Types of Pet Turtles: Our Team’s Top 7 Recommendations

These unique and fascinating reptiles make great companions – if you know how to care for them.
There are around 360 species of turtles in the world, but only a handful are common pets. 

We included types of pet turtles that make great pets, not only for their uniqueness and nature but also for the availability of support, health care, and care knowledge.

Red-Eared Slider Turtles: The friendliest turtle

Red-Eared Slider Turtles

Red-Eared Slider Turtles (Trachemys scripta elegans) are known for their vibrant red or orange patches on the sides of their heads, which give them their distinctive name. Red-Eared Sliders require a large aquatic habitat with a basking area, as well as a proper diet consisting of both plants and protein.

Red-Eared Sliders can grow quite large, reaching sizes of up to 12-14 inches in length

If you are considering having a Red-Eared Slider Turtle as a pet, here are some key points to know:

Size Lifestyle Feeding Lifespan 
6-10 inch/ 15-25 cmsemi-aquaticomnivoresUp to 30 years
Red-Eared Slider Turtle characteristics

Appearance: Red-Eared Sliders have a semi-aquatic lifestyle, with a shell length ranging from 6 to 10 inches (15 to 25 centimeters) when fully grown. Their shell colors can vary, typically olive to brown, and they have bright yellow markings on their legs. The “red ear” patches, found on both sides of their heads, tend to fade as they age.

Lifespan: With proper care, Red-Eared Sliders can live for several decades. In captivity, they can live up to 20 to 30 years or even more, making them a long-term commitment as pets.

Habitat: Red-Eared Sliders require a spacious, well-maintained aquarium or pond setup. The enclosure should have both a basking area and a swimming area with a filtration system to keep the water clean.

Feeding: These turtles are omnivores, and their diet should consist of commercial turtle pellets, leafy greens, vegetables, and occasional live or frozen protein sources like insects, fish, or even small rodents can be part of their diet.

Temperature and Lighting: Red-Eared Sliders are ectothermic, meaning they rely on external sources of heat to regulate their body temperature. They require a basking spot with a heat lamp to maintain a basking area temperature of around 90-95°F (32-35°C). UVB lighting is also necessary for their proper shell and bone development.

Handling and Socialization: While Red-Eared Sliders are not social animals, they can become accustomed to their owners with gentle and consistent handling. 

Legality and Ethical Considerations: Before getting a Red-Eared Slider as a pet, be aware of local regulations regarding turtle ownership, as some areas have restrictions due to concerns about the spread of diseases and environmental impact.

Russian Tortoises

Russian tortoise

Russian Tortoises (Agrionemys horsfieldii), also known as Horsfield’s Tortoises are small tortoises native to Central Asia and are known for their hardiness and docile nature. 

These charming reptiles make wonderful pets for those interested in keeping a small and manageable tortoise species

SizeLifestyleFeeding Lifespan 
6-8 inch/ 15-20 cmarid and semi-aridherbivoresUp to 50 years
Russian Tortoises characteristics

Appearance: Russian Tortoises are small to medium-sized tortoises, with adults typically ranging from 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 centimeters) in length. They have a slightly domed, high-carapaced shell that is usually brown or olive in color. Their skin is yellowish-brown, and they have short, sturdy legs.

Lifespan: With proper care, Russian Tortoises can live for several decades. In captivity, they can live up to 40 to 50 years or even more, so they are a long-term commitment as pets.

Habitat: These tortoises are native to arid and semi-arid regions, and their habitat should reflect that. A tortoise table or a spacious, well-ventilated enclosure with a substrate of a mix of topsoil, sand, and coconut coir works well. The enclosure should also have hiding spots and a shallow water dish for soaking.

Feeding: Russian Tortoises are herbivores and require a diet rich in fibrous plants and leafy greens, weeds, grasses, etc. to meet their nutritional needs. Calcium and vitamin supplements may be required to ensure proper shell and bone health.

Temperature and Lighting: Russian Tortoises need a basking area with a heat lamp to maintain a basking spot temperature of around 95-100°F (35-38°C). The rest of the enclosure should have a cooler side with temperatures ranging from 75-85°F (24-29°C). UVB lighting is crucial for their calcium metabolism and overall well-being.

Social Behavior: Russian Tortoises are generally solitary animals and prefer to live alone. Keeping multiple tortoises in the same enclosure can lead to stress and territorial issues.

Handling: While Russian Tortoises are not as interactive as some other pets, they can become accustomed to their owners with gentle and patient handling. However, they can be easily stressed, so handling should be limited.

Ethical Considerations: Ensure that the Russian Tortoise you are considering as a pet is captive-bred and not wild-caught. Wild-caught animals can carry parasites and stress from capture, and supporting the capture and trade of wild animals can be harmful to their populations in their natural habitats.

Painted Turtles: easiest to care for

painted turtle

Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta) are striking and engaging aquatic turtles native to North America. Their vibrant colors and unique shell patterns make them a popular choice for turtle enthusiasts looking to keep an aquatic species as a pet. 

SizeLifestyle Feeding Lifespan 
4-10 inch/ 10-25 comsemi-aquaticomnivoresUp to 40 years
painted turtle characteristics

Appearance: Painted Turtles are medium-sized turtles with smooth, oval-shaped shells that can grow up to 4 to 10 inches (10 to 25 centimeters) in length. Their carapace, or upper shell, is olive to black in color and features bright red or yellow markings along the edges. Their plastron, or lower shell, is typically yellow with dark markings. The skin of Painted Turtles is dark green to black, with red and yellow stripes on their head, neck, and limbs.

Lifespan: With proper care, Painted Turtles can live for several decades. In captivity, they can live up to 30 to 40 years or even longer, making them a long-term commitment as pets.

Habitat: Painted Turtles are semi-aquatic and require a spacious aquarium or pond to thrive. The enclosure should have both a basking area with a heat lamp and a swimming area with a filtration system to keep the water clean. Providing aquatic plants, rocks, and driftwood can offer enrichment and hiding spots for the turtles.

Feeding: Painted Turtles are omnivores and have a varied diet. They primarily eat aquatic plants, algae, and small invertebrates in the wild. In captivity, their diet should include commercial turtle pellets, leafy greens, vegetables, and occasional protein sources like insects, fish, and earthworms.

Temperature and Lighting: As ectothermic animals, Painted Turtles rely on external sources of heat to regulate their body temperature. The basking area should have a temperature of around 85-90°F (29-32°C), while the water temperature should be maintained around 75-80°F (24-27°C). UVB lighting is essential for their calcium metabolism and overall well-being.

Social Behavior: Painted Turtles are generally solitary animals and prefer to live alone. Keeping multiple turtles in the same enclosure can lead to territorial issues and stress.

Handling: While Painted Turtles can become accustomed to their owners with gentle and consistent handling, they are primarily aquatic and may not enjoy extensive handling like some other pets. Minimize handling to reduce stress.

Legal Considerations: Before acquiring a Painted Turtle as a pet, be aware of local regulations regarding turtle ownership, as some areas have restrictions due to concerns about the spread of diseases and impact on wild populations.

Box Turtles

box turtle

Box Turtles (Terrapene spp.) are a terrestrial turtle species known for their hinged shell, which allows them to close themselves tightly when threatened. These turtles are native to North America and have distinctive domed shells. Box Turtles require both a suitable terrestrial enclosure with ample space and an outdoor area for foraging.

Box Turtles (Terrapene spp.) are captivating and terrestrial turtles that make interesting and long-lived pets. They belong to the genus Terrapene, and several species are commonly kept as pets, such as the Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) and the Three-Toed Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis

They have unique dietary needs, with a preference for live prey such as insects, as well as vegetation.

SizeLifestyleFeeding Lifespan 
4-8 inch/ 10-20 cm terrestrialomnivoresUp to 50 years
box turtle characteristics

Appearance: Box Turtles have a unique hinged shell that allows them to completely retract their head, tail, and limbs within it for protection. Their carapace, or upper shell, is typically dark brown or black and often adorned with intricate yellow or orange patterns. The plastron, or lower shell, is hinged, allowing it to close tightly against the carapace when threatened. Adult Box Turtles usually reach 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) in length.

Lifespan: With proper care, Box Turtles can live for several decades. In captivity, they can live up to 40 to 50 years or even longer, making them a long-term commitment as pets.

Habitat: Box Turtles are primarily terrestrial but also require a shallow water dish for soaking and drinking. Their enclosure should mimic their natural habitat, providing a mix of substrate like topsoil, coconut coir, and leaf litter. Include hiding spots, rocks, and logs to create a stimulating environment.

Feeding: Box Turtles are omnivores with a varied diet. They eat a combination of insects, snails, earthworms, fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens. Commercial turtle diets can also supplement their nutrition.

Temperature and Lighting: Box Turtles require a basking area with a heat lamp to maintain a basking spot temperature of around 90-95°F (32-35°C). The rest of the enclosure should have a cooler side with temperatures ranging from 70-80°F (21-27°C). UVB lighting is crucial for their calcium metabolism and overall well-being.

Social Behavior: Box Turtles are generally solitary animals, and housing multiple turtles together can lead to stress and territorial issues. If kept with other turtles, provide ample space and separate hiding spots to reduce conflicts.

Handling: While Box Turtles can become accustomed to their owners, they are generally not as interactive as some other pets. Minimize handling to avoid stress, and always handle them gently.

Legal Considerations: Before acquiring a Box Turtle as a pet, be aware of local regulations regarding turtle ownership, as some areas have restrictions due to concerns about the spread of diseases and impact on wild populations.

Spotted Turtles

spotted turtle

Spotted Turtles are small, semi-aquatic turtles known for their beautiful black shells adorned with yellow spots. They have specific habitat requirements and thrive in heavily vegetated areas such as marshes and swamps. Spotted Turtles require both land and water areas in their enclosure, and their diet consists of insects, aquatic invertebrates, and plant matter.

Due to their specific needs and conservation status in some areas, Spotted Turtles are considered unique and exotic pets.

SizeLifestyle Feeding Lifespan 
3.5-5 inch/ 9-13 cmsemi-aquaticomnivoresUp to 30 years
spotted turtle characteristics

Appearance: Spotted Turtles have a dark-colored carapace with yellow spots or specks, which gives them their name. Their plastron is typically yellow with black markings. Adults generally reach 3.5 to 5 inches (9 to 13 centimeters) in length.

Lifespan: With proper care, Spotted Turtles can live for several decades. In captivity, they can live up to 25 to 30 years or more, making them a long-term commitment as pets.

Habitat: Spotted Turtles are semi-aquatic and require a suitable setup that includes both a land area and a water area. The enclosure should have a basking spot with a heat lamp to maintain a temperature of around 85-90°F (29-32°C) and a water area with clean, dechlorinated water for swimming.

Feeding: Spotted Turtles are omnivores, and their diet should consist of a variety of foods. They primarily eat aquatic plants, insects, small fish, and worms. Providing commercial turtle pellets and a mix of fruits and vegetables can also be part of their diet.

Water Quality: Maintaining proper water quality is crucial for the health of Spotted Turtles. Ensure that the water is clean and filtered, and perform regular water changes to keep it in optimal condition.

Social Behavior: Spotted Turtles are generally solitary animals and prefer to live alone. Keeping multiple turtles together can lead to stress and territorial issues.

Handling: While Spotted Turtles can tolerate gentle and occasional handling, they are primarily aquatic and may prefer to be observed rather than handled extensively.

Legal Considerations: Before acquiring a Spotted Turtle as a pet, be aware of local regulations regarding turtle ownership. In some regions, they may be protected, and owning them may be subject to specific restrictions.

Conservation Concerns: Spotted Turtles are considered a species of concern in many areas due to habitat loss and population declines. When acquiring a Spotted Turtle as a pet, make sure it comes from a reputable breeder and not from the wild.

Diamondback Terrapins

diamondback turtle

Diamondback Terrapins are brackish water turtles native to the estuaries and marshes of North America’s Atlantic coast. They are known for their diamond-shaped markings on their shells and their ability to tolerate both saltwater and freshwater environments. Diamondback Terrapins require a specialized habitat that includes a large brackish water area, along with a diet that includes both animal protein and vegetation.

Due to their specific habitat requirements, Diamondback Terrapins are considered unique and challenging pets to keep.

SizeLifestyleFeeding Lifespan 
5.5-9.5 inc/12.7-25.4 cmsemi-aquaticomnivoresUp to 30 years
Diamondback Terrapins characteristics

Appearance: Diamondback Terrapins have a dark-colored carapace with intricate diamond-shaped patterns in shades of yellow, orange, or green. The plastron is usually pale with black markings. Males and females differ in size, with females being larger than males.

Lifespan: With proper care, Diamondback Terrapins can live for several decades. In captivity, they can live up to 25 to 30 years or more, making them a long-term commitment as pets.

Habitat: Diamondback Terrapins are semi-aquatic and require a spacious enclosure that provides both a land area and a brackish water area. The water should be filtered and maintained at the proper salinity level (a mix of freshwater and saltwater). The land area should have a basking spot with a heat lamp to maintain a temperature of around 85-90°F (29-32°C).

Feeding: Diamondback Terrapins are opportunistic omnivores. Their diet should consist of a mix of aquatic plants, insects, crustaceans, fish, and commercial turtle pellets. Providing a varied diet is crucial for their health and nutrition.

Social Behavior: Diamondback Terrapins are generally solitary animals and prefer to live alone. Keeping multiple turtles together can lead to stress and territorial issues.

Handling: While Diamondback Terrapins can tolerate occasional handling, they are primarily aquatic and may not enjoy extensive handling like some other pets. Minimize handling to reduce stress.

Legal Considerations: Before acquiring a Diamondback Terrapin as a pet, be aware of local regulations regarding turtle ownership. In many areas, they are protected species, and owning them may be subject to specific restrictions.

Conservation Status: Diamondback Terrapins are considered a species of concern due to habitat loss and over-harvesting. When acquiring a Diamondback Terrapin as a pet, make sure it comes from a reputable breeder and not from the wild.

Due to their specific care requirements and conservation concerns, Diamondback Terrapins may not be the best choice for inexperienced turtle keepers. Responsible ownership is vital to contribute to the preservation of this fascinating and ecologically important species.

Softshell Turtles

softshell turtle

Softshell Turtles, as the name suggests, possess a soft, leathery shell instead of the typical hard shell seen in other turtle species. They are highly adapted for an aquatic lifestyle, with webbed feet and a streamlined body. Softshell Turtles require spacious aquatic habitats with sandy bottoms and ample hiding spots. Their diet consists mainly of aquatic prey such as fish, insects, and crustaceans.

Softshell Turtles have unique physical characteristics that make them stand out among other pet turtles.

Softshell Turtles (Trionychidae) are a group of aquatic turtles known for their unique flattened, leathery shells that lack the hard scutes found in other turtle species. They are fascinating creatures with specific care requirements and can make interesting pets for experienced turtle keepers. If you are considering a Softshell Turtle as a pet, here are some key points to know:

SizeLifestyleFeeding Lifespan 
Feamle: 21 inches ( 54 cm
Male: 5-9 inches (12.7-23 cm)
aquaticcarnivorousUp to 30 years
Softshell Turtles characteristics

Appearance: Softshell Turtles have a distinctly flattened shell that feels leathery to the touch. Unlike other turtles, they lack hard bony plates (scutes) on their shells, which makes them more streamlined for life in the water. They have long necks, pointed snouts, and webbed feet, which make them excellent swimmers.

Lifespan: With proper care, Softshell Turtles can live for several decades. In captivity, they can live up to 20 to 30 years or even longer, making them a long-term commitment as pets.

Habitat: Softshell Turtles are primarily aquatic and require a large and well-maintained tank or pond to thrive. The water should be filtered, and a basking area with a heat lamp should be provided. Soft substrates, such as sand, can be used on the tank bottom to prevent injury to their sensitive shell.

Feeding: Softshell Turtles are carnivorous and have a diet that consists mainly of fish, crayfish, insects, and aquatic invertebrates. They are skilled hunters, using their long necks to strike at prey swiftly.

Social Behavior: Softshell Turtles are generally solitary animals and prefer to live alone. Keeping multiple turtles together can lead to stress and territorial issues.

Handling: While Softshell Turtles can tolerate occasional handling, they are primarily aquatic and may not enjoy extensive handling like some other pets. Minimize handling to reduce stress.

Legal Considerations: Before acquiring a Softshell Turtle as a pet, be aware of local regulations regarding turtle ownership. In many areas, some Softshell Turtle species are protected, and owning them may be subject to specific restrictions.

Before getting a pet turtle

Owning a turtle requires specialized care and ample space for their growth and well-being. These fascinating creatures can live for many years, constantly growing throughout their lives, making their proper care vital for a happy and healthy existence.

Unfortunately, small turtles often suffer mistreatment and mishandling, leading to premature death. Shipping turtles by mail often results in fatalities, and those kept in cramped pet store tanks lead unhappy lives.

If you’re considering getting a turtle, first determine the specific species you want, as each requires different living environments. Instead of buying from pet stores, consider adopting from local animal shelters or rescue groups for the best option.

Prioritize other key aspects of turtle care, such as suitable habitats, proper diet, and safety precautions. It’s important to note that small turtles can transmit Salmonella to humans, posing health risks, particularly for young children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. Some states even require permits to own turtles due to disease transmission and the protection of native turtle populations.

Best pet turtle for beginners 

For beginners, male painted turtles, including U.S. mud and musk turtles, and male red-eared sliders are ideal choices. These turtles are relatively easy to care for and do not demand excessive attention.