10 Types of Turtles That Make Great Pets

Western painted pet turtle held in hand closeup

The Spruce / Krystal Slagle

Turtles are quiet and relatively undemanding in nature, which makes them an appealing option as a pet. They aren't particularly interactive or cuddly creatures, they can carry diseases, and with their famously long lifespans, they may even outlive you. All turtles also have complex housing and feeding requirements that you'll need to consider.

There are a wide variety of turtle species, and some make better pets than others. Some will grow to a very large size, others are known for being more sociable and less aggressive than others, and they will all have different requirements in terms of space, lighting, and diet.

We have listed ten turtle species that are popular pets, along with some details about their care requirements to help you kick start your research on whether a turtle will be right for your household.


Turtles aren't generally a good choice of pet for young children. They can become stressed or aggressive if handled too much or improperly. Turtles can also carry the salmonella bacteria, which could be transferred to children if they don't have good hygiene practices.

  • 01 of 10

    Red-Eared Slider

    Red-Eared Slider Turtle Basking on a stone

    Ville Hägg / Getty Images

    Red-eared sliders are one of the most popular of all aquatic turtle species. They tend to be friendlier and more sociable than some of their relatives, they're pretty active, and they're widely available.

    These turtles are generally housed indoors, but with the right shelter, cleaning, and warmer temperatures, they can also do well in an outdoor pond. As they mature, it can be easier to provide them with the space they need outside.

    Red-eared sliders can grow to a decent size, and their tank will need to be large and have adequate areas for basking. It will need UV lighting and a good water filtration system. These guys are known for being rather messy!

    Their size, subsequent dietary needs, and larger housing requirements mean they can be more expensive to look after than some turtles. With the right care, though, they're generally a hardy and healthy species that frequently surpass 50 years of age.

    Species Overview

    Common Names: Red-eared slider turtle, red-eared slider, red-eared terrapin, red-eared turtle, slider turtle, water slider turtle

    Scientific Name: Trachemys scripta elegans

    Adult Size: Around 12 inches long

    Life Expectancy: 20 to 30 years

  • 02 of 10

    African Sideneck Turtle

    African Sideneck Turtle Basking

    R. Andrew Odum / Getty Images

    These unique little aquatic turtles have distinctive long necks that can't be retracted fully into their shell, and their anatomy differs from traditional water-based turtles.

    Because of their unique appearance and size, they're often a popular choice, but they have more complex care requirements than some other turtles.

    African sideneck turtles water needs to be kept very clean and requires weekly changing. A good filtration system, however, facilitates less frequent changing.

    Despite their small size, they enjoy swimming and need a large tank, ideally at least 75-gallons. They need suitable basking platforms with UV lights for them to lie under and the temperature should never drop below 70 degrees. This is one of the reasons that they're best kept indoors.

    They also need a fresh and varied diet to prevent Vitamin A and D3 deficiencies.

    Sidenecks can be curious turtles that, if you don't force interactions, won't scuttle away to hide when you come to observe them.

    Species Overview

    Scientific Name: Pelomedusa subrufa

    Common Names: African side-neck turtle, African Side-necked turtle, African helmeted turtle

    Adult Size: Average of 8 to 12 inches long

    Life Expectancy: Can be up to (and sometimes more than) 50 years

  • 03 of 10

    Eastern Box Turtle

    Eastern Box Turtle with stretched neck in grass

    Brandon Oh / Getty Images

    Eastern box turtles need a lot of space, but they're adaptable and, with the right housing, they can live in or outdoors.

    They prefer a humid environment, need a shallow pool of water in their enclosure, a moist substrate, and they will need a UVB basking light if they're kept indoors.

    If their environment is too cold and dry, it can lead to them more easily picking up respiratory infections.

    These turtles can be shy, but they don't tend to be aggressive, and with the right gentle interactions and minimal handling, you can start to see their personality come out. They may even be tempted out to greet you if you have a tasty tidbit.

    Species Overview

    Common Names: Eastern box turtle, land turtle

    Scientific Name: Terrapene carolina carolina

    Adult Size: 5 to 7 inches long

    Life Expectancy: 40 to 50 years in captivity with good care (and up to 100 years in the wild)

  • 04 of 10

    Western Painted Turtle

    Western Painted Turtle climbing on a log

    Darrell Gulin / Getty Images

    A Western painted turtle could appeal if you want a turtle that is distinctive and attractive to look at. They have detailed shell markings.

    Although they aren't big, these aquatic turtles need a large tank or outdoor space, a good water filtration system and basking lights to help maintain a warm temperature. Their housing needs are similar to that of the red-eared slider.

    They can be quite shy and aren't turtles that will enjoy frequent handling.

    Because they like to eat while swimming, selecting food that can be easily lifted out of the water if it isn't eaten is a good choice to help keep the tank clean for longer.

    Species Overview

    Common Names: Western Painted Turtle

    Scientific Name: Chrysemys picta bellii

    Adult Size: Up to 10 inches long

    Life Expectancy: Can be up to (and sometimes more than) 50 years

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Mississippi Map Turtle

    Mississippi Map Turtle basking on leaves

    Peter Paplanus / Wikicommons / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

    Mississippi map turtles have a distinctive dorsal fin running along their shell, and this is why they're also sometimes referred to as the 'Sawback'.

    They don't need quite as big enclosures as some of their aquatic turtle relatives, and this can make them an appealing choice for those with space limitations.

    While they can still live up to 30 years, their lifespan is a bit shorter than average.

    They can be warier of people than some other turtles, and this means they can be more prone to stress. You'll need to keep handling to a minimum and create an environment that allows them peace and places to take cover.

    Map turtles tend to be quite hardy and less prone to health issues than some species. Clean water, good lighting, and an appropriate diet is still absolutely essential though to prevent fungal infections and deficiencies developing.

    Species Overview

    Common Name: Mississippi Map Turtle

    Scientific Name: Graptemys pseudogeographica kohni

    Adult Size: Females grow to be up to 10 inches long and males up to five inches long

    Life Expectancy: 15- 25 years but up to and over 30 years possible

  • 06 of 10

    Common Musk Turtle (Stinkpot)

    Stinkpot Turtle being held

    NPS Photo / M.Reed / Flckr / Creative Commons Public Domain Mark I

    Common musk turtles are one of the more popular aquatic turtle species. They're small, and their care requirements are a little less intensive than some.

    They aren't turtles that do well with a lot of handling though. They can be feisty and, if they feel threatened, they release a foul and musty odor. This is why they get their nickname: 'The Stinkpot'.

    They aren't as strong swimmers as some aquatic turtles, so the water in their enclosure shouldn't be too deep. They should also have plenty of areas to get out of the water easily to bask under UVB lighting.

    Species Overview

    Common Names: Common Musk Turtle, Eastern Musk Turtle, Stinkpot

    Scientific Name: Sternotherus Odoratus

    Adult Size: 3 to 5 inches

    Life Expectancy: Up to and even over 50 years

  • 07 of 10

    Spotted Turtle

    Spotted Turtle walking through leaves

    Anne Devan-Song / Northeast Coastal and Barrier Network / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    If you have limited space and are looking for an aquatic turtle, the spotted turtle is one of the smallest species allowed to be kept in captivity. They're also pretty to look at with their distinctive spotted shell and, with the right housing, they can live indoors or out.

    They're a long-term commitment though, with some living to be over 100 years of age!

    Like musk turtles, they aren't particularly strong swimmers, so their water should not be too deep. They also need warm basking platforms and ornaments that provide them with the opportunity to get out to rest.

    A good varied diet with plenty of meat, along with some leafy greens and fruit is important too.

    Species Overview

    Common Names: Spotted Turtle, Clemmy, Michigan Spotted Turtle

    Scientific Name: Clemmys Guttata

    Adult Size: 4 to 5 inches

    Life Expectancy: Can easily live up to 50 years, with some recorded as living over 100 years

  • 08 of 10

    Yellow-Bellied Slider

    Yellow Belly Slider Swimming

    Joe McDonald / Getty Images

    Yellow-bellied sliders are one of the most popular aquatic turtle species to keep as pets as they tend to be relatively hardy, providing they get the right diet, enclosure and lighting.

    Unlike some turtles, they tend to be most active during the day, which appeals to a lot of owners looking to observe them.

    They need a large tank or suitable outdoor enclosure as they're bigger than the likes of the Stinkpot or the spotted turtle.

    Because of their popularity, they're relatively easy to come by. Just make sure you still source your yellow-bellied slider from a reputable breeder or supplier.

    Species Overview

    Common Names: Yellow-bellied slider

    Scientific Name: Trachemys scripta scripta

    Adult Size: Adult males from 5 to 9 inches long. Females between 8 and 13 inches long

    Life Expectancy: Up to 40 years

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Reeve's Turtle

    Reeve's Turtle basking on a rock

    Denise Chan / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    The Reeve's turtle is probably one of the most sociable of all the turtles on this list. With care and patience, they sometimes even enjoy being stroked, which is unusual for an aquatic turtle. Of course, handling can still be stressful for them, so this should only be done when needed.

    Their care requirements are similar to the red-eared slider, although they're smaller and don't require such a large enclosure.

    They tend to be a relatively healthy turtle, although they don't have such a long life expectancy. This may appeal to owners not looking for such a lengthy commitment.

    Species Overview

    Common Names: Reeve's Turtle, Chinese pond turtle, Chinese three-keeled pond turtle

    Scientific Name: Mauremys reevesii

    Adult Size: 6 to 9 inches long

    Life Expectancy: 10-15 years usually or up to 20 years

  • 10 of 10

    Wood Turtle

    Wood Turtle being held above grass

    Colin Osborn / USFWS / Flickr / Public Domain Mark 1.0

    The Wood Turtle is known for being very friendly, with the right handling and interaction, and pretty hardy. Their needs aren't as complex as most aquatic species. They do need a decent-sized enclosure though, and this means they're often best suited to being kept in an outdoor environment.

    Because they aren't aquatic, they could drown in water too deep, so it's important to keep their pond area at a suitably low level.

    They also need a diet that is high in protein, comprising plenty of proteins like insects, slugs, earthworms, snails, and more along with leafy greens.

    These turtles aren't so easy to come by and can be illegal to keep in certain States. You should make sure you do your research and ensure you're sourcing a wood turtle from a reputable and ethical breeder.

    Species Overview

    Common Names: Wood Turtle, Old Red Leg

    Scientific Name: Glyptemys insculpta

    Adult Size: 5 to 8 inches long

    Life Expectancy: Up to 50 years

Turtles can make interesting pets, but they aren't a commitment that should be taken on lightly. They need a lot of space, specialist equipment for keeping their enclosures clean and warm, and they have specific dietary requirements too.

Because they can often live up to 50 years of age and beyond, they're also a lifetime commitment.