Types of Pet Turtles

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on March 07, 2023
4 min read

While most turtles are wild, many are adopted as pets each year. Keep in mind that turtles are sometimes considered exotic pets, so there may be local or state laws that restrict their adoption.

There are many turtle breeds, but their varying activity levels, shell patterns, and personalities make some better pets than others. Popular pet turtle breeds include:

Red-eared slider. This is one of the more popular aquatic turtle species. They are friendly, social, active, and widely available at pet stores. Red-eared sliders grow to be 12 inches long and have a lifespan of 20-30 years. You'll need to invest in an aquarium full of water with a basking area, plus a UV light to help regulate its body temperature.

African side-neck turtle. These are unique aquatic turtles that have longer necks than other turtle breeds. They can grow to be 7-12 inches long and live for up to 50 years. Since African side-necked turtles like to dive, have a deep tank filled with water and a basking area with a UV light.

Eastern box turtle. This species can live indoors or outdoors but does need a lot of space with both dry land and water in their habitat. This turtle grows to be 5-7 inches long and lives 30-40 years in captivity. While it doesn't need water to swim in, plan to have a shallow pan of water for splashing.

Western painted turtle. Sometimes confused with the red-eared slider based on coloration, these turtles are known for their detailed and bright shell markings. Their colorful shells make them popular choices. Western painted turtles grow to be 4-12 inches long and can be up to 50 years old. Like other breeds, western painted turtles require a tank with water, a basking area, and a UV light. 

Mississippi map turtle. This turtle has a unique dorsal fin along the back of its shell and is sometimes referred to as a saw-back turtle. They grow to be 5-10 inches long and can live 30 years. Not only do they prefer deep water, but they like to have a current. Invest in a strong filter that churns the water, and make sure there is a piece of "land" to rest on.

Common musk turtle. While they don’t like to be handled a lot, these turtles are popular since they are small and require less space for their habitat. They are only 3-5 inches long but can live for up to 50 years. Common musk turtles don't need deep water, and instead prefer shallow water where they can touch the bottom of the tank.

Spotted turtle. These pretty turtles have distinctive markings on their shells. Even though they are one of the smallest turtle breeds, between 4-6 inches, they can live for up to 100 years. Spotted turtles prefer shallow water where they can touch the bottom of their tank, and they do better in an outdoor environment until they mature.

Yellow-bellied slider. These turtles are popular choices because they’re active during the day and fun to watch. Yellow-bellied sliders grow to be 9-13 inches long and 30-40 years old. Tanks should be 75-100 gallons with water for swimming and a place to rest in the UV light.

Reeve’s turtle. Reeve’s turtles are very social and, with patience and consistency in care, can grow to enjoy being handled and petted. They grow to be 6-9 inches long and live up to 20 years. They like having water to swim in and a spot to sunbathe.

Wood turtle. Wood turtles grow to be 5-8 inches long, so they require a decent sized habitat. They live up to 50 years and can be very social and are easy to care for compared to other species. Wood turtles are not aquatic, so their water should be low enough that they can touch the bottom of the tank.

Preparing your home for a turtle. Turtles are not always compatible with other types of pets. Make sure your pet turtle has an enclosure where it will be safe from other pets and activities in your home.

Turtle habitats. Turtles are cold-blooded, so they require a heat source to help regulate their body temperature. Some turtles are totally aquatic, while others prefer to move between land and water. Knowing what type of tank you’d like to have can help you pick the right turtle breed for you.

Appropriate housing ensures that your pet feels safe and stress-free, leading to better health outcomes. If you’re unsure of the specific needs for your particular breed of turtle, contact a local veterinarian to learn more.

Handling turtles. Turtles are very intelligent, but training varies by species. Some prefer to be left alone, while others like being held, handled, and even petted.

Sanitation. Since reptiles carry diseases like salmonella that can be dangerous to humans, your pet turtle should be kept in an enclosed tank. Occasional handling and time outside of the enclosure is okay, but be sure to wash hands and disinfect surfaces if you let your turtle roam around the house.

Feeding your turtle. Turtles require a variety of fresh vegetation in their diet. You may be tempted to just feed it lettuce, but your turtle needs nutrients from a variety of sources.

Veterinary care. Seek out a veterinarian who specializes in the care of turtles. In fact, acquiring the help of a veterinarian before adopting is highly advisable. A veterinarian can help you navigate local laws and find a reputable breeder for adoption. Establishing contact with your veterinarian from the beginning also ensures that your pet turtle has optimal housing conditions from day one.