Baby Turtles That Stay Small

You know you want to adopt or buy a pet turtle. 

However, your space is currently limited. 

You don’t see yourself being able to host a foot-long aquatic reptile pet. 

Are there species of baby turtles which stay small into adulthood? 

Do small turtles take up the same amount of enclosure space as larger turtles? 

Are they more or less expensive than large turtles?

Whatever your considerations, we have compiled a list of species of turtles which stay 10 inches or smaller (25 centimeters or smaller) into adulthood. 

We have also included information for each species about their native habitats, enclosure needs, diet, and behavior, as well as any environmental concerns. 

We have a bullet list for each species with their adult size, lifespan, and average cost.

baby turtles that stay small

Some Important Reminders

The cost listed only applies to the initial cost of buying or adopting a turtle. 

You will still need to factor in expenses like enclosure setup, heating and lighting bills, food, and vet visits.

When searching for a new reptile pet, we always recommend going to trustworthy sources. 

Look for highly-recommended reptile breeders or reptile-focused pet stores first. 

This will make it more likely you buy or adopt a healthy, captive, and well-bred specimen. 

There are many reptile-focused pet rescue organizations throughout the United States, which may be another option for you. 

Rescue has the added benefit of giving an abandoned pet turtle a second chance at a better life.

We always recommend buying or adopting a captive-bred turtle instead of a wild-caught one. 

Captive-bred individuals are more likely to thrive in a captive environment with a human keeper long-term than wild-caught turtles. 

Many wild turtle populations are threatened by over-catching for the pet trade and habitat loss. 

Buying from a reputable captive breeder takes the pressure off of these wild populations and discourages unethical taking from the wild.

Most turtles do best in outdoor enclosures, though many adjust to being housed indoors. 

If your outdoor temperatures are suitable, we highly recommend building a secure outdoor pen or enclosure for your turtle pets even for part of the year.

Make sure to do complete research on what types of enclosures are best, proper lighting setup, and diet before committing to a species. 

Different species of turtles have different care and husbandry needs.

Just because these are smaller turtles does not mean they do not need the same level of care and attention as other species. 

Any animal in your care deserves respect and fulfillment of its needs.

For various reasons, including demand and reduced wild populations, these turtles tend to be more expensive than turtles which will grow larger than 10 inches (25 cm) in adulthood.

Federal law in the United States forbids the sale or transport of turtles smaller than 4 inches (10 cm). 

This may make buying a smaller turtle, egg, or baby turtle more difficult. 

This law was put into place by officials wanting to limit salmonella outbreaks linked to pet turtles.

Bog Turtle

bog turtle

Scientific NameGlyptemys muhlenbergii

The United States hosts two different bog turtle populations, one in the Northeast and the other in the South and into central states. 

As suggested by their name, they prefer boggy and marshy habitats. 

They have dark brown and black-colored carapaces, which may be marbled with dark red. 

The yellow-orange spots, one on each side of their heads, make them highly recognizable.

Though these turtles stay small, only a few inches in length, each one will need plenty of enclosure space. 

This especially applies if you are housing two in the same vivarium. 

We strongly suggest not keeping males together, as they get territorial in the same space. 

Make sure to keep the swimming water warm.

Bog turtles eat a combination of vegetables, greens, and fruits. 

Feed them live feeder insects and worms for protein.

While these are popular pets, they are endangered in the wild due to habitat loss and illegal pet trades. 

As such, there may be legal limitations on keeping a captive bog turtle in your area. 

If you have chosen a bog turtle, make sure you are only buying from a reputable captive breeder. 

If you do your research, bog turtles are easy to breed yourself. 

Make sure to look into the legality of turtle breeding in your state or locality before starting a captive breeding project.

  • Adult Size: 3-4 in (8-10 cm)
  • Lifespan: 20 years or more
  • Average Cost: 250-450 USD, thousands of dollars in other countries

Common Box Turtle

common box turtle

Scientific NameTerrapene carolina, the family, contains six subspecies

Box turtles are found throughout the United States, Mexico, and parts of Canada. 

Subspecies include:

  • The Eastern Box Turtle.
  • Florida box turtle.
  • The Gulf Coast box turtle.
  • The three-toed box turtle

Most species stay small into adulthood, making them popular for turtle keepers with limited space.

Box turtles, no matter the subspecies, do much better in humid environments than arid ones. 

Some need even higher humidity, like the Florida box turtle and the Gulf Coast box turtle. 

We recommend using a burrowing loose substrate which retains moisture. 

Research what type of care your specific subspecies of box turtle needs, as there are differences between them in the preferred environment.

Box turtles are omnivorous eaters. 

We recommend live insects and dark, leafy greens as the bulk of their diet. 

Extra calcium may be supplemented using powder or a cuttlefish bone. 

Box turtles make popular pets for their size and personalities, which tend to be feisty. 

Unfortunately, many wild populations are under threat due to habitat loss and unethical capture for the pet trade. 

Make sure to research and find a reputable captive breeder if you want a box turtle.

  • Adult Size: 4-7 in (10-18 cm)
  • Lifespan: 20-40 years
  • Average Cost: 25-50 USD

Common Musk Turtle (AKA Stinkpot)

common musk turtle

Scientific NameSternotherus odoratus

Brown and black, common musk turtles are most often found in the Eastern United States. 

There are populations as far West as Texas, however. Adults have flattened keels.

Unlike other turtles, common musk turtles will need only shallow swimming areas. 

They do like to bask, however. If housing multiple in the same enclosure, set up multiple basking spots.

Commercial turtle pellets or freshwater turtle diet food are a good option for common musk turtles. 

However, you should be supplementing them with fresh foods like earthworms, pieces of fish and shrimp, live crickets, and bloodworms.

Musk turtles have an added defense mechanism for when they are feeling threatened or handled too much. 

They get their name stinkpot from releasing a foul odor, very like a skunk. 

We recommend this turtle as more of a hands-off pet.

  • Adult Size: 3-5 in (8-13 cm)
  • Lifespan: 50 years or more
  • Average Cost: 20-60 USD

Diamondback Terrapin

Diamondback Terrapin

Scientific NameMalaclemys terrapin

There are seven subspecies of Diamondback Terrapin spread across coastal marshes of the Eastern United States, with one isolated population in Bermuda. 

They get their name from the diamond patterning on the backs of their carapaces. 

Maryland proudly boasts the diamondback terrapin as its state reptile.

While females do grow up to 8 inches in length (13 cm), males tend to stay smaller.

Since they live in coastal wetlands, diamondback terrapins live in brackish or partially salted water. 

This is a different condition from most aquatic turtles, which prefer freshwater. 

Make sure to match the salt level in the water of their native habitats if you want diamondback terrapins. 

You will probably want to invest in more than one, as they live in family groups in the wild. 

Make sure to provide multiple basking rocks in their enclosure, as they tend to pile on top of each other in the best spots.

These are primarily carnivorous turtles, eating mostly seafood and insects in the wild with a few aquatic plants.

Diamondback terrapins, though they may bite out of defense, tend to be docile otherwise. 

Their temperaments and their size make them popular among turtle keepers. 

Due to threats to their wild populations, diamondback terrapins are under several environmental and legal protections in the United States. 

We strongly recommend looking for captive-bred individuals, as always. 

Your state or locality may not permit diamondback terrapin ownership, making it essential to check with your local DNR’s rules and regulations for pet turtle ownership.

  • Adult Size: 5-8 in (13-20 cm), females bigger than males
  • Lifespan: 25-40 years
  • Average Cost: 250-500 USD

Golden Thread Turtle (AKA Chinese Stripe-Necked Turtle)

Mauremys sinensis

Scientific NameMauremys sinensis

These unique turtles like living near creeks, streams and rivers, and lakes and ponds. 

They are found in the wild in China, Taiwan, North Vietnam, and Laos. 

They are named for their distinctive yellow stripes down their necks, heads, and forelegs. 

Since females tend to grow over 10 inches (25 cm) in length, get a male if possible since the largest they get is 8 inches (20 cm).

Though these turtles prefer higher humidity levels, they have basic enclosure requirements otherwise. 

They will need a basking platform in their enclosures, as it is vital for them to dry off completely after swimming.

Golden thread turtles eat a mix of fruits, vegetables, and meat. 

Hatchlings and juveniles tend to be more carnivorous, while adults tend to eat more greens and veggies.

If you fulfill all of their care and dietary requirements, these tend to be very hardy turtles prone to few health issues. 

They are also a popular pet turtle species because of their docile nature. 

Unlike other turtles, these tend to be receptive to handling and interacting with humans. 

We recommend them for beginner turtle keepers.

  • Adult Size: Males, 6-8 inches (15-20 cm), Females, 10-12 inches (25-30 cm)
  • Lifespan: 40-60 years
  • Average Cost: 45-65 USD

Mississippi Map Turtle

graptemys pseudogeographica kohni

Scientific NameGraptemys pseudogeographica kohni

Mississipi map turtles, also called sawbacks, live in the Central United States. “Sawback” refers to the unique dorsal fin on the back of their carapaces. 

Female map turtles tend to be larger than males. 

Males tend to only grow to about 5 inches in length (13 cm), so if you are looking for a small pet turtle, get a male if possible.

Though they don’t need a large enclosure, they need plenty of places to hide, as they are more cautious and wary of human keepers than other species of turtle. 

They will need a swimming area.

Feed Mississippi map turtles commercial turtle pellets, dark, leafy greens, and live feeder insects. 

Again, calcium is essential for any reptile pet. 

Dust any feeder insects with calcium powder a few times a week.

They are a hands-off turtle. 

Handling causes them stress, and they are more likely to hide for defensive purposes.

  • Adult Size: 5-10 in (13-25 cm), females tend to be larger than males
  • Lifespan: 30 years or more
  • Average Cost: 25 USD

If you love the Mississippi map turtle here is our post on how to care for the Mississippi map turtle you’ll love to read.

Mississippi Mud Turtle

Kinosternon subrubrum

Scientific NameKinosternon subrubrum

Though Mississippi mud turtles are most commonly found in Missouri and Oklahoma, their entire habitat ranges from New York all the way South and West to Texas. 

They are usually a dark mottled color with one to two distinctive yellow stripes on each side of their heads. 

While most of these turtles stay small, there are records of some growing up to 8 inches in length (20 cm).

A longer terrarium is better than a tall one for Mississippi mud turtles since they prefer terrestrial space. 

We recommend 40 gallons minimum, though this species prefers 50-100 gallons for the floor space. 

Keep the floor of their enclosures either bare or covered in large, easily-cleaned smooth rocks. 

Plan for a roomy swimming and diving section.

These turtles are primarily carnivorous. 

Though they should have some dark leafy greens and vegetables, their diet should mainly consist of worms, insects, and small to medium feeder fish.

Mississippi mud turtles are more hands-off than other turtles. 

They tend to bite if feeling threatened or annoyed. Pet mud turtles are often described as “grouchy.” 

They are related to musk turtles and may secrete a foul-smelling odor as a defense mechanism.

  • Adult Size: 3.5-4 in (9-10 cm), sometimes up to 8 in (20 cm)
  • Lifespan: up to 50 years
  • Average Cost: 60-100 USD

Razorback Musk Turtle

Sternotherus carinatus

Scientific NameSternotherus carinatus

These turtles have a range distributed across the states Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Texas. 

They like slow-moving rivers and swamps and are more aquatic than other turtle species on this list. 

Razorback musk turtles are named for three bumps on the backs of their carapaces. 

They tend to have light gray heads and legs.

Be prepared to give a razorback musk turtle large swimming and water area. 

Since they are smaller, they do well in a 30-gallon minimum tank, though, as always, more space is better, primarily if you are housing multiple in the same enclosure. 

They do like occasional basking, so make sure to provide at least one spot. 

These turtles do well on a substrate of smooth river pebbles.

Feed a captive razorback musk turtle high-quality commercial turtle food, supplemented by occasional fish, crawdads, and earthworms.

For their easier care requirements, these come highly recommended as beginner turtles. 

They also tend to be shyer and less aggressive than other species of musk turtles.

  • Adult Size: 5-6 in (13-15 cm)
  • Lifespan: 25 years or more
  • Average Cost: 70-105 USD

Reeve’s Turtle (AKA Chinese Pond Turtle)

Mauremys reevesii

Scientific NameMauremys reevesii

These small turtles live near streams, ponds, and lakes in China, North and South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. 

They are most easily recognized by their eyes, which have uniquely-shaped pupils.

Reeve’s turtles thrive much better in social groups than alone. 

You will want to invest in more than one if this is the turtle for you. 

They will need multiple basking spots in their enclosure, primarily if you are housing multiple.

Feed Reeve’s turtles commercial turtle pellets, supplemented with leafy greens and some live feeder insects.

While they do not live as long as other turtles on this list, Reeve’s turtles are surprisingly friendly and engaged with their human keepers. 

Unlike others, they may be tamed and trained to accept handling under the right circumstances.

  • Adult Size: 6-9 in (15-23 cm)
  • Lifespan: 20 years
  • Average Cost: 75 USD

Spotted Turtle

Clemmys guttata

Scientific NameClemmys guttata

These small turtles live as far north as Canada and into the Eastern United States. 

There are a few populations in the Appalachian Mountain range. 

Specimens do not often grow over 6 inches (15 cm).

Unlike other aquatic and semiaquatic turtles, spotted turtles are not particularly strong swimmers. 

They will need a much shallower swimming area in their enclosures. 

Make sure to include hides, plenty of basking spots, and ornamental plants. 

Make sure any plant in a turtle enclosure is safe for them to eat and not toxic.

We recommend feeding spotted turtles mostly protein in captivity, with sides of fruits, greens, and vegetables. 

They eat crickets, earthworms, shrimp, and small pieces of cooked beef on occasion for protein.

Spotted turtles are generally shyer than other turtles and are very stressed by handling. 

They will be more of a display turtle than an interactive one.

Wild populations of spotted turtles are endangered. 

Look for a reputable breeder with a CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) certificate. 

Limit the chances you may buy a wild-caught one.

  • Adult Size: 4-6 in (10-15 cm)
  • Lifespan: Often over 50 years, some individuals have lived up to 100 years in captivity
  • Average Cost: 75-95 USD

Striped Mud Turtle (AKA Three-Striped Mud Turtle)

Kinosternon baurii

Scientific NameKinosternon baurii

This species of mud turtle lives from coastal South Carolina down through Florida and the Florida Keys. 

Their scientific name, Kinosternon, refers to their hinged plastron or sternum. 

These turtles prefer shallow wetland habitats, making the warm swamps and marshes of the Southeast United States perfect for them. 

Though they are often mistaken for other species of mud and musk turtle in the wild, their striped heads and three longitudinal stripes down their carapaces distinguish them as a separate species.

Since these are small turtles, multiple may be housed in the same enclosure. 

A 20-gallon tank is recommended for 2-3 adults. 

Striped mud turtles also get along with other mud and musk turtles.

Feed striped mud turtles a commercial aquatic turtle diet. 

Supplement it with the occasional fish, earthworm, and cut up the cooked beef heart.

All mud turtles get characterized as “ornery” or “grouchy.” 

We recommend limiting the handling of these turtles.

Though not endangered or threatened, striped mud turtles in the wild are vulnerable to frequent habitat loss and will be vulnerable to habitat and water changes in the future caused by climate change and rising sea levels. 

Fortunately, the United States hosts quite a few captive breeding populations in the care of trustworthy turtle keepers.

  • Adult Size: 4-5 in (10-13 cm)
  • Lifespan: up to 50 years
  • Average Cost: 120 USD

Wood Turtle

Glyptemys insculpta

Scientific NameGlyptemys insculpta

These terrestrial turtles live in North America. 

Wood turtles have distinctive orange patches on their skins, particularly on the areas between their legs and their neck. 

They are slightly larger than other turtles on this list but do not regularly grow above 8 inches in length (20 cm).

Wood turtles will need fresh drinking or soaking water, but, unlike most pet turtles, they will not require a swimming area in their enclosure. 

These are not aquatic or even semiaquatic turtles. 

Feed captive wood turtles a high-protein diet, mostly of fresh meat and live insects. 

For plant matter, they tend to like kale, collard greens, and fruit like cantaloupe.

Since these are easy turtles to care for, they tend to be extremely popular in the pet turtle world. 

In addition, they are very friendly and have even been successfully tamed to tolerate handling.

Unfortunately, wood turtles are endangered in the wild. 

Check your local environmental and pet regulations before settling on a wood turtle, as ownership may be prohibited in your area. 

Make sure you research reputable wood turtle breeders and only buy a captive-bred individual. 

This will relieve stress on wild populations of wood turtles.

  • Adult Size: 5-8 in (13-20 cm)
  • Lifespan: Up to 50 years
  • Average Cost: 50-250 USD

Leave a Comment