Types of Pet Turtles

Box Turtle
Box turtle

With proper care, a turtle makes an ideal pet. Turtles have hard, protective shells which help prevent injuries since a turtle's slow movement hinders his ability to escape. There are many different types of turtles, and each species needs specific care in order to flourish. Here are some of the most common.

Box Turtle

A box turtle has a high-domed shell with non-webbed feet. His hinged shell allows the turtle to pull the lower half of the shell tightly against the upper half after he pulls his head and feet inside. The protective design of the shell affords the box turtle with additional protection from potential predators. This turtle measures up to 6 inches in length when fully grown and lives up to 80 years, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.

You should only buy a box turtle that has been bred and raised in captivity. Pay close attention to his care, and you could have your pet turtle for a lifetime.

  • Environment: This land-dwelling turtle does not require an aquatic habitat, but he does benefit from a small wading pool. Your turtle will reside happily indoors in a cage or in an outdoor habitat. Some box turtles live well in aquariums, but others become obsessed with trying to claw their way out of the glass to explore.
  • Care: The box turtle benefits from a temperature above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If the night temperature drop, place a heated stone or dome enclosure in the cage to provide warmth. Line the bottom of the turtle's enclosure with a mixture of sand, leaf mulch, potting soil and sphagnum moss. Mist the substrate lightly each day to help keep the enclosure's humidity adequate. Without adequate humidity, the box turtle can suffer from dry eyes and respiratory disorders. This turtle benefits from having a variety of logs and rocks to burrow under or lay upon.
  • Feeding: This turtle requires fresh, clean drinking water daily since box turtles tend to defecate in their water. An omnivore, the box turtle enjoys a varied diet. Consider providing insects, worms, vegetables and fruits each day. Place the food on a flat rock to replicate its natural environment.
  • Hibernation: In the wild, this turtle burrows into soil or leaves to hibernate. Some captive turtles that receive at least 12 to 14 hours of artificial light per year skip hibernation and remain active, but others naturally begin to enter into hibernation mode. If a pet box turtle begins to burrow into the substrate and enter hibernation, keep his enclosure in an area with a temperature of 45 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Soquel Animal Hospital. Place the turtle's enclosure in a draft-free area with dim lighting until spring.

Red-Eared Slider Turtle

Red-Eared Slider

The red-eared slider turtle grows up from 6 to 12 inches in diameter. This greenish turtle boasts a bright red stripe behind each eye. An aquatic turtle, it requires an aquarium with water. It has a life span of up to 50 years.

  • Environment: One red-eared slider turtle can easily live in a 30 to 50-gallon aquarium. Provide an area of water in the tank that measures at least twice the turtle's body length. The water should have a filtration system to keep it clean. Maintain the water temperature at 75 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit with a submersible heater. Provide a basking area for the turtle and maintain the temperature at 85 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Care: Consider placing this turtle's tank outdoors on warm days so he can enjoy the sunshine. Make sure the turtle has a shady spot to retreat to if he becomes too warm.
  • Feeding: Feed the red-eared slider turtle a commercial turtle diet. You can supplement his diet with diced up vegetables like carrots or leafy greens.
  • Hibernation: The red-eared slider becomes inactive in October, according to the Nature Mapping Foundation. Some turtles may hibernate under water. The red-eared slider usually displays inactivity if the winter temperature dips to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Painted Turtle

Painted Turtle

The painted turtle measures up to 10 inches in length and lives approximately 25 years. The aquatic turtle boasts colorful green, yellow and red colors. The turtle reside well in landscape turtle ponds. According to Petco, they rarely like to be handled.

  • Environment: The painted turtle requires a similar environment to the red-eared slider turtle. Be sure to provide the turtle with a basking area to enjoy his time out of water. Maintain a temperature that ranges from 60 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Care: This turtle needs 10 to 12 hours of full-spectrum lighting to allow for his basking time.
  • Feeding: Feed the painted turtle small feeder goldfish and diced up chicken. Feed a commercial turtle food daily. Supplement the turtle's diet with leafy greens.
  • Hibernation: The painted turtle shares the same hibernation habits as the red-eared slider turtle.

Reeve's Turtle

A popular turtle in captivity, the Reeve's turtle is widely imported by the pet trade from mainland China and Japan. This hardy turtle measures up to 6 inches in diameter and lives approximately 25 years. A good choice for a first turtle pet, this turtle genuinely enjoys being touched and stroked, according to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The Reeves turtle requires the same care as the red eared slider and the painted turtle. It also undergoes the same hibernation process.

Wood Turtle

Wood Turtle

The wood turtle has a sculpted shell in varying shades of brown and tan. His legs appear red and yellow. This turtle measures up to 9 inches in diameter. Males appear larger than females.

  • Environment: The wood turtle does best with an indoor and outdoor enclosure. He requires an indoor enclosure that measures up to 84 inches in length. Line the bottom of the enclosure with gravel and place a shallow tub with water in the middle. Consider covering the gravel in cypress mulch. Add a few plants for the turtle's enjoyment. Be sure to use only nontoxic plant choices. Provide rocks and other areas for the turtle to lounge. Outdoor enclosures should resemble an indoor cage, but with ample shade for the turtle. When constructing a pond in an outside enclosure, ensure that it has sloping sides so the turtle can get in and out easily. Make sure the pond is not too deep, or the turtle may drown.
  • Care: Exceptionally hardy, the wood turtle thrives when his basic food and housing requirements have been met.
  • Feeding:The wood turtle prefers a diet high in meat; consider feeding moist cat food to this turtle. The wood turtle also benefits from leafy greens every two or three days. He also enjoys strawberries, bananas and other fruits.
  • Hibernation: During the winter, the wood turtle may enter hibernation in the water.

Russian Tortoise

The Russian tortoise can measure up to 10 inches in diameter and live over 100 years. A hardy tortoise, he thrives with very little care.

  • Environment: The tortoise will live in a 75-gallon or larger aquarium. He can also thrive in a rubber container indoors, but this tortoise does best in an outdoor enclosure. Run the fence at least 8 inches below the soil's surface to keep the tortoise from escaping by digging out. The perimeter fencing should stand at least 12-inches high. Curve the fencing inward to prevent the tortoise from climbing out. Consider placing a screen over the enclosure's top to keep raccoons or other predators from climbing in. Provide an area for the tortoise to seek shelter and consider installing a heater for inclement weather.
  • Care: The Russian tortoise enjoys basking in 90 to 95 degree heat. He tolerates temperatures at night that drop to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. This tortoise prefers low humidity. In his native habitat, he lives in arid conditions.
  • Food: Provide this tortoise with broad leaf greens to consume. He will especially relish dandelions. Always offer the Russian tortoise fresh, clean water. Without adequate fresh water, this tortoise may build up uric acid, according to the Russian Tortoise.
  • Hibernation: Consult with a veterinarian about hibernating the turtle. Some owners do not hibernate the Russian tortoise until he exceeds five years old. In the wild, the Russian tortoise hibernates for up to nine months out of the year.


Turtles make interesting pets, but potential owners should understand that these animals carry salmonella. Always wash your hands after handling a pet turtle. Homes with very young children, elderly or immune-impaired individuals should not consider owning a pet turtle.

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Types of Pet Turtles