Pink-Bellied Side-Neck Turtle 101: Care, Size & More

A turtle with a bright pink plastron is certainly something most people do not expect to see! The pink-bellied side-neck turtle is an adorable aquatic turtle, well known for their unusual colors. Reptile keepers are big fans of this water-loving turtle.

If you are looking for your first pet reptile, this species is an excellent place to start. While it is different from caring for amphibians, it is not too difficult to manage. This care sheet has everything you need to give a pink-bellied turtle a great life. Read on for care tips, housing, diet plans, and more.

Pink-Bellied Side-Neck Turtle Overview

Pink-Bellied Side-Neck Turtle

The pink-bellied side-neck turtle (Emydura subglobosa) is also known as the red-bellied short-necked turtle and the Jardine River turtle. In Australia, it is common to find them on Fraser Island and along the banks of the Jardine River.

This species comes from the Chelidae family, which includes other freshwater ‘side necked’ turtles. They can be found in rivers, streams, swamps and lakes throughout their natural range.

The ‘side-necked’ part of their name is after their long necks, which they can extend out of their shell; this trait is quite unusual for freshwater turtles.

Pink-bellied side-neck turtles have a bright pink plastron with yellow and pink markings on their chin and neck. Their popularity with reptile keepers is largely because of these beautiful colors!

Males grow up to 5 inches long and make a better choice for a small pet turtle.

There are some instances of females growing all the way up to 10 inches long, however between 7 and 8 inches is more common.

Their lifespan is quite typical for small turtles and most reach around 30 years old. This lifespan is typical of similar species such as the Painted Turtle and Red-Eared Slider.

Unlike most other pet species, which live in a terrarium, the pink-bellied side-necked turtle lives in an aquarium. They spend almost all of their time in the water, only coming out on land to bask. The best type of setup for this turtle is one in which there is a mix of deep and shallow water.

Aquarium hobbyists love this because it gives them an opportunity to design beautiful aquascapes and intricate aquarium setups.

This turtle is legal to keep in all 50 US states, including states where turtle keeping is usually restricted, such as California and New Jersey. However, in some areas they do require a permit so always check your local rules and regulations.

Species Overview
Common Name Pink-bellied side-neck turtle, red-bellied short-necked turtle and Jardine River turtle
Scientific Name Emydura subglobosa
Family Chelidae
Range Southern Queensland to Papua New Guinea
Size 5 – 8 inches
Color Green with a pink, orange, or red plastron
Lifespan 20 – 30 years
Husbandry Intermediate
Diet Invertebrates and boiled veggies
Tank Size 80-gallons
Temperature Basking spot: 88-90°F; Water: 75-77°F
Price $25-$50

Range

This turtle is found in both Papua New Guinea and the northern tip of Queensland, Australia.

In the wild it is common to find them in New Guinea’s Fly River, Lake Murray, the Torres Strait, Fraser Island and along the banks of the Jardine River in Australia.

These turtles can be found in wetlands, swamps, lakes, rivers, streams, and the banks of freshwater coastal plains. They are commonly spotted in areas where there are mixed water depths.

Appearance

Yellow markings on hatchling

A pink-bellied side-necked turtle’s focal point is their colorful shell.

The plastron is a bright pink, orange, or red, with a gray to dark green carapace. The turtle’s body matches the color of the carapace with yellow and pink markings on their chin and neck.

Their ‘side neck’ has two bright yellow markings.

There is also a spot of pink, red, or orange on their chin that matches the color of the plastron.

Pink-bellied side-necked turtles have five clawed toes with very thick webbing between them. This means they can swim efficiently, but find it difficult to walk on land.

Like other side-neck turtles, this species will retract their head into the opening of their shell when frightened.

Size

The pink-bellied side-neck turtle is a medium-sized species.

Males grow to an adult length of about 5 inches, while females typically reach a length of 7 to 8 inches. There have been reports of especially large, fertile females reaching 10 to 16 inches if they are given enough room to grow. However, this is quite a rare occurrence.

Newly hatched turtles start out at around 1.2 inches.

They will grow about a half inch a month for the first few months of their life.

Juveniles (4 to 12 months) should reach a size of about 3 to 4 inches. This is the size at which they are usually sold.

Males and females will reach about 5 inches after their first year. Males will stop growing at this size, but a female will continue to grow until she reaches 7 to 8 inches. She will be larger than a male by at least 2 inches.

It is very easy to tell the two genders apart.

Males have smaller and thinner bodies, but thicker tails and longer necks. A female’s tail is thin, but her body is thick and wide for carrying her eggs.

Lifespan

A pink-bellied side-neck turtle typically lives for 20 to 30 years as a pet. In some cases, a turtle with great care may make it to 50 years old, but this is not common. You can increase your turtle’s lifespan with regular water changes, keeping the tank clean and providing the right diet for each life stage.

If your turtle is not fed the nutrients and vitamins they need, you may notice some pyramidal deformities.

Pink-bellied side-neck turtle pyramiding happens as a result of malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies. It is especially common with a calcium deficiency. You should make sure that your side-neck turtle is getting enough calcium, protein and vitamins in their diet.

Pyramiding is not life threatening unless it is left untreated.

Vitamin A deficiency is also quite common in this species, though it is not usually a result of its diet. Vitamin A deficiency happens when they are not getting enough UV light. Make sure that your turtle is exposed to 12 hours of UV light every day.

Roundworm is a common parasitic infection in pet turtles. If your turtle has roundworms, you will see the tiny white worms in its droppings. They may also experience diarrhea, vomiting and weight loss.

Pink-Bellied Side-Neck Turtle Care

Pink-Bellied Side-Necked Turtle

This species provides an excellent opportunity for reptile lovers to try their hand at turtle-keeping. However, it is helpful to have some experience of aquarium keeping and water cycles. To keep one healthy, you will need to setup and maintain an aquarium with shallow water areas and basking spots.

Here are a few important tips for caring for a pink-bellied side-necked turtle:

  • Baby turtles can start off in a 30-gallon tank. You will need to size up by 10 gallons for each inch they grow. The best tank size for an adult is 80-gallons.
  • A tank should have a shallow and a deep water area, with slopes and basking areas.
  • The water must be fully dechlorinated before you add your turtle. Dechlorination must be performed every time you clean your tank.
  • The tank should be cleaned once every week, changing the water 25 to 50% each time. A canister filter is the best kind of filter to handle the waste these pets produce.
  • Always wash your hands after cleaning the tank as turtles are notorious carriers of salmonella.

Tank Setup

You can keep a pink-bellied side-neck turtle in an indoor aquarium that is around 80-gallons. You will need to size up the tank by 10 gallons for each inch over 8 inches your turtle grows. Especially large females will need to size up to 100 gallons or more.

If you plan to keep more than one, you will need to add 10 gallons for each additional turtle in the tank.

They should not be kept with larger turtles, such as Musk Turtles and Box Turtles.

The tank should have a mix of shallow and deep water, ranging in depth from 4 to about 16 inches. The shallow water areas should be reachable by way of a slope, log, or large rock.

Shallow water areas should be decorated with rocks and other basking surfaces. This is where your turtle will come out to warm up under their heat lamp.

You will also want to build a few places for your turtle to hide underwater. Rocks, hollow logs, caves, and both artificial and live plants will do the job nicely. The best plants for this turtle include Frogbit, Java Ferns, Hornwort, and Anacharis.

  • Tank: 80-gallon glass aquarium.
  • Substrate: Bare bottom.
  • Décor: Rocks, hollow logs, caves, and plants.
  • Plants: Frogbit, Java Ferns, Hornwort, and Anacharis.
  • Lighting: 75-watt UVB bulb.
  • Temperature: Basking spot of 88°F; water temperature of 75-77°F.

Temperature

Pink-bellied turtle water temperatures are best kept between 75 and 77°F, though they can withstand a water temperature between 66 and 80°F. It is recommended that you use an aquarium heater to keep the temperature from dipping below 65°F.

Do not allow the water temperature to go below 65 or above 82°F.

The basking surface temperature should be between 88 and 90°F and heated by a halogen heat lamp.

To create a basking spot, layer substrate into a slope that reaches the shallow water area. It is fine to layer the substrate with rocks that are larger than your turtle’s head. In the shallow water area add a large, flat rock and place it under your heat lamp.

Lighting

For lighting you can use a 75 to 100 watt UV lamp on a 12 hour timer.

Never expose the tank to direct sunlight as this can raise the temperature to dangerous levels.

Humidity

Pink-bellied side-necked turtles are not especially sensitive to humidity. The tank temperature is much more important than the humidity. So long as your water temperature is warm enough, your turtle should be just fine. They spend most of their day in the water, so you do not need to mist the tank.

Substrate

A bare bottom, soft sand or river mud is the best type of substrate to use.

Never use gravel or pebbles, as your turtle could choke on them.

Diet

The pink-bellied side-neck turtle is a generalist feeder and will eat just about anything. In the wild they will munch on insects, worms, slugs, snails and freshwater shrimp. They will eat different foods in different life stages.

Juvenile pet pink-bellied turtles can be fed a mix of turtle pellets and small live prey every 48 hours. Fruit flies, small crickets, and bloodworms make great snacks for them.

Adults can be fed a variety of different foods three times a week. They will happily accept most live prey, including bloodworms, earthworms, mealworms, crickets, slugs, and snails. As a treat, you can boil and blanch some lettuce, spinach or carrots.

Make sure anything you feed is shredded small enough for your turtle to be able to digest it safely.

All side-neck turtles should have calcium in their diet. This can be provided with crushed snail shells and freshwater shrimp.

Hungry turtles will swim to the sides of the tank to wait for food.

Safe Foods

  • Turtle pellets
  • Crickets
  • Flies
  • Bloodworms
  • Mealworms
  • Earthworms
  • Snails
  • Slugs
  • Freshwater shrimp
  • Snail shells
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Shredded carrots

Temperament

These turtles are quite small and timid. In the wild they tend to shy away from larger turtles, but will get along well with species that are similar in size to them. During the day they spend almost all of their time in the water, staying hidden from potential predators.

Typical pink-bellied side-neck turtle behavior includes swimming and basking.

Swimming is their only form of movement. They do not walk around on land!

Normally they spend up to 45 minutes at a time underwater, before coming to the surface to breathe or for a 5-minute bask in the sun.

As pets you will notice your turtle in the water more often than not. However, with no predators around, they will bask for longer in an aquarium than in the wild.

Despite the ‘slow and steady’ stereotype of turtles, this species is surprisingly quick in the water! It can be quite fun to watch a pink-bellied side-neck turtle zip around their aquarium. If you try to catch one, they will zip away to hide behind a plant or a rock.

Handling

Emydura subglobosa

The pink-bellied side-neck turtle does not like to be held or taken out of the water. Handling makes them feel vulnerable to predators and also increases the risk of them drying out or being exposed to bacteria.

If you pick one up, they will struggle, which can cause you to drop them. A fall can be deadly and may result in a cracked shell.

Picking up a pink-bellied turtle causes a lot of unnecessary distress.

Except for cleaning, quarantining, or moving them, there is no real reason to handle one.

If you do need to pick it up for any reason, you should use a small mesh net. Never handle them with your bare hands, as you could be exposed to salmonella.

Always wash your hands before and after handling, and do not leave them out of the water for longer than necessary.

Are They Good Pets?

Pink-bellied side-neck turtles make excellent pets! They are docile, friendly and most of all adorable. Compared with other pet species, they are easy to care for and have much less demanding tank setups and care needs.

These turtles are excellent for keepers who are picking out their first turtle. They are not a good place to start for those who are completely new to reptile keeping.

A pink-bellied side-neck turtle is a 20 to 30 year commitment.

Before you take one in, take a good look at the pros and cons of caring for one:

Pros Cons
  • Beautiful colors and an adorable appearance.
  • Small and manageable at just 5 to 8 inches long.
  • Can be kept in a tank as small as 80-gallons.
  • Simple care and diet requirements.
  • Does not bite, nip or claw.
  • Legal to keep in all 50 states, but may require a permit in some areas.
  • Cannot be kept with fish or invertebrates.
  • Does not like to be handled or held. Can spread salmonella to human handlers.
  • Large females may outgrow their tanks.
  • Different feeding requirements and schedules for each stage of its life
  • Difficult to find at major retailers.

Buyer’s Guide

The pink-bellied side-neck turtle is rather rare and uncommon to find as a pet. You are not likely to find one for sale at a pet shop or chain retailer. The best place to look for a pink-bellied side-necked turtle for sale is at a shop that specializes in turtles or reptile expos.

Their typical price is about $25 to $50 per turtle.

Some stores will sell them in groups of 3 to 4, priced at around $50 per group.

When it comes to the cost of your turtle, the price of the hatchling is not the only thing to consider. Other expenses you should plan for are:

  • $150 for a high quality 80-gallon glass tank.
  • A filter, heat lamp, aquarium heater, and lighting system will cost between $120 and $250.
  • Food can cost between $40 and $65 a month.
  • For $10 to $30 a month you can have your turtle’s medical care covered under an insurance plan.

When shopping for a pink-bellied side-neck turtle you will want to ensure that you find the healthiest possible specimen. A shell is one of the main indicators of a turtle’s health. It should be smooth and round, with no cracks, pyramiding, or other deformities. The colors should be bright pink, orange or red.

A turtle should not be too fat or too thin. They should look curious, alert and display a normal activity level.

Summary

A pink-bellied side-neck turtle is one of the best species for a hobbyist who is new to turtle keeping. This water-loving turtle will fit right into an 80-gallon aquarium! It can be quite fun to watch them zip around and bask in their unique habitat.

Their recent popularity is because of their bright pink shell and yellow neck markings. They are one of the most beautiful turtles that you will ever see.

While they should not be handled, you will be delighted by just how sweet and friendly this pet is.

They are easy to care for and feeding them is simple since they eat just about anything. If you are looking for one of the best reptiles in the aquarium hobby, the pink-bellied side-neck turtle is it!

Nigel Robert

Nigel Robert

Nigel is the managing editor at More Reptiles. He is a lifelong reptile lover, biologist and wildlife consultant who brings a decade of experience working in reptile conservation and consultancy. He joined our team in 2020 and when he’s not reviewing reptile care sheets, he’s out looking for reptiles in the wild! Nigel is dedicated to herpetology and conserving wildlife which is why he is a member of the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, Zoological Association of America, iNaturalist and the Nature Conservancy.

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