8 Best Pet Turtles For Beginners (And Turtles To Avoid)

Pet Turtles For Beginners

Are you considering bringing a new pet turtle into your home? If you’re in the market for an animal that’s diurnal, fun to watch, and relatively easy to care for, a pet turtle might be just the thing for you!

But, before you rush out to buy one, it’s important to know that not all turtle species are created the same. In fact, some species of turtles might be better suited for beginners than others.

So, with that in mind, let’s explore the question:

What are the best pet turtles for beginners?

The best pet turtles for beginners are Eastern box turtles, red-eared sliders, Western painted turtles, and Northern and Mississippi map turtles. All of these species are hardy and easy to care for, making them perfect for anyone who’s new to turtle keeping.

In this article, we’ll cover the best and easiest pet turtles for beginners, their care requirements, and also a few popular pet turtle species to avoid.

But first, let’s take a look at what makes a turtle beginner-friendly, and what criteria you should consider when choosing your new hard-shelled friend.

What Makes A Turtle Beginner-Friendly?

When it comes to choosing a beginner-friendly turtle, there are a few key things to keep in mind:

First, you’ll want to consider the turtle’s specific care requirements. Look for species that are low-maintenance, which means that although they still require some attention, they’re not too difficult to care for.

Next, you’ll want to choose a turtle that comes with a quick and easy setup. You don’t want to spend too much time and money on setting up an elaborate habitat for your new pet, so look for a turtle species that doesn’t require a lot of equipment or accessories.

Another important factor to consider is the turtle’s size. Larger turtles may require more space, which can be a concern if you live in a smaller home or apartment.

Smaller turtles, on the other hand, are often easier to care for and can be kept in smaller enclosures. We’ll have some suggestions on the best small turtles for beginners below.

When it comes to health and longevity, hardy and disease-resistant turtles are the best choice. These species are less likely to get sick, and are generally easier to care for.

Temperament is also something to consider when choosing a beginner-friendly turtle. Choose a species that will be friendly and sociable, as these turtles will be more interactive and enjoyable to spend time with.

And lastly, consider the purchasing cost and availability of different turtle species. Some turtles may be more expensive or harder to find than others, so you’ll want to make sure you choose a species that fits your budget and is readily available in your area.

Looking to find out more about what it takes to own a turtle as a pet? Give this video a watch for a full introduction into aquatic and semi-aquatic pet turtle care:

Now, let’s get into our lists of the best and easiest turtles to care for, as well as a few popular species that might be best to avoid:

Easiest Turtles To Take Care Of

These are some of the easiest pet turtles to care for, making them a great choice for beginners:

1. Box Turtle

Box turtles, like the Eastern box turtle, come in at the top of our list due to their low-maintenance needs.

What makes them so low-maintenance? They’re the only turtles on this list that aren’t aquatic, which means you won’t have to worry about routinely cleaning and maintaining a tank full of water.

Eastern box turtles are a species native to the Eastern United States that reach no more than 4.5-6 inches. They have dome-shaped carapaces and are usually brown or black in coloration with yellow-or orange-colored markings.

At a minimum, box turtles need a 40-gallon tank, although a 55+ gallon tank would provide them with more room to roam.

Since they’re land-dwelling turtles, they need a terrestrial setup with plenty of leaf litter, rocks, and hollow logs to hide in.

For temperature and lighting, box turtles need a proper UVB light as well as a heat lamp to maintain a warm side to the enclosure. Humidity should be kept around 65% with frequent misting and shallow water dish.

Box turtles are omnivorous, which means they eat a mixture of insect protein and plant matter. This makes feeding them easy because you have a wide variety to work with.

With proper care, box turtles can live longer than 40 years in captivity, making them a long-term commitment, but a great long-term companion to have.

2. Red-Eared Slider

Red-eared sliders are native to North America and can be found all across the Eastern half of the United States. They happen to be one of the most popular and well-known species of turtles among pet turtle owners.

One reason why red-eared sliders are a good choice for beginner turtle owners is because of their affordability and availability. They’re cheap to purchase, often costing less than $20, and can almost always be found at your local pet store.

If you’re planning on housing a red-eared slider, you’ll want to provide them with plenty of room to swim. These turtles can grow to be a little bit larger than some other species, reaching up to 12 inches in length (although they usually max out in the 8-10 in. range).

A good rule of thumb is to have a tank that holds 10 gallons of water for every inch of their size.

Red-eared sliders are semi-aquatic turtles, so they would benefit from being housed in a paludarium environment. Along with plenty of water for swimming, they should be provided with an area of land or a  floating basking spot to climb out onto.

They’ll need a proper UVB bulb for lighting and a warm basking lamp. The basking area temperature should be kept between 85-90 degrees.

Another important thing to consider is the need for a powerful filter to maintain the water quality. Red-eared sliders can be messy eaters and produce a lot of waste.

For this reason, it’s also recommended to change the water entirely on occasion, to keep the tank clean and healthy for your turtle.

As omnivores, red-eared sliders have a varied diet of insects and leafy greens. This makes it easy to feed them since they’re not very picky eaters.

These friendly and social turtles can live for 20-30 years in captivity, meaning they could be a cool companion for you for years to come.

3. Mississippi Map Turtle

Mississippi map turtles are another popular variety of pet turtles and for good reason. These turtles are active, fun to watch, and relatively undemanding of attention.

They can also live more than 20 years in captivity, making them a fun friend to have over the years.

One advantage of Mississippi map turtles is their size. They tend to stay smaller, especially the males, making them easier for new turtle owners to handle and care for.

Speaking of care, Mississippi map turtles are pretty low-maintenance. Similar to the other aquatic turtles on this list, with a little effort in setting up their habitat correctly, they’ll be easy to maintain from there on.

The ideal tank setup for a Mississippi map turtle will need to be at least 55 gallons and include both land and water. But since these turtles love to swim, providing an aquatic environment with a few floating shelves to bask on will work just fine.

It will also be necessary to provide them with a good water filter, proper UVB lighting, and a basking heat lamp that mimics their natural habitat temps of 80-90 degrees.

When it comes to feeding, Mississippi map turtles are omnivorous, so they have a diverse diet. Offering a variety of insects, turtle pellets, and leafy greens will keep them healthy and happy!

4. Painted Turtle

Painted turtles are a group of beautiful turtle species native to different parts of North America. They have a unique appearance that makes them stand out with smooth shells and distinct red-and-yellow-colored markings.

They are relatively hardy with a lifespan of 20-30 years and make wonderful pet turtles for beginners, once you get their habitat set up right.

Like all aquatic turtles, painted turtles need a mostly water-filled tank with a few floating basking docks.

They can grow to be 8-10 inches in length, so it’s recommended to have at least a 55-gallon tank, but a 75+ gallon tank would be best.

A basking platform with UVB and heat lighting is important for their health since they like to sit on top of rocks and logs to warm up and dry their shells in the wild. They also need a strong water filter to keep their water clean and bacteria-free.

Just like most other aquatic turtles, feeding the painted turtle is easy because they are omnivorous. This means they will eat a variety of insects, worms, small fish, plants, and vegetables when put in their tank.

5. Northern Map Turtle

Northern Map Turtles, also known as the common map turtle, make a great choice for new turtle keepers! I personally own one, and in my experience, it has been very hardy, entertaining, and easy to care for.

Map turtles are excellent swimmers and do well in deep water. This means they need a large tank full of water with a couple of basking platforms to crawl out onto.

As mentioned above when considering a tank size, it’s recommended that an aquatic turtle’s tank holds 10 gallons of water for each inch of the turtle’s total length.

Since Northern map turtles can be on the larger size of the turtles on our list, growing up to 10-12 inches in length, it would be best to provide this turtle with a 75-gallon tank at the very minimum.

Just like with other turtles, Northern map turtles will need a proper UVB bulb and a heat lamp for basking on their platform. This will ensure that they have access to the necessary warmth and “sunlight” that they need to stay healthy.

When feeding, these guys are like garbage disposals – they aren’t picky eaters at all! Mine will literally eat anything and everything I throw in its tank (nothing toxic for them, of course!)

But generally, they will enjoy a variety of insects, worms, turtle pellets, small fish, leafy greens, and veggies.

Northern map turtles have a lifespan of 15-20 years, so they aren’t as long-term of a commitment as some other turtle varieties.

Best Small Turtles For Beginners

Looking for the best pet turtle for beginners, but want to keep it on the small side? Look no further! In this section, we’ve listed some of the best small turtles that are recommended for beginners:

1. Box Turtle

As mentioned above, box turtles are an excellent choice for those new to turtle keeping. The fact that they remain pretty small even once they are fully grown also lands them on our list of the best small turtles for beginners!

Box turtles typically only grow to be anywhere from 4-5 inches long. This small size makes them ideal for people who live in apartments or have limited space for a larger tank.

They’re also known to be very hardy and can tolerate a range of temperatures, making them a great choice for owners who want a turtle variety that is easy to care for.

But, one of our favorite reasons why box turtles are so great for beginners is because of their land-dwelling nature. Since they require a terrestrial-themed habitat, this means you won’t have to mess with water and filter maintenance every 2-3 weeks.

So, if you’re looking to add a small, low-maintenance, and friendly turtle to your family, a box turtle might be just the pet for you!

2. Mud Turtle

Mud turtles, like the Eastern mud turtle, only grow to a size of 3-4 inches, rarely surpassing 5 inches. This makes them a great choice for anyone who doesn’t have a large space to work with or who wants a pet that is easy to handle.

They also require less food and produce less waste than a larger turtle, which can make cleaning their tank a breeze.

Because mud turtles stay so small, they can survive well in a 40-gallon tank. Just be sure to provide them with enough water to swim and dive, while also giving them a portion of land or a basking platform to climb out and dry out on.

Like the other turtles in this article, mud turtles also require a heat lamp for basking and a UVB light to help with calcium absorption.

They’re also easy to feed, with an omnivorous diet. So, with a little bit of research and preparation, even new owners should be able to provide a happy and healthy home for these adorable little creatures.

3. Common Musk Turtle

Another small turtle that’s perfect for beginners is the common musk turtle, also known as the “stinkpot”. These little guys are known for their small size, hardiness, and undemanding care needs.

Musk turtles only reach 3-5 inches in length, so they can live in aquariums as small as 20-30 gallons. Like the other small turtles we’ve mentioned, this means they make a great pet turtle for someone with limited space.

As semi-aquatic freshwater turtles, musk turtles need adequate time both in and out of the water. It would be best to provide your musk turtle with a land area or basking platform with a UVB light and a heat lamp in their enclosure. They’re not very active swimmers, so you don’t need to fill their aquarium up too high with water.

One thing to consider about musk turtles, though, is that they can emit a musky smell if feeling threatened or provoked. This is why they’ve been given the name “stinkpot”.

But with proper handling and care, especially if raised from a young age, this is not usually an issue and they don’t emit much of a smell.

Turtles For Beginners To Avoid

Now that we’ve covered some of the best pet turtles for new owners, let’s discuss some other popular turtle species that should be avoided by those who are just starting out.

These turtles may require more specialized care, a larger living space, or simply have a temperament that is not ideal for inexperienced owners.

Snapping Turtle

Snapping turtles are very interesting creatures, but they’re not the best choice for new turtle owners.

Mainly, this is because snapping turtles, like the common snapping turtle and the alligator snapping turtle, are known for their aggressive behavior. They have powerful jaws that they use to defend themselves and can become territorial and defensive rather quickly.

This can make handling them or even entering their tank a dangerous situation for inexperienced owners.

In addition to their aggressive behavior, snapping turtles also require a lot of space. They can grow quite large, with some species reaching up to a foot and a half in length, so they need a very large tank or outdoor enclosure to accommodate their size.

Snapping turtles also have a more specific and sometimes challenging diet. While they are mostly omnivores, some species, like the alligator snapping turtle, are carnivorous. This means they have a preference for live prey, such as fish, snails, crustaceans, and chicken.

Overall, while snapping turtles may seem like fascinating pets, they require a lot of specialized care and experience. It’s best for beginner turtle owners to start with a species that is easier to handle and care for.

Softshell Turtle

Similar to snapping turtles, softshell turtles aren’t recommended for beginner turtle owners for several reasons.

First, they are known to be very aggressive and territorial, which means they might not get along well with other turtles or pets. Softshell turtles are also more likely to bite than other turtle species, which could be concerning for someone who is new to turtle ownership, especially if they have small children.

Additionally, softshell turtles are quite sensitive to water quality and could easily get injured by any possibly sharp objects in their tank. So, new owners could struggle to maintain proper conditions for a softshell turtle to thrive.

Another thing to keep in mind is that softshell turtles are mostly carnivorous, so they would need to be fed a diet of animal protein such as fish, insects, mollusks, and amphibians, and that can be difficult for some people.

And lastly, softshell turtles can grow to be larger than most other pet turtle species, so they would require a large aquarium that could make them unsuitable for small living spaces.

Final Thoughts

And there you have it! I hope the information provided in this article has been helpful to you.

Choosing the right pet turtle for beginners depends on several different factors, such as size, temperament, and maintenance requirements.

However, by considering the species we’ve discussed, and by doing a bit more research, you’ll be well on your way to finding the perfect shelled companion for you.

Good luck with your search!