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Anna, Reptile Expert, Biologist
Category: Reptile
Satisfied Customers: 11067
Experience:  Have owned turtles, snakes, amphibians, and lizards. Study and provide habitat for wild herps.
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Hi Anna, I found a Painted Turtle this summer in the middle

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Hi Anna,

I found a Painted Turtle this summer in the middle of the road in Los Angeles. I took him home as I have a small outdoor pond/fountain.

Now it is winter and I'm wondering if it is warm enough for him to be outside or if I need to bring him inside to a tank. I want to know what steps to take to take care of them in the winter.

The "pond" is a man-made pond that is only about a foot deep and 10 feet wide and made of concrete. It has lots of plants and fish.

The water won't freeze but it does get cold here.

The turtle I found is about 10" across and we call him/her Cupcake. There is a second turtle in there that is about 4.5" named Muffin. The small one was given to us by someone who didn't want it.

Appreciate your advice! All your other answers are so great!



Hello Jade,

Welcome and thank you for requesting me. It was kind of you to take this turtle in. Some additional information will be helpful.

I've only been to LA in the summer, so I'm not familiar with the winter climate. During your coldest months, what are the daytime temperatures like?

If it turns out the temperatures are too cold, I want to warn you that setting up a turtle tank can be expensive. I will be happy to tell you how to do it if that isn't a factor. The only other option would be to turn the turtles over to a wildlife rehabilitator. If you'd rather do that, I can locate some for you.

Let me know about the temperatures and what you'd like to do if it's too cold, and we'll proceed from there.


Hi again,

It appears you went offline without seeing my request for information. I don't want you to have to wait any longer, so I'm going to go ahead without your response.

I did some checking on the winter temperatures in Los Angeles. In a natural pond, the turtles would probably be able to survive by burrow into mud when it got too cool. without that option, the temperatures are not low enough for them to hibernate, but are likely to them to be lethargic and lose their appetites. That usually results in sickness.

The best option would be to bring them inside. Cupcake is a very large turtle and would require a 90 gallon tank. If you have a basement or a room where appearances don't matter, you could use a metal or plastic stock tank, rather than a glass aquarium. They are sold in farm/ranch supply stores and are much less expensive than aquariums. Set up the tank so there's a basking area where the turtles can climb out and dry off, and a water area. You want the water to be about 1 1/2 times as deep as the turtle is long. So Cupcake will need 15 inches of water.

The basking area should be kept at 88-92 degrees (29 to 32*C). The rest of the tank should be around 80*F to 85*F. You can adjust the temperature by raising or lowering the light fixture. You'll also need a submersible aquarium heater that will keep the water in the low 70*s. The basking light doesn't have to be something expensive from a pet store. If you live in an area that has farm stores, you can buy a metal light fixture made to keep baby chicks warm for just a few dollars. Don't buy the accompanying bulb, however. You need an ordinary incandescent bulb in the basking light. Hardware stores sell similar fixtures as work lights.

It's extremely important that you buy an additional light that produces UVB rays. A Reptisun 10.0 in the straight tube style (no compact fluorescents) is a good brand that does. If you choose another brand be absolutely certain it provides UVB rays. Don't take the word of pet store personnel, but read it for yourself. Full-spectrum, DayGlo, SunGlo, UV, or UVA are not the same thing. I'm putting a lot of emphasis on this because it's crucial to your turtle's health. Without this light, Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) will develop because your turtle won't be able to produce vitamin D. Vitamin supplements are not a good replacement for the proper lighting. MBD causes a very slow and painful death.UVB bulbs must be replaced every six months as they lose their effectiveness after that, even though they may still look fine. Light that comes through a window isn't sufficient because the glass filters out most of the rays turtles need to stay healthy. To prevent MBD, turtles also need calcium. The easiest way to provide it is to place a cuttlebone in the tank. Cuttlebones are sold in bird departments of pet stores.

A good filtration system is essential because turtles are very sensitive to water quality. Water changes are also needed even with a filter.Turtles produce a huge amount of waste.

As for feeding, both turtles are old enough that they should be fed every other day. They need an omnivorous diet, even though they may prefer meat. Feeding too much protein, or feeding too often can result in kidney disease. Commercial food should make up 1/4 of the diet. Animal products (meat, earthworms, canned cat food) should make up another 1/4. The remaining half should be plant foods (dark lettuce like romaine, bits of strawberry or melon, etc.)

The following site has a care sheet for painted turtles. You can use it as a checklist to be sure all conditions and diet are right.

If after reading all this, you'd prefer to find a wildlife rehabilitator, just let me know by clicking on REPLY. Do the same if you have more questions. I hope you'll enjoy your tow house pets for the winter.


My goal is to provide you with excellent service – if you feel you have gotten anything less, please reply back, I am happy to address follow-up questions. Please remember to rate my service only after you have all the information you need. Thank you!
Customer: replied 3 years ago.
Hi Anna,

It will be quite difficult for me to have a 90 gallon tank in our home.
I already have two bulldogs, a toddler, a small fish aquarium and possibly another child in the next year or so.

Do you think I could set up the basking light and water heater outside in my pond? This would be easier than inside for me. We would have to consider the other fish shebunkin (related to goldfish), one koi and some mosquito fish.

What would an outdoor setup look like?

It makes me sad to think of giving them away though. Appreciate any insight you have. Cupcake was about to get hit by a car when I found her.

I would take the contact of a local wildlife rehabilitator. as a back up and to get more info.

Thanks again!

I wish a smaller tank would be suitable for you, but Cupcake is a very large turtle. I have never tried to create a setup outdoors. That is a difficult situation. You would need waterproof lighting, even though it doesn't rain often in your area. You could check with a lighting store for outdoor fixtures that use incandescent lights - so they would put out heat. Such a light would have to be mounted over a flat rock for the turtles to bask on. Heating the water is a bigger problem because the fish will do better without heat. The heaters made for outdoor use in ponds only keep the water from freezing and wouldn't heat it to a high enough level. Regular aquarium heaters are not powerful enough to heat a pond. You'd have to use several of them, and find a way to protect the cords from weather. It is possible that the water would stay warm enough on it's own. Water does hold heat. If the pond is situated in the sun all day, that might do the trick. If you're going to try this, I think what I would do is set up a basking area for the turtles. Don't heat the water, but keep an eye on the situation. If the turtles become lethargic or quit eating, you may have to find a way to increase the water temperature. However, with LA's sunny weather, i wouldn't be surprised if the water holds enough heat.

There are a couple of other complications to consider. I am really surprised that Cupcake hasn't bitten your fish. Wild painted turtles do eat fish. Maybe you keep them so well-fed they have no interest. Fish can also carry bacteria that make turtles sick, so we usually recommend they not be kept together. Since everything has been fine so far, we can hope it continues that way.

You may be interested to know that Cupcake is probably a girl. Usually only the females get that large. She may lay eggs someday. Without a mature male present, the eggs would be infertile, but females often do lay such eggs.

I found a few rehabbers in your area. This first one specializes in turtles and tortoises:

Susan Tellem, Executive director
American Tortoise Rescue
[email protected]

Here are two others:

Glenda Singer, Director
California Wildlife Center
[email protected]
(310) 458-WILD

Los Angeles
Long Beach
All Wildlife Rescue & Education

I hope that whatever you decide to do, it will work out well.


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