Fully Aquatic Turtles: Do They Exist?

There are many aquatic turtle species, but is there such a thing as a fully aquatic turtle?

Many a type of turtles spends a large majority of their lives in the water. 

Do these turtles ever leave their aquatic home and come to land? 

Are aquatic turtles, such as the seven species of sea turtles, able to breathe underwater?

This article will help you find the answers to these questions and explain the reasons behind them. 

We will also explore some of the most common aquatic turtles species, what aspects make them so popular, and appropriate care for aquatic turtles kept as pets.

fully aquatic turtles

Fully Aquatic Turtles: Do They Exist?

All turtles species are reptiles, meaning they need air to breathe and dry land to lay their eggs. While many turtles spend most of their time in the water, there is no such thing as a fully aquatic turtle.

The idea of a fully aquatic turtle may be misleading. 

Many people think of species of turtles living in water, whether freshwater or saltwater, like animals without the need for land. 

This is untrue for several reasons.

A proper turtle habitat needs to have a lot of lands. 

Turtle Anatomy

Let’s look at the turtle anatomy to get an idea of what’s required for a healthy turtle. 

Reptiles are a classification of vertebrate animals with skin covered in strong scales, boney plates, or both. 

They are cold-blooded, meaning they cannot regulate their body temperatures internally and rely on their surroundings to warm up and cool off. 

The body of turtles has lungs and needs air to breathe. 

Reptiles are oviparous, meaning their young hatch from eggs. 

Most reptiles lay fertilized eggs in some form of a simple nest. 

Once the reptile has laid its eggs and left, the hatchlings will emerge days or months later, depending on the species.

This description of reptiles holds for all turtles. 

This includes species of aquatic turtles who spend the majority of their lives in the water.

For a turtle to be classified as fully aquatic, it would need to spend its entire life in the water, with no need to visit the land. 

Since all turtles lay their eggs in nests made on land, and most need to bask in the sun to regulate their body temperature, no turtle is considered fully aquatic.

Sea turtles are aquatic turtles often referred to as marine turtles since they spend the majority of their lives in the ocean. 

While all sea turtles need to surface to breathe through their lungs, only female sea turtles return to land for the sole purpose of laying their eggs. 

Once a male sea turtle hatches from its egg and ventures from the nest to the ocean, the turtle will most likely never return to land. 

These animals are not considered fully aquatic since females must return to the shore, and their species rely on the land for reproduction purposes.

There are many species of aquatic turtles living in freshwater or brackish water, which is slightly salty. 

Many of these aquatic turtles are kept as pets, some being more popular than others.

Fun fact: Baby turtles instinctively know how to swim, further feeding into the myth most turtles are purely aquatic. 

Popular Pet Turtles Who Are Also Aquatic

When deciding to adopt a pet reptile, many people opt for an aquatic turtle. 

These animals are fascinating to observe, and there are several very popular species to own. 

A list of five popular aquatic turtles has been comprised, and a brief overview of each species will follow.

Popular aquatic turtles for pets:

  • Red Eared Slider
  • Painted Turtle
  • Reeve’s Turtle
  • Peninsula Cooter
  • Razorback Musk Turtle

Red Eared Slider

The red-eared slider is arguably the most commonly owned pet turtle. 

These turtles are well known for their distinctive red patch of skin behind their eyes where their ears would be.  

The rest of their skin is a dark olive green covered in bright yellow stripes.

From an even smaller length as juvenile sliders, these creatures will grow to be approximately 12″ inches (33 cm) long in adulthood. 

They require ample tank space for swimming, needing a minimum of 10 gallons per inch of their shell length.

Red-eared sliders are not known to be territorial, making them an excellent choice if you plan to own more than one turtle. 

These turtles are even known to socialize with one another. 

If you decide to own multiple red eared sliders, be sure to properly adjust the size of the tank you house them in.

Painted Turtle

Painted turtles are an attractive species of aquatic turtles. 

Like many other species, their heads are generally dark olive green with bright yellow stripes. 

However, their neck, arms, legs, and parts of their shell have bright red markings.

These turtles will grow to be a similar size as the red-eared slider, usually measuring approximately 12″ inches (33 cm) in length, with females almost always measuring larger than males.

These turtles will need plenty of room to swim, especially for feeding time. 

This species is known to only eat while swimming, so they will not eat food placed in their enclosure’s basking area. 

Keep this in mind when feeding your painted turtle to avoid food waste.

Reeve’s Turtle

Reeve’s turtles are one of the smaller species of aquatic turtles commonly kept as pets. 

On average, these turtles will grow to be around 6″ inches (15 cm) in length, making them roughly half the size of the two previously mentioned species. 

Reeve’s turtles have a more muted version of the typical aquatic turtle look, with dark olive green skin sporting few subtle yellow lines on their heads and necks. 

While these turtles have a less flashy look than some other popular turtle species, they have fun and vibrant personalities.

If you decide to own a reeve’s turtle, you will not need an overly large enclosure for them. 

These turtles are easy to care for, so they are great options for new turtle owners. 

While reeve’s turtles need a large space to swim, they should only be kept in water with a depth measuring 1.5 to 3 times the turtle’s shell’s length. 

This will give your turtle ample room to explore without posing the risk of drowning. 

Remember, these turtles will also need a sizable area of dry land to bask on.

Peninsula Cooter

The peninsula cooter is an aquatic turtle commonly found in the state of Florida. 

These common pond turtles are very laid back and are an excellent turtle species species for first-time owners.

Like the previously mentioned turtle species, this turtle’s skin is a dark olive green color with yellow stripes. Its shell is multicolored with the shell’s bottom, known as the plastron, typically having a yellow hue. 

The top of the shell referred to as the carapace, is generally a mixture of dark olive green and tan.

The peninsula cooter is the largest aquatic turtle species we will cover, averaging 12 to 16″ inches (43 cm) in length when fully grown. 

These turtles’ mature size largely depends on the quality of care it receives while developing, including its nutrition and enclosure care. 

Like the painted turtle, peninsula cooter females measure larger and are bulkier than their male counterparts.

With a generally laid-back personality, peninsula cooters liven up their behavior while in the water. 

They enjoy diving down into the water and swimming around, playing with their substrate. 

It is advised to have a large tank for these turtles, with ample swimming room and a ramp to get onto a large portion of dry land.

If you’re interested in this turtle we have a dedicate post on peninsula cooter turtle care you’ll find very helpful.

Razorback Musk Turtle

The razorback musk turtle is the final popular pet aquatic turtle we will discuss. 

Like the reeve’s turtle, the common musk turtle will only grow to measure approximately 6″ inches (15 cm) in length. 

While this is on the smaller side of aquatic turtles, the razorback is the largest musk turtles species.

The razorback musk turtle gets its name from the shape of this shell. 

The scutes of the shell are very defined and outlined in black. 

The shell sports center a sharp keel and angled scutes, resembling a razor or a turtle mohawk.

Razorback musk turtles are thought of as the most aquatic species of turtles discussed. 

These turtles will spend most of their time in the water swimming and walking around or simply relaxing on the bottom of their enclosure. 

While the surface for air, these turtles will rarely leave the water in search of land. 

Even though these turtles spend almost all of their time in the water, you will still need to provide some form of a basking area for the rare occasion your turtle decides to leave the water.

Popular Marine Turtles

When asked to imagine aquatic water turtles, many people picture some species of a sea turtle. 

These turtles are aquatic and often referred to as marine turtles, thanks to their saltwater locale.

It’s illegal to own a sea turtle. 

These animals are protected by federal and state laws, as well as the Endangered Species Act.

These are not available as captive-bred turtles. 

While these animals will never be someone’s pet, it is still valuable to have a general knowledge of these beautiful creatures.

There are seven sea turtles species, six of which are listed as threatened on the endangered species list. 

Sea turtles had swum the Earth’s oceans for over 100 million years, dating back to the Mesozoic era when dinosaurs roamed the planet.

7 Sea Turtle Species:

  • Green
  • Leatherback
  • Flatback
  • Olive Ridley
  • Kemp’s Ridley
  • Loggerhead
  • Hawksbill


The green turtle is the only herbivorous species of the sea turtle. 

These turtles grow up to four feet in length and anywhere from 350 lbs to over 400 lbs. 

The green turtle has a small head, a heart-shaped shell, and an average lifespan of 60-70.

These turtles are listed as endangered species due to the loss of nesting beach sites, marine plastics and fishing gear, overharvesting of their eggs, and adults’ illegal hunting.


The leatherback turtle is the largest living species of turtle globally and the fourth largest reptile species. 

They average six to seven feet in length and can weigh over 1,500 lbs.

These turtles are known for their unique shells, which resemble leather instead of typical hard, scute-covered shells. 

Leatherbacks as a whole are listed as vulnerable on the endangered species list; however, some subpopulations are listed as critically endangered.


The flatback turtle is one of the smaller species, measuring roughly three feet in length. 

These turtles are native to Australia and are also known as the Australian flatback turtle. 

They are named for their only known location and their flat shells.

Flatback turtles are listed as vulnerable by the Australian Environment Protection & Biodiversity Conservation. 

They are only known to live in the shallow coastal water of the Australian continental shelf and around Papua New Guinea.

Olive Ridley

The olive ridley sea turtle, also known as the Pacific ridley sea turtle, is currently the most abundant. 

These turtles are listed as vulnerable with a decreasing population.

Olive ridleys are the second smallest species of sea turtle and generally measure slightly longer than two feet. 

These turtles can weigh up to 100 lbs and have an average lifespan of 50 years.

Kemp’s Ridley

Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, also known as the Atlantic ridley sea turtle, is the rarest in the world. 

They are also the smallest marine turtles, measuring only two feet in length and weighing fewer than 100 lbs.

These sea turtles have been listed as endangered since 1970, and their numbers are decreasing. 

Their population resides mainly in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Texas. Kemp’s ridley nesting habitats are a major factor in their loss of population numbers.


Loggerhead turtles are named for their large heads and strong jaws. 

Their average weight is 350 lbs, and they are the most common sea turtle in the Mediterranean, though they are largely distributed throughout the world’s oceans.

The major threats to these turtles are fisheries and tourism. 

While not often hunted for their meat or shells, these turtles are victims of bycatch or accidentally being caught in fishing gear. 

Tourism also poses a threat to these animals since they mainly live in the Mediterranean, where the beaches are flooded with visitors.


Hawksbill sea turtles are critically endangered. 

They are known for their gorgeous patterns on their skin and shells, leading them to be hunted for the purposes of “tortoiseshell” accessories.

These sea turtles are an average of three feet long and 300 lbs. 

Along with the illegal hunting of these animals, threats to their nesting beaches, climate change, and pollution are all threats to this species.

Final Thoughts

All species of turtles are reptiles and require land to lay their eggs. 

There is no such thing as a fully aquatic turtle; however, there are some species of turtles which are mostly aquatic. 

A popular pet turtle which is mostly aquatic is the razorback musk turtle. 

Sea turtles are also mostly aquatic, with the males never returning to the land and the females only returning to their natal beaches to lay their eggs.

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