12 Types of Pet Turtles That Make Great Companions

Updated October 13, 2021
lovely boy with pet turtle

With proper care, a turtle makes an ideal pet. There are many different types of turtles, and each pet turtle species needs specific care in order to flourish. Here are some of the most common to help you choose your favorite.

Box Turtles Are a Docile Pet

A box turtle has a high-domed shell with non-webbed feet. Their hinged shell allows the turtle to pull the lower half of the shell tightly against the upper half after they pull their head and feet inside. The protective design of the shell affords the box turtle with additional protection from potential predators. This turtle measures up to 6 inches in length when fully grown and lives up to 20 to 40 years.

You should only buy a box turtle that has been bred and raised in captivity. Pay close attention to their care, and you could have your pet turtle for a lifetime.

Box Turtle's Environment

This land-dwelling turtle does not require an aquatic habitat, but does benefit from a small wading pool. Your turtle will reside happily indoors in a cage or in an outdoor habitat. Some box turtles live well in aquariums, but others become obsessed with trying to claw their way out of the glass to explore. All turtles require a light source that approximates full-spectrum sunlight with both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) light, which you must provide in the form of an appropriate lamp designed to meet reptiles' needs if they are kept indoors.

Care of Box Turtles

The box turtle benefits from a temperature above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If the night temperature drops, place a heated stone or dome enclosure in the cage to provide warmth. Line the bottom of the turtle's enclosure with a mixture of sand, leaf mulch, potting soil, and sphagnum moss. Mist the substrate lightly each day to help keep the enclosure's humidity adequate. Without adequate humidity, the box turtle can suffer from dry eyes and respiratory disorders. This turtle benefits from having a variety of logs and rocks to burrow under or lie upon.

Feeding Your Box Turtle

This turtle requires fresh, clean drinking water daily, because box turtles tend to defecate in their water. An omnivore, the box turtle enjoys a varied diet. Consider providing insects, worms, vegetables, and fruits each day. Place the food on a flat rock to replicate their natural environment.

Box Turtle Brumation

In the wild, this kind of pet turtle burrows into soil or leaves to brumate, which is similar to hibernation. Some captive turtles that receive at least 12 to 14 hours of artificial light per year skip hibernation and remain active, but others naturally begin to enter into hibernation mode. If a pet box turtle begins to burrow into the substrate and enter brumation, keep their enclosure in an area with a temperature of 45 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Soquel Animal Hospital. Place the turtle's enclosure in a draft-free area with dim lighting until spring.

Red-Eared Sliders are a Type of Aquatic Turtle

red eared slider

The red-eared slider grows up from 6 to 12 inches in diameter. This greenish turtle boasts a bright red stripe behind each eye. A type of water turtle, it requires an aquarium with water. It has a lifespan of up to 50 years.

Slider Environment

One red-eared slider can easily live in a 30 to 50-gallon aquarium. Provide an area of water in the tank that measures at least twice the turtle's body length. The water should have a filtration system to keep it clean. Maintain the water temperature at 75 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit with a submersible heater. Provide a basking area for the turtle -- along with a source of UVA and UVB -- and maintain the temperature at 85 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit.

Red-Eared Slider Care

Consider placing this turtle's tank outdoors on warm days so they can enjoy the sunshine. Make sure the turtle has a shady spot to retreat to if it becomes too warm.

Feeding Your Red-Eared Slider

Feed the red-eared slider a commercial turtle diet. You can supplement his diet with diced up vegetables, such as carrots or leafy greens.

Red-Eared Slider Brumation

The red-eared slider becomes inactive -- which is known as brumation, similar to hibernation -- in October, according to the Nature Mapping Foundation. Some turtles may brumate under water, occasionally rising to the surface for air. The red-eared slider usually displays inactivity if the winter temperature dips to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Painted Turtles are Colorful Outdoor Pets

painted turtle

The painted turtle measures up to 10 inches in length and lives approximately 25 years. The aquatic turtle boasts colorful green, yellow, and red colors. This turtle does well in landscape turtle ponds. They rarely like to be handled.

Painted Turtle Environment

The painted turtle requires a similar environment to the red-eared slider. Be sure to provide the turtle with a basking area and appropriate full-spectrum light source to enjoy their time out of the water. Maintain a temperature that ranges from 60 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Care of Painted Turtles

This turtle needs 10 to 12 hours of full-spectrum lighting to allow for adequate basking time.

Feeding Your Painted Turtle

Feed the painted turtle small feeder goldfish and diced-up chicken. Feed a commercial turtle food daily. Supplement the turtle's diet with leafy greens.

Painted Turtle Brumation

The painted turtle shares the same brumation habits as the red-eared slider turtle.

Reeve's Turtle Are Among the Best Turtles for Pets

A popular turtle in captivity, the Reeve's turtle is widely imported by the pet trade from mainland China and Japan. This hardy, small pet turtle measures up to 6 inches in diameter and lives approximately 25 years. A good choice for a first turtle pet, this turtle genuinely enjoys being touched and stroked, according to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The Reeves turtle requires the same care as the red-eared slider and the painted turtle. The species also undergoes the same brumation process.

Reeve's Turtle Environment

Reeves' turtles like slow-moving waters, such as those found in ponds, rivers, and streams, in their natural habitat. They may also like wetland habitats near rice fields, particularly when these places flood from rain. A soft substrate and a diverse range of aquatic plant species are required in any habitat. Think of their aquarium or enclosure like a wetland rather than a purely aquatic environment.

Care of Reeve's Turtles

Both a basking lamp and a full-spectrum light bulb are required for Reeves' turtles. Turtles kept indoors often suffer from Metabolic Bone Disease, which is seen frequently in pet turtles who are not cared for properly. It is a devastating condition. When the turtle does not receive enough UVB light, it is unable to synthesize the Vitamin D required for calcium absorption. The turtle's bone structure deteriorates and grows unnaturally as a result.

The humidity requirements of aquatic turtle tanks are usually met by the enclosure's water area. However, you can use a hygrometer to ensure that the humidity inside the tank stays between 70 and 90 percent. If the humidity and temperature of a Reeves' turtle's enclosure are too low, respiratory illnesses might develop. Lethargic movement, nasal mucus, watery eyes, and an unwillingness to eat are all symptoms of such illness.

Feeding Your Reeve's Turtle

To be healthy, Reeves' turtles require a balanced diet of both protein and plants. They feed small amphibians or fish, insects, and worms, as well as plant material, in the wild.

Commercial turtle pellets can provide the foundation of a good diet in captivity. Choose a product with a protein content of 30 to 40 percent, as little fat as possible, plenty of Vitamin D, and a calcium-phosphate balance of 2-to-1 for the healthiest option for your turtle.

Supplements are also essential for a balanced diet. Any feeder insects should be gut loaded to make them as nutritious as possible, and calcium supplements should be applied once a week.

Feed your turtle as much food as it can eat in a few minutes every few days. Obesity is a major concern among caged turtles, and this helps to prevent it.

Reeve's Turtle Brumation

Burrowing into the soil and wood chips in their substrate allows Reeves' turtles to brumate, or hibernate. They normally go out in the early hours of the morning before sunrise if they go out in the winter months.

Wood Turtle Are Medium-Sized Pets

wood turtle

The wood turtle has a sculpted shell in varying shades of brown and tan. Their legs appear red and yellow. This turtle measures up to 9 inches in diameter. Males are larger than females.

Environment of the Wood Turtle

The wood turtle does best with an indoor and outdoor enclosure. They require an indoor enclosure that measures up to 84 inches in length. Line the bottom of the enclosure with gravel and place a shallow tub with water in the middle. Consider covering the gravel in cypress mulch. Make sure to include a full spectrum light source for the indoor enclosure.

Add a few plants for the turtle's enjoyment. Be sure to use only nontoxic plant choices. Provide rocks and other areas for the turtle to lounge. Outdoor enclosures should resemble an indoor cage, but with ample shade for the turtle. When constructing a pond in an outside enclosure, ensure that it has sloping sides so the turtle can get in and out easily. Make sure the pond is not too deep, or the turtle may drown.

Care of the Wood Turtle

Exceptionally hardy, the wood turtle thrives when their basic food and housing requirements have been met.

Feeding Your Wood Turtle

The wood turtle prefers a diet high in meat; consider feeding moist cat food to this turtle. The wood turtle also benefits from leafy greens every two or three days. They also enjoy strawberries, bananas, and other fruits.

Wood Turtle Brumation

During the winter, the wood turtle may enter brumation in the water.

Russian Tortoises Require Little Care

russian tortoise

The Russian tortoise is one of the smaller member species in the genus Testudo, and can measure up to 10 inches in diameter. They can have lifespans in excess of 100 years. A hardy tortoise, they thrive with very little care.

Russian Tortoise Environment

The tortoise will live in a 75-gallon or larger aquarium with appropriate lighting and care. They can also thrive in a rubber container indoors, but this tortoise does best in an outdoor enclosure.

If you keep this species outside, make sure the fence runs at least 8 inches below the soil's surface to keep the tortoise from escaping by digging out. The perimeter fencing should stand at least 12-inches high. Curve the fencing inward to prevent the tortoise from climbing out. Consider placing a screen over the enclosure's top to keep raccoons or other predators from climbing in. Provide an area for the tortoise to seek shelter and consider installing a heater for inclement weather.

Russian Tortoise Care

The Russian tortoise enjoys basking in 90- to 95-degree heat. They tolerate temperatures at night that drop to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. This tortoise prefers low humidity. In their native habitat, they live in arid conditions.

Russian Tortoise Diet

Provide this tortoise with broad leaf greens to consume. They especially relish dandelions. Always offer the Russian tortoise fresh, clean water. Without adequate fresh water, this tortoise may build up uric acid, according to RussianTortoise.org.

Tortoise Brumation

Consult with a veterinarian about brumation. Some owners do not hibernate the Russian tortoise until they reach 5 years old. In the wild, the Russian tortoise hibernates for up to nine months out of the year.

Mississippi Map Turtles Live Shorter Lives

Mississippi map turtle

The Mississippi Map Turtle is also known as the Sawback turtle. If you look at their shell, which appears to have a dorsal fin, you'll know how they got that name. While they have "Mississippi" in their name, they are actually found in the Mississippi River rather than the state of Mississippi. Their lifespan is approximately 15 to 20 years, although they can live as long as 30 years.

Mississippi Map Environment

Mississippi map turtles have a reputation for being a hard species to keep as a pet. This is due to their temperament. They tend to be skittish and wary of people, which makes them stressed. If you decide to own a Mississippi map turtle, you'll need to keep them in a large tank (at least 25 gallons for a male and 75 for a female) and the water must be kept clean at all times.

In order to keep the water clean, some owners use a separate tank as a feeding station, which helps keep uneaten food and turtle waste out of the main enclosure. Their tanks should have ample water for swimming, live plants suitable for aquariums, and an area for them to come out of the water and relax. They also require full-spectrum lighting and cage temperatures between 85 to 90 degrees. The water temperature should be in the 70s.

Mississippi Map Care

While they are known to be generally healthy, improper water conditions can make Mississippi map turtles ill. Fungal infections come from bad water as well as a lack of sunlight and proper indoor lighting. Fungal infections are generally not serious and can easily be treated by your veterinarian.

Food for the Mississippi Map Turtle

An interesting fact about these turtles is that they will only eat in the water because they are habitual swimmers. Feed them commercial turtle pellets along with vegetables, such as spinach, dandelion greens, Romaine lettuce, parsley, and fruits, such as apples and strawberries. They also need proteins that are low in fat, and they also consume crustaceans and insects. Typical items they will eat are snails and clams (only by female turtles) and crustaceans, mollusks, mealworms (not live), and fish (live or dead). You should plan on feeding younger turtles each day, while adults should eat about four to five times a week.

Mississippi Map Brumation

Wild Mississippi map turtles will hibernate in deep, placid water pools and reservoirs in the winter, whereas captive turtles will do so if their tank temperature hits 60 degrees or below. Unlike other types of turtles in the wild, they do brumate by burrowing in the mud but are easily found in the water, particularly by predators.

Razor-Backed Musk Turtles are Good for Beginners

Razor-Backed Musk Turtle

This species is a good choice for a beginning turtle owner, but only with a proper environment and knowledge that they are one of the shyer types of turtles. With proper care their typical lifespan is about 25 years or more.

Razor Backed Musk Turtle's Environment

These turtles need to live in a tank that is mostly water. The water needs to be deep enough for them to walk on the bottom as well. The tank should be at least 30 gallons per turtle in the tank. They will also need a rock to bask with a UV light and heat lamp. The temperature of the tank should be in the range of mid 80 to low 90 degrees. The non-basking air area is best in the 75 to 80-degree range and water should be in the high 70s. You will also need a good water filtration system because they tend to make a mess when they eat.

Care of Razor-Backed Musk Turtles

Razor-backed musk turtles can be shy and would appreciate plants and rocks that provide them with hiding spots. They enjoy walking along the bottom of the tank and will need something to walk on such as smooth pebbles or sand. Because they are shy, they should be handled minimally, as well. Twenty-five percent of the tank water should be changed out on a biweekly basis. You can also keep a companion turtle of another species if the tank is large enough, and they do well with painted turtles and sliders, but they can become aggressive with other razor-backed musk turtles.

Razor-Backed Musk Turtle Diet

Like many other turtles, they should eat commercial turtle pellets and you can add in insects such as roaches, earthworms, bloodworms, mealworms, and crickets. They also enjoy freshwater feeder fish, snails, cockles, crawdads, mussels, and plants that are safe for them to eat, such as duckweed.

Musk Turtle Brumation

Razor-backed musk turtles in the wild will brumate in the winter when it gets too cold for them, and a well-kept tank with a proper temperature will prevent hibernation from occurring.

Greek Tortoises Require a Lifetime Commitment

Greek tortoise

Greek tortoises live in several regions, including southern Europe, Asia, and North Africa. They get their name from the pattern on their shells that looks like a Greek mosaic. Another common name for them is the spur-thighed tortoise. They can live up to 100 years or more.

Greek Tortoise Environment

The best environment for a Greek tortoise is one with a lot of space. They need to be able to bask in the sun as much as possible when the temperature outside permits. A large enclosure built with wood is best, as they won't be as likely to get out, and glass isn't good for their health.

A very good option for them if kept indoors is a turtle table. Greek tortoises do well with a pen lined with cypress mulch, aspen shavings or a topsoil/play sand mix, as well as rabbit pellets. Absolutely do not use cedar and pine, which are poisonous to turtles. There also should be some place in their environment they can use to hide, which you can buy pre-made or make on your own using rocks or wood. This area should be cool and not close to the heated basking area.

Greek Tortoise Care

Males should not be placed in the same environment, as they can become aggressive. In addition to sunning themselves, they also need a lamp with UV lighting indoors. They need a warm and cold area of their pen with the warmest area at about 95 to 100 degrees, and the cooler area around 75 to 85 degrees. Greek tortoises are not amenable to a lot of handling, although they tend to be generally friendly in temperament.

Food for a Greek Tortoise

You can feed a Greek tortoise a commercially prepared tortoise food, but they must have fresh items in their diet, as well. These can be greens such as clover, thistle, wild strawberry, or dandelions, and greens from vegetables such as turnip, kale, mustard, and collard. You can give them dried organic herbs if you cannot get any that are fresh. They also enjoy cuttlebones, which are a source of calcium. They do like fruit, but this should only be given every once in a while as a special treat. Provide them with clean water at all times.

Greek Tortoise Brumation

Wild Greek tortoises will brumate during the colder months of the year and will do so in captivity if their temperature gets too low.

Sideneck Turtles Require a Lot of Care

sideneck turtle

Sideneck turtles are also called West African mud turtles. These turtles cannot pull their head back all the way into their shell. They retreat by moving their head to the side and beneath their shell, hence the name "sideneck." Their lifespan is 50 years or more.

Sideneck Environment

They should only be housed outside if it's warm enough for them. If you keep them inside, they will need a tank of at least 40 gallons, although some people use large plastic totes or kiddie pools. The area should be wide enough to let them enjoy the water should be about 6 to 8 inches deep.

They should have a rock, log, driftwood, or another platform to move onto when they want to bask under a UV light. They don't actually need a substrate like other turtles, but if you want to use one, it should consist of gravel or rocks that are big enough to keep these turtles from eating them. However, they do enjoy having plants that they can use for hiding if they feel stressed.

Sideneck Care

Sideneck turtles are not a good choice for beginners because they have many care requirements. Water must be changed a few times a week, although a strong filter can help. They require a lot of variety in their diet and fresh foods as well as calcium supplements.

If not kept properly, they can suffer from vitamin D3 and calcium deficiency, dehydration, and parasites. While they can be friendly, they may become aggressive if they feel the need to get away. They have large claws to protect themselves and can bite. As far as temperature, their water should be between 70 and 75 degrees, and their warm area should be between 95 and 100. The overall temperature of their room should be around 80 degrees.

Sideneck Turtle Diet

Proper feeding of a sideneck turtle means switching up their diet regularly. In addition to a commercial turtle diet, you can feed them all sorts of proteins, including aquatic insects, crickets, snails, fish, clams, crustaceans, crayfish, earthworms, cooked chicken, and beef hearts. Make sure you buy insects from a pet store, as insects you find in your backyard can make your turtle sick.

The best greens for them are romaine, spinach, and red leaf lettuce, as well as collard greens. They can also eat a variety of vegetables and dandelions as well as water lettuce and water hyacinth. Avoid feeding iceberg lettuce. Add a calcium supplement to their meals. They also should not be fed very often. They can go two to three days between feedings, and they should only eat for a few seconds. They should eat in a separate area as they are not neat eaters.

Sideneck Brumation

Unlike other turtles, sidenecks do not brumate.

Caspian Pond Turtles are Aquatic

Caspian pond turtle

These turtles can live for 40 years or more. Sadly, their numbers are dwindling in the wild due to predators and people encroaching on their habitat.

Caspian Environment

Caspian turtles need a lot of space, so their tanks have to be at least 75 gallons, or at least 90 gallons for two turtles. Some owners keep them in a pre-made turtle tub or even koi ponds. They do not need anything covering the bottom of their tank and, like other turtles, they require a basking area for both heat and UV light. You will need a strong filter to keep their water pristine, and must perform regular cleanings.

Caspian Turtle Care

They need a UV lamp to provide them with light in their basking area as well as a heater to keep the area at 90 to 100 degrees. The temperature of the water in the tank should be somewhere between 60 and 82 degrees. They do not like being handled and can bite if they feel stressed. However, they are known for being friendly when they feel comfortable.

Feeding Caspian Turtles

You can feed your Caspian turtle commercially prepared turtle diets, which should be supplemented with fresh foods. They can eat small fish, earthworms, mollusks, crickets, roaches, crayfish, tadpoles, and shrimp, as well as fresh greens. They also need a calcium supplement, which you can sprinkle on their food or provided with a cuttlebone in their tank. They should be fed every three days.

Pond Turtle Brumation

Caspian turtles in the wild will brumate when outside temperatures are cold enough.

Pet Turtle Handling Cautions

Turtles make interesting pets, but potential owners should understand that these animals carry salmonella. Always wash your hands after handling a pet turtle. Homes with very young children, elderly, or immune-impaired individuals should not consider owning a pet turtle.

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12 Types of Pet Turtles That Make Great Companions