Can Turtles Live With Fish—What Fish Can They Live With
By Eddie Waithaka @aquariawise
Keeping turtles as pets can be quite fun, but there are not as many aquarium owners who have them compared to fish. As such, there is not enough information about them anywhere.
So, it got me thinking…
…is it possible to keep tropical fish and turtles in the same tank, kill two birds with one stone somehow. Maybe in the course of doing this, I’ll learn a thing or two and hone some incredible turtle-keeping skills.
Well, it turns out it is possible, though you will need some pretty sharp fish keeping skills and a truck-load of good fortune.
Keeping a turtle with tropical fish is not for the faint-hearted. Turtles can be filthy, and any fish in a tank with one is liable to become a gourmet meal at some point. Moreover, your terrapin will need to bask, which means having a platform or rock for the turtle to get us of the water and catch the rays.
To successfully maintain a turtle and fish in the same aquarium, you’ll need to know which species (of both) get along well.
You will also require a large fish tank (at least 100 gallons), and an efficient filter type (like canister units) to accommodate the extra waste load fish will put on the water quality.
Of course, meeting your turtles unique maintenance needs, including heat, UVB, and basking area is a must.
Please read on for more insight on how to keep turtles and fish in the same tank.
What Kind of Fish Will Live With A Turtle
Probably the very first thing any person looking to keep turtles with fish should know is turtles do eat fish. Most species I know will pursue your fish and stop at nothing to get a quick meal.
Therefore, make sure the types you put in your turtle tank are not too smalls. You want something your turtle won’t just swallow whole and make it quick.
Lazy fish like betta are also quite susceptible to attack, so stick to species like African cichlids, which are fast, aware or too big for the turtle to attack.
If you haven’t kept fish with turtles before, you might want to start with something inexpensive. Only move to more expensive fishes when sure your terrapin is not an oddball mass murderer; Some turtles will ignore fish, others eat anything you put in the tank.
On the flip side, aggressive tropical fishes will stress your turtle, especially if you choose to keep smaller terrapins. Plus overall, not that babies from either side will suffer if either of the adults gets a chance to attack.
I would, therefore, stay away from aggressive fish capable of bullying dwarf turtle species.
I also did mention in the intro that you need an efficient filtration system. Otherwise, steer clear of fish like goldfish which have a large bioload.
Adding your turtle with fish that produce less waste is an effective way to make sure your water quality remains safe for your aquatic life.
It also means you will not have to perform as many water changes or clean your fish tank as frequently.
Given this background, a few fishes you might be able to keep with turtles are neon tetras, danios, and cichlids.
Tetras and zebras will quickly escape, as will the cichlids, or at the very least, fight back and give your turtle pause from giving a chase.
Large armored catfish and pleco are also among the best fish to keep with turtles.
Plecos, loaches, and catfish tend to spend most of their time at the bottom of the tank safe from the turtles, which prefer to swim in the mid and top- water levels.
Below is a list of fishes that can live with turtles if maintained in the right condition.
- Neons Tetras
- Mbuna cichlid: Yellow lab
- Peacock cichlid
- Lake Tanganyika cichlid: Frontosa
- Lake Victoria cichlid
- Jewel cichlid
- Central America ciclids: Convict, Oscars
Neon Tetras with Turtles
With a neon tetra, you will have an intelligent, slender, and speedy fish, which the turtles can’t catch even though they are skilled swimmers.
It’s actually quite intriguing to watch your turtle try to catch the neons as they criss-cross the length of the tank.
Plus even on the rare occasion where the tetras get eaten, they are prolific breeders and are ideal for feeding turtles.
Just make sure you keep them in a group of anywhere from eight (8) individuals.
Danios with Turtles
Similar to tetras, danios are agile swimmers, making them a rare catch for the turtles. It for that same reason that most aquarists use them as dither fish.
Zebra danios are perfect for smaller turtles species, while giant danios can be maintained with bigger turtles.
Malawi Cichlids With Turtles
Lake Malawi cichlids are some of the most challenging fish to companion, so it surprising that they make ideal tank mates for turtles.
This is so because what the cichlids bring in aggression and arrogance can be matched by the largely feisty turtles. As well, the fishes will stand their ground in case the turtle is the aggressor.
However, it does not mean all Malawi cichlids make good turtle companions. Different species exhibit different behavioral characteristics some of which do not sit well with terrapins.
From experience, the safest bet would be mbunas species like yellow labs and assorted peacocks.
I haven’t had a lot of action with hap cichlids, but I guess they should also make ideal tanks mates unless they are too much on the higher side of aggressive.
For instance, I would avoid haps that grow at a faster rate than the turtle and become highly aggressive and actually fend off native terrapins in the wild. This would include (but not limited to) Fossorochromis (F. Rostratus), Tyrannochromis (big-mouth haps), Buccochromis (stripe-back hap), and Nimbochromis (Kalingono)
Less agile or very subtle peacocks do not do well with turtles either.
Other African Cichlids
Same way you might hack keeping Lake Malawi cichlids with turtles, it is also possible to maintain a couple of other cichlids from Africa, like Lake Tanganyika and Victoria species, with your terrapins.
African cichlids, for the most part, are fast swimmers and are aware of what’s going on around them, and thus, are less likely to get attacked by turtles.
Two species I’ve seen kept with a turtle without many ordeals is the Lake Tanganyika Frontosa and Jewel cichlids from West Africa, only make sure it’s not grown cichlids with hatchling turtles.
Central American Cichlids with Turtle
Central and South American cichlids seem to be a little slower than their African cousins, but they still make ideal candidates for turtle tanks.
As you may already know, most of them are large and aggressive, and they can hold their own, so turtles do not view them as food.
Convicts and Oscars are my top picks. Jacks, red and green terrors won’t like having a turtle in the tank with them as much. If the turtle is timid and can’t defend itself, these aggressive cichlids will nip on him relentlessly.
Also keep in mind that convicts and Oscars and any other cichlids living with your turtles will get all out aggressive when breeding, so I would recommend moving them into a breeding tank during that period.
You also do not want a little-ninja turtle in your tank that reciprocates every nip and bite because then you will have a ton of dead fish or individuals nursing endless wounds.
Can Algae Eaters Live With Turtles
Algae eaters and turtle pairings work most of the times, though it not uncommon for the turtles to stress the bottom-feeders.
Most species within the pleco, loach, and catfish families will work(some barely than other), but the most effective and best companions would be larger species that can stand any form of aggression.
Only keep smaller algae eaters with turtles that have a subtle demeanor or which are comparatively lesser or equal in size to your fish.
Also, large species like the Chinese algae eaters and Common pleco can be quite mean, so keep them with big turtles.
Morever, please note it’s not just bottom-feeders that can live with turtles, species like rosy barbs and rainbow sharks, which are good at consuming hair algae, are also formidable candidates.
See below, the best algae eaters to keep with turtles.
- Chinese algae eaters
- Siamese algae eaters
- Clown pleco
- Bristlenose pleco
- Gold algae eater
- Rosy barbs
- Ottocinclus catfish
Can Turtles Live with Betta
Putting your turtle with a betta is probably one of the worst mistakes you can ever do as a fish keeping enthusiast.
For starters, any fish kept with a turtle needs to be fast and aware, rest it makes a very expensive snack for the terrapin.
Unfortunately, bettas are everything but fast or agile swimmers. They are also quite conspicuous, with vivid colors and flowy fins. Which means they will most times be seen by the turtle even in a planted aquarium.
While betta might be territorial and fierce, they only max out at 2.5 inches, making them comparatively smaller or equal in size to most turtles. That means your fish won’t be bullying anyone into submission.
Moreover, both animals love the mid and upper sections of the tank and will conflict quite often, and while who gets out of that fight alive might be debatable, rest assured you’ll have a dead aquatic animal when all is said and done.
Turtles will also need their tanks about half-full so they can climb out on basking site and not be able to climb out of the enclosure. With betta, I’m not sure how that would work.
That said, there is no turtle and fish pairing that is entirely impossible, it just depends on the temperament and size of the species you are keeping. Therefore, take this answer as a precautionary measure and not an all-around definite and conclusive argument; If anythingshe made it work, thus far, though the turtles are still babies.
Can Turtle Live With Goldfish
Given the above considerations for not keeping betta with turtles, it would certainly not be a good idea to try goldfish either.
Most fancy goldfish species have double, long flowy fins similar to those of a betta, and are equally lousy swimmers. Basically, they will be defenseless targets sitting ducks.
What’s even worse is that goldfish are not at the least aggressive, and are large fish with a huge bioload. Couple that with the messy nature of turtles, and you will literally have to do some cleaning every other day.
And one more thing, goldfish are big fishes, they cannot fit in a 10 gallons tank like betta, frankly even a turtle would not unless it’s a baby. And when you compound the space requirement of both animals, you will need a 75-gallon at the very least to maintain both animals.
Can Turtles Live with Angelfish
For the same reasons turtles cannot live with a betta or goldfish, they cannot live with angelfish.
Slow, unaware fish with long, conspicuous fins are a definite no for aquariums with turtles in them.
If you must keep your terrapins with South American cichlids, I recommend maintaining them with German blue rams or Bolivian rams cichlids.
Through out this post, you’ll gather that it is possible to keep turtles with fish, sometimes for a long while; but just know nothing is 100 percent.
Your turtle might get a hair and decide to go after your fish. Sometimes they might even get along for a while, then out of the blue, your turtle attacks your fish.
For that reason, keep your turtle with fast fish that are always aware of the going-on. Aggressive fish are also recommended to tame the turtles, making sure they behave.
Then there is your turtle’s temperament. Even two individuals of the same species will vary in behavior, one might chase and kill your fish, while the other ignores them completely.
Therefore, test them with less expensive fishes like neon tetras and danios, then move to fishes like cichlids, which although not exactly cheap, will protect themselves or evade where need be.
If your turtle ignores the first lot, then you can move to bottom-dwellers like the bristlenose pleco, siamese algae eaters, and even cory catfish, before trying less ideal species like betta, goldfish,gourami, and angelfish.
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Thats all; All the best!