Can Plecos And Turtles Live Together? (7 Essential Tips)

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Plecos and turtles are top picks for those passionate about freshwater aquariums. But can they live harmoniously in the same tank?

What considerations come into play when keeping them together? How do you design the tank environment, and what about the water quality and food preferences for each?

Which Pleco types work best with turtles, and which should you steer clear of? Is there a chance of turtles targeting Plecos?

In this article, I’ll delve into these questions and more, making sure you leave with everything you need. Let’s dive right into it.

Can I Keep Plecos and Turtles Together in the Same Tank?

No, housing Plecos and turtles together in the same tank isn’t advisable. Though both are water-dwelling species, their needs and habits might clash.

  • Dietary Habits: Plecos mainly feast on algae and plants, whereas turtles can have a varied diet. This might result in turtles eating the Pleco’s food or even trying to nibble on the Pleco.
  • Living Conditions: Plecos have specific requirements for things like pH and temperature, which might not match the turtle’s ideal settings, potentially stressing one or both creatures.
  • Space Squabbles: Both turtles and Plecos can be possessive about their space. A bigger turtle might see the Pleco as an unwelcome guest or even a meal.
  • Size Differences: Some Plecos can get pretty big, measuring over a foot. Turtles, based on the type, might grow even more sizable and could see smaller Plecos as a snack.
  • Health Concerns: Turtles might carry salmonella, posing a threat not just to Plecos but humans during tank upkeep.

Also Read: Pleco Fish Tank Mates

Plecos vs. Turtles: Behavior

The first factor worth considering is the Plecos’ and Turtles’ natural behavior. Here is what you should know:

Pleco Fish: Natural Behavior

Plecos are generally nocturnal creatures, preferring to stay hidden during daylight hours and emerging at night to feed and explore.

They are primarily herbivores, seeking out algae and plant matter in their environments.

  • Nocturnal Habits: Plecos are more active during nighttime, often hiding among rocks, driftwood, or plants during the day.
  • Herbivorous Diet: Plecos graze on algae, benefiting aquariums by helping to keep them clean.
  • Territorial Nature: Especially as they grow, Plecos can become territorial, defending their chosen spots against intruders.
  • Suction Ability: Plecos have a specialized mouth that allows them to adhere to surfaces, enabling them to clean algae efficiently.

Turtles: Natural Behavior

Turtles, being reptiles, have different behavioral patterns. They are often seen basking, can be omnivorous, and may show territorial or even aggressive behavior towards tank mates.

  • Basking Behavior: Turtles frequently come out of the water to bask under UV lights, crucial for their health.
  • Omnivorous Appetite: While many turtles eat plants, they can also consume small fish, insects, and commercial turtle food.
  • Aggressive Tendencies: Turtles can become aggressive, especially during mating seasons or when competing for food.
  • Diggers: Turtles often dig or rearrange substrate, which might disrupt a Pleco’s hiding place or feeding grounds.

Ideal Parameters for Plecos and Turtles

Understanding the ideal tank parameters for both Plecos and turtles is essential to ensure a healthy environment when housing them together.

ParameterPlecosTurtlesBoth Types
Temperature74-80°F (23-27°C)75-86°F (24-30°C)75-80°F (24-27°C)
pH Level6.5-7.56.0-8.06.5-7.5
Water Hardness6-10 dGH4-8 dGH6-8 dGH

Pleco Fish: Ideal Parameters

For Plecos to thrive, they require specific water conditions, including particular temperature ranges, pH levels, and water hardness.

  • Temperature: Plecos typically prefer a temperature range of 72°F to 86°F (22°C to 30°C).
  • pH Level: A pH level of 6.5 to 7.5 is ideal for most Plecos.
  • Water Hardness: Soft to moderately hard water, generally ranging from 4 to 15 dH, suits Plecos best.

Turtles: Ideal Parameters

Turtles, on the other hand, may have slightly different requirements based on their species, but generally, they have broader tolerance ranges.

  • Temperature: Turtles usually prefer a water temperature of 70°F to 80°F (21°C to 27°C) and a basking area between 85°F to 90°F (29°C to 32°C).
  • pH Level: A pH range of 6.5 to 8 is usually suitable for most turtles.
  • Water Hardness: Turtles are often more adaptable to varying water hardness, but generally, a range of 5 to 20 dH is acceptable.

Plecos vs. Turtles: Tank Setup

When setting up a tank, considering the individual needs of Plecos and turtles ensures a thriving shared habitat.

Tank FeaturesPlecosTurtlesBoth Types
Ammonia Nitrite NitrateLow levels essentialLow levels essentialConsistently low; regular water changes
Tank SizeMinimum 30 gallons for small species40-120 gallons, based on sizeMinimum 100+ gallons
FoliageNot essential but appreciatedPreferably live plantsMixture of live and artificial plants
DecorationsDriftwood for grazingBasking spots requiredDriftwood and basking spots
FilterStrong for waste managementModerate to strongStrong with efficient waste removal
HeaterNeeded for temperature consistencyOften essentialEssential; adjustable
SubstrateFine-grained to avoid injuryPreferably sandyFine sand or smooth gravel
PumpBeneficial for oxygenationNot always essentialBeneficial; aids in circulation
LightingModerate, not too brightUVA and UVB requiredUVB for turtles; moderate for Plecos

Pleco Fish: Tank Setup

Setting up a tank for Plecos requires specific considerations to accommodate their behaviors and needs. A proper setup ensures their comfort and longevity.

  • Ammonia Nitrite Nitrate: Plecos are sensitive to water parameters. Aim for 0 ppm for ammonia and nitrite and below 40 ppm for nitrate.
  • Tank Size: For adult Plecos, especially larger species, tanks of at least 75 gallons are recommended.
  • Foliage: Live or artificial plants provide Plecos with hiding spots and foraging areas.
  • Decorations: Plecos enjoy hiding under rocks and driftwood, offering both security and feeding grounds.
  • Filter: A strong filter with good turnover is essential, as Plecos produce a significant amount of waste.
  • Heater: Maintaining a stable temperature within the recommended range is vital for Plecos.
  • Substrate: Soft substrates like sand are often preferred, preventing potential damage to the Pleco’s delicate underbelly.
  • Pump: A good water circulation pump can help keep the tank clean and oxygenated.
  • Lighting: Dim to moderate lighting is often best, considering Plecos’ nocturnal habits.

Turtles: Tank Setup

Turtles, as semi-aquatic reptiles, require different setups, including both land and water sections for their varied activities.

  • Ammonia Nitrite Nitrate: Like Plecos, turtles also prefer ammonia and nitrite at 0 ppm, with nitrate below 40 ppm.
  • Tank Size: A general rule is 10 gallons of water per inch of turtle shell length.
  • Foliage: Turtles may consume or uproot plants, so sturdy or artificial plants are best.
  • Decorations: Basking platforms or rocks are necessary for turtles to emerge from the water.
  • Filter: Turtles are messy eaters, requiring robust filtration to keep the water clean.
  • Heater: A water heater keeps the aquatic section warm, while a basking lamp heats the land area.
  • Substrate: Fine gravel or large stones work well, as turtles may ingest small substrate particles.
  • Pump: Proper water circulation ensures a clean and oxygen-rich environment.
  • Lighting: UVB lighting is crucial for turtles to metabolize calcium properly.

The Dietary Requirements of Plecos and Turtles

A balanced diet tailored to the specific needs of Plecos and turtles is fundamental for their well-being and growth.

Dietary AspectPlecosTurtlesBoth Types
Food TypesAlgae wafers, veggies, occasional proteinOmnivorous: pellets, insects, veggiesVaried; separate feeding zones can help
QuantityDepending on size; 2-3 wafers/day for average PlecoVaries; a portion that can be eaten in 15-20 minsMonitor to prevent overfeeding; avoid leftovers
Feeding ScheduleMostly nocturnal; evening feeding preferredDaily or every other day, depending on ageEvening for Plecos; daytime for turtles

Pleco Fish: Ideal Dietary Requirements

Plecos primarily graze on algae, but a varied diet ensures they receive all essential nutrients.

  • Food Types: Algae wafers, blanched vegetables (like zucchini), and sinking pellets cater to their needs.
  • Quantity: Plecos should be fed an amount they can consume in 2-3 hours, ensuring they’re not overfed.
  • Feeding Schedule: Offering food once or twice a day, preferably in the evening, aligns with their nocturnal habits.

Turtles: Ideal Dietary Requirements

Turtles have varied diets, often consisting of both plant and animal matter, depending on the species.

  • Food Types: Commercial turtle pellets, leafy greens, insects, and occasional small fish make up a balanced diet.
  • Quantity: Feed turtles an amount roughly equivalent to the size of their head, ensuring no overfeeding.
  • Feeding Schedule: Young turtles typically eat daily, while adults can be fed every other day or thrice a week.

Pleco Species Most Suitable for a Tank With Turtles

If you’re determined to house Plecos with turtles, choosing more robust and larger Pleco species can minimize potential problems.

These species can hold their own and have a better chance of coexisting peacefully.

  • Common Pleco (Hypostomus plecostomus): Growing up to 24 inches, its large size makes it less likely to be bothered by turtles.
  • Royal Pleco (Panaque nigrolineatus): With a size reaching up to 17 inches, this robust species is less vulnerable to turtle curiosity.
  • Sailfin Pleco (Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps): Capable of growing up to 20 inches, they’re both sizable and visually striking.
  • Bristlenose Pleco (Ancistrus spp.): While smaller at around 5-6 inches, they are known for their hardy nature and ability to hide efficiently.
  • Rhino Pleco (Pterygoplichthys scrophus): Growing to about 11 inches, their armored appearance and sturdy nature make them suitable tankmates.

Also Read: Can Plecos And African Dwarf Frogs Live Together?

Sailfin Pleco

Which Pleco Types Shouldn’t Be Kept with Turtles?

While some Plecos can manage in a tank with turtles, many delicate or smaller species should be avoided as they can become easy targets or stressed by turtle behaviors.

  • Zebra Pleco (Hypancistrus zebra): A small and rare species, growing only up to 3-4 inches, they can be easily harmed by curious turtles.
  • Clown Pleco (Panaqolus maccus): At a mere 3.5 inches in size, they are too small and vulnerable for a turtle tank setup.
  • Rubber Lip Pleco (Chaetostoma formosae): Their small size, reaching only about 7 inches, and peaceful nature make them unsuitable with turtles.
  • Gold Nugget Pleco (Baryancistrus xanthellus): Growing to around 8-12 inches, their bright coloration might attract undue attention from turtles.
  • Butterfly Pleco (Dekeyseria brachyura): With a size of up to 7 inches and their delicate fins, they are more susceptible to potential turtle aggression.

Turtle Species Most Suitable for a Tank With Plecos

When aiming to cohabitate turtles with Plecos, it’s essential to select turtle species known for their more docile nature and lower aggression towards fish.

These species will be less inclined to view Plecos as potential snacks or competition.

  • Musk Turtles (Sternotherus odoratus): Often reaching only 4-5 inches in adulthood, their small size and generally placid nature make them suitable for a shared environment with Plecos.
  • Red-Eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans): While they can grow up to 12 inches, with proper feeding and a large tank, they can coexist without targeting Plecos often.
  • Diamondback Terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin): Known for their stunning appearance and moderate size (up to 9 inches), they can be a good fit if the tank is spacious.
  • Yellow-Bellied Sliders (Trachemys scripta scripta): Similar in temperament to the Red-Eared Slider, with a maximum size of 12 inches, they can be suitable if tank conditions are right.
  • Spotted Turtles (Clemmys guttata): Growing up to 4.5 inches, their smaller stature and non-aggressive demeanor make them a safer bet for Pleco cohabitation.

Remember, while these species might be better options, individual turtles’ personalities can vary, and ensuring a properly sized and structured tank is paramount.

Red-Eared Slider

How to Introduce Your Pleco to a Tank with Turtles

Introducing Plecos into a turtle tank requires patience, observation, and precautionary measures to ensure harmony.

Taking methodical steps minimizes potential conflicts and stress.

  • Quarantine First: Keep Plecos in a separate tank for 2-4 weeks, observing for signs of disease or parasites.
  • Tank Analysis: Confirm you have at least 3-4 hiding spots, like caves or driftwood, for every Pleco you add. My recommendation: Dr. Moss Malaysian Driftwood (link to Amazon).
  • Acclimatization: Gradually mix tank water into the Pleco’s bag over 60-90 minutes to equalize water conditions.
  • Feed Turtles Prior: Offer turtles their favorite treat, perhaps shrimp or pellets, to satiate them before the Pleco’s introduction.
  • Observe Interactions: For the first 48 hours, monitor closely, especially during feeding times, to spot aggressive behaviors.

Tips for Keeping Plecos with Turtles

Successfully maintaining Plecos and turtles together demands adjustments to ensure both species’ needs are met and conflicts are minimized.

  • Tank Size Matters: Opt for tanks 100+ gallons; this gives both species sufficient territory and reduces stress.
  • Hiding Spots: Incorporate dense plants, caves, and driftwood, ensuring multiple retreats for each Pleco in the tank. My Pleco absolutely loves this Jabukosu Aquarium Cave (link to Amazon).
  • Feeding Stations: Designate separate zones for each species, using sinking pellets for Plecos and floating foods for turtles.
  • Nighttime Feeding: Since Plecos are nocturnal, consider feeding them after lights out to minimize food competition.
  • Regular Monitoring: Dedicate 15-20 minutes daily, especially in the initial weeks, to observe their interactions and adjust accordingly.
  • Water Quality: Regularly check ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels, ensuring they stay within safe ranges for both species.
  • Avoid Overcrowding: Limit the tank to 1-2 Plecos and turtles, ensuring both have space to grow and thrive without constant interference.

Best Tank Mates for Plecos and Turtles

When setting up an aquarium for both Plecos and turtles, adding the right companions can balance the ecosystem and reduce potential conflicts.

Choosing non-aggressive, similarly-sized tank mates ensures a more harmonious cohabitation.

  • Corydoras Catfish: These peaceful bottom dwellers can coexist with Plecos, searching for food scraps in the substrate.
  • African Cichlids: Being robust and active, they can share space with turtles without becoming easy targets, though monitor for any territorial disputes.
  • Guppies: Small, fast, and non-aggressive, they can coexist higher in the water column, away from Pleco territories.
  • Apple Snails: Being sturdy and large, they’re less likely to be eaten, and they add to the tank’s cleaning crew along with Plecos.
  • Neon Tetras: Their swift movements and schooling nature make them a dazzling, yet safe addition, as they can evade curious turtles and Plecos.
  • Ghost Shrimp: A useful addition for cleaning and scavenging, they are generally left alone by Plecos and turtles due to their agility.

Also Read: Can Plecos And Shrimp Live Together?

Apple snail


For those of you who are just skimming through, here’s a short recap:

  • Keeping Plecos and turtles in the same tank isn’t recommended due to dietary differences, habitat requirements, territorial behaviors, size issues, and health risks.
  • Plecos have specific nocturnal behaviors and herbivorous diets, while turtles bask, are omnivorous, and may dig.
  • Ideal tank parameters like temperature, pH, and water hardness are crucial for both Plecos and turtles.
  • When setting up a tank for both, consider factors like tank size, foliage, decorations, filters, heaters, substrates, pumps, and lighting for a thriving habitat.
  • A balanced diet and choosing suitable Pleco and turtle species are essential to minimize conflicts in a shared tank.