonubes). These species, especially the T. albonubes can also take lower temperatures
  • Labeo’s:  are average sized Asian fish that belong to the carp group. These fish can best be kept solitary and feed on a very varied diet.
  • Balantiocheilos melanopterus:  shark fin barbs are fish that will measure 25-30cm. They need a lot of space and to be kept in groups. They are mostly herbivorous.
  • Polypterus:  Bichirs are fish that fit well in an African biotope aquarium. They come in different (bigger) sizes and do not et damaged easily by the turtles. They also live in shallow dry ponds. They do get bigger as average, so they do need a lot of gallons to thrive.
  • Chitala:  Clown knifefish are very big fish. They can best be kept solitary as adults.
  • Catfish:  Can be very good options. There are a lot of species in a lot of sizes. Do watch out that some species have really sharp and strong spines. If a turtle eats these they can get damaged.
  • Gyrinocheilus aymonieri & Epalzeorhynchus siamensis:  are Asian fast moving algae eaters. They will get about 12-18cm.  


Fish we advice against:

  • Goldfish, produce a lot of waste and are a bad meal when eaten.
  • Gourami’s, will get stressed fast from the active turtles.
  • Betta’s, slow moving fish, gets stressed soon and need slow moving water.
  • Pangasius, iridescent sharks get very big and are very active fish. When spooked they will ram into walls.

This is a very short list, just for example of some options and things that one can consider. We would again advise against doing any combinations. But our goal is to give as complete information as possible, this is part of this and if you choose, we hope that you can better substantiate it.

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