How to Buy a Turtle: Where to Search and What to Know

Updated May 19, 2022
Pet box turtle

Purchasing a pet turtle is exciting, and these interesting reptiles are popular among experienced hobbyists and beginners. However, as with all reptiles, it's vital to do your research and look around for the turtle that will suit your living situation and your family. Although there are numerous species to pick from, there are some factors to consider before purchasing your turtle, including the care requirements, personality, available space, and cost.

Choosing a Pet Turtle

Turtles, like any other pet, require a lot of care and attention. If you are unable to devote time to your new pet, it may be best to wait until you are ready to accommodate their care in your schedule. While turtles require less maintenance than dogs or cats, they still require routine care and cleaning.

If you are searching for a family-friendly turtle, consider how the turtle will do with other pets in your home. Turtles can be wonderful companions, but they aren't always as playful as hamsters or guinea pigs. Some species are uncomfortable being handled by humans (especially red-eared sliders), so you should also do some research on turtle species prior to bringing one home.

You should consider the different types of turtles before you purchase one. The most common types found in pet stores are red-eared sliders, box turtles, and painted turtles. Size is also a factor when choosing a turtle. Smaller turtles have shorter lifespans than larger ones do. Box turtles can live up to 100 years if they're properly cared for; red-eared sliders usually only live between 20 and 30 years (but can live up to 50). Painted turtles usually live between 20 and 30 years with proper care.

Water Turtles

water turtle in fish tank

Purchasing an aquatic turtle as a pet should be done with careful consideration. The first thing you need to do is determine if the species of turtle that you want to buy is legal in your area, and if so, whether or not they will thrive in captivity where you live.

Red-eared sliders and painted turtles are two varieties of aquatic turtles commonly found at pet stores. However, they can be challenging to care for due to their large size (up to 14 inches long) and the need for a large tank (at least 30 gallons to start, though, as they grow, these turtles require more space). Painted turtles are smaller, but they aren't as popular as red-eared sliders because they aren't as colorful.

In general, aquatic turtles require a lot of room in the water to move around and get out if they wish to. For each inch of their shell length, aquatic turtles require a minimum tank size of 20 gallons. If your turtle reaches 6 inches long, a 60-gallon terrarium is required, and so on.

Land Turtles

Box turtles are the primary turtle type found at pet stores. Another type is called an ornate wood turtle, which has brown or black stripes on its shell along with some yellow lines and spots. Before you decide to get a land turtle, make sure that you can provide them with proper care and a suitable environment.

If you are considering purchasing a pet land turtle, there are some things to keep in mind. The first thing is that they can be very difficult to care for and most people don't have the time or patience to properly care for them. They also require a lot of space, which means that you will need to have a large tank and tank accessories. In addition, turtles can live for decades and require special care throughout their life.

Turtles need a water source that is clean and fresh at all times. They also require UVB bulbs and heat lamps in order to stay healthy. If you are going to purchase a turtle, make sure that you know what type of substrate they prefer as well as what kind of lighting they need in order to stay healthy.

The best way to purchase a pet land turtle is by visiting your local pet store or talking with an expert at the zoo or aquarium where you plan on purchasing your new pet. If possible, try to visit the facility prior to making any decisions about purchasing your new pet so that you can see if this is something that interests you enough to pursue further down the line when it comes time.

Purchasing or Adopting a Pet Turtle

hold baby box turtle

Once you've decided that a turtle is right for you, it's time to find one. There are several ways to do this. Visit a pet store or breeder specializing in turtles. Pet stores can be good places to learn about the different kinds of turtles available and where they come from, but make sure they're reputable; if they sell animals that aren't healthy or well cared for, steer clear!

Look up turtle farms in your area and contact them about buying an animal (this is usually not recommended for first-time buyers). Farms often have large populations of captive-bred animals ready for sale at reasonable prices. They may also offer educational tours during which staff members can talk about their breeding practices and answer any questions you might have about caring for your new pet. Just make sure that any farm has a responsible reputation before making an appointment; otherwise, it could end up being more costly than expected.


It's always preferable to examine a turtle in person before you decide whether or not to make a purchase, and you can usually do that locally. However, if there aren't any local pet stores, you can consider online options. Most breeders ship directly from home via UPS or FedEx so there's no need to drive around town trying to find one nearby, but only buy from reputable sellers who provide information with each purchase such as health certificates proving their turtles' origins were legal under U.S. law.

If you prefer to shop online, here are a few places to check out:

Rescuing a Turtle

You might also want to consider obtaining your pet through a turtle rescue organization. Turtles are long-lived pets that live 25 years or longer, and these rescue organizations take pets that are no longer wanted and help them find new homes. An adoption fee is usually required, but it helps the rescue keep operating. Rescue organizations include:

Examining Your Turtle

The first thing to look for is how active the turtle is. This can be determined by observing your new pet's eyes and nose. If their eyes are wide open and they're moving around a lot, then chances are they're an active turtle.

If their eyes are dull and half-closed, or if their nose is barely moving at all, it may be best to reconsider buying this particular animal. You'll want one that's going to stick around for a long time rather than dying on you within a month of purchase or racking up expensive veterinary bills. Plus, you don't want to support a business that mistreats their animals. Just be aware that, depending on the time of year, the turtle may just be innactive or dormant, so be sure to take overall condition into account.

Examine the turtle's eyes, nose, and shell. The eyes should be clear and bulging, not sunken or dull. The nose should be a dark red color with no discharge from either nostril. The shell of a healthy turtle is hard and smooth with no cracks or soft spots. It should also have well-rounded edges that are not flatter on one side than another as this can indicate an improper diet. The shell shouldn't have any rough or jagged edges that could poke you when you hold your turtle.

Size Law and Salmonella

Under U.S. law, the sale of pet turtles with shells smaller than 4 inches is prohibited. This is because salmonella is carried by turtles and can pose a potential health hazard for turtle owners. This risk for salmonella is especially dangerous for children and people with compromised immune systems. Always wash your hands after handling your turtle.

Make Sure You're Ready

Do not purchase the first turtle you come across. This sounds simple, but there's a reason why people who go out searching for a turtle often end up with rabbits or hamsters: they saw one in the store and decided to take them home without taking the time to consider what kind of pet would be ideal for them. Allow some time between starting your search and making the decision. In the meantime, asking turtle-owning friends if they know of any reputable local sources is a good idea. Research each turtle species' care beforehand. Wait until you are prepared for the commitment and have found the turtle that best suits your lifestyle.

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How to Buy a Turtle: Where to Search and What to Know