Best small turtles for pets

Small turtles make one of the best pets for both apartment and home dwellers. Not only are they adorable creations, but they are also quite easy to care for. Let us find out some of the best small turtles species you can keep as pets.

Often, you will find people buying pets and selling them soon after because they were not ready to take care of them. As such, it is crucial to do your due diligence before buying any pet. When it comes to turtles, most owners tend to buy the wrong breed, and they end up with a turtle species that seemingly never stops growing. As a result, they have to get a new home or a bigger tank for their surprisingly big turtle, whom they have become quite fond of. If you are looking for the best small turtles for pets, you have come to the right place.

The turtle species

Turtles are one of the most exotic pets you can have in your home. They are adorable pets that require minimal maintenance and little space. There are over 250 different turtle species available in the world. However, not all of them make good pets. Some are illegal to own, while others are too big for domestication. Only a handful of them remain small throughout their lifetime. Most people prefer the small turtle species as there are numerous benefits of keeping them as pets. Some of the benefits include:

  • They can comfortably fit in a small home or apartment as they are tiny and adorable creatures
  • They require little space compared to a regular-sized turtle
  • Easy to handle and maintain as they only need a glass aquarium

Small turtles still require adequate care

Small pet turtles have a variety of names, including miniature turtles, dwarf turtles, dollar turtles, or quarter turtles, among many others. Even though many people prefer adopting them as pets, they still require plenty of work in relation to care. A pet turtle needs plenty of love, care, and attention to stay healthy and live happily.

Generally, turtles are messy animals and make their water quite dirty very quickly. As such, regular tank maintenance is advisable unless you want your pet to live in an unhealthy environment. Clean your tank at least every 15 days to ensure your turtle is swimming in ideal conditions. Choose a powerful filter for your turtle’s tank to ensure the water is as clear as possible.

Use a pet container or carrier to keep your small turtle during the cleaning session, visits to the vets, and quarantine. More so, turtles should feed about 4-5 times a week. Avoid overfeeding your pet turtle as it is one of the major causes of water contamination in tanks.

Female vs. male pet turtles

It is vital to know the differences between male and female turtles as they contribute to how you care for them. Generally, female turtles are larger than male turtles. Furthermore, it is rare to find turtles that stay small throughout their adulthood. However, some remain about five to six inches when fully grown. However, even though they remain small, you will still need to buy them a nicely sized aquarium where they can stay as active and healthy as possible. Luckily, you do not need to buy a 100 gallon-sized tank for a small pet turtle.

Before owning a pet, it is best to give your decision a lot of thought and conduct thorough research on the pet of your choice. Determine whether you are ready for such a commitment as taking care of a pet is no walk in the park. If you decide to adopt a turtle, ensure that you familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations surrounding the species as they vary from one location to the next.

For instance, box turtles are a popular small turtle species kept in homes and small apartments. However, there are some areas where their range is native, making them an endangered and protected species. In other areas, it is illegal to possess many types of turtles without the appropriate licenses. Therefore, make sure that you do thorough research once you decide the type of turtle species you want to keep in your home.

The best small turtles for pets

Small pet turtles are convenient to keep in your home as they only require a 40- or 50-gallon aquarium. Here is a list of some of the best small turtles for pets. All of these turtles stay smaller than five inches and are readily available in the United States. Keep in mind that it is illegal to sell turtles, whose carapace length is less than 4 inches in the United States commercially. However, it is legal to keep, breed, and gift such turtles to others. For instance, a turtle breeder can legally breed miniature turtles and gift them to his family and friends.

Musk turtles

Musk turtles are relatively small turtles with a blackish-brown carapace with a high-domed shell. They have two prominent yellow lines that run from the snout to its neck, on both sides of its eyes. Musk turtles exist in several species, including Loggerhead, Common, Razorback, and Flattened. The most popular musk turtle species is the common musk turtle, also referred to as stinkpot, due to its tendency to emit a foul smell when disturbed.

As the tiniest aquatic turtle in North America, the musk turtles grow up to five inches in length and stay that size forever. However, a male musk turtle is larger in size than a female musk turtle. They live up to around 50 years and enjoy spending their time underwater. These turtles are mostly found in shallow aquatic habitats throughout the Eastern U.S. and are primarily nocturnal animals.

If you have limited space as well as a beginner when it comes to raising turtles, the musk turtle is an excellent option for a pet. They are incredibly easy to care for and are the smallest turtle species. An adult common musk turtle can live comfortably in a 20-gallon aquarium. The water must be crystal clear at all times, and you need to include a basking area within the enclosure to allow the turtle to dry off completely. Similarly, it is advisable to add two types of lighting in the setup; one for UVB lighting and another for heating purposes.

These turtles are carnivorous since they enjoy a variety of aquatic insects, worms, crayfish, and various aquatic nymphs. Feeding them a good commercial food will provide essential nutrients for a healthy and happy musk turtle. It is advisable to mix the commercial food with chopped insects, worms, shrimps, and crickets. Take note that turtles are messy eaters, meaning you will have to clean their tank regularly.

Mud turtle

Many people confuse musk turtles with mud turtles due to their similar physical appearance. Just like musk turtles, mud turtles are an ideal choice for novice turtle keepers as they only grow up to five inches when adult, depending on the type of mud turtle. Similarly, they can live for a maximum of 50 years when taken care of properly.

The mud turtle is a popular turtle breed with a dark brown to olive shell with a smooth texture. It has only 11 plates on its shell, and its lower shell is yellowish in color. They are mainly found in Africa and some parts of North America and consist of four species, the common mud turtle and the striped mud turtle, which grows up to 4.5 inches long, while the Sonoran and yellow mud turtles grow to a maximum of six inches long.

As inferred by their name, these turtles prefer a wet and muddy habitat. As a matter of fact, they enjoy digging in the mud while hibernating. However, this is not to mean that you should have mud in your mud turtle enclosure. Mud turtles can live comfortably in an indoor enclosure that has enough space for swimming and a basking place where the turtle can relax and completely dry itself off.

By having an indoor enclosure, you can control its temperature, ensuring that the turtle does not go into hibernate. It is advisable to have two types of lighting in the tank; one for heating purposes on the basking area and another for UVB lighting. More so, mud turtles do not require a huge tank, like other pet turtle species.

When it comes to their diet, mud turtles are generally omnivorous animals. They enjoy eating a variety of snails, worms, insects, fishes, and other types of protein. If you choose to keep them as pets, good commercial food will provide them with the essential nutrients. It is best to supplement such commercial food with green and leafy vegetables, like parsley, lettuce, and dandelion.

Box turtles

Box turtles are a common turtle pet in many homes and apartments across the globe. They are available in two main types, the eastern box turtle and the ornate box turtle, who grow to a maximum of six inches in size. Box turtles are the only turtle species that can completely hide inside their shell, resulting in a box shape; hence, their name.

These turtles have a high dome shape and do not completely have webbed feet. As such, they are not as good of swimmers when compared to other turtle species. Similarly, they do not need an aquatic habitat to grow. They are mainly land-dwelling turtles but require a wading pool in their environment.

You may choose to set up an indoor or outdoor enclosure for box turtles. Create a good substrate with potting soil, sphagnum moss, sand, and leaf. Ensure you regularly spray water inside the habitat to maintain a moist and humid substrate. It is also advisable to place some hiding spots inside the turtle’s habitat to allow it to hide and relax whenever it gets nervous.

Box turtles are omnivorous animals, meaning their balanced diet consists of worms, insects, snails, fruits, and green and leafy vegetables. Do not pour the food into the habitat; instead, pour it into separate bowls as it helps maintain cleanliness in their enclosure. Keep in mind that box turtles defecate in water, meaning you need to keep changing the water to maintain its cleanliness and freshness.

Spotted turtles

Unlike other turtles, spotted turtles are a semi-aquatic species that are very easy to identify. They have yellow spots on their shell, legs, necks, and head, and the rest of their body is black. Their shell is smooth, and their underbelly has a yellowish-reddish color. Male spotted turtles have fewer spots than their female counterparts. Similarly, older spotted turtles have more yellow spots across their face and shell.

These turtles grow to a maximum of five inches in length and stay that size their whole life. They have an average lifespan of more than 100 years, as long as they feed on a balanced diet. The oldest one is still living on record with more than 150 years old.

If you choose to domesticate a spotted turtle, all you need is a 55-gallon tank. Since they enjoy living on both land and water, you must provide them with a basking spot within their enclosure. These turtles also enjoy very clean water, so you will need a powerful filtration system to keep the water fresh and clean. Use two sources of lighting in their habitat; a heat lamp to ensure the turtle is dry when basking, and a UVB lamp that aids in shell growth.

Generally, spotted turtles are omnivorous animals, as they enjoy eating both animal and plant matter. In the wild, their favorite foods include algae, insects, worms, snails, chopped fishes, and some aquatic vegetation. While in captivity, feed your spotted turtle a good commercial food with all the essential nutrients. Remember to supplement the food with foods such as insects, worms, chopped fishes, snails, and green and leafy vegetables.

Diamondback Terrapin

As one of the oldest animal species on earth, the Diamondback Terrapin is also one of the unique North American turtles. They are also one of the most physically variable turtles due to their different shell patterns, markings and shapes, and skin colors. However, a common characteristic about them is their large hind feet that provide them with greater mobility during undertows and strong tidal currents.

Generally, the Diamondback turtle is a medium-sized turtle with a grayish-black carapace and a greenish-gray or yellowish plastron. They also feature white skin with gray and black patterns and markings that are as unique as human fingerprints. Although these turtles are excellent pets, they are not the most suitable for beginners as they require special attention due to their increased chances of contracting shell diseases and fungal problems.

Female Diamondback Terrapin turtles grow to about 7.5 inches when adult, while their male counterparts grow to approximately 5 inches in length. Their average lifespan ranges from 20-40 years, depending on their diet.

These turtles primarily live in brackish habitats. While in captivity, they need about a 70-gallon tank, a powerful filtration system, a basking spot, and proper lighting. Due to their original habitat, it is best to put salty water in their enclosure. The lighting in their tank must consist of a UVB lamp for the synthesis of vitamin D3 in the turtle’s shell and a heat lamp to keep the turtle dry. It is also advisable to use crushed corals as a substrate in their enclosure.

Diamondback Terrapin turtles are predominantly carnivorous animals who enjoy eating a wide variety of crustaceans, salt marsh mollusks, fish, and insects. While in captivity, they do accept commercial turtle food, insects, and fish. Remember to supplement their food with some snails, chopped fishes, worms, and insects, among many others. These turtles are not good hunters, so adding live feeder fish in their tank may not be a good idea. More so, it is best to feed them once in a day with an amount they can eat in 15 minutes.


Caring for a pet turtle is quite easy and straightforward. They are also wonderful life companions due to their long lifespans and are fascinating creatures to watch. If you do not do your research and get the right turtle species, you may get stuck with an aquatic pet turtle that is about 10-12 inches in length. Luckily, all the turtles in this list grow to a maximum size of six inches, ideal for fitting in a normal-sized tank comfortably.

Kerry Blake

Since I was young, I have always had a thing for sea creatures. Being raised along the beach gave me the chance to interact with all kinds of reptiles, including turtles. I have always found this creature quite fascinating, and at a young age, I asked my parents to get me one as a pet. My love for turtles is what inspired me to pursue marine science when I got to college. Specializing in this field made learning so much about such reptiles. If you would like to get a pet turtle at your home, this guide will be of great help.

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