Yellow Bellied Slider Tank

How To Set Up a Yellow-Bellied Slider Turtle Tank

Whether you’re a beginner or a yellow-bellied expert, setting up your turtle’s tank is the first step to a happy turtle! After all, every turtle enthusiast wants their slider to be happy, healthy, and live a long, satisfying life. 

To set up a yellow-bellied slider tank, you will need a tank of proper size, correct heating and lighting, a basking area, correct water temperature, and a safe substrate. These factors will ensure your turtle grows up in a suitable environment. 

This article will discuss how to set up your yellow-bellied turtle’s tank so that it survives for many happy decades. Read on to learn more! 

How Big Should the Tank Be?

The tank should be big enough for 10 gallons (37.8 L) of space per inch of your turtle’s shell. However, if you have a young slider turtle, it’s best to start them off in a tank that will still be large enough once they reach adult size, which is usually around 75 gallons.

So if your turtle was three inches (8 centimeters) long, its tank should be 30 gallons (113.5 liters). However, if you had three turtles and each was three inches long, you’d want a 90-gallon (340-liter) tank!

When choosing a tank, you must also remember that your turtle will grow! Should you go ahead and buy a small 30-gallon (113.5-liter) tank for your three-inch turtle, or should you go ahead and buy a 90-gallon (340-liter) tank for when it reaches 9 inches (23 centimeters)? If you want to save money and time in the long run, it’s best to go big. 

Most experts suggest you get a tank at least 20 gallons (76 liters) bigger than you need. You won’t have to keep buying larger tanks if you do. So if your turtle were three inches long, you would get a 50-gallon (190-liter) tank to start. 

How Much Water/How Deep?

When deciding how much water to put in your turtle’s tank, you should follow the same “rule of shell” used to determine the size of the tank. For every one inch (2.5 centimeters) of your turtle’s shell, there should be at least ten gallons (37.8 liters) of water. 

How much water you add to the tank will also depend on how many items you put in the tank. Because you will have to add substrate and basking pieces, your tank will hold less water. For instance, a 15-gallon (57-liter) tank with a layer of rocks on the bottom and a couple of basking perches can only contain 10 or 12 gallons (37.8 or 45 liters) of water, depending on how thick the layer of rocks and how large the basking perches are. 

One thing you can do is start with a large tank that has a low water level. As your turtle ages, you will only have to increase the water level rather than buy a new tank! 

What Should I Put in the Tank?

Aside from a basking perch, your turtle will need many things to imitate its natural environment and survive while in captivity. 

You should put a basking light, heating system, substrate, basking perch, and decor inside your yellow-bellied slider’s tank. Keeping your tank warm and comfortable with plenty of places for your turtle to relax and swim will keep your slider happy and healthy. 

A Heat Lamp

In the wild, yellow-bellied turtles typically live in freshwater ponds, where they perch on rocks during the day to take warmth from the sun. While living in captivity, yellow-bellied turtles need a basking area to imitate how they bask in the wild. 

The first step to a good basking area is finding the perfect basking lamp. A good basking lamp will state that it produces a UVB wavelength on the product page.

Heat Lamp Bulbs

Now that you have an idea of what sort of heat lamp to buy, you need to determine what bulb to purchase! Yellow-bellied turtles need a basking temperature between 85 and 95°F (29.4 and 35°C), so they need a bulb to produce this level of heat. 

Unfortunately, most bulbs will not state the level of heat they produce. Instead, they will list the wattage, leaving you to do a bunch of guesswork. Hopefully, this article will help you avoid having to guess at all! 

The easiest way to create the proper lighting is to buy a 50-watt bulb and place it 8 inches (20 cm) away from the surface of the tank’s lid. A 50-watt bulb will create a temperature of 81°F (27°C) at this distance, the perfect level of warmth for your turtle! 

When choosing a light bulb, be careful not to confuse UVB with UVA. While UVA light will not harm your turtle, it’s also not the type of light your turtle needs!


You can use substrates such as sand, gravel, and river rocks to line the bottom of your tank, but you will need to be careful about which substrate you choose. Aquatic turtles are ravenous eaters and have a habit of accidentally ingesting small rocks while feeding. That can make some substrates dangerous and not worth the risk! 

So, let’s look at some substrates that won’t pose any hazards to your sliders:

River Rocks

River rocks are probably the best choice for choosing a substrate for your aquatic turtle. River rocks are typically large enough that your turtle won’t accidentally eat them, and they are also pleasing to look at! 

Another advantage would include their weight. River rocks are heavy enough that they can’t be moved by your turtle and light enough that you can quickly and easily remove them to clean the tank. 

River rocks are also smooth and round with no edges, making them a safe choice for your yellow-bellied turtle! 

Thankfully, you don’t have to dive into the river to find river rocks. You can buy them online from the comfort of your home! Many online sellers provide excellent specimens to liven up your tank setup.


While gravel is one of the most popular choices, it’s also one of the most dangerous choices! Gravel consists of many tiny rocks, which a careless turtle might ingest accidentally. A turtle that eats a rock could become impacted and die from internal bleeding. So when you choose gravel, it should be very coarse. 

On the upside, gravel is very easy to clean. The rocks that make it up are so tiny that very little waste or algae can become trapped in them. Perhaps the only other advantage: gravel is aesthetically pleasing. However, should you risk your turtle’s health for a good-looking tank setup? I suppose the choice is up to you. 

Basking Perch

Now that you have a lamp and a proper bulb for your turtle to bask under, you’ll need a place for your turtle to do the actual basking. It’s easiest to buy a basking platform or use a large river rock. You can add some design elements to prop this perch, incorporating driftwood and plants into your design. 

Just be sure that there is enough room for your slider to move around in the area comfortably. 


You will need a heater to keep the water temperature between 75 and 80°F (23.9 and 26.7°C). 

You will also want your water heater to have an adjustable temperature, as, during the winter season, the tank’s water will get colder, and in the summer, the tank’s water will become hotter. You’ll want to be able to control the water temperature and easily avoid any harm to your turtle! 


As a finishing touch, you will want to add some decor to your setup to make it aesthetically pleasing for you and your turtle! You can have some fun adding hide boxes and plants, and your turtle will appreciate it too. 

Plants have their pros and cons as decorations. Your turtle can eat plastic plants, so you should avoid them. 

However, turtles will also eat live plants, sometimes wiping out all of them. So, if you choose to plant your tank, you might also want to have a grow tank with backup plants.


In conclusion, the perfect setup for a yellowed-bellied turtle requires proper heating, lighting, tank size, basking areas, and water temperature. Add a few decorations if you want your tank setup to look impressive and feel like a slider’s natural habitat!


Chris is a reptile enthusiast, breeder, and blogger from the Milwaukee, WI area. After breeding hundreds of bearded dragons to supply local pet stores and owning many other types of reptiles, he is now focused on sharing knowledge to help owners properly care for their little reptiles friends.
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