May 23 2021
Musk turtles are great for beginners since they are small, require a “small” enclosure, and live a long time. This article goes through feeding, filtration, lighting, basking, tank size, and common musk turtle health.
The common musk turtle, or stinkpot turtle, is a very small semi-aquatic turtle. Common musk turtles are great for beginner turtle keepers because they stay small and do not require as much habitat maintenance as other turtles. They are native to the eastern and mid-United States. They can grow to be 3-5 inches long and males tend to be smaller than females. They are called the stinkpot turtle because they can emit a bad smell when frightened. They spend most of their time swimming in shallow water and rarely bask.
Stinkpot common musk turtles, like other turtles, need 10 gallons of water per 1 inch of their carapace (upper part of the shell). Since they do not get big, they do not need a big tank. A full-grown common musk turtle should have at least a 40-gallon tank (regular, not a breeder). A baby musk turtle needs at least a 10-gallon tank, but a 20-gallon tank is better. It is best to get a tank big enough for an adult musk turtle, even if you have a baby. Common musk turtles can be housed in glass aquariums or large Rubbermaid containers. Glass aquariums are more expensive than Rubbermaid containers, but look much nicer. Large Rubbermaid containers start from $50 and glass aquariums start from $100. If you want a glass aquarium, but can not afford it, you can buy a used one from sites like eBay or Craigslist. You also might be able to find one at a garage sale. It is important for common musk turtles to have the right tank size.
A powerful filtration system is crucial for any turtle. Turtles are very messy animals and a high-quality filter is required to clean up their waste. There are 4 types of filters that are good for stinkpots; sponge filters, HOB filters, canister filters, and submersible filters. While all of these filters work well, canister filters are the best because they provide both biological and mechanical filtration. They are also the strongest and allow you to add your own media. Since turtles are extremely messy, they need a filter that is rated for double the amount of water that is in the tank. There are many canister filter brands, but the best ones are Fluval, Marineland, and Penn-Plax. Fluval filters are the most powerful and reliable (usually last for 10 years) but are also the most expensive. Marineland filters are not as powerful as Fluval filters but are much more affordable. Penn-Plax filters are as powerful as Marineland filters but do not last as long. If you can afford it, it is better to get a Fluval filter. If you do not want any of these filters, read the article “The Best Filters For Turtles” for more filter choices. A good filter is the most important part of a common musk turtle tank.
Although stinkpots do not bask as much as other turtles, they still need proper lighting. Musk turtles need a UVB light and a basking light. A 5.0 UVB light is good for musk turtles, but make sure it is not labeled “Desert UVB”. “Swamp UVB” and “Tropical UVB” lights are good for musk turtles because they have a lower output and some are splash-proof. UVB lights can not penetrate glass, so get a mesh lid to place the light on. For a basking light, halogen lights work well because they provide heat and save electricity. Reptile lamps or industrial lamps from hardware stores can be used to hold the bulbs. Never use a regular lamp or light fixture because UVB lights require lamps that can handle high temperatures and wattages. A great lighting kit is the Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle UVB & Heat Lighting Kit. The bulbs should be changed every 6 months even if they are still “working”. The light usually stops emitting UVB after 6 months. Zoo Med has a handy tool that can remind you when to replace your UVB lights. Please note to not look directly at the UVB lights. It is essential to get the proper lights for your common musk turtle.
Turtles need proper heating since they are cold-blooded. Without a heater, your turtle could get severe diseases such as pneumonia. Stick on heating pads, submersible heaters, and inline heaters work well for common musk turtles. Stick on heating pads do not provide as much heat as the other heaters, so try to avoid them. Submersible heaters are the best option because they heat up the tank fast and are more affordable the inline heaters. The only problem with them is most of them are not completely smooth. If it is not smooth, your turtle will try to eat the pieces of plastic on the end. Many turtles have gotten injured from this. The only heater that is completely smooth is the Aqueon Pro Heater. With this heater, set it to 80° Farenheight. A proper heater is an extremely important part of a common musk turtle tank.
Even though stinkpots do not bask as much as other turtles, they still need to be provided with a basking platform. There are several types of basking platforms; above tank, floating, and rocks/driftwood. Above tank basking platforms are boxes that go on top of the tank and have a ramp for the turtle to climb up. Floating basking platforms are made out of a styrofoam-type material and float on the surface of the water. They are attached to the tank by suction cups. Rocks or driftwood can also be used as a basking platform by stacking them. Above tank basking platforms do not work well for musk turtles because they require a very high water level and stinkpots need a low water level. Rocks and or driftwood give the tank a more natural look but tank up a lot of swimming space. Floating basking platforms work the best because they can work with low water levels and do not take up much room in the water. With larger turtles, the platform will sink. To fix this, you will have to build a shelf out of PVC pipes or stack stones underneath it.
Stinkpots, like other turtles, will eat almost anything. In the wild, about half of their diet is insects. In captivity, foods like aquatic turtle food, earthworms, crickets, and shrimp are good for them. Most common musk turtles do not prefer vegetables, unlike other semi-aquatic turtles. Live feeder fish (such as rosy red minnows) can also be fed but may be harder for your turtle to catch. Below are some foods you can feed them:
You should feed your musk turtle once a day. For reference, feed your turtle as much food that can fit in its head. Overfeeding a musk turtle can lead to serious health issues, including metabolic bone disease (MBD).
It is very easy to find a musk turtle for sale since they are common pets. They can be found at almost any pet store, but it is advised to buy one from a breeder. Most pet stores do not take good care of their turtles and house too many in the same tank. This leads to aggression and turtles getting severely injured. There are many online breeders that ship musk turtles. Most of them are reliable but call a few to see which one takes the best care of their turtles. Reptile shows and expos have musk turtles supplied by reliable breeders. Some small pet stores and reptile stores get their turtles from breeders and take good care of them. It is important to get your common musk turtle from the right place.
Musk turtles do not cost as much as other semi-aquatic turtles. Below is a list of all the supplies added up. Please note that this list does not include the supplies for tank maintenance and general care expenses.
40 gallon tank: $40 - $100
Filter: $40 - $170
Lighting: $40 - $70
Basking area: $30
Musk turtle: $20 - $60
Highest possible cost: around $535
Lowest possible cost: around $315
Musk turtles make great pets with the right care. They only get up to be 4 inches long, so they are perfect for beginners. Common musk turtles require at least a 40-gallon tank with proper filtration. Even though they rarely bask, stinkpots still need a basking platform with the right lighting. With proper care, musk turtles make amazing pets that will be with you for a long time.