African sideneck turtle care is a topic of great interest for those looking to keep these charming reptiles as pets. With their distinctive brown shells and long necks, these turtles are known for their unique appearance and fascinating behaviors.

We will explore the various aspects of caring for an African sideneck turtle, including the type of enclosure that is suitable, how to maintain the ideal size and weight, the importance of proper lighting and heating, humidity requirements, suitable substrate, and their feeding and dietary needs.

By the end of this guide, you will have a comprehensive understanding of what it takes to provide excellent care for these delightful creatures.

Pelusios Castaneus

African Sideneck Turtles, scientifically known as Pelusios castaneus, are fascinating creatures that make excellent pets. They are also sometimes called West African sideneck turtles, West African mud turtles or swamp terrapins. It is a species of turtle in the family Pelomedusidae.

This turtle is native to sub-Saharan Africa, where it is found in a variety of freshwater habitats, including swamps, rivers, ponds, and mud holes.

They are relatively small turtles, with males reaching a maximum carapace length of about 25 cm (9.8 in) and females reaching a maximum carapace length of about 30 cm (11.8 in). They have a round, chestnut-brown carapace and a large, yellow plastron that is often outlined in black. Their heads are brown or reddish with a light reticulated pattern, and they have two barbels on their chins.

If you opt for keeping this type of turtle as a pet, be aware that they have a lifespan of about 20-30 years in captivity.

What Type of Enclosure is Suitable?

Before you purchase your new African sideneck turtle you will need to prepare their new home. That means buying and setting up an adequate enclosure outfitted for their particular needs that mimic their natural habitat.

The key factors that go into putting together a great enclosure are picking the correct size, providing proper heating and lighting, dialing in the right humidity and laying the right substrate. You also want to include some shelter, usually referred to as hides, and a basking area.


When it comes to the size of enclosure you’ll need, it’s important to consider both the current size and the potential size of your turtle as an adult. As hatchlings these turtles typically measure around 1 to 2 inches in length. However, they can grow up to 10 to 14 inches in total length, making them medium-sized turtles compared to many of their aquatic counterparts.

To accommodate their growth, providing a spacious enclosure is essential. A tank that is at least 40 to 55 gallons in capacity can be suitable for a single adult Pelusios castaneus. This will give them enough room to swim, explore, and bask comfortably. Remember, allowing ample space is crucial for their overall well-being and to mimic their natural habitat.

Lighting & Heating

Proper lighting and heating the mimic nature are essential for creating a suitable habitat that will allow your new pet to thrive.

When it comes to lighting, providing a combination of natural and artificial sources is ideal. Natural sunlight should be the primary source, as it provides important UVB rays that are necessary for the synthesis of vitamin D3 in your turtle’s body. This can be achieved by placing the enclosure near a window. Alternatively, utilizing a UVB lamp specifically designed for reptiles can work as well. However, remember to position the lamp at a suitable distance to provide the right intensity of UVB rays without causing any harm to your turtle’s eyes or skin.

In addition to lighting, maintaining a proper temperature is crucial for the well-being of your African sideneck turtle. These turtles are ectothermic or cold-blooded, meaning they rely on external sources of heat to regulate their body temperature.

Aim to create a temperature gradient within the enclosure by providing a basking spot with a temperature of around 90°F (32°C) and cooler areas around 75°F (24°C). This can be achieved by using a reptile-specific heating pad or a heat lamp. It’s important to monitor the temperatures regularly to ensure they remain within the appropriate range, as extreme fluctuations can negatively impact your turtle’s health.


Unlike many tortoises, turtles typically require a fairly humid environment. To achieve this, you can mist the enclosure daily with a spray bottle, ensuring that the humidity remains between 50-70%.

Aside from misting, incorporating a water feature such as a small pool or pond can also help maintain the necessary humidity levels. This provides a source of moisture for your pet turtle to soak in whenever they need to. This will require a little extra work on your behalf though to keep this water clean.

Remember, consistency is key. Regularly monitor the humidity levels using a hygrometer, a tool specifically designed for measuring humidity. If you notice any significant fluctuations, adjust the misting or other humidity-enhancing methods accordingly.

By providing your pet with the right humidity levels, you will contribute to their overall health and ensure they thrive in their captive environment.


The substrate you use should be carefully chosen to provide a comfortable and natural habitat for these turtles.

One option is to use a special premixed bag of soil which closely mimics the environment in their natural habitats. Many pet shops that have materials for creating a bio-active enclosure will carry this type of soil. This substrate choice provides a soft surface for the turtles to burrow into and also helps maintain the optimal humidity levels in the enclosure.

Another suitable option is coconut coir, a popular choice among turtle keepers. This substrate is lightweight and holds moisture well, creating a moist and slightly spongy surface that is comfortable for the turtles to walk on.

When deciding on what substrate to use, it is important to avoid using materials that could be harmful if ingested. Avoid using gravel or small rocks that the turtles could accidentally swallow, as this can lead to digestive issues. Similarly, stay away from substrate choices that contain any sharp or jagged components, as they can pose a risk of injury to the turtles’ soft bodies. Instead, focus on using natural materials that are safe and gentle for the turtles to interact with.

Feeding & Dietary Needs

Once you have your mud turtle’s home setup, you can move on the making sure you know how to properly feed it.

First and foremost, they are omnivorous creatures. This means that they have a diverse diet consisting of both plant matter and live prey.

In the wild, they primarily feed on a variety of invertebrates such as worms, snails, and insects. However, in captivity, it is essential to provide them with a balanced diet that includes both animal protein and vegetation to ensure their overall health and well-being.

To meet their dietary needs, it is recommended to offer a combination of commercial turtle pellets, fresh fruits and vegetables, and occasional live prey.

When choosing commercial turtle pellets, opt for high-quality ones that are specifically formulated for aquatic turtles. These pellets provide essential nutrients including vitamins and minerals necessary for their growth and development.

You should also supplement their diet with a variety of fresh produce such as:

  • leafy greens
  • carrots
  • squash

This will provide them with the necessary vitamins and fiber.

As for live prey, you can offer mealworms, crickets, and fish on occasion to add a natural component to their diet. It is important to ensure that the live prey is appropriately sized and gut-loaded to provide optimal nutrition.

Frequently Asked Questions

Looking for some answers to very specific questions? Check out our F.A.Q.

How big does an African sideneck turtle get?

They can grow to about 10-12 inches in length with females often growing larger than their male counterparts.

What size tank does a african sideneck turtle need?

At a minimum you should in vest in a 40 gallon tank, often referred to as a 40 breeder.

How long can an African sideneck turtle live?

When kept as a pet, that is when kept in captivity, they can live fr up to thirty years.


We hope this guide on how to properly care for a pet African sideneck turtle answered all of your questions. The main takeaways are that you want to do your best to provide an environment that is similar to their natural habitat as well as feed them a well balanced diet.

Locating a nearby exotic pet veterinarian ahead of time can alleviate a lot of stress should you eventually need to find one in the case of an emergency too. 

Enjoy your new pet turtle and may they bring you years of happiness.