Several turtle breeds are ideal for beginners due to their manageable size, hardiness, and relatively straightforward care requirements. The most popular pet turtle, the Red-Eared Slider, is known for its resilience and longevity, though it can grow sizable and requires ample space. Painted Turtles are another good choice for their hardiness and vibrant colors, with a smaller adult size. Eastern Box Turtles, with their domed shells and slower movement, are simpler to care for as they don’t demand the specific aquatic setup many other breeds need.
While not technically turtles, the Russian and Greek Tortoises are often recommended for beginners as they are terrestrial and don’t require an aquatic habitat. They are also smaller and have modest space requirements. Other beginner-friendly turtles include the smaller Spotted Turtle and Musk Turtle (also known as “stinkpots”), both known for their hardiness and easier care requirements. Regardless of breed, potential owners should remember that turtles are a long-term commitment and have specific habitat, diet, and lighting needs that must be met for their well-being.
What Makes A Good Beginner Turtle?
Several factors make a turtle breed beginner-friendly:
- Size: Smaller turtles are generally easier for beginners to handle and require less space. This means the enclosure, including the cost and effort to set up and maintain it, can be more manageable.
- Longevity and Hardiness: While turtles are generally long-lived creatures, certain species are more hardy and resistant to illness, which can make care easier for beginners. Hardier turtles are more forgiving of minor care mistakes that beginners might make.
- Temperament: Some turtles are more relaxed and easier to handle than others. Turtles with calm temperaments are less likely to bite or cause other problems when handled.
- Diet: Species that have simpler dietary needs can be easier for beginners. Many beginner-friendly turtles are omnivores, which means they can eat a variety of foods including commercial turtle pellets, vegetables, and certain types of meat.
- Habitat Requirements: Turtles that don’t have complicated habitat needs (like specific temperature gradients or water quality parameters) are often easier for beginners to care for. For example, terrestrial species such as tortoises can be easier for beginners than aquatic or semi-aquatic turtles because they don’t require a filtered tank and their habitat is generally easier to clean and maintain.
Remember, even if a turtle is considered beginner-friendly, it still requires a significant commitment of time and resources. It’s important to thoroughly research the needs of any pet turtle before bringing one home. Also keep in mind that turtles can live for decades.
1. Red Eared Sliders
Red-Eared Sliders are often touted as good pets for beginners due to their hardiness and adaptability. These turtles have proven to be quite resilient and can adjust to a variety of living conditions. They’re also forgiving of minor care mistakes that beginners may inadvertently make. Additionally, Red-Eared Sliders are commonly available in the pet market, making them an easily accessible and affordable choice for those looking to start caring for a turtle.
Diet-wise, Red-Eared Sliders are omnivores and have a varied diet that includes commercially prepared turtle food, insects, fish, vegetables, and fruits, which makes feeding them relatively straightforward. They exhibit an interesting mix of behaviors and can get used to their owners over time, often swimming towards them when they approach the tank. While they do have a calm demeanor and can tolerate some handling, it’s important to note that, like most turtles, they generally prefer not to be handled excessively.
2. Eastern Box Turtle
The eastern box turtle is one of the easiest turtles to take care of. It’s ideal for beginners and is one of the best starter turtles if you’re new to pet ownership.
Eastern box turtles are on the smaller side, at about four to six inches in size. They have dark brown shells with yellow and orange markings. Their appearance helps the turtles camouflage in the wild, but the distinctive colorings make them beautiful as pets. The species is native to North America and lives throughout the United States, especially on the eastern coast from Maine to Florida. You can find eastern box turtles at many pet stores.
The turtles need a tank that’s at least 55 gallons, and they do well in sunny areas. It must stay wet, so provide your box turtle with a water source and keep a spray bottle handy. Eastern box turtles typically live around 40 years but can live as long as 100.
3. European Pond Turtle
Consider a European pond turtle for your first pet. The little guys make good turtle pets and are some of the best turtles for beginners. European pond turtles are a widespread species. The animals live throughout Europe, Africa, and the Middle East and prefer freshwater areas. These turtles like temperate environments and do well as indoor pets.
The species are dark in color and often have light speckles. They vary in size and can get up to 15 inches in length. Start with a 50-pound tank and switch to a larger tank if the turtle gets bigger. European pond turtles are easy to care for and have a diet of vegetables and insects. You can also feed them turtle pellets.
These turtles live from 10-20 years and are easygoing creatures. They like to bask in the sun and will often relax for hours during the day. European pond turtles are very low-maintenance and are one of the best turtles for pets.
4. Painted Turtle
The painted turtle is a medium-sized aquatic turtle ideal for a household pet. It’s hardy and does well in many environments, and the animal is small and fits well in a home or apartment. It’s among the more easy turtles to take care of and doesn’t require an elaborate or expensive setup.
This turtle is common in Washington and the surrounding area. It’s comfortable in wet environments, so give it at least eight inches of fresh water. The turtle is about two and a half to ten inches in size and has a yellow-striped body and long tail. They tend to have brighter colors as they grow older.
Adopt this turtle and enjoy a friendly, docile companion with a gentle nature. The painted turtle is easy to care for and needs a tank of at least 40 gallons. It’s one of the best pet turtles and is a breeze for beginners to adopt. However, it is a bit of a commitment as the turtle has a 20-25 year lifespan.
5. Razor-Backed Musk Turtle
The razor-backed musk turtle is a light-colored turtle that’s easy to have as a pet. One of the best beginner turtles, this species is native to North America and readily available at many pet sellers. The turtles have a distinctive appearance, with cream or gray-colored shells and speckled bodies. They are only about five inches in size and have a razor-like stripe on their backs.
Consider choosing a razor-backed musk if you’re wondering what turtle is the best pet. It’s a tame creature that spends much of its time swimming or burrowing, and the turtle only needs a medium size tank with water and sand. The diet consists of plants and insects, but they will happily thrive on a carnivorous diet of standard turtle feed.
6. Loggerhead Musk Turtle
The loggerhead musk turtle is a medium-sized, common pet turtle native to the southeastern United States. It prefers wet, temperature environments like streams, but they do well in captivity.
Loggerhead musks are tan with black stripes and have colorful shells ranging from brown to green. They have long claws and large heads, and the turtles use their strong jaws to crack the shells of snails or other prey.
Carnivorous by nature, loggerhead musks love to eat fish, insects, and mollusks. In captivity, you can feed them pre-bought insects or snails. However, they will also enjoy algae and other water plants on occasion.
Care for this turtle by providing them with lots of water. These turtles are highly aquatic and prefer to spend their days swimming rather than basking in the sun. Choose a tank of at least 20 gallons and ensure they have around six inches of water for swimming. You can also feed them in the water, as they enjoy ‘hunting’ for prey under the water’s surface.
7. Russian Tortoise
Russian Tortoises are considered beginner-friendly for several reasons. They are hardy animals that can adapt to a range of conditions, and they are relatively low-maintenance compared to other turtle and tortoise species. They’re terrestrial creatures, which means they don’t require an aquatic setup, thus simplifying their care. These tortoises are also small in size, typically growing to lengths of 5-10 inches, which makes their housing requirements more manageable compared to larger species.
In terms of diet, Russian Tortoises are herbivores. They thrive on a variety of leafy greens, vegetables, and occasional fruits, making their dietary needs easy to accommodate. They also exhibit fascinating behaviors and can develop a connection with their caretakers over time. While they are not overly fond of being handled, they can tolerate it to an extent. It’s important to note that these tortoises are quite active and require a secure enclosure with enough space to explore. Like all reptiles, they require specific heat and UVB lighting conditions for their health and well-being.
8. Greek Tortoise
Greek Tortoises, like their Russian counterparts, are often considered good for beginners due to their manageability and hardiness. As a terrestrial species, they do not require an aquatic setup but can be housed in a good tortoise enclosure. They are also relatively small in size, typically growing between 5 and 8 inches long. This makes their housing needs easier to accommodate compared to some larger turtle and tortoise species.
Greek Tortoises are herbivores and thrive on a diet of leafy greens, vegetables, and occasional fruits, making their dietary requirements straightforward. Behavior-wise, they are generally calm and can tolerate handling to some degree, although excessive handling should be avoided. They are also known to be quite active, especially during the cooler parts of the day, and can be quite engaging to watch. Like all reptiles, Greek Tortoises require specific heat and UVB lighting conditions for their health, so any potential owner must ensure these needs are adequately met.
9. Mississippi Map Turtle
Mississippi Map Turtles are often considered a suitable choice for beginners due to their relatively small size, hardy nature, and interesting characteristics. With females growing to around 10 inches and males significantly smaller at around 5 inches, the space requirements for these turtles are manageable. They are named for their unique shell markings that resemble contour lines on a map, adding to their visual appeal. They are also known for being robust and can tolerate a range of conditions, making them more forgiving of beginner mistakes.
In terms of diet, Mississippi Map Turtles are omnivorous, which means they eat a wide variety of foods, including commercially prepared turtle food, vegetables, and small fish or insects. This makes feeding them relatively easy. They are also known to be quite active, especially when they’re in the water, making them interesting to observe. However, potential owners should be aware that, like all turtles, they require specific care. This includes proper tank setup with both swimming and basking areas, as well as correct heat and UVB lighting to maintain their health.
10. Yellow-Bellied Slider
Yellow-Bellied Sliders are a great choice for beginners due to their resilience and easy-to-meet dietary requirements. These turtles, with their distinctive yellow-bottomed shells, are hardy creatures capable of adapting to a variety of conditions, making them somewhat forgiving to beginner-level mistakes. They can grow to a decent size, up to 12 inches for females and slightly less for males, but their active nature and attractive appearance make them interesting and engaging pets.
Regarding their diet, Yellow-Bellied Sliders are omnivores and accept a wide range of food, including commercial turtle pellets, a variety of vegetables, and occasional servings of protein like fish or insects. This makes them relatively simple to feed. They are fairly active, particularly in water, providing a good deal of interaction for their owners. However, they do have specific habitat needs, like a proper basking area and both heat and UVB lighting. Ensuring that these needs are adequately met is essential for their health and well-being.
Turtles For Beginners To Avoid
Certain turtle species are known for being more challenging to care for, making them less suitable for beginners. Some of these include:
- Alligator Snapping Turtles: These turtles can grow to a large size (over 100 pounds in some cases) and have very specific care requirements. They’re also known for their powerful bite, which can pose a safety risk.
- Softshell Turtles: While fascinating in appearance, Softshell Turtles have quite specific care requirements, including the need for high-quality water filtration and sandy substrates. They can also be more prone to health issues if not cared for properly.
- Sea Turtles: All species of sea turtles are protected under international law and are not suitable or legal as pets. They grow very large and have highly specific dietary and habitat requirements that are nearly impossible to meet in a home setting.
- Matamata Turtles: These exotic turtles have very unique needs, including requiring live food, which can make them difficult for beginners to care for. They also grow fairly large and need a substantial amount of space.
- African Sideneck Turtles: These turtles can be challenging to keep due to their specific needs for water quality and diet. They require a varied diet, which can be hard to provide.
Easiest Turtles To Take Care Of
The best pet turtles for beginners range from aquatic, carnivorous species to laidback turtles that love to bask in the sun. These turtles are easy to care for and won’t take up much space in your home or apartment.
Consider choosing one of these turtles, and you can gain an easy pet that only requires a tank, lightbulb, and turtle feed. We hope you enjoyed this round-up of the best pet turtles for beginners and are ready to become a turtle owner!