African Sideneck Turtle Care Guide

African Sideneck Turtle Care Guide

This turtle comes from the turtle family known as Pelomedusidae, a group that has got several species. Interestingly, this aquarium favorite turtle has got various names which include names such as African helmeted turtle or African mud turtle. The turtle will not completely burry its head in its shell like some other turtles do. In order to withdraw when it is faced with a threat, the turtle is known to fold its head below the upper edge of its shell especially after its head has been coiled to the side. The African Sideneck Turtle is very unique and can make a great addition to your aquarium. They are known to live more than fifty years or even more when in the wild.

The sidenecks usually have necks that are longer than many other species of turtles. This adaptation is said to give them better survival adaptation compared to other species of the turtles. If the turtle is turned upside down on its shells, it can use its rather long neck to get back on its feet. Please note that must turtles or even tortoises when turned upside down can really have hard time getting back on their feet.

Appearance of African Sideneck Turtle

The African sideneck turtle usually varies from one turtle to another especially with regards to their overall sizes. There are varieties of the turtle that will be one foot long in maturity, there are those that will be twenty inches long but there are those that will be just around six to eight inches long.

The Africa sideneck turtle exhibit two barbells that extend from its lower jaw. The animal uses them as a sensory organ and people who do not know them may mistake them for beards. The turtle has got feet that are slightly webbed with sharp long claws. The turtle has got large round eyes with a mouth that appears as if it is smiling.

In terms of the general coloration the turtle usually varies from tan, dark brown, grey to black. There are some varieties of the turtle that will exhibit lighter skin tones but majority of them usually show darker skin tones on their underbelly areas. You will also spot a wide yellow colored area on the body of the turtle.

The head of the turtle appears brown in color with a black marking that is clearly evident on top part of the head.

Native range and geographic distribution in the wild

The turtle is native to the African continent specifically the East African region in common east African states of Seychelles, Madagascar, and other fresh water regions of the continent. The turtle is usually found naturally inhabiting small ponds, streams with slow moving water and even small lakes. It likes to inhabit clean water that is free of impurities and this therefore calls on you to provide conditions that are almost similar to its habitat in captivity.

Care and tank requirements

The African Sideneck Turtle inhabits clean waters and so needs to be housed in a very clean tank similar the environment it is accustomed to in the wild. The basic rule of keeping this turtle in captivity is to have a large tank with the minimum being at least 75 gallons capacity for a single turtle. A larger turtle tank will allow the turtle to have ample space for swimming and also dive.

For more details and tips about tank requirements for the African sideneck turtle read below:

Ensure that the water level in the tank is not full to the brim but just three quarters full. You may also need to have rocks that protrude above the water surface within the tank. This will help provide the turtle with a place to climb on to when it needs to get out of water to dry off.

As for the substrate you can use sand or gravel as these materials will not cause much chaos to the water quality when the turtles wades through. Because the turtle needs to have clean and quality water, a good quality water filter should be installed to help keep the water quality in the tank great. For a large tank, using a god quality canister filter is advised.

A regular but partial water change is necessary if you wish to have the water in the tank to be clean and healthy for the animal. The pH of the tank water should be set to 6.5 and maintained within this range. You should best keep your pet turtle alone away from other aquarium animals.

For a detailed guide, you can read our guide on turtle tank setups.


Just like many other varieties of fresh water turtles, the Africa sideneck turtle is an omnivorous that feeds on plants as well as small animals. Some of the foods that you can offer your turtle in the tank include:

  • Crustaceans
  • Aquatic turtle pellets
  • Insects
  • Aquatic plants
  • Small fish

Always ensure that you feed your pet turtle minerals like calcium and vitamins. The turtle needs these nutrients to help keep it strong and healthy. The animals can be fed at least once per day in a feeding session that can last at least 15 minutes. Also ensure that you remove any uneaten food particles from the tank water. Such particle can be a recipe for bacterial growth in the tank which can pose serious health threat to the turtle.


The African Sideneck Turtle are not known to be aggressive but will survive easily in a range of environments as long as the water is well maintained. They can sometime get a little aggressive when they are handled in a rough manner to make them feel threatened. Basically, when the turtle is still new in the aquarium enclosure, it will be somewhat shy but it will get used to the new environment over time. Some owners have reported cases where their pet turtles have become very friendly and outgoing with people within the family they are used to seeing regularly.

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