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How to Prepare a Phenomenal Semi-Aquatic Tank

Turtle on rock

Image courtesy of Varun Kulkarni

Are you considering a semi-aquatic species for a pet? Knowing how to house them can seem like a challenge, but most semi-aquatic tanks have similar requirements.

This article covers the basics on a semi-aquatic tank setup.

When would you need a semi-aquatic tank?

The purpose of building a semi-aquatic aquarium or terrarium is to create a suitable habitat for certain amphibians and other semi-aquatic species of exotic pets. A semi-aquatic tank is simply an aquarium that contains both a relatively large water source and a dry or “land” area.

Species that might need a semi-aquatic tank include:

  • Tadpoles, frogs, and toads
  • Salamanders
  • Newts
  • Turtles
  • Crabs

It’s important to know that not all frogs need a semi-aquatic environment as adults. Many live completely terrestrial lives after their metamorphosis. That being said, a semi-aquatic setup can work well for tadpoles, so they can leave the water on their own when they are ready.

As for turtles, the red-eared slider is one of the most popular aquatic turtles to keep, and they do require somewhere to go for “land”, as well. By the way, you can check out red-eared sliders and other semi-aquatic species at our shop in Fairview Heights.

Click the photos below to get more information about the semi-aquatic pet shown:

Red-eared slider

Fire-bellied toad

Halloween crab

Hermit crab


Fire-bellied newt

Some of these animals don’t necessarily require a semi-aquatic tank, but it may be okay to keep them in one anyway, even if they spend the majority of the time in one area or the other.

How to prepare the tank

As I mentioned in the article on raising tadpoles, a mostly aquatic species can have a near fully aquatic aquarium, as long as there is somewhere appropriately sized for them to crawl onto, like a big, flat-topped rock, or in the case of turtles, a turtle dock.

Keep in mind that if you are creating the semi-aquatic habitat for multiple specimens, you’ll need an aquarium with plenty of space for each individual. Many species require about ten gallons per individual, with the exception of tadpoles, which can share a smaller tank.

Small gravel, like river pebbles, makes excellent substrate in semi-aquatic terrariums. Pebbles don’t absorb the water, yet still provide dry ground for animals to climb onto and even dig in.

Create a slope so that the gravel is piled higher at one end, creating the land area. Fill the aquarium about one-third of the way with water. Water should pool above the gravel at the lower end of the slope, creating a swimming area.

Adding large rocks near the transition of the slope helps it to keep its form and prevents rocks from the higher area from sliding down into the water side. For most species, you’ll also want to add some soil or other substrate to cover the gravel on the land side.

Get creative with tank décor

You don’t have to build a plain, functional-only semi-aquatic tank. You can have fun with it. The tank in the picture below, for example, has a bridge for extra land area. Creating levels like this increases the space for your pet.

Semi-aquatic tank setup

Nature’s Gifts semi-aquatic tank setup

You can even turn your semi-aquatic tank into a bioactive setup with live plants. Aside from the basic setup, you’ll want to check your specific pet’s care sheet for making sure the water temperature and basking temperature (if necessary) are appropriate.

Maintenance of a semi-aquatic tank will require typical aquarium maintenance, such as water filters and water changes. If you have more questions, feel free to message the team at The Tye-Dyed Iguana!

Diedra Blackmill is head copywriter and content marketer at Telepath Writing Services. She specializes in writing blog articles, newsletters, and scripts that generate more revenue for businesses. Hire Diedra for your online content.