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Advice Column: There are little white worms swimming in the tank…

Question from Luther:

I can see little white worms swimming in the tank. Do i need to treat the RES and the tank?

Luther,

Planaria - Little White Worms - School book diagram
Photo Courtesy of câmara escura

Sounds like you may have Planaria in your tank. Planaria are flatworms, related to flukes and tapeworms. They are quite small and hairlike. Take a good look at them and you may see a hammerhead shape on one end with eyes.

Bottom line, they are not harmful to turtles.

However… they are an indicator that the tank has a problem. Either you are feeding your turtle (You do have a turtle, right? Making an assumption here since you didn’t mention, but you are asking this question on a turtle website) too much, or you are not cleaning your tank enough.

I say this because Planaria require a food source, which means there must be excess food wastes in the tank to support them.

If you want to get rid of them, you should:

  • Clean your tank thoroughly. Really get into the gravel as that is where the worms find food. Remove dead plants and other waste.
  • Cut back on the amount you feed your turtle. Excess food not eat becomes part of the waste and can sustain the Planaria as well.
  • Finally, once the tank is clean, make sure you keep it clean. Change the water frequently and do regular maintenance. A clean tank = no Planaria!

Good luck!

2 Responses to “Advice Column: There are little white worms swimming in the tank…”

  1. Whitney Lynn said on April 13th, 2009 at 8:00 pm:

    I’m having a similar problem, except they are red and tiny hair-like worms. I’ve recently lost a red eared slider, cause of death was unknown, no prior indication that it was sick….I later replaced him with a yellow bellyed mississppi slider. I cleaned the tank throughly and purchased a new filtration system. Very small turtle, captive born, in a substancially large tank. Please help?

  2. admin said on July 31st, 2009 at 2:30 pm:

    Whitney –

    I’m not sure what those could be honestly. I recommend that you remove your turtle from the tank and change all of the water. Clean the tank completely, along with everything that was in it, with a mixture of 10% bleach and 90% water. (I know you already said you cleaned your tank, but it doesn’t hurt to do it again.)

    Also, since you said you already lost a red eared slider (and I’m assuming it was in the same tank), I would take your turtle, a stool sample and a sample of the worms to a qualified veterinarian that treats turtles to get checked for parasites. That’s the best way to find out if they came from the other turtle that passed away (because while you can get rid of worms, sometimes you miss the eggs) or from something else.

    Good luck!