Common Musk Turtle Care

May 23 2021

Common musk turtles (Sternotherus odoratus) are small, fascinating aquatic turtles that make wonderful pets. With their unique appearance and interesting behaviors, they can bring joy to people of all ages. To ensure the health and happiness of your common musk turtle, it's important to provide proper care and create a suitable habitat. This comprehensive care guide will walk you through the essential aspects of musk turtle care.

Habitat Setup

Creating an ideal habitat for your common musk turtle involves several important elements:

Tank Size: Common musk turtles are relatively small (about 4 inches), but they still require ample space to swim and explore. A 40-gallon tank is suitable for one adult turtle, but as they grow, you may need to upgrade to a larger tank. Providing enough space ensures that they can exercise and exhibit natural behaviors.

Water: Since musk turtles are aquatic, water quality is of utmost importance. Maintain a water depth of 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) to allow for swimming and diving. Ensure that the water is dechlorinated and free from contaminants. Regularly check and adjust the temperature to keep it within the recommended range of 75-80°F (24-27°C).

Basking Area: Musk turtles need a dry basking area where they can climb out of the water to rest and regulate their body temperature. Place a flat rock or a floating platform in the tank to create a designated basking spot. You can also use an above-tank basking area which allows for more swimming space. The basking platform should be easily accessible and positioned close to a heat/UVB bulb to maintain a temperature of 85-90°F (29-32°C). This allows the turtles to thermoregulate and promotes healthy digestion.

Filtration: A filtration system is essential to maintain water quality and prevent the accumulation of waste and toxins. Choose a filter that is rated for twice the size of the tank since turtles are very messy. If you have multiple turtles, you will need an even higher capacity filter. A combination of mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration is recommended to keep the water clean and clear.

Lighting: Providing appropriate lighting is crucial for the overall health of your musk turtle. Musk turtles don't bask often but still need lighting and a basking area. In addition to a heat source for the basking area, you should also provide a UVB light source. UVB radiation helps the turtle metabolize calcium, which is essential for shell and bone health. A full-spectrum UVB bulb should be used for 10-12 hours a day to simulate natural sunlight. Make sure to position the UVB light at an appropriate distance from the basking area, following the manufacturer's instructions.

Water Quality

Maintaining optimal water quality is vital for the well-being of your common musk turtle. Consider the following factors:

Temperature: Musk turtles are ectothermic, meaning they rely on the external environment to regulate their body temperature. Keep the water temperature in the range of 75-80°F (24-27°C). Using an aquarium heater with a built-in thermostat will help maintain a stable water temperature.

pH Level: Common musk turtles prefer a slightly acidic to neutral pH level. Aim for a pH range of 6.8 to 7.2. Monitor the pH regularly using a test kit and make adjustments if necessary using pH buffers or conditioners.

Water Changes: Regular water changes are essential to remove waste, control ammonia and nitrate levels, and prevent the buildup of harmful substances. Perform partial water changes of around 25-30% every two weeks. Use a siphon or aquarium vacuum to remove debris and waste from the substrate during water changes. When adding new water to an aquarium, you need to add dechlorinator to remove toxic chemicals from the tap water.


A well-balanced diet is crucial for the health and vitality of your common musk turtle. Consider the following guidelines:

Feeding: Musk turtles are omnivorous and have diverse dietary needs. Offer a variety of foods, including commercial turtle pellets, which should make up the staple of their diet. Supplement the pellets with live or frozen aquatic invertebrates such as brine shrimp, bloodworms, daphnia, and small fish. Additionally, provide leafy greens like kale, collard greens, and aquatic plants. Offer fruits occasionally as treats. Be cautious and do your research before feeding your turtle anything. Some fruits and vegetables, such as avocados, are deadly to reptiles. Ensuring a varied diet provides essential nutrients and prevents nutritional deficiencies.

Feeding Frequency: Juvenile musk turtles have higher metabolisms and growth rates, so they should be fed daily. Adult turtles can be fed every other day. Observe your turtle's appetite and adjust the quantity of food accordingly. A good rule of thumb is to feed your turtle about how much food could fit inside its head. Remove any uneaten food after feeding to maintain water cleanliness.

Environmental Enrichment

Enriching your common musk turtle's environment is essential for their mental and physical well-being. Consider the following suggestions:

Hiding Spots: Musk turtles are naturally shy and enjoy having places to hide. Provide caves, rocks, or PVC pipes within the tank to create hiding spots. These hiding places offer security and help reduce stress.

Aquatic Plants: Adding live or artificial aquatic plants to the tank offers multiple benefits. They provide additional hiding spots, create a more natural environment, and aid in maintaining water quality by absorbing nitrates. Ensure that any live plants you choose are non-toxic and suitable for an aquatic environment. Make sure that they can be consumed by musk turtles, as turtles try to eat everything.

Interaction and Handling

When it comes to interacting with your common musk turtle, it's important to consider their well-being:

Wash Hands: Before and after handling your turtle, always wash your hands thoroughly to prevent the spread of bacteria and potential infections.

Gentle Handling: Musk turtles are generally shy and may retreat into their shells when handled. Be gentle and avoid excessive stress. Handle them with care and support their bodies properly. Avoid gripping or squeezing them tightly. Don't handle them often as they prefer to be left alone in their tanks. Only handle your turtle when necessary.

Health Care

To ensure the long-term health of your common musk turtle, consider the following:

Veterinary Check-ups: Schedule regular check-ups with a reptile veterinarian experienced in treating turtles. They can perform routine examinations, address any health concerns, and provide valuable advice on care and husbandry.

Signs of Illness: Regularly monitor your turtle for signs of illness. These may include loss of appetite, lethargy, abnormal swimming patterns, shell abnormalities, changes in stool consistency, or respiratory issues. If you notice any concerning symptoms, consult a reptile veterinarian promptly.

Quarantine: If you are introducing a new musk turtle to an existing group, it's essential to quarantine the new arrival for a period of time. Quarantine helps prevent the spread of potential diseases or parasites to your existing turtles. Keep the new turtle in a separate enclosure, and observe their health closely before integrating them.

Providing the best care for your common musk turtle involves creating a suitable habitat, maintaining water quality, offering a balanced diet, and ensuring their overall well-being. Regular research, continuous learning, and consulting with reptile veterinarians will help you provide the best possible care for your musk turtle companion.