The best types of pet turtles are all a ton of fun to own. We frequently hear from owners who can’t stop telling us how amazing these little reptiles can be!
But there are a lot of options out there, which can make it hard to choose the perfect species for you.
Fortunately, this guide makes it easy. We narrowed this list down to only the best pet turtles, so all you need to do is scroll through and pick your favorite!
Hailing from the lakes and stream of the Mississippi Valley, Mississippi map turtles are gorgeous little creatures with tons of personality. The reptile gets its name not only from its native habitat, but also from the distinct look of their shells.
The carapace features several ridges and lines that mimic the markings on topographic maps.
These reptiles don’t get as large as some other freshwater turtles. Males are the smaller of the bunch, averaging out at 3 to 5 inches. Meanwhile, females can reach lengths of up to 10 inches.
Like other semi-aquatic pet turtle species, Mississippi maps require a well-maintained tank with land and water. These creatures are powerful and active swimmers. They spend most of their time diving deep in the water. While they may be slow on land, they are speed demons when swimming!
A natural-looking habitat is a must for Mississippi map turtles. They thrive in lush environments filled with underwater vegetation and natural decor.
The land portion doesn’t have to be as complex. In fact, all this type of pet turtle needs is a small perch to bask in the light. If you plan on owning a Mississippi map, it’s important to focus your attention on creating a safe and healthy underwater environment.
Sometimes referred to as the stinkpot musk turtle, the common musk turtle is best for herp-lovers who aren’t afraid to get a little messy!
You see, these pet turtles produce a musky liquid whenever they feel threatened or scared. The orange liquid releases from the plastron and has a very pungent odor. Like the musk of a skunk, the smell is not easy to get rid of!
For this reason, it’s best to observe the common musk turtle from afar rather than handling it. They will get more comfortable with you over time. But there’s still a risk of experiencing that smell if you handle it excessively!
Odors aside, the common musk turtle is a joy to care for. They are beautiful creatures that blend in well with their natural surroundings. The shell takes on several muted shades of dark brown, black, and gray. However, the head features some signature yellow stripes that make it easy to identify.
Powerful and prolific swimmers, common musk turtles will spend most of their day exploring the underwater habitat you create. They don’t need a ton of decorations to stay happy. However, plants, floating toys, and some driftwood are always appreciated.
The red-eared slider is a popular species in the herpetology community. This is due, in large part, to their active nature. Plus, they have some stunning good looks to boot!
The most identifying feature of this turtle species is the striking red patch of skin just behind the eyes. The rest of the skin features stripes of dark olive green and yellow. So those two stripes add a cool accent to the turtle’s body.
Red-eared sliders are on the larger side. They measure about 12 inches long when fully grown. As a result, you’re going to need a significantly large enclosure.
These guys will need about 10 gallons of water per inch of length! If you plan on keeping more than one, you’ll need to up the ante even more.
Curiously enough, red-eared sliders aren’t very territorial. They can live in small groups without any issues. That is, however, if you have a large enough habitat.
Groups can cohabitate and even socialize. You might see them stacked on top of one another, which is an interesting sight to behold!
Found throughout the state of Florida, the peninsula cooter is a common pet turtle species. It’s readily available and is often one of the first species that herp-lovers attempt to care for.
They’re pretty easy-going, which is great for beginners. As long as you meet their baseline health and habitat requirements, peninsula cooters can live long and happy lives in captivity.
Speaking of which, this type of turtle requires a long commitment. In good living conditions, peninsula cooters can live up to 30 years!
Like other aquatic turtles, peninsula cooters thrive in water. They prefer warm temperatures around 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which is close to year-round temperatures in Florida. These turtles also require high humidity levels of about 70 percent!
Technically speaking, the peninsula cooter is an omnivore. However, it does best on a plant-based diet for most of its life. The turtles will feed on aquatic plants throughout the day. For mealtime, they enjoy blanched vegetables and leafy greens.
A few insects here and there are good as well as a source of protein. Larger adults will need more substantial protein sources. We’re talking about foods like mice and fish!
Here’s a species that you’re not going to find at every pet store. Wood turtles are a bit rarer than others on the market. They often fetch a higher price tag, as most come from breeders.
You might see a wild-caught specimen every once in a while. Avoid those at all costs. Wild populations are on the decline, so collecting them is illegal in most regions.
If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a wood turtle, you’re in for a treat. These reptiles are very active and exhibit some unique behaviors.
On dry land, wood turtles have no problem sharing their habitat. They socialize with one another and coexist in peace. But the second they go in the water, things change!
They can get a bit territorial in the water. These pet turtles are known to dry to drown others that encroach on their space. So, you have to be careful about providing plenty of space for your turtles.
Razorback Musk Turtle
This gorgeous turtle species lives a unique lifestyle. Razorback musk turtles are almost entirely aquatic! You can usually find them lounging around the bottom of the aquarium or swimming around. It’s rare to see them go on land.
However, many herp-lovers recommend installing a perch just in case. For the most part, the only time that razorback musk turtles venture on land is to lay eggs. The turtle may occasionally step out of the water to bask.
The razorback musk turtle has a very distinct shell with a couple of notable features. The first thing you’ll notice is the design of the scutes.
Each scute features lateral black lines along the perimeter. The lines move toward the center of the scute, creating a stunning pattern.
The shell also has a sharp keel down the center. It rises up dramatically, giving the shell an oblong shape that you don’t normally see in other types of turtles.
Razorback musk turtles aren’t too difficult to care for. As long as you have a well-maintained and well-decorated tank, they will live happily.
The turtles also accept a wide variety of foods. They are carnivorous, so it’s important to stick to high-protein foods like worms, mollusks, insects, and fish.
This sweet pet turtle is a real looker! It’s revered the world over for its vibrant coloration. Rather than the muted tones you often see with aquatic species, these guys are sporting bright neon shades.
You might see colors like pink, red, or bright orange. Coloration varies dramatically from turtle to turtle, so you never know what you’re going to get!
The interesting thing about the reptile’s coloration is that most of the eye-catching stuff is on the shell. They usually have distinct patterns on the bottom of the plastron as well as the carapace. As for the skin, it’s usually gray with a few pops of color here and there.
Pink-bellied side-neck turtles need ample space to swim. These turtles have large webbed feet that they use to paddle through the water. They spend most of their time under the surface of the water where they will forage and play.
Of course, a land-based basking spot is paramount, too. Basking areas should have temperatures in the low to mid-90s so that they can thermoregulate their bodies efficiently.
As the smallest member of the Mauremys genus, Reeve’s turtles are quite manageable. Exact sizes vary from turtle to turtle. But, most specimens born in captivity will grow to be around 6 inches in length. That makes them noticeably smaller than other aquatic turtles in the trade.
Reeve’s turtles are easy to please when it comes to their habitat. They need a sizable swimming area as well as a piece of land to bask on. That said, you don’t need a large aquarium to keep them happy. In fact, larger habitats could be detrimental.
These critters aren’t the strongest swimmers out there, so there’s a very real risk of drowning. Most herpetology enthusiasts recommend providing a depth between 1.5 and 3 times the length of the turtle. That’s a happy medium that can keep the turtle safe while still giving it plenty of freedom.
Reeve’s turtles aren’t super picky about food either! They willingly accept commercial turtle food products. You can also provide leafy greens for a more natural alternative.
The most important thing is to provide a balanced diet with a calcium to phosphorus ratio of 2:1. This will help avoid calcium deficiencies and any shell issues that follow.
The painted turtle is another eye-catching species with a lot to offer in the looks department. They are aptly named for the beautiful markings on the shell. But that’s not the only part of them that’s attractive.
The body of this pet turtle is colorful, too! The head mimics the color pattern of other aquatic turtles. You’ll notice similar stripes of dark olive green and yellow. However, the neck, arms, and legs have several patches of bright red that pop!
Painted turtles reach lengths of about 12 inches as adults. Females are almost always larger than males.
In the wild, you can spot these creatures swimming in the water or basking on a floating log to dry off. In captivity, you must cater to that behavior and create a similar environment. These turtles spend a lot of time in the water. But the occasional lounging session is important, too.
Because they spend so much time swimming, feeding painted turtles can be a bit tricky. They do not eat on land. Instead, they eat while swimming.
To keep the food contained, it’s a good idea to get floating pellets or a clip that you can attach to the side of the tank to hold greens.
Measuring only 4 to 6 inches, spotted turtles are one of the smallest aquatic turtles available in the pet trade. They are similar in size to the common musk turtle. But, they have a far more unusual look!
These critters don’t have the signature stripes that most aquatic turtles have. Instead, the shell is adorned with white spots. You can find them on the turtle’s head, too!
The spots start out small when the turtle is born. But as they get older, the spots become more prevalent.
The rest of the body is covered in large protective scales. There’s a mix of black and tan, which creates a beautiful appearance that complements the spotted shell.
The spotted turtle’s relationship with water changes quite a bit as it ages. When they are young, juveniles will spend most of their time in the water. They only come out to bask.
But when they reach maturity, the opposite is true.
This can make creating a suitable habitat tricky! You need to find a good balance between land and water. Don’t provide a super-deep water area. They aren’t strong swimmers and can easily drown.
To prevent this, keep the water shallow enough for this pet turtle species to reach the surface while standing up.
Caspian Pond Turtle
Unfortunately, Caspian turtles are a rare commodity these days in the pet trade. At one time, they were regularly imported from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. But declining wild populations have put a stop to that.
You can still find Caspian turtles for sale. Several dedicated breeders are keeping these guys accessible to herp-lovers!
But before you adopt one, you need to make sure you have a large enough enclosure. This type of pet turtle reaches lengths of about 10 inches when fully grown. They require a large habitat to stay happy.
You could keep them indoors in a standard aquarium. However, they fare much better in an outdoor pond. They need as much swimming space as they can get!
Not only are they powerful swimmers, but they also have a penchant for diving deep. That’s not something you can promote in a cramped aquarium.
Caspian turtles have a reputation for being quite personable (making them very good pets). They’re like the dogs of the pet turtle world! They can identify caretakers and may start to beg for a treat when they see you!
This active pet turtle species has captivated the hearts of reptile-lovers the world over. Yellow-bellied sliders are one of the more popular species in the trade. Despite their larger size and somewhat demanding needs, people love them!
Appropriately named for the bright yellow color of the plastron, these turtles are quite beautiful, too. The shell is relatively muted, featuring colors of dark olive green and black. However, the skin is a bit more vibrant.
These guys have thick bands of yellow all over the head and arms. On the head, the striped meet at the pointy snout.
Yellow-bellied sliders need a precisely controlled tank to stay healthy. While they spend a lot of time in the water, you can’t neglect the land portion. They prefer temperatures between 90 and 100 degrees in the basking spot.
Not only that, but you need to establish a routine lighting schedule. Yellow-bellied sliders are diurnal and rely on a standard day/night cycle to stay in good health.
Central American Wood Turtle
Next up, we have the Central American wood turtle. This species is similar to the wood turtle we went over earlier. However, these guys come from hot and humid environments and spend far less time in the water.
Having a swimming area is still important. But, it doesn’t need to take up most of the tank as it would with other species. In the wild, Central American wood turtles spend a lot of time on land. They stick close to the water, but they are land-rovers through and through.
Focus your attention on creating the best land-based environment possible! The best course of action is to recreate the river shores of the rainforests these turtles inhabit in the wild.
That means creating a humid and wet environment. You can use an absorbent substrate material like coconut coir or cypress mulch. Regular mistings paired with the swimming area should keep the humidity levels above 75 percent at all times.
Place a couple of hiding boxes around the enclosure for comfort and create an appropriate temperature gradient for thermoregulation. The basking hotspot should be the warmest area of all, reaching temperatures around 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
The three-toed box turtle is not a species for novices by any means. It has some behavioral quirks and demanding care requirements that could be overwhelming for first-time pet turtle owners.
That said, experienced herpetology enthusiasts can find a lot of joy in caring for these creatures. For one, they are beautiful and have a unique appearance that makes it stand out.
It’s not the most vibrant species out there. But the high-domed carapace features rich neutral tones and a beautiful spotted pattern. Complementing the shell is eye-catching skin coloration.
The skin has a base color of brown. But, many turtles have red and orange spots that adorn the head and legs.
Speaking of the legs, can you guess what the most identifying feature of the three-toed box turtle is? The hind legs only feature three toes rather than the standard five! It’s an interesting physical characteristic that, luckily, has no impact on their quality of life.
That’s probably a good thing considering this species’ susceptibility to anxiety. They are cautious creatures that don’t do well in new environments or situations. They take time to adapt, so take things slow and hold off handling your pet turtle!
Eastern Box Turtle
Check out this beauty! The eastern box turtle is a menacing look that many pet turtle-enthusiasts adore.
The shell features a high-dome shape. It’s covered in red, orange, and light-brown markings. The body is predominantly red. Bright red scales highlight the dark black skin.
To top it all off, the turtle has piercing red eyes!
Don’t let the appearance of the eastern box turtle fool you. They are a lot shyer than their looks would lead many to believe.
These types of turtles are capable of aggression. But in most cases, they only lash out when they truly feel threatened. In every other instance of stress, the turtle will simply retreat into its shell.
Eastern box turtles will get more comfortable with owners over time. They can recognize your voice and appearance. Like a dog, they will waddle over to you and beg for treats once they establish a level of trust with you.
Unlike other species on this list, the eastern box turtle is not aquatic. It prefers to live in a land-based habitat with precise temperatures, humidity levels, and lighting. That said, you may find it wading in its water dish every once in a while!
The African sideneck turtle is an aquatic species that requires plenty of swimming room. These pet turtles do have strict care requirements, which can be tough for inexperienced enthusiasts to meet. But once you get things established, it’s smooth sailing going forward!
The biggest challenge owners face is maintaining water conditions. African sideneck turtles stick to the water most of the time, only leaving occasionally to bask on a floating perch. As a result, water can sour pretty quickly.
You must invest in a powerful filtration system. Not only that, but it’s important to use dechlorinated water to ensure that these turtles aren’t exposed to potentially harmful chemicals.
Once you get everything set up, you’ll quickly find out why these turtles have their common name. They have longer necks than most types of turtle species. The size of the neck prevents them from being able to hide inside the shell fully. So, they have to tuck the head to the side!
Interestingly enough, the neck is beneficial when it comes to safety. If the turtle ever gets turned upside down, they can use the neck muscles to quickly turn back around!
Now It’s Time To Pick!
Now that you know about all of the best pet turtle species out there, it’s time for you to make a choice.
There are so many amazing types of turtles out there, so don’t feel obligated to only choose one. We know plenty of people who own multiple different breeds (usually in different enclosures).
At the end of the day, you really can’t go wrong. Caring for these amazing little pets never gets old!