What Fish Can Live With Turtles

Turtles make great pets as we discussed in our previous article. There are over 100 species of turtle and most of them live a very long time. Fish also make good pets. They are enjoyable to watch, add beauty to the room, and can teach kids responsibility. So, if you put the 2 of them together, you can have a spectacular display in your home.

What fish can live with turtles? There are only 3 species of fish that work well in a tank with a turtle; tetra fish, zebrafish, and yellow cichlid. Because certain turtles are magnificent hunters and like to eat small fish, you have to be extremely careful.

It is suggested that you try a small school zebra or tetras first. These fish are sleek, fast, and extremely affordable. This will give you an idea of how your turtle is going to react without spending a lot of money.

There are many guidelines to follow if you are going to put fish in a tank with your turtle. No tropical fish because of their delicate flowing fins/tails. The 3 species listed above are going to be your only real options, but you still have to be cautious. The species of turtle you have will be the determining factor. So make sure you do a lot of research.

Which Turtles Make The Best Pets?

One of the best and most kept turtles as a pet is the Red-eared slider. These turtles eat both plants and animals. As they grow they will eat fewer animals and more kale, parsley, endive, collard greens, etc. 

The Western painted turtle is another popular turtle to have as a pet. The painted turtle is an omnivore. They will feed on insects, crustaceans, and small fish when they are out in the wild. Painted turtles will not hurt anything as big or bigger than they are.

A Pink belly side neck turtle will also do well cohabitating with fish. This type of turtle likes to feed on insects, mollusks, plant matter, and small fish. The Pink belly will be 5-10 inches long, so fish of the same size and larger will be safe. 

The mud and musk turtles are going to be your best bet for cohabitation with fish. These turtles are not good fish hunters and they also do not have any interest in doing so. The mud and musk turtles are only 3-5 inches full grown. Therefore small fish will do well with the small mud and musk turtles.

3 Main Fish Mates For Turtles

They are hardy fish and they look great in a planted tank. The tetra is omnivorous and only gets to be about 1.5 inches long as an adult.

If you are going to put tetras in with your turtle you want to wait until your turtle is fully grown. The turtles mentioned are more herbivores as adults, so they are less likely to eat your tetras.

They feed on worms, algae, small crustaceans, and mosquito larvae. In an aquarium, you want to feed them a good quality fish flake and you can give them a blood worm, on occasion, as a special treat.

Because of their smaller size, you do not want to put them in the same tank as your turtle until the turtle is mature. 

In the aquarium, you want to give them a good balance of plant and animal foods. Flakes, pellets, live foods, vegetables, and meaty food. As adults, you can keep 1 or 2 in the same tank with no issues.

The Yellow Cichlid would be good for mud and musk turtles and you can add them to other turtle tanks when the turtle is fully grown. 

Other Fish Possibilities For Your Turtle Tank

These are a few other fish that could be a possibility for your turtle tank. As mentioned earlier, adult turtles will not normally hunt your smaller fish as they become more herbivorous as adults. But it is wise to choose fish that are fast, just to be safe. Turtles will also not hunt or harm fish that are the same size as them.

  1. Suckermouth Catfish: they are 20 inches long, full-grown. They are also fast and protected by armor-like rows of scutes.
  2. Koi: these are best when kept outside in a pond because they can get quite large, so for an aquarium, it is probably not the best option.
  3. Pictus Catfish: these are speedy and quick fish that will grow to be about 5 inches long. Turtles have a hard time catching them because of their speed. 
  4. Guppy: they are nearly impossible for turtles to catch because they are so quick. Because of their tiny size, 0.6 to 2.5 inches, I would personally wait until the turtle was mature. 
  5. Rosy Barb: these reach about 6 inches when they are fully grown. They are fast swimmers and add beautiful colors to your tank. They would make good tank mates for the smaller mud and musk turtles.

Introducing The Fish And The Turtle

The first thing you need to do before you ever put them together is to make sure you purchase or have an aquarium that is going to house both of them comfortably. You can read my previous article here; How Much Does A Turtle Tank Cost?

The recommended sizing for a turtle tank that is going to have fish added to it; 80 gallons + and approximately 5 feet long. Just like housing fish in an aquarium, you have to make sure you have plenty of room for the turtle and the fish to move around easily.

You do not want them to be crowded. This can be unhealthy and potentially unsafe.

It is wise to feed your turtle before you introduce the fish to the tank. If your turtle is full then he will be less likely to see the fish as food. The turtle will be content and in a better mood if he has been fed, prior to the introduction.

As stated before, adult turtles will make better tank mates because they are more herbivores than adults. When they are juveniles, they will not hesitate to hunt and eat your smaller fish. Different turtle species are going to mature at different times, so make sure you are certain of your turtle’s maturity. 

You have to keep an eye on how the turtle reacts. Do not just put the fish in and walk away. The turtle may not care and may leave the fish alone. It could also swim up and try to nip at the fish or bother it consistently. If that is the case then you will need to pull the fish immediately. This will indicate that you can not have a fish in the tank with that species of turtle. 

As with any tank set-up, you have to slowly introduce the fish to the water. The set-up that you have at home is going to be different from the set-up that they have at the pet store. So acclimating the fish is extremely important, otherwise, it will go into shock and could die. This also helps the fish adjust to the pH and water temperature of the tank.

If the turtle and the fish get along and you are going to keep them in the same tank you need to add a few hiding spots for your fish. Some suggestions are; plants, driftwood, rocks, terracotta pots, or other decorations. This will give your fish a place to go to rest and have time away from the turtle. They both need their own ‘hiding spaces’ in order to stay stress-free and healthy.


Depending on the species of turtle and the species of fish, you can feasibly have them in the same tank as long as you follow a few guidelines.

  • Do not add the fish until the turtle is mature
  • Make sure your fish are speedy swimmers
  • Give them each their own hiding areas in the aquarium
  • The tank needs to be at least 80 gallons

The best tank mate for the turtle:

  • Neon Tetra
  • Zebrafish (Zebra Diona)
  • Yellow Cichlid

Though there are a few others that you can definitely consider, the above are the top 3 choices. Please make sure that you thoroughly research the species of turtle you are wanting for a pet and the species of fish that you are wanting to house in the same tank. This can be a very successful cohabitation or it can be very disastrous if you do not do research and follow the guidelines.


I'm passionate about fish pets and love sharing everything I learn about them.

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