Why Does My Turtle Want To Escape Out Of The Tank? 4 Startling Reasons


We have a fugitive on the run! Well, it can’t run very fast but it was able to escape its enclosure. Before you make a mini-Alcatraz using your Turtle tank, let’s find out how you can keep it happy to prevent any more breakouts.

Why Did My Turtle Run Away?

There are several reasons why your Turtle doesn’t want to stay in the tank you provided.

The underlying factor for all reasons why Turtles run away is stress. You should provide your pet with clean environment i.e. water, enough basking space and light, and a variety of food.

Here are some common causes of stress in Turtles:

Cause #1: Dirty water

Just like fish, Turtles need fully cycled water to live in. They can’t tolerate chlorine, chloramine, ammonia, nitrites, and other toxic chemicals in the water. You need to treat the water and cycle it so your Turtle doesn’t get poisoned.

If you need more information about cycling water and doing it quickly, we have useful tips in our post “Do Glofish Really Play Dead?”.

Proper maintenance is vital as your Turtle eats, poops, and pees in the water. Do at least a 30% water change every week and gravel vac all that dirt and residue your filter might miss.

For more information on the kind of filter you need, look up our post “Can You Keep a Turtle Without a Filter?”.

Additional waste may be present in the water if you have fish in there, too. Your bioload (or the amount of waste your pets produce) may be too huge for your filter or water capacity to handle. Reduce the number of live creatures in your tank in proportion to the size of the aquarium and the water volume so that the water doesn’t get dirty too fast.

Cause #2: Toxic tankmates

Some fish are too aggressive to be kept with Turtles. For instance, some Cichlids might become extra aggressive when they’re having babies and might harass your Turtle.

Turtle Want To Escape Out Of The Tank
Turtle Want To Escape Out Of The Tank

This will be stressful to your poor Slider who might want to escape the situation entirely.

The best Turtle tank mates (if you have enough space) are those that require the same water conditions as your Turtle and have the right kind of temperament. Try a school of Giant Danios or Tiger Barbs instead. They’re fast enough to not get eaten, they’re schooling fish (strength in numbers), they have big personalities, and they’re also attractive to look at.

Again, make sure you have the extra space to keep these tank mates with your Turtle.

Cause #3: No proper lighting

Turtles need their UVB light and basking area for their dose of vitamin D. Not only that, lighting helps them thermoregulate, breathe, fight germs, and dry the dirt and fungi on their shells before they cause rot.  Inability to do so would stress them.

Make sure you have a UVB bulb on a lamp pointed directly to a raised basking surface that’s not submerged in water. Generally, the basking lamp should be emitting a temperature somewhere between 85 and 90°F. There will be slight differences between Turtle species.

Cause #4: Not enough space

Did you know that it can grow to more than a foot long?

Many beginners make the mistake of having too small of an aquarium for their Turtles. That’s why our smallest tank size recommendation for a single Slider is a 55-gallon long. It’s more practical than having to buy a bigger tank later on.

Not having enough space makes the water get dirty faster (cause #1) as well. And if you have more than one Turtle, they could get territorial in a smaller space and bully each other (cause #2).

How Do you tell If A Turtle Is Stressed?

Turtles like to live alone. But if you do decide to get more than one, observe for signs of aggression.

If you have several Turtles in one enclosure, one sure sign that bullying is occurring is if one swims away from its fellow Turtle in a sideways motion or if it’s always hiding its tail. Look also for physical indicators like nips and lacerations. It would also try escaping its tank.

To prevent bullying, you should have a big enough space to house all your Turtles. Get a big tank and separate younglings that have just hatched as these might be mistaken for food.

Aside from these, juveniles (especially males) may become aggressive at some point. This is a natural phase they go through as they’re sexually maturing. Again, either keep just one Turtle or provide enough space and hiding places (plants, decor) for all of them.

If you are interested in learning more about your fish behavior, check out the links below:

How Can I Help My Stressed Turtle?

There are varieties that are more sensitive or skittish than others, such as the Map Turtle. It takes a while for them to settle down.

The best way to help a stressed Turtle is to not handle them until they have calmed down. It will also help if their environment is calm. If there was a change in surroundings, try to make it as similar to the last one as you can. Provide for its needs, especially food, and then wait.

Try these tips to avoid escapees.

Tip #1: Don’t fill the water too high

Some Turtle keepers only put water up to half the tank. This is a good idea if you have a large tank with a wide base. Of course, always consider the size of your turtle. It should have enough water to swim in.

If your tank is a little smaller, your water level should at least be twice the diameter of your Turtle. This is so it can right itself in case it flips. Otherwise, your Turtle may drown. Younger Turtles especially have more tendency to flip and are weaker swimmers than older ones.

Tips #2: Use a lid

Lids give you several advantages, such as:

  • Your Turtle can’t escape (of course)
  • Nothing can come in
  • It reduces the amount of water evaporation in your tank
  • They keep the tank clean

If you don’t have the tools to customize the common fish tank lid, we suggest using a plastic egg crate grid that you can buy online. This is made from rigid plastic and designed with holes.

Those holes are wide enough for your device wiring and basking light to go through but not your pet. The material also makes it easier to cut away areas that you need for the Turtle’s basking area (if it goes beyond the height of the tank) and your filter.

Another option is to use mesh or screen that you can cut easily and fit onto the lip of your tank. This is the same material we used in “Should You Separate A Pregnant Platy?” for dividing up the tank. In the case of your Turtle tank, you will have to use more plastic sliders to reinforce the mesh because it’s not as rigid as the crate.

Other options are corrugated plastic and acrylic. But these have their disadvantages. For one, basking light tends to diffuse going through those materials. And second, they’re harder to cut and customize.

Tip #3: Give them a varied diet

Anybody can become bored when you’re eating the same thing all the time. It’s the same for Turtles. You should give them a variety of food so they can have all the nutrients they need.

Aside from pellets, you should give your Turtles vegetables, freeze-dried shrimp, fruits, and even small fish from time to time.

Slowly But Surely

Turtles are hardier than you think but also sensitive to changes. Depending on the species, you might find them running away from certain things they don’t like in their tank. Observe, adjust, and provide for them until they come out and act normally again.

Be patient. They will get there slowly but surely.

Recent Posts