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Are African Sideneck Turtles Aggressive?

If you’re wanting to purchase an African Sideneck turtle or add another to your current habitat, you may be wondering if they are an aggressive species.

African Sidenecks Turtles are calm, easy-going turtles that make great pets.

However, there are some reasons your African Sideneck could show aggression towards you or other turtles.

Read more to learn how to identify and prevent aggression in your African Sideneck turtles.

Understanding African Sideneck behavior

Behavior traits

African Sidenecks are great turtles for beginners because they adapt to many settings. Hobbyists enjoy keeping them because they are resilient and can be easy to care for.

African Sidenecks have a docile nature. However, they are also active and alert because of their curious personalities.

They are solitary animals in the wild but can live together in captivity when kept in the right conditions.

Factors that contribute to aggression

African Sidenecks are calm turtles, but there are reasons why they may show aggression.

  • Overcrowded enclosures: When too many turtles live in the same tank, they may bully each other, act territorial, and fight over space.
  • Competition over food: In addition to battling for space, competition over food could lead to aggressive behavior.
  • Mating behaviors: When turtles go through the mating season, their hormones or mating rituals could cause aggression, especially in males.
  • Improper handling: Picking up and holding your turtle too much, or incorrectly, is harmful. It can make them feel threatened and lead them to defend themselves.

Common signs of aggression

Observing your turtles regularly can help you identify unwanted behaviors and remove aggressive turtles before they cause harm.

There are signs to look for when trying to identify aggression between turtles.

Aggressive turtles will sometimes chase smaller or weaker turtles or try to bully them.

They might nip or bite the tail, legs, or heads of smaller or weaker turtles.

In some cases, an aggressive turtle will ram its body into another turtle. The victimized turtle will then try to avoid the aggressor by swimming around it.

Using open-mouth threats or trying to rock another turtle off a basking area are also signs of aggression.

Causes of aggression

Improper care

Caring for your turtle properly will keep it happy and reduce instances of aggression.

To provide the best care, model your turtle’s habitat after its living conditions in the wild.

If its housing is too small or dirty, your turtle could lash out aggressively.

Also, turtles without the right diet and nutritional supplements may fight over food.

Stress and anxiety

Aquatic turtles are easily frightened or stressed by anything they perceive as a threat. This can lead to aggressive behavior because they will act to defend themselves.

And when turtles are stressed, they are more likely to act aggressively toward their handlers or other turtles.

Unsuitable living conditions and poor health are responsible for most of the stress in captive turtles.

Interesting READ  How to keep a Turtle Warm without a Heat Lamp?

Over time, stress can suppress the immune system and increase the chance your turtle will get sick.

Health issues

Poor health can also lead to aggressive behavior because it can cause even more stress.

Unfortunately, sick turtles can easily become victims of bullying or aggression.

Common health issues for aquatic turtles include respiratory diseases, vitamin deficiencies, infections, parasites, and dehydration.

Most turtle illnesses are due to improper care, so keeping your turtle in safe and clean conditions can prevent illness and reduce aggression.

Lack of socialization

If your turtle has not been appropriately socialized, it can get aggressive because there is a greater chance it will feel stress.

Turtles that hatch in captivity are better at adjusting to captive lifestyles than turtles caught in the wild.

Since many African Sideneck turtles are wild-caught turtles, stress or aggressive behavior could occur as they adapt to captivity.

However, these turtles can get used to captivity and handling. But they can become aggressive or bite when handled too much.

Check our article: How to Make Your Turtle Not Afraid of You?

Preventing aggression in African Sideneck Turtles

Provide proper housing

To avoid aggression in your pet, make sure you provide the right living conditions.


You should house your African Sideneck in a tank or a tub large enough for it to swim and bask.

For keeping only one turtle, your tank should be between 40 and 75 gallons. To keep multiple turtles in one tank, you will need an even larger enclosure.

Having a larger living area can prevent turtles from becoming territorial and fighting over space.

Basking areas

In the wild, African Sidenecks sometimes compete over basking space. So, provide multiple basking areas to prevent competition.

Each basking area should allow your turtle to get itself completely out of the water and dry itself under lighting.

Heat and lighting

Turtles get heat from outside their bodies, so you’ll need to provide lighting and heating.

To give your turtle the necessary lighting, make sure you use a heat-emitting UVB bulb. Some experts prefer the T-Rex UVB-heat light.

Situating the light above the basking area will help keep the spot at the necessary 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

The water temperature also needs to stay between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. A thermal water heater can help maintain the correct temperature.

Don’t have a heat lamp? Check our article: How to keep a Turtle Warm without a Heat Lamp?

Clean water

Aquatic turtles use the bathroom in the water, so keeping it clean is important to maintaining their health.

Using a strong filter will keep the water clear of waste.

If you choose not to use a filter, change the water at least every two to three days.


Using substrate is not necessary. Leaving it out makes your tank easier to clean.

But if you do decide to use substrate, sand is a good choice. Also, you can use pebbles that are too big for your turtle to eat.

Hiding places

It is important that your turtles have plenty of places to rest or hide if they feel tired, threatened, or stressed.

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Having plenty of hiding places can prevent your turtles from fighting over space.

Reduce stress

Stressed turtles are more likely to show aggression.

But there are a few things you can do to ensure your turtle doesn’t feel stressed.

Never handle your turtle unless absolutely necessary. Water changes, tank cleanings, and health inspections are the only reasons to handle it. Avoid handling your turtle if it already seems stressed.

You should also avoid handling or disturbing your turtle when it is resting or basking.

Also, sharp and harmful decor in your enclosure can be a source of stress. Make sure decorations and resting places are safe for your pet.

Finally, be sure to look for the following signs of stress in your turtle.

  • refusal to eat
  • withdrawing into its shell for long periods of time
  • signs of illness like bubbles around the nose

Provide the proper diet and nutrition

Your turtle also needs a healthy and balanced diet.

African Sidenecks thrive when given a variety of foods. They are omnivores, but their diet should consist mostly of protein.

Providing supplements, like calcium and Vitamin D3, will keep your turtle healthy.

African Sidenecks have a large appetite, so be sure not to overfeed them.

Ensure appropriate socialization and interaction

Turtles are solitary animals, but they can live with other turtles.

There are a few steps you can take to ensure that your turtles can live together successfully.

As mentioned, always buy captive-bred turtles since they are known to adjust better to their environments. Buying captive-bred will also minimize stress and sickness.

Always quarantine a new turtle so they cannot spread any illnesses. This will also help it rest and adjust to its new surroundings.

Immediately remove aggressive turtles from the tank. They should be kept in their own enclosure for every turtle’s safety.

Keeping low numbers of turtles in one enclosure can decrease the likelihood of aggression.

Housing mostly females together will also reduce unwanted behaviors.

Get regular veterinary check-ups

Before you bring your turtle home, research veterinarians that specialize in reptile care. Visiting your local herpetology society’s website can help you find a vet.

You should always take a new turtle to see your vet right away. Also, see a vet immediately any time you suspect your turtle is ill or injured.

It is also a good idea to make records of any aggressive behavior you see and share it with your vet.


African Sideneck turtles are charming. They make great pets for beginners since they are sturdy and easily cared for.

They are fairly calm turtles. But stress, health issues, and improper care can lead to aggressive behavior.

However, with the right care and living conditions, they can successfully live with other turtles.

Taking steps to keep your African Sidenecks happy and healthy can prevent aggressive behavior.

For more information watch this video by Dan the Turtle Man on Youtube or read this African Sideneck care sheet from Reptile Magazine.