How to keep a turtle aquarium clean.
July 17, 2007 2:55 PM   Subscribe

Is there a way to keep our office's turtle tank cleaner?

Help, mefites! We have an 'office turtle' which often languishes in an algae-encrusted tank. The aquarium does have a filter, but when the algae build-up is bad it will get clogged and overflow. The only way to really keep the tank clean is to periodically remove the turtle, dismantle and clean the filter parts, scrub out the aquarium, wash all the stones inside, and refill with fresh water, which is no easy task. Is there something we could get, (such as a catfish), which would coexist with the turtle and reduce the level of algae in the tank?

The turtle is a red-eared slider. There is no chance of getting rid of it. And, if it matters, it is nasty-tempered and will likely try to nip to death anything we put in the tank. All we really care about, though, is the turtle's survival, as it is our boss' pet. (And we like our jobs, so quitting isn't an option!)
posted by bchaplin to Pets & Animals (9 answers total)
If you remove and replace a portion of the water everyday that would help cut down on what is fertilizing the algae.
You might try using small water snails, if they are small they might go unnoticed and unmolested.
Make sure you wash your hands real good after messing with this tank as turtles tend to be carriers of salmonella.
posted by Iron Rat at 3:52 PM on July 17, 2007

the slider WILL eat/destroy anything and everything you put in there. plants, snails, plecostomus, plastic plants, small rocks, etc. well, except another slider... er, maybe.

I can from experience recommend a couple things, altho they are fairly serious: get a fluidized bed filter (e.g. or preferably the 600 model) + pump, and use it to power an undergravel filter.

a simpler solution may be to get a cansiter filter several times what you'd normally need for a tank that size. e.g. fluval 404 or magnum 350. but you'll still need a pre-filter sponge and need to clean or replace that as often as it gunks up. and there will still be substantial maintenance.

another possible workaround is to only ever feed the turtle outside the tank.

also please consider that your turtle will grow to ~9-13 inches. at that point it requires something in the nature of 90-120 gallon tank and it's quite cruel to keep it in anything smaller.
posted by dorian at 4:04 PM on July 17, 2007

couple other recommendations:

when you do water changes, scrub the tank thoroughly with e.g. a little methylene blue and some betadine. make sure to really rinse afterward of course.

get a decent air pump and multiple bubble stones (or even better bubble discs)

a good tubing system (e.g. python) is inexpensive, and makes water changes non-messy and quite painless.
posted by dorian at 4:10 PM on July 17, 2007

sorry just one more...

just for cleaning the glass, these are the absolute bomb. (also comes in acrylic-safe models...)
posted by dorian at 4:15 PM on July 17, 2007

I had a red-eared slider for about 5 years, and the only annoying thing about having him was keeping the tank clean. Not having any idea what kind of setup you have, the most important thing is to get a very heavy duty filter. Filters are generally made for fish aquariums so if you have a 10 gallon tank, you'd need to get a filter for a 30 or 40 gallon tank. The tank size itself is also super important, not only in terms of feeding, but in terms of what is humane for keeping a turtle. In both regards, the larger the tank the better. The smallest tank any adult red-eared slider should be in is a 20 gallon long.

One thing that really helps is feeding the turtle in a separate container as turtles tend to eat and use the bathroom at the same time. I don't know how ornery your boss' is, but my turtle was fine being moved back and forth and never attempted to bite me.

There are also tons of additives that you can put in the water that will help keep the water clean, but make sure that you get the kind for turtles and not for fish as the chemicals are different. Browse the reptile section of your local pet store. I used something called "Turtle Clean."

All of this being said and done, I still had to do partial water changes once a week, and a full water change every month and a half. The last two years I had my turtle he was in a 50 gallon tank which, while necessary, was a crapload of work to keep up.

Oh, and any living thing that I put in his tank was eaten, so I would assume that using a fish or snail to keep the tank clean wouldn't work.
posted by eunoia at 4:18 PM on July 17, 2007

boss' turtle...
posted by eunoia at 4:20 PM on July 17, 2007

My kids have a couple of those little red eared devils. The magfloat that dorian mentions is awesome. In addition to that get a syphon hose to suck out the junk just after scraping the sides. Two or three times a week should be good.

Also, you tank actually sounds "healthy" because it is growing organic green stuff. Usually a big problem with turtles is the accumulation of ammonia in the water. Yea, the water should be changed very often. At least once a week.

If you get in the habit of minor maintenance-you shouldn't have to break down and empty the whole thing.
posted by snsranch at 4:47 PM on July 17, 2007

Thanks, everybody!
posted by bchaplin at 3:45 AM on July 18, 2007

20 gallons?? That is WAY too small for an adult RES! You need AT LEAST at 75 gallon tank. For a female, you need bigger. Adult RES's grow to be 8-12" and need a large tank with a proper filtering system. I have a female RES that is 7 years old and she's about 8" in diameter. She'll probably grow to be 12" before she's done. She's in a 125 gallon tank right now but I'll need to get her into a bigger one soon.

It helps to feed the turtle in a separate tank, or at least remove any of the food it doesn't eat. An external tank filter would be best, but mechanical filtration alone won't keep the tank clean. You also need to establish a colony of beneficial bacteria that will eat the turtle's waste and turn it into nitrates. You can buy a product called Cycle to help the bacteria get started. You may also want to get a water testing kit to see if the pH levels are right to maintain the bacteria. A good filter with a biological substrate is helpful, as the bacteria will live in the substrate.

You have to change the water every few weeks to get rid of nitrates and dissolved waste. However, don't change more than half of the water from the tank or you'll lose too much bacteria and the water will get cloudy. It also helps to use a de-chlorinating agent like Repti-Safe to neutralize the chlorine from the water you add.

Here's a care sheet specific to Red Eared Sliders, and feel free to e-mail me with more questions:
posted by flyingcowofdoom at 9:09 AM on July 19, 2007

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