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12 Types of Pet Turtles: Which Species is Best for You?

Turtles are a popular option for those looking for an undemanding and unique pet. However, turtles are not particularly interactive, have complex needs, and have incredibly long lifespans.

Best kept as hobby pets, turtles can provide a source of wonder and entertainment in the home. All turtles have high care levels, but some are more tolerant than others, making them good pets.

Types of pet turtles that are good for beginners include:

  • Red-Eared Slider
  • Spotted Turtle
  • Mud Turtle
  • Musk Turtle
  • African Side-Neck Turtle
  • Eastern Box Turtle
  • Pink Belly Side-Neck Turtle
  • Yellow-Bellied Slider
  • Reeve’s Turtle
  • Bog Turtle
  • Northern Map Turtle
  • Mississippi Map Turtle
  • Painted Turtle

12 Types of Pet Turtles

1. Red-Eared Slider

Common names Red-eared slider, red-eared terrapin, pond slider
Size 6–8 inches
Lifespan 20 to 30 years

Where better to start than the most popular pet turtle, the red-eared slider. This species is known for its horizontal red stripes from the ear back towards the shell. 

Loved due to their relatively low maintenance needs, red-eared sliders are social and active, a perfect choice for a first-time turtle owner. 

With a secure enclosure and a suitable climate, they can live outdoors. If kept indoors, they need a sizable indoor tank with artificial UV and heat.
These turtles are generally easy and cheap to find and purchase, but be aware of local regulations. Some U.S states and various countries have restrictions on the sale and ownership of red-eared sliders due to their invasive status in some ecosystems.[1]

Red-Eared Slider

2. Spotted Turtle

Common names Spotted turtle
Size 3.1–4.7 inches
Lifespan 25 to 50 years

This adorable little turtle has grown in popularity in recent years due to its small space requirements and beautiful appearance.

Like most turtle species, the spotted turtle isn’t fond of being handled. It’s best kept as a pet to observe, not for interaction.

They require some specific care, including habitat design and tank conditions. Dedicated owners find a great deal of satisfaction in caring for this species.

Native to North America, the spotted turtle is endangered. Threats include habitat degradation and the pet trade. When purchasing a spotted turtle, ensure your source has obtained it by legal and ethical breeding, not wild poaching.

Spotted Turtle
Image Source

3. Yellow Mud Turtle

Common names Yellow mud turtle, yellow-necked mud turtle
Size 5 inches
Lifespan 25 to 50 years

Don’t let their cute appearance fool you; this turtle species is not particularly friendly. They sometimes bite when handled too frequently. 

This grumpy attitude is most prevalent in nesting females, as they are the only turtle species to display any parental care[2]. The female yellow mud turtle stays with her eggs to fend off predators during incubation. In a captive setting, owners are sometimes seen as a threat.

Yellow Mud Turtles are semi-aquatic and require terrestrial and water environments to thrive. This broad habitat has led to a varied diet, and they are simple to feed as pets, happily eating fish, insects, and other invertebrates.

The name “mud turtle” comes from this group of turtles’ response to dry periods, in which they will bury themselves to preserve moisture. This adaptation contributes to the yellow mud turtles’ tolerant nature, making them good beginner pets.

Yellow Mud Turtle

4. Musk Turtle

Common names Musk turtle, common musk turtle, eastern musk turtle, stinkpot
Size 3–4 inches
Lifespan 40 to 60 years

In the same family as the mud turtle, the musk turtle is native to south-eastern Canada and much of eastern United States. Compensating for their tiny size, this species can emit foul odors to deter predators, earning them the name “stinkpot”.[3]

Don’t let this unfortunate nickname put you off. This mechanism is for defense when threatened. The musk turtle is a popular pet due to its small size and easy-care nature.

Despite being primarily aquatic turtles, they are not strong swimmers. Enclosures should prioritize width over depth, creating a large surface area with low water levels. It should also include a land area under a heat lamp for basking behaviors.

Musk Turtle
Image Source

5. African Side-Neck Turtle

Common names African side-neck turtle, side-neck turtle, African helmeted turtle, marsh terrapin, crocodile turtle
Size 7–12 inches
Lifespan 20 to 50 years

The African side-neck turtle cannot retract its head into its shells like other turtles. To tuck their heads away, they turn them to the side.

This species is a loved pet due to its entertaining activity and characteristic “smiling” face. They require a high degree of tank care, including large amounts of clean water, regular cleaning and filtration, and stable temperatures above 70℉. [4]

Their diet is less demanding. African side-necks are omnivorous and can have a balanced diet of turtle pellets, insects, and produce.

African Side-Neck Turtle

6. Eastern Box Turtle

Common names Eastern box turtle, land turtle, box turtle
Size 4–6 inches
Lifespan 30 to 40 years

The eastern box turtle is primarily terrestrial. Dry enclosures are one-dimensional compared to water tanks, requiring more space than traditional aquarium tanks. 

They can live indoors or outdoors as long as they have access to a large body of water, UVB, and high humidity. Moist substrates such as leaf litter maintain adequate humidity levels.

As opportunistic omnivores,[5] the box turtle eats insects, fruit, berries, flowers, and carrion. This varied diet makes providing a good diet in captivity is simple. They will eat nearly anything offered because of this opportunistic feeding behavior. It’s important to ensurine food is safe and healthy for them before feeding.

Eastern Box Turtle

7. Pink-Bellied Side-Neck Turtle

Common names Pink-bellied side-necked turtle, red-bellied short-necked turtle, Jardine River turtle
Size 8–9 inches
Lifespan 30 to 50 years

The pink-bellied side-neck turtle is one of the rarest pet turtle species in the United States. This lovely little turtle has a colorful appearance and dynamic behavior. The carapace (upper shell) is typically gray or beige, but the plastron (under shell) is vividly orange-pink.

Keeping this species adds a splash of color to dull aquariums, but care is complex. Experts recommended intermediate to advanced levels of experience in keeping turtles before buying a pink-bellied side-neck turtle.

Pink-bellies are primarily aquatic and highly active. Habitats are complex to encourage natural foraging, swimming, and basking. Water requires filtering and dechlorination and regular tank cleaning is a must.

Pink-bellied side-necked turtle
Image Source

8. Yellow-Bellied Slider

Common names Yellow-bellied slider, yellow-bellied turtle
Size Males: 5–9 inchesFemales: 8–13 inches 
Lifespan 30 to 40 years

Active during the day, the yellow-bellied slider is an entertaining addition to your home. This species is hardy and resilient to change, making it a top pick for beginners

Yellow-bellies are native in the south-eastern United States, from Florida to Virginia. Wild populations of yellow-bellies are becoming genetically rare due to interbreeding with red-eared sliders.

This impact has led to the banning of red-eared slider ownership in Florida to preserve the distinct genetics of the yellow-bellies. 

Ensure you check your region’s local legislation and permitting requirements before purchasing this turtle species.

Yellow-Bellied Slider

9. Reeve’s Turtle

Common names Reeve’s Turtle, Chinese pond turtle, Chinese three-keeled pond turtle
Size 6–9 inches
Lifespan 10 to 20 years

The Reeve’s turtle is similar to the red-eared slider in terms of care requirements. Invasive red sliders threaten wild Reeve’s turtles in Asia due to occupying similar habitats and diets. 

Other threats include capture for the pet trade and overhunting (shells used in traditional Chinese medicine). Fortunately, they breed well in captive settings, so it is simple to source one for a pet. 

Many pet turtle species can live up to 50 years, a considerable commitment for owners. Reeve’s live up to 20 years, so they are a better option for a lesser commitment. They are also known for their charming personalities, showing interest in human activity outside the tank.

Reeve’s Turtle

10. Northern Map Turtle

Common names Northern map turtle, common map turtle
Size 4–11 inches
Lifespan 15 to 20 years

The northern map turtle is common along the eastern side of North America, commonly found around the great lakes and associated river systems. They get their name from the yellow stripes on their skin resembling contour lines found on maps.

Nine states prohibit collection, ownership, and sales of the map turtle. This includes Kansas, Kentucky, and Maryland, where the species is endangered.

As a common wild and captive turtle species, map turtles have well-known needs. New owners will find plenty of resources to support their care.

Northern Map Turtle
Image Source

11. Desert Box Turtle

Common names Desert box turtle, Sonoran box turtle
Size 5 inches
Lifespan 30 to 40 years

Unlike most species of pet turtles, the desert box turtle doesn’t require high humidity levels. Native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, the desert box is adapted to dry, warm climates.

Despite being primarily terrestrial, pet turtles still require access to water at all times. 

Box turtles have characteristically “boxy” shaped shells and are perfectly equipped for their desert environments with light brown coloration.

The habitat of this species influences the captive diet. Instead of feeding on aquatic invertebrates, the desert box turtle primarily feeds on terrestrial insects like many other turtles. 

Desert Box Turtle
Image Source

12. Painted Turtle

Common names Painted turtle, eastern painted turtle, western painted turtle, midland painted turtle, southern painted turtle
Size 5–9 inches
Lifespan 25 to 40 years

The painted turtle consists of four distinct subspecies based on geographical location—eastern, western, midland, and southern. Their unique shells identify each. All have prominent red, yellow, or orange stripes on their extremity that starkly contrasts their dark shells.

Native primarily to the United States, the painted turtle ranges from southern Canada to northern Mexico, making it the most widespread turtle in the US.

Size and lifespan vary only marginally between subspecies but expect female turtles to be slightly larger than the males.

Related: Painted Turtle

Eastern painted turtle

Do Turtles Make Good Pets?

Turtles can make good pets for experienced owners. Many species are tolerant and hardy. Turtles have specific care requirements that need adequate knowledge and the proper equipment. 

Turtles are not traditional pets. Unlike cats and dogs, turtles are not affectionate or friendly. They can undergo significant stress if handled regularly. If you are looking for a pet to bond with, turtles may not be for you.

Most owners keep turtles as a hobby pet, creating dynamic environments and observing them for entertainment. 

Keeping turtles involves a high level of care for minimal “reward”. For turtles to live happy and healthy lives, they need an owner who can commit time, money, and energy to their needs. 

Turtles only make good pets for those with experience and a high level of commitment.

Care Requirements of Pet Turtles

Pet turtles are high-maintenance pets. They require a lot of care to remain healthy and in positive welfare states. Each turtle species has unique care needs, but the basis of requirements for turtles is the same.

Turtles need:

  • Perfect Environmental Parameters
  • Balanced Diets
  • Time Commitment
  • Knowledgeable & Responsible Owner

Environmental Parameters

As ectotherms (cold-blooded animals), turtles need an environment that allows them to undergo basking behaviors to collect heat and UVB. This powers their metabolism and all their life functions.

Owners must actively control temperature, UV exposure, water quality, and humidity in pet turtle habitats. Species need different parameters based on their natural habitats. In addition, captive turtles should experience “seasons” by adjusting these parameters.

Seasons allow for natural behaviors such as brumation, promoting better welfare for the turtle. The balance of environmental conditions requires excellent knowledge and proper equipment.

Balanced Diet

Every animal needs the appropriate nutrition to thrive. Turtles mainly sustain themselves on invertebrates like insects and vegetation. Obtaining food varies in difficulty depending on your turtle’s natural diet.

Fortunately, you can add various pellet formulas and supplements to your turtle’s diet to make up for missing diet components.

Time Commitment

The environmental conditions and diet of your turtle will need a decent amount of time dedicated to them. Regular cleaning and water testing is essential.

Time is necessary not only daily but also regarding a long-term commitment. Some pet turtle species can live to the age of 50+. Bringing a pet turtle into your home means a commitment to caring for them for this long lifespan.

Knowledge and Responsibility

Turtles are not an easy-care species. Their needs are complex, and meeting them requires a deep and broad knowledge of their basic behaviors and biology. Turtles are best for experienced reptile owners, but beginners can choose hardy species to hone their expertise.

Owners should also have a moral and ethical responsibility to do what’s right for the animal. If you can no longer care for your pet turtle, exercise diligence to find an experienced home for them.

Irresponsible owners have previously released their pet turtles to the wild, impacting local ecosystems and biodiversity.

Related: Pet Turtles That Stay Small

FAQs

What’s The Difference Between Turtles And Tortoises?

Turtles are all species in the order of Testudines, including aquatic and terrestrial species.  Tortoises are species of turtles that are primarily land-based, identifiable by domed shells and “club-like” feet. In contrast, aquatic turtles have slimmer bodies and flippers or webbed feet adapted for life in water.

What Does a Pet Turtle Cost?

Pet turtles can cost anywhere between $50–$2000. The precise purchase cost depends on the turtle species, how rare they are, and where you purchase them. Keeping pet turtles is also costly, with enclosure set-up costs potentially adding up to $1000 to include purchases of vital equipment such as tanks, UV lamps, and heat lamps. The cost of feeding will vary between species depending on their diet. Specialized diets will cost more to source, while herbivorous turtles will be cheaper to feed.

Do Pet Turtles Smell?

Generally, pet turtles are odorless species. Their enclosure may begin to smell if not cleaned regularly, but proper husbandry will keep odors at bay. Some species of turtles emit scents to deter predators, including the musk turtle. This scent defense occurs when the turtle feels threatened, so providing a safe enclosure will limit odor deposits.

Why Are Pet Turtles Illegal?

Not all pet turtles are illegal. Many are legal and ordinary pets. The legality of turtle ownership varies by species and state. Some states have criminalized owning specific species due to their effects on biodiversity. For example, the red-eared slider is invasive in many areas due to its hardy nature. They can thrive in many environments, creating competition for native turtles and diluting species gene pools with cross-breeding.

Restrictions on turtle ownership are also often due to public health risks. Turtle ownership links to salmonella outbreaks, particularly in young children and immunocompromised individuals.[6]

About Sophie Herlihy (Zoologist)

Sophie Herlihy, a trained zoologist, is a lover of true misfit animals. With a specialty in insects, birds, and rodents, she helps the Misfit Animals craft factual and valuable informational pieces on various animals.