5 Types of Turtles That Make Great Pets

While there are over 300 different species of turtles worldwide, only certain types of turtles make good pets. Read on to learn about the five best types of pet turtles.

May 30, 2024By Katie Wickliff
types of turtles that make great pets

Turtles are popular pets for good reason. These reptiles are quiet and undemanding––especially when compared to a dog or cat! However, although they are lower maintenance than some animals, turtles require special consideration and care. Before you buy or adopt a turtle, make sure you choose a species that fits with your lifestyle. Here are five types of turtles that do well in captivity and make great pets.

1. Spotted Turtles

spotted turtle on a log
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Due to their small size, spotted turtles make great pets for people with limited space. As adults, these little guys reach only about 4.5 inches and weigh less than a pound. Spotted turtles get their name from the yellow spots on their black shells. These spots accumulate with age, and a spotted turtle can live up to 50 years old in captivity.

Spotted turtles are semi-aquatic, which means that they split time between land and water. In the wild, spotted turtles live in swampy meadows, bogs, streams, and the edges of shallow ponds.

These turtles love to eat, and although they can be shy, they will quickly learn to rush over at feeding time. Spotted turtles do best with a diet of whole animals, such as snails, minnows, and earthworms, in addition to some produce and commercial turtle food. Spotted turtles are messy eaters, so owners must be sure to keep their tanks clean by scooping out uneaten food.

Spotted turtles are very active and love exploring, making them great pets to observe.

2. Red-Eared Slider Turtles

Red eared_Slider_Turtle_Immerged_in_Water
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Although its name suggests otherwise, the red-eared slider turtle doesn’t have ears! Their name comes from the red spot or red stripe located behind each eye. These are flat turtles with bright green shells and yellow markings. As adults, these turtles can reach about eight to 10 inches in length and have a lifespan of about 30 to 40 years.

Red-eared sliders are aquatic turtles, found in a variety of lakes and ponds in the United States. As aquatic turtles, they need a large tank that can hold at least 75 gallons of water.

These pet turtles accept almost all foods. They enjoy a mixed omnivorous diet of crickets, mealworms, leafy vegetables, and commercial turtle pellets.

These turtles possess a friendly and intelligent temperament, with some showing owner recognition and the willingness to eat out of the palm of their owner’s hand. Like all turtles, however, red-eared sliders will become stressed if handled too often. Just like keeping a chameleon as a pet, these animals are best admired, not touched.

3. Yellow-Bellied Slider Turtles

yellow bellied slider turtle
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

One of the most common species of turtle in the United States, the yellow-bellied slider is another slider turtle that makes a great pet. The name “slider” comes from their tendency to quickly slide off land and into water when they feel threatened.

The yellow-bellied slider has vibrant yellow and black stripes running along its legs, neck, and head. The shell is dark green or black on top and bright yellow underneath. These turtles can range from five to 13 inches, with females being larger than males.

This semi-aquatic turtle needs a large enclosure, similar to the red-eared slider. They need plenty of hiding places in their tanks, such as pieces of driftwood or small flowerpots.

The yellow-bellied slider enjoys a primarily plant-based diet and love leafy greens, such as kale and spinach. They get most of their protein from insects, such as crickets, mealworms, and cockroaches. By keeping your turtle on a healthy diet, you can avoid common health problems that affect reptiles.

These turtles are energetic, love to swim, and are active during the day. They make healthy pets that live upwards of 40 years in captivity.

4. Chinese Pond Turtles

reeves turtle in tank
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Chinese pond turtle is another semi-aquatic turtle that is fun to watch, as it is very active on land and in the water. Unlike the others on this list, this turtle isn’t as vibrantly colored. Their rectangular-shaped shell is olive green, brown, or black with three longitudinal ridges, and the head and neck are marked with broken yellow lines.

A wide-ranging species, the Chinese pond turtle is found across China, North and South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. In the wild, they prefer the slow-moving or still waters of lakes, ponds, swamps, or flooded rice paddies.

The Chinese Pond turtle is omnivorous, eating a mixed diet of plant and animal foods. They do well on a commercial turtle food and snacks of crickets, mealworms, water lettuce, and dandelions.

These reptiles are quite small, with adults measuring four to six inches in captivity. Because of this small size, they don’t need a large enclosure like other turtles. They are known to be friendly turtles that aren’t shy around humans.

5. Mississippi Map Turtles

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Mississippi map turtle is a great pet for the experienced turtle enthusiast who wants an interesting-looking reptile. This aquatic turtle gets its name from the pattern on its shell, which resembles a map. They are also known as the “sawback” turtle because of the ridge running along the top of their shell. Mississippi map turtles are medium-sized turtles, with a shell length that ranges from five to nine inches.

The Mississippi map turtle is a great swimmer with a natural habitat that includes fast streams and rivers. They prefer to stay in the water, even while eating! They do well on a diet of leafy greens and commercial turtle pellets, and owners should scoop any uneaten food out of their water; this keeps the fish tank’s filter in good shape.

Because these turtles can get stressed easily, they do best with experienced owners who know how to care for them with minimal handling. They are beautiful and entertaining to watch as they navigate the water.

There’s a lot to learn about turtles. Before deciding whether to keep one as a pet, be sure to consider your lifestyle, time commitments, and living space.

Katie Wickliff
By Katie Wickliff

Katie is a Colorado-based writer, educator, and animal lover who firmly believes life is better with a pet by your side. She currently shares her home with various creatures. In her free time, Katie loves to explore the mountains with her family and their Rough Collie, Story.