Are you interested in pet turtles, but you’re unsure what kind to get?
Have you never owned a turtle before, but you’re interested in getting more information?
We can help!
In this guide, we go over the best pet turtles for beginners and discuss a little of what makes them so good and how to care for them.
Pet turtles are fascinating and ancient-looking pets many people have considered owning at some point in their lives.
In general, they’re fun to play with and watch and reasonably easy to care for (if you pick the right breeds).
Read on for more information.
Table of Contents
The Best Pet Turtles For Beginners
There are a lot of turtles out there, and finding the right one for you to adopt can be confusing if you don’t know what to look for.
Some are easier to care for than others.
These turtles are best suited for new owners.
For more details on these beginner pet turtles, check out the expanded section below.
But here’s a quick overview of our picks for the best beginner turtles.
Red-Eared Slider – The red-eared slider is one of the most common pet turtles out there.
They grow to be 6″ – 8″ inches on average and have a gentle temperament.
They aren’t likely to take any nibbles at little fingers.
This is a favorite of children because of their smaller size and attractive colors.
Like many turtles, these have a longer life span.
In this case, the slider can live between 20-30 years.
In some cases, the slider can grow larger than 8″ inches which may require a bigger tank.
These are aquatic creatures and need a lot of water in their tank.
Box Turtle – These swimming little box turtles grow up to 5″ inches on average.
As a smaller turtle, they do better in a smaller tank, but they love to swim.
Some people even take these turtles out into their kiddy pools to let them swim within the freshwater.
These turtles can live up to 50 years, but 40 is the most common.
However, it’s not unheard of to find boxed turtles which live to 100 years!
Their nature is more active than some other turtles, which makes them more fun for new owners and kids.
Box turtles also require a UV light installed when they’re kept inside to keep them healthy.
Razor-backed Musk Turtle – The musk turtle may not look the prettiest of all the turtles, but it’s undoubtedly one of the toughest.
This turtle requires less time to care for, so if you have a busy life, it may be the one for you.
It also lives for around 20 years, perhaps making it a less scary commitment than the other turtles.
The musk turtle grows up to 5″ – 6″ inches.
Like other turtles, they like to swim a lot, but still need a basking spot.
These turtles don’t do well with decorations because they tend to chew on them.
Still, they don’t often bite as long as you avoid confusing your fingers with their food.
Expanding On Beginner Options
In this section, we go over our three picks for the best beginner pet turtles and offer more details on their care.
We go into detail on each pet and the following information:
In this section, we’ll go into details on the care of the red-eared slider (referred to as slider in this section).
Use this information to help you decide if the red-eared slider is the turtle pet for your situation.
Red-Eared Slider Behavior
The slider is quite the active reptile, but this just makes them interesting to watch.
They eat a lot and often.
Most of their time is spent switching between swimming and basking.
These guys are smart, though.
The slider is quick to link its owner with food, and this makes them active when people come by.
It’s an adorable behavior!
These turtles are popular pets because they do well in captivity, are easy to handle and fed by hand, and, in some cases, can be bred easily.
Despite this, they don’t do well with other turtles and can get violent against tank-mates.
Red-Eared Slider Care
Red-eared sliders aren’t difficult to care for, but they do require daily work.
Expect to spend up to 20 minutes daily on them.
Feeding with adult sliders happens every 2-3 days.
But sliders are messy eaters, and they defecate often.
Because of their watery environment, this makes a mess and requires strong filters and daily checks for cleaning needs.
Red-Eared Slider Diet
Sliders are omnivores, but depending on their stage in life, how much protein and vegetation they eat changes.
Young sliders eat more protein (to the point where sliders in the wild are considered carnivores).
As they age, more and more vegetation enters the diet.
Adult sliders should be fed a large amount of food (until they stop eating basically, then adjust for the weight over time) every 2-3 days.
Acceptable plants include:
For protein, buy commercial turtle food, but you should also supplement the diet with some of these proteins:
Pro-tip: You may want to fast (deny feeding) for a time before trying to add new vegetation to your turtle’s diet.
This will help transition to the new food.
Red-Eared Slider Habitat
The sliders’ active nature requires a larger tank.
If your turtle ends up being large, you will need a 75-gallon tank.
If it’s small, you will still need a 40-gallon tank.
Sliders will need a water place to swim and relax, but they also need somewhere on land to bask and absorb UV rays.
Putting some plastic tubs or mini-fountains in the tank may be just what you need.
Believe it or not, these turtles can escape if decorations get too close to the top of the tank.
If your pet gets outside, these are a favorite prey of natural predators (even raccoons!).
A strong filtration system and pump are needed to keep the water clean.
Avoid more cleaning by using a separate enclosure of some kind for feeding.
A substrate isn’t needed, but if you decide to get one, make sure these conditions are met:
Water temperature should be between 75° – 82° degrees Fahrenheit (24° – 28° C), and the basking spot should be at 90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C).
Also, you will need a UVB bulb.
Red-Eared Slider Health
Red-eared sliders live for 20-30 years, but they are some who have lived for 50 years.
The most common ailment for sliders is the respiratory infection which can be caused by cold water.
Other potential health issues include:
Fortunately, in almost every case, these can be avoided with a healthy environment, balanced diet, and regular vet checkups.
In this section, we’ll discuss in more detail what it takes to care for the box turtle.
This information may help you decide if the box turtle is the right pet for you.
Box Turtle Behavior
As a pet, box turtles aren’t very affectionate, but they can be kept in groups to watch some interesting behaviors when they interact together.
You can tell this is a smarter species of turtle.
After a time they recognize and may eat out of your hand.
Box turtles aren’t the type of turtles which enjoy being handled often.
They’re a hands-off kind of pet.
This being said, they’re pretty active and LOVE to swim.
Box Turtle Care
As a pet, these turtles are popular because they don’t require a lot of handling or direct attention.
However, to say they’re “care-free” is a little misunderstood.
For them to be happy and healthy, the box turtles’ habitat needs to be cared for correctly.
With box turtles, you tend to have the reptiles who are forcefully captured in the wild and then resold at pet stores.
This leaves them (potentially) infected with parasites or worse, and makes you need more time to help them adjust to captivity.
For these reasons, you’ll spend more time on their environment and helping them get adjusted than physically on them.
Box Turtle Diet
Box turtles need to be fed every two days unless they’re hibernating.
They prefer to eat during the day, so you need to adjust your feeding schedule when they’re lights are going to be nice and warm.
As omnivores, you need to give your box turtle a mix of proteins and plants.
They eat by sight and smell senses, so the fresher the food, the better.
Here are some good proteins to try:
Note: Dog food shouldn’t be more than 20% of their diet even though it’s easier to feed them with it.
The plant is also very important.
While the protein keeps the box turtle running, the plants provide the vitamins and minerals for a healthy structure.
Here are some good plants to try:
Pro-tip: Cut the food up small and fine where applicable.
Box turtles are picky eaters, but they like variety so mix it up!
Note: In the wild, box turtles hibernate in the hottest summer months.
If you can’t get them to eat, it may be time for hibernation.
If you balance protein and plants, you don’t need to use supplements, but it may be a good idea to use a powder calcium supplement on occasion.
Box Turtle Habitat
As with the red-eared slider, a 75-gallon tank works best (40 gallons at minimum) for box turtles.
Even though they’re a little smaller, they’re active behavior, and love of swimming requires a bigger tank.
The temperature in the tank should be 70° – 85° degrees Fahrenheit (21° – 29° C) consistently.
The water should be around this as well.
At night, the temperature can be allowed to dip to help simulate nature, but don’t let it go lower than 50° degrees Fahrenheit (10° C).
These turtles love water, but they also love the land.
You will need to additionally install a UV light to supplement the UVB rays of the sun.
A substrate is encouraged with these turtles.
Use a couple of inches of a peat-based potting soil and orchid bark mix.
Warning! Watch out for substrate, including perlite.
This can harm your turtle.
The goal of the substrate is two-fold:
Other options include:
Box turtles like to hide as well, so give them something simple (small log) to hide in.
The water needs a strong filter to keep the water free of bacteria.
The relative humidity needs to be from 60-80%.
Box Turtle Health
Box turtles grow up to 5″ inches in length and can live for around 40 years in captivity, but 50 isn’t uncommon.
These turtles are pretty tough as long as they’re cleared by a vet after being adopted.
Their most common health issue is dehydration from lack of relative humidity.
Other ailments may include:
Razor-Backed Musk Turtle
This section focuses on the life and care of the razor-backed musk turtle (called simply musk turtle for the rest of this section).
We hope this information helps you figure out if the musk turtle is right for you.
Razor-Backed Musk Turtle Behavior
We often stereotype turtles in general as shy.
This comes from the nature of the musk turtle.
It’s the shyest of all musk turtles, and will rarely bite unless you handle them too much or wiggle your fingers near their mouths.
These turtles do pretty well with other musk turtles, and it can be fun to watch them interact with each other.
They also get along with sliders, cooters, and painted turtles.
Pro-tip: With wild animals, including turtles, try to keep roommates of the same size, or they may attack each other.
The musk turtles like to swim but aren’t as active as some other turtles.
Razor-Backed Musk Turtle Care
As with the other turtles on our list, care isn’t too much of a time commitment.
Expect to spend 20 minutes a day on the musk turtle.
The biggest care factor comes in the form of habitat control.
While these turtles aren’t as messy as red-eared sliders, you still need to take care of the water stays clean and free of bacteria.
Feeding happens 2-3 times per week, so this isn’t a big-time drain.
However, younglings do need to eat every day.
Razor-Backed Musk Turtle Diet
As a carnivore, the musk turtle’s diet is going to consists of all proteins.
In the wild, they can also eat nuts, grains, and seeds, but this is the most plant life they eat.
Wild prey for the musk turtles include:
Food for captive turtles can include:
Razor-backed musk turtles should be fed 2-3 times per week as adults and daily as babies and juveniles.
When feeding the turtle, your goal is to provide as much food as they’ll eat after 5-10 minutes.
When the time is up, stop feeding them and remove anything left in the eating area.
If they stop eating before the time is up, just stop and remove any extra food.
Pro-tip: These turtles are messy eaters.
You may want to have somewhere else for them to eat to keep the water in the tank from getting filled with food remains.
Razor-Backed Musk Turtle Habitat
For their smaller size and less active lifestyle, use a smaller tank for the musk turtle.
A 20-gallon aquarium works well, but 40 may be a good choice too.
Larger tanks mean more water.
More water means it stays cleaner longer.
There needs to be water and land (or a dry spot) in the tank.
The water should be non-chlorinated and at a depth where the hind legs can reach with only a little stretching.
Musk turtles love the water so much it may seem like they never leave!
But you still need to give them a basking area.
This basking area needs to have a warmer temperature and a UV light for getting the needed rays.
The basking spot should be sitting at around 90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C).
A ceramic heat emitter or heat lamp can do the job well.
Your air temperature of the tank should be between 80° – 85° degrees Fahrenheit (26° – 29° C).
You are encouraged to use a timer set for 12 hours on and 12 hours off to simulate night and day.
The temperature at night must not dip below 50° degrees Fahrenheit (10° C) ever.
Keep a close eye on this until you’re sure of your heater and tank ranges.
The water needs to always be at a steady 72° – 78° degrees Fahrenheit (22° – 25° C).
This can be maintained with an underwater heater.
A strong filtration system is needed to keep the water clean and free of bacteria.
Decorations aren’t needed for the musk turtle.
They tend to bite and tear at them.
The substrate also isn’t needed.
A bare floored tank is easier to clean up after.
If you do use substrate, use medium-sized pea gravel.
This won’t block up any filters or get eaten accidentally.
Razor-Backed Musk Turtle Health
The musk turtle grows to between 5″ – 6″ inches and lives for around 20 years.
As with most turtles, this is just an estimate; some have been seen at 50 years old.
The same health risks with musk turtle exist as with the other turtles.
The main one for the musk turtles is dehydration.
This can be avoided if you keep the water clean and full.
Another one to watch for is shell rot.
This is caused by infections often seen in unclean water.
Because musk turtles spend more time in the water than the other species, they are a bit more susceptible.
Keep your tank clean and get regular checkups, and they should be just fine.
Not Good Beginner Options
While the turtles in this section may not be good for beginners, it doesn’t mean they make bad pets.
They just require a little more work.
Read on for some pet turtles you may want to check out as you get more experienced.
African Aquatic Sideneck Turtle – This tiny and adorable turtle is plentiful and docile.
You’d think it’d be the perfect pet for a beginner, but it’s more fragile health and tank needs make it more of an intermediate one.
Central American Wood Turtle – These beautiful turtles are very smart for a turtle.
However, this doesn’t mean they aren’t quick to take a nip at you when your hands come by.
Painted Turtle – Another beautiful and common pet turtle option.
This turtle doesn’t like to be handled and has a difficult time adjusting to life in captivity.
Mississippi Map Turtle – The markings on this turtle are fascinating, and it’s known for its active nature and pleasant personality.
However, it requires pristine water conditions, or it’s quick to get sick.
Russian Tortoise – These big guys are tough and active.
They’re really easy to care for, but their size and big appetite makes them a bit more to handle.
We hope you enjoyed this guide on the best pet turtles.
These reptiles may be a little messy, but they live a long time and are pretty easy to take care of as long you keep the tanks clean.
Now you’ve seen all this information go get one!
Maybe turtles aren’t your thing?
Check these other best reptile pets.