Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata)
Welcome to the ReptiFiles Spotted Turtle Care Sheet! This care sheet was written by a professional reptile husbandry specialist, compiled based on reputable sources such as scientific research papers, natural history data, and the experiences of longtime keepers and breeders of this species. You can find a list of these sources at the bottom of this page.
ReptiFiles care materials contain a variety of links to helpful resources and trusted products, some of which are affiliate links. I rely heavily on affiliate revenue to maintain ReptiFiles.com and further my research. For more information on why I use affiliate links, click here.
The spotted turtle is a 4-5.5″ / 10-14cm long aquatic turtle, with females typically larger than males. Its most distinctive identifying feature is its black carapace (shell) marked with small yellow spots. The skin is with orange to red markings, and the plastron (belly) is black with irregular pale markings. This species also has a particularly long tail for a turtle.
Spotted turtles are found on the east coast of the United States, from Lake Ontario down to Florida, although isolated populations can be found in southeast Canada. They are primarily diurnal (day-active) with occasional nighttime activity, and most active during the spring months. Preferred habitats are shallow wetland areas with clear, clean water, soft substrate, and plenty of vegetation. Although mostly aquatic, spotted turtles spend a significant amount of time on land as well.
When you pay attention to providing high-quality spotted turtle care, these animals are capable of living for at least 50 years, and possibly over 100. They also need a generously-sized, semi-aquatic enclosure, so this is not a pet to bring home on a whim!
Spotted Turtle Shopping List
These are products I personally recommend for setting up a functional spotted turtle enclosure. Some of the links in this care sheet are paid links — if you’d like to know why ReptiFiles uses paid links, visit this page.
- Waterland tub, Small (18 gallons)
- 22″ Arcadia Forest 6% ProT5 UVB Kit
- 34″ Arcadia Jungle Dawn LED Bar
- 75w Arcadia Halogen Heat Lamp, x2
- Zoo Med Mini Combo Deep Dome Dual Lamp Fixture
- 100w HiTauing Aquarium Heater
- Zoo Med Digital Thermometer
- Zacro LCD Digital Aquarium Thermometer
- Fluval 307 Performance Canister Filter
- API Tap Water Conditioner
- Python siphon
- Zilla 24/7 Digital Power Center
- Ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI)
- Coconut fiber substrate
- Misc. décor
- aquarium sand
- live aquatic plants
- mopani wood
- manzanita wood
- Tetra ReptoMin pellets
- Exo Terra Sepia Bones
- Feeding tweezers
- Old, soft toothbrush
Spotted Turtle Enclosure Size Requirements
Spotted turtles need an enclosure that is large enough to give them adequate opportunity to thermoregulate, explore, hunt, and generally exercise natural behaviors. Spotted turtles are not quite as strong swimmers as other aquatic turtles (ex: pond sliders), and spend more time than usual on land, so their enclosure is better measured relative to the turtle’s size than by a certain number of gallons:
- 50% land, 50% water
- 2″ / 5cm deep for juveniles <3″ / 7.5cm long
- 6-8″ / 15-20cm deep for turtles >3″ / 7.5cm long
- 36″L x 18″W x 12″H (90 x 45 x 30cm) or larger
This enclosure must be completely watertight and leak-proof. This can be accomplished with a wide-base aquarium, shallow stock tank, or pond. Note that ponds (particularly when set up outdoors) are generally superior housing for spotted turtles compared to aquariums.
This care sheet recommends the Waterland Small Water Enclosure for house spotted turtles because these enclosures are specifically designed for the needs of aquatic turtles. The best alternative would be a custom-built pond.
Can multiple spotted turtles be housed in the same enclosure?
Cohabitation is not recommended for spotted turtles. House one turtle per enclosure — loneliness is not a concern for this species.
Spotted Turtle UVB & Lighting Requirements
Spotted turtles are diurnal, which means that they are most active during the day. This also means that they need exposure to bright light and UVB during the day to maintain good mental and physical health. Light sources should be left on for 14 hours/day during summer and 10 hours/day during winter to replicate natural seasonal rhythms. Alternatively you can use a smart timer to sync the lamps with your local sunrise and sunset times.
If you are housing your turtle outdoors, artificial lighting of any kind is not necessary.
UVB lighting can be tricky, because in order to get the right strength of UVB (measured by UV Index, or UVI), distance must be considered. To provide appropriate UVB to a spotted turtle in a small Waterland tub, you will need:
- 22” Arcadia T5 HO 6% or Zoo Med T5 HO ReptiSun 5.0
- 24″ Arcadia or Vivarium Electronics T5 HO lamp fixture
The lamp should be placed primarily over the land portion of the enclosure, and installed so it hangs 11-13″ / 28-33cm over the turtle’s back when basking.
(This recommendation is an approximation. It is strongly recommended to use a Solarmeter 6.5 to determine the best placement to achieve a UVI of around 3.0 – 4.0 in the basking area.)
A UVB bulb isn’t bright enough to replicate daylight. To get a little closer to this goal, you will need to supplement with a pair of 6500K T5 HO fluorescent plant bulbs or a single high-PAR LED lamp, long enough to span 50-75% of the enclosure’s length. This is particularly important if you are using live plants, but it is also valuable for supporting your turtle’s general wellbeing.
Spotted Turtle Temperatures & Heating
Humans are warm-blooded, which means that our body temperature is regulated automatically. Turtles, however, are cold-blooded (poikilothermic), which means that they have to move between areas of different temperatures to regulate their body temperature. In the wild, spotted turtles warm up by climbing out of the water to bask in sunlight.
Indoors, you will need a halogen heat lamp, basking platform, and possibly a water heater to meet your pet’s thermal needs. If you are housing your turtle in an outdoor pond, artificial heating should not be necessary.
- Basking temperature: 86-90°F (30-32°C)
- Water temperature: 70-84°F (21-29°C)
To create an evenly-heated basking area, you will need:
- 75-100w Arcadia Halogen Heat Lamp OR Zoo Med Repti Tuff Halogen Lamp (2)
- Zoo Med Mini Combo Deep Dome dual lamp fixture
Hang the fixture so it is the same distance from the basking platform as the other lamps. This distance creates a large, evenly-heated circle of warmth. If you notice that the basking area is too warm, dial it down with plug-in lamp dimmers. If your basking area is too cool, you will need higher wattage bulbs.
To measure the temperature of the basking area, you will need an digital probe thermometer with the probe placed on the basking surface. To measure the temperature of the water, you will need a submersible digital probe thermometer. The Zoo Med Digital Thermometer and Zacro LCD Digital Aquarium Thermometer are good devices for these jobs.
Indoor ponds should be heated with an aquarium water heater that is rated for the amount of water in the enclosure. For example, if you’re using the Small Waterland Tub, you’ll need an aquarium heater rated for 20 gallons of water with a protective plastic cover, such as the 100w HiTauing Aquarium Heater. This heater should be set to maintain the lower part of the turtle’s preferred range, not the highest!
Water Maintenance for Spotted Turtles
Aside from keeping the water at the right temperature, you also need to keep it clean. This requires excellent filtration and regular water changes, making it one of the most expensive and labor-intensive aspects of spotted turtle care.
You need a canister-style filter that is capable of handling at least 2-3x the amount of water in your enclosure, because turtles are incredibly messy animals. So for example, if you have 18 gallons of water, you need at least 54 gallons of filter power — this is NOT an aspect of turtle husbandry to cheap out on! ReptiFiles recommends the Fluval 307 Performance Canister Filter to get the job done.
Filtering alone is not enough. You also need to remove and replace 30% of the water once every 1-2 weeks in order to prevent toxic buildup of compounds like nitrates. To make the job easier, use a Python siphon. Don’t forget to thoroughly disinfect the area with veterinary-grade disinfectant if you drain the water into a bathtub or sink!
The above equipment and maintenance is required regardless of whether you house your turtle indoors or outdoors.
Land Requirements for Spotted Turtles
Spotted turtles need land in their enclosure, too! This gives them a place to warm up, dry out, walk around, and soak up some good old UVB. If you are using a Waterland tub, as is recommended in this care sheet’s shopping list, then the good news is that an ample basking area is already included as part of the enclosure. Simply fill the “land” portion with wet coconut fiber and you’ll be good to go! ReptiFiles also recommends embedding a piece of flat stone like flagstone or aquarium slate directly underneath the heat lamp to create the best basking spot possible.
While the basking platforms that you see in pet stores are not best practice for most aquatic turtles, they are particularly inappropriate for spotted turtles, as this species needs more land than average.
Décorating Your Spotted Turtle Enclosure
Decorations play a vital role in your turtle’s enclosure as environmental enrichment. These items provide climbing opportunities, hiding places, encourage exercise, stimulate your pet’s natural instincts, and help promote overall wellbeing. And, of course, they make the enclosure look nicer!
In the wild, spotted turtles like to hide in muddy pond bottoms, mammal burrows, and amongst dense vegetation, so use this fact to guide your choice and application of décor.
Décor ideas for spotted turtles:
- substrate (washed play sand, aquarium sand)
- mopani wood
- manzanita branches
- cork logs
- live plants
- artificial plants
Suitable live plants for spotted turtles may include: duckweed, pothos, anacharis, potamogeton, cabomba
Caution: Artificial plants should be very sturdy, as your turtle may attempt to eat them. Avoid using gravel or pebbles, as these can be accidentally ingested and make your turtle very sick. Also, make sure that any underwater hiding places are large enough that the turtle can’t get stuck!
Hatchlings <3″/7.5cm long in particular need driftwood, vegetation, and/or other floating debris to create resting opportunities in the aquatic portion of the enclosure.
Feeding Your Spotted Turtle
Spotted turtles are omnivorous, which means that they need to eat a variety of different types of both plant and animal matter in order to get the nutrients that their bodies need. How often spotted turtles need to eat depends on their life stage:
Spotted turtles <6 months:
- 50% protein / 50% vegetables
- protein food or pellets daily
- vegetable food daily
Spotted turtles between 6-12 months:
- 50% protein / 50% vegetables
- protein food or pellets every other day
- vegetable food daily
Spotted turtles >1 year:
- 25% protein / 75% vegetables
- protein food or pellets 2-3x/week
- vegetable food daily
A portion of protein should be as much as your turtle can eat in 5-10 minutes, a portion of vegetables should be the same size as the turtle’s shell, and a portion of pellets should be about the same size as your turtle’s head.
The key to providing a healthy, balanced diet for your turtle is VARIETY! Here is a quick list of safe, nutritious foods to get you started:
- discoid roaches
- dubia roaches
- freeze-dried shrimp/krill
- frozen bloodworms
- collard greens
- dandelion greens + flowers
- green/red leaf lettuce
- red leaf lettuce
- romaine lettuce
- Omega One Juvenile Turtle Pellets
- Omega One Adult Turtle Sticks
- Tetra ReptoMin
- Zoo Med Natural Aquatic Turtle Food
- Mazuri Aquatic Turtle Diet
Chopped fruit like skinned apple, berries, melon, and papaya may be used as rare treats.
Turtle pellets take most of the role of supplementation in a spotted turtle’s diet, but you will also need extra calcium. Calcium powder isn’t an option, since spotted turtles prefer to eat in the water, but you can use a cuttlebone. Providing a cuttlebone in their enclosure fulfills that need and helps prevent calcium deficiency problems such as MBD. Chewing on cuttlebones also helps keep your turtle’s beak trimmed!
Depending on the size of your turtle, it may be best to put the cuttlebone into your turtle’s tank whole or to chop it into chunks. However, don’t toss the cuttlebone into your spotted turtle’s enclosure without removing the hard plastic backing first!
Expect to replace your turtle’s cuttlebone every 1-2 months.
Spotted Turtle Handling Tips
Generally speaking, spotted turtles dislike handling and prefer to be left alone. Petting is also discouraged. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t interact with your pet! One of the easiest and most effective ways to bond with your spotted turtle is by hand-feeding with a pair of feeding tweezers.
When handling is necessary (such as a trip to the vet), scoop them up from below with your palm rather than grabbing them from above. This will help them not to panic. Then grasp the shell with two hands, supporting both the body and the legs. Keep a firm but gentle grip — falling can do serious damage to a turtle, and can even be fatal!
Always wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling your turtle. When soap and water is not available, use a good hand sanitizer. Children under 5 should not be allowed to handle turtles, even when supervised.
How to Hibernate Your Spotted Turtle
Facilitating annual hibernation is essential to the long-term health and wellbeing of your pet spotted turtle. Here’s the basics of what you need to know to do this successfully:
- Take your turtle to the vet for a pre-hibernation health check.
- Stop offering food 2-3 weeks before hibernation is scheduled to begin.
- Place the turtle in a ventilated container with a few inches of moistened sphagnum moss. Add enough water to almost cover the moss and close the lid.
- Place the hibernation container in a temperature-controlled chamber like a wine cooler. Gradually reduce the temperature to 45°F / 7°C over the course of 4 weeks.
- Change the water 1x/month during the hibernation process. Use water the same temperature as the turtle.
- Check the turtle’s body condition every week. If they look like they’re losing weight or developing an infection, stop hibernation immediately.
- When hibernation is due to end (8-12 weeks), gradually increase the temperature back up to room temperature over the course of 2 weeks.
- Place the turtle back in its enclosure and wait a week before offering food again. Start with small, frequent feedings as your turtle’s body gets used to being awake again.
Baines, F. M., Chattell, J., Dale, J., Garrick, D., Gill, I., Goetz, M., Skelton, T., & Swatman, M. (2016). How much UVB does my reptile need? The UV-Tool, a guide to the selection of UV lighting for reptiles and amphibians in captivity. Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research, 1, 59. https://doi.org/10.19227/jzar.v4i1.150
Ernst, C. H., & Lovich, J. E. (2009). Turtles of the United States and Canada (2nd ed., pp. 212–221). Johns Hopkins University Press.
Kowalski, E. (2011, December 1). The Spotted Turtles. Reptiles Magazine. https://reptilesmagazine.com/the-spotted-turtles/
Lee, D. S. (2011, December 1). Spotted Turtle Care And Breeding Information. Reptiles Magazine. https://reptilesmagazine.com/spotted-turtle-care-and-breeding-information/
Partial Baskers. (n.d.). Arcadia Reptile. Retrieved June 8, 2023, from https://www.arcadiareptile.com/lighting/partial-baskers/
Pinson, D. (2020). CARE SHEET: North American Spotted Turtle Clemmys guttata . The Turtle Emporium. https://img1.wsimg.com/blobby/go/4b1888ae-928f-41f7-ac3e-123469f802d8/downloads/CARE%20SHEET%20clemmys%20guttata_018_20200529051703.pdf
S., J. (2013, August 28). Basic Husbandry of Hatchling and Juvenile Clemmys guttata. TheTurtleRoom. https://theturtleroom.org/blog/2013/08/28/basic-husbandry-clemmys-guttata-spotted-turtle-hatchling-juvenile/
Senneke, D., & Snider, A. (2006). Clemmys guttata (Spotted Turtle) Care. World Chelonian Trust. http://www.chelonia.org/articles/Cguttatacare.htm
Vetter, H. (2004). TERRALOG: Turtles of the World: North America, Vol. 2 (pp. 36–37). Edition Chimaira.
The ReptiFiles spotted turtle care sheet is a simplified care summary, not a full ReptiFiles care manual. While I have done my best to ensure that the information contained is accurate, due to time constraints, the research behind ReptiFiles care sheets is not as thorough as the research involved with my full-length care guides. I strongly encourage readers to do their own research from high-quality, reputable sources outside of just this care sheet as part of preparing for your new pet reptile.