Best Types of Pet Turtles

There are over 365 known types of turtles in the wild. Now the vast majority of these species of turtles will not be appropriate for your average turtle keeper. Most of them need high-level specialized care. But yet there are many turtles that do make good pets for your average pet owner. These range from the large aquatic red-eared sliders, the relatively tiny painted turtle, the brackish loving diamond back terrapin and the earth hugging box turtle.

While all pet turtles have many similarities with each other they can also be very different. Needing different kinds of care and habitats. Since turtles can be so long lived (many pet turtles can easily live over 20 years if well taken care of) you need to pick a species of pet turtle that fits well with your lifestyle and that you like a lot.

Red-Eared Slider

Red-eared sliders are popular and relatively easy to care for, but look out for their size potential

These turtles are one of the largest species of aquatic turtles that can kept as pets, they are also by far the most popular pet turtle there is. There are four different types of sliders two of which should not be kept as pets and two that can be, that would be the red eared slider and its less known cousin the yellow-bellied slider.

In the wild red eared sliders are omnivorous, chowing down on plants as well as other animals. They are highly efficient predators despite there often shy and friendly demeanor with people. It is for this reason that they are often considered an invasive species since they start taking over the food sources from other turtle species.

They originate around the Southern Gulf States going up along the Mississippi river, but due to their hardy nature, good survival skills, and their popularity as a pet, they have spread into many parts of the world including as far as Japan.

As pets they can be fairly tame and friendly, though with larger specimens one should be careful with your finger lest you get bitten. One significant drawback with having a pet red-eared slider is that they grow to be quite large, with females ranging as long as 12 inches and the males coming in at a more respectable size of 7-9 inches. Being that an aquatic turtles tank should be about 10 gallons per inch these guys will start out small as baby turtles do, but eventually will need a very large tank. So before you get a red eared slider do consider if you will be able to provide them with the large habitat that they will eventually need.

Painted Turtles

Painted turtles are colorful, easy to care for, and don’t get quite as big as red-eared sliders

These are the very colorful members of the great turtle family, the aptly named painted turtle has colorful distinctive markings on their shell, as if they were artistically painted on.

There are four types of painted turtles the southern painted turtle, the midland painted turtle, the eastern painted turtle and the western painted turtles. Each painted turtle originating in its respective quadrant of the United States. They are in fact the most common species of wild turtle by far in the United states.

As pets these turtles are the liveliest and most friend type of small pet turtle. They are one of the easiest turtles to care for as a first time turtle owner. They are hardy, resistant to disease and very fun to watch. Not too mention their beauty can not be denied.

For those who may have a limited amount of space to provide for your turtle or a small budget, these guys can be perfect as they are fairly small as turtles go. Males only reach up to 4-5 inches and females 6-7 inches meaning that you can safely provide them with a smaller tank you would for larger turtles like the red eared slider. So if you don’t have a lot of experience with turtles and you don’t want to have to maintain a massive tank I would strongly recommend you consider a painted turtle as your first turtle buddy.

The Musk Turtle (AKA Stinkpot)

Ontley / CC BY-SA (
Musk turtles are a little more challenging in their needs, but can be cared for by the dedicated owner

Common musk turtles are the little guys of the aquatic turtle world coming in often no bigger than 5 inches. These guys like the water a lot and generally won’t be basking a great deal unlike their larger aquatic cousins such as the red-eared slider. They’re often called stinkpot turtles due to small glands on the underside of their carapace, which when in danger exudes a foul smelling odor to stinkbomb an attacker.

In the wild they range far and wide through North America, their territory stretching from as far north as Ontario, Canada all the way down to good old central Texas. There’s even a disconnected colony of them in Wisconsin. To find them just look out for any slow moving body of water and there’s likely some musk turtles down in the deeps somewhere. Vegetarianism doesn’t suit these guys well, their primary preference happens to be meat. With jaws so strong that they can snap through a snails shell their diet in the wild can consist of creatures such as fish, crayfish, larvae, snails, and a wide variety of invertebrate.

Musk turtles can make excellent pets however for the dedicated owner. There tank does not have to be as large as tanks for many turtles due to their small size. They do love them some deep water though, so its important that the water level in the tank be fairly high so they can dive nicely. If you want to handle your turtle very much than musk turtles may not be the best choice, they are not near as friendly as red-eared sliders and painted turtles. If handled roughly they can very easily bite, so be careful. But in the end if your looking for a turtle that doesn’t require a super large tank and your content to mainly just watch your turtle than the common musk turtle, also lovingly known as the stinkpot can be a great choice.

The Diamondback Terrapin

Dawson at English Wikipedia. / CC BY-SA (
Diamondback Terrapins have beautiful markings and thrive in hybrids of freshwater and sea

While other aquatic turtles in this article are fresh water turtles, the diamondback has a some unique disposition of being the only brackish loving turtle. Brackish refers to mixtures of saltwater and freshwater that often occurs in coastal marshlands and at the end of rivers as they meet the sea. The diamondback loves to live in these areas. While they do not go far out in the ocean like sea tortoises, they do have quite a high tolerance for saltwater. Interestingly enough in the wild they have developed cool tactics for getting their drinking water with strategies like slurping up bits of surface fresh water and opening up their mouths to catch raindrops as they fall.

Similar to the musk turtles, they have strong jaws that allow them to eat shelled creatures like snails and even crabs. They are quite dimorphic meaning that they posses a significant size difference between males and females, with the girls being the largest as with most turtles. The males usually get to be about 5 inches in size and the females can range between 7 and 9 inches in size.

For a diamondback turtle owner their love for brackish water may seem daunting at first but they can be perfectly fine and happy in a simple freshwater tank. If you posses any experience in managing saltwater aquariums,than keeping the right salinity for a diamondback should not be hard for you. But once again, if not you can keep them in simple freshwater and that should be fine for them. Basking and diving in deep water are their favorite hobbies so when preparing their habitat make sure they have a nice basking area with a deep tank so that they can show off their great swimming skills for you.

The Mississippi Map Turtle

Peter Paplanus from St. Louis, Missouri / CC BY (
Map turtles require fore experienced care and a large tank, but can be great options for dedicated pet owners.

All aquatic turtles love water, but for map turtles it’s all about the flow of the stream. They range up and down the rivers of Southern Gulf Region of the United States especially along the Mississippi river and its tributary branches. While most turtles are mainly solitary, just hanging out beside others instead of with others, map turtles are exceptional communitarians as far as turtles go. While you should always be cautious when having turtles live with each other, in the case of map turtles this becomes a much easier possibility.

Dimorphism (differences in size between the sexes) goes big with these guys and gals. Males can get up to 5 inches while the females can be nearly twice as large getting as big as 10 inches. Put another way if turtles could play basketball the female map turtles would be dominating their male rivals in the NBA. Try making a shot against a blocker twice your size and you may know what I’m talking about.

Map turtles are generally going to require a more experienced turtle keeper than the other kinds of aquatic turtles in this article. Their going to need a very large tank filled to the brim with water, maybe a 75 gallon tank for males and a 125 gallon tank for females. They love swimming so lots of water will be found to be a must for their happiness. A basking area will need to be included as well of course. Water cleanliness is important for all aquatic turtles but with map turtles it becomes even more important as they can be sensitive to skin infections from water that’s too dirty. Some may equate keeping map turtles as more akin to keeping fish. If you have the space and money for a large enough tank and you’re content to mainly sit back and watch your turtle swim, than a map turtle may just be the turtle for you.

Reeve Turtles

Greg Peterson / CC BY-SA (
Reeve’s turtles are a good option for first time turtle owners, but have some special needs

These guys and gals are the only Asian turtle on this list. They originally came from China and a popular alternate name for them is the Chinese Pond Turtle. They now can be found throughout East Asia in China, Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. They are omnivores likes most turtles but these fellows have a greater preference for plants than their cousins. Shallow river areas are their preferred home and they especially love to bask.

One of the smaller species of aquatic turtles the males can come in around 5 inches with the females being only a little larger though there have been some that have clocked in at 9 inches. When keeping reeves turtles, making sure that the water level is not too high becomes important as they are not the strongest swimmers. A good rule of thumb would be to make sure the water level isn’t any higher than three times their length though it should also be greater than 1.5 times their length so that they don’t get stuck on their back and drown. Having a large and very nice basking area for is important as they are especially fond of basking as turtles go.

Recent Posts