Do Turtles Need Rocks In Their Tank

Do Turtles Need Rocks In Their Tank? (Explained!)

Turtles’ natural habitat has plants and rocks that turtles live around. So a pet turtle needs a similar setting to its natural habitat. Each turtle has a specific habitat where it comes from, and as a result, some things you put in the tank will vary.

So, do turtles need rocks in their tanks? Yes, they do. Rocks are a type of substrate put at the bottom of the tank. They are beneficial to turtles because they can use them as basking platforms. However, it is entirely optional whether you want to add rocks or not. 

Some turtles, like aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles, are comfortable living without rocks. So, rocks are not a basic need for a turtle’s survival. This article will take you through whether turtles need rocks in their tanks.

Do Turtles Need Rocks In Their Tanks?


Yes, turtles need rocks in their tanks. Rocks make their environment aesthetically pleasing and provide turtles with a place to hide and rest. Also, stones help the turtles overcome boredom because your turtle will hide and play underneath the rocks.

However, turtles such as painted turtles can live without rocks. Rocks are just meant to make their tank look more natural.

If you use rocks as your tank’s substrate, ensure you use large rocks more significant than your turtle’s head. Why? Because in some cases, when the turtle is missing minerals in its body, it will consume the rocks. This can lead to life-threatening injuries, e.g., digestive tract obstruction.

Do Turtles Need Rocks In Their Tanks

Large rocks also do not trap a lot of debris. Hence, the tank water will remain clean. Choose large smooth stones to minimize plastron injury if the turtle grazes on them. Some turtles, like soft shell turtles, need soft sand rather than rocks because they have very soft shells.

If you own a red-eared slider turtle, it will need rocks to bask on. Turtles cannot control their body temperature, so they must regularly bask to maintain body heat.

Basking helps them receive UV light, enabling the turtles to make Vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 helps them synthesize calcium, preventing metabolic Bone diseases.

What Rocks Are Suitable For Your Turtle Tank?

First, ensure you choose large, smooth rocks. Good examples are the smooth stones found on river banks or lava rocks. You can go the extra mile and build a hideout made of rocks for your turtle. Use the smooth river stones to create a boulder made of balancing stones.

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Lava rocks are a suitable type of rock because plants can utilize them as root media. So you can attach natural plants to the lava rocks, which creates a natural ambient environment for your turtles.

What Rocks Are Suitable For Your Turtle Tank

Also, lava rocks are porous, so beneficial bacteria can thrive there. Beneficial bacteria are essential because they act as a natural water filter.

Factors To Consider When Choosing Rocks For Turtle Tanks

Factors To Consider When Choosing Rocks For Turtle Tanks

Consider the following factors before using rocks in your turtle’s tank:

  • Choose large rocks because they are easier to clean and do not trap dirt and uneaten food. If you go for gravel, you will find it much harder to clean the tank water.
  • Purchase commercial rocks rather than collecting rocks yourself. Ensure you thoroughly clean the stones before putting them in the tank.
  • Boil lava rocks and other rocks to eliminate any germs.
  • Perform a test before collecting rocks from the outside. Collect the rocks and place them in their tank. Allow them to sit for a week. Only use those rocks as a substrate if the pH of the water is the same as before.

Why Does My Turtle Eat Rocks?

Turtles eat rocks mainly because they lack minerals in their diet. It is not always good for the turtles to eat the stones because they can block their digestive tract. That is why you should not use gravel as a substrate.

Not only does gravel contain harmful chemicals, but it also traps debris and is very hard to clean. If you notice your turtle eating rocks, add more calcium to its diet. You can also use play-sand as a substrate instead of gravel. Play sand is safe for children, so it is safe for turtles.

Why Does My Turtle Eat Rocks

Including natural plants in your turtle tank also goes a long way. If your turtle eats rocks due to boredom, the turtles will have something healthier to eat, at least with plants.

Another alternative to gravel and rocks is fluorite. Fluorite is one of the best substrates. It is made of clay and porous making it a suitable root medium for plants. Also, due to its porous nature, it can harbor beneficial bacteria and aerates the water.

If you own brackish water turtles, consider using crushed coral as a substrate. They do not act as root media and can sometimes affect the water’s ph. Regardless of the substrate you use, ensure you clean it regularly.

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Also read: What Do Turtles Like to Play With?

What Happens If A Turtle Eats A Rock?

If a turtle eats a rock, it blocks its digestive system. This is called turtle impaction. It is very severe, and the turtle needs immediate medical attention. Some symptoms that might tell you that your turtle is suffering from impaction include;

  • Loss of appetite
  • Ear and eye swelling 
  • Lethargy
  • Breathing problems
What Happens If A Turtle Eats A Rock

So, what should you do to prevent impaction?

  • Use large rocks that the turtle cannot swallow.
  • Avoid using any substrate at all. Build basking platforms instead.
  • Place natural plants in the tank to keep your turtle busy.

Related Questions

Here are other questions related to whether turtles need rocks in their tanks.

1. What maximum number of rocks may I put in my turtle tank?

A 75-gallon turtle tank will require 20-25 kg of rocks. If you do not wish to cover the whole bottom, you can leave part of it bare. Two or three inches of stones are suitable for your tank, depending on the size of your rocks.

2. Can I use natural rocks in my turtle tank?

Yes, you can use natural rocks. However, ensure you clean them before putting them in the turtle tank. Cleaning eliminates harmful bacteria. Try not to use soap; boil them for about 20 minutes. 

Also, try to choose smooth rocks rather than rocks with sharp edges that might injure your turtle.

3. How big should the rocks in my turtle tank be?

Ensure the rock is more significant than your turtle’s head. A turtle cannot swallow a large rock, preventing impaction.

Related: Do Turtles Need A Companion?


So now you know the answer to do turtles need rocks in their tank? Rocks make the tank look appealing and can also be used by turtles as hideouts. However, ensure you use large rocks as substrates to minimize the chances of the turtle eating them.

Clean the rocks before putting them in the tank, and always choose smooth stones over rough hard ones—all the best with your pet turtle.

Do Turtles Need Rocks In Their Tank

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