How Do I Choose A Turtle? [Beginner’s Guide]

pretty blond women showing her turtle

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

I can feel your excitement if you have decided to welcome a new turtle to your home. But have you decided on the species yet? Remember, it is crucial to choose the right one. Otherwise, raising the pet will seem like a struggle for you, and the turtle will also suffer.

Here is how you choose a turtle,

  • Start with the beginner-level turtles if you are a newbie.
  • Get a small, medium, or large turtle, considering the space you can offer to the pet.
  • Review the behavior, diet, housing, and financial requirements for the species.
  • Buy the turtle if you find it compatible.

Keep reading to get more details.

Key Takeaways

  • Categorize the turtles into 3 care levels. Such as beginner, intermediate, and experienced. Stick to the category according to your experience with turtles.
  • Go through the behavior, size, and other requirements of the turtles. Choose the one that suits you the most.
  • Do not take a turtle if you are not sure about this journey.
Most Popular Pet Turtle Species (and) Their Care Level

Choosing The Perfect Pet Turtle: Infographic

If you want a printable version of this infographic, click here. Also, if you use this infographic on your website or anywhere, please link back to this post as the source.

How To Choose The Right Turtle?

You will find almost 360 types of turtle species on this planet earth.

Of course, most species are wild, and petting them is illegal. In many countries, taking in any wild turtle is considered a criminal act.

It leaves you with the captive-bred and hybrid turtle species. Each turtle comes with unique characteristics and distinct requirements. You must analyze the pet’s profile and care guide thoroughly. Only then can you understand whether the turtle species is suitable for you or not.

Allow me to help you find the perfect turtle for you.

1. Ask The Right Questions

Do not hop into the turtle selection. But start by asking yourself some basic questions. It will make you realize whether you really want the pet or not.

Some people take in turtles out of enthusiasm and excitement. Later, the pets seem like a burden to them. So, they look for foster homes to give away the turtles or just release them in the wild.

Such behavior is highly discouraged. A captive-bred turtle can not survive in the wild. So ask yourself the following questions,

  • Are you a turtle enthusiast?
  • Do you know the basics of turtle keeping?
  • Do you want a turtle?
  • Can you provide the turtle with a spacious home?
  • Are you ready to take care of the pet?
  • Can you invest your time to raise the turtle?
  • Are you a busy person and stay out of time frequently?
  • Can you manage someone to take care of the turtle in your absence?
  • Are you financially stable enough to raise the turtle? 
  • Are you ready for a long-term commitment?

Write down your answers in only yes, maybe, and no. You are not ready for a turtle if the NOs dominate your answer sheet. Take time and reconsider your decision if you have written down ‘Maybe’ in most answers.

Finally, you are completely ready for the turtle if the answers are mostly positive. So, it is time to decide on the turtle species.

The red-eared slider is one of the most popular species of pet turtle, accounting for approximately 60% of all pet turtles in the United States.

red eared slider swimming upwards
This is a Red Eared Slider. Owner: Carly McEachin

2. Any Preferences?

Sometimes, you fall in love with a particular turtle species at first sight. It happened to me when I saw the diamondback terrapins. The unique patterns on the shells amazed me, and I decided to add this species to my collection.

So, consider your preferred turtle species first. Otherwise, go through the overall characteristics of all possible pet turtles. Your available options are,

Turtle SpeciesUnique Attractive Characteristic
Red eared sliderBroad red stripe behind ears
Yellow eared sliderBoard yellow patches behind ears
Cumberland sliderYellow patches on olive-brown carapace
Red bellied cooterRed mark on tummy
Eastern river cooterHeavily marked plastron
Plain cooterYellow stripes on green to brown carapace
Painted turtleDark olive to black carapace
Map turtleHeavily striped carapace resembles map
Softshell turtleCarapace has a soft and leather-like texture
Snapping turtleBeast-like appearance and looks like a small alligator
Razorback musk turtleKeels run down through the center of the carapace
Loggerhead musk turtleRounded gray or yellow head
Wood turtleCarapace has a yellow and gray shade, which resembles an old wooden log
Box turtleShell is more rounded

Please read this article to learn more about turtle species and their physical appearances.

3. Life Expectancy Of The Pet

Taking in a turtle is a long-term commitment. On average, these creatures live 20 to 30 years. There are even records for the turtles to have a lifespan of around 150 years.

Why do turtles live so long? Well, they are biologically very different from humans and most animals on the planet. Apparently, a slow metabolism, unique lifestyle, and delayed reproduction are responsible for the long lifespan of turtles.

Hence, you must go through the life expectancy chart of different species. Think for a moment whether you are up for the commitment or not. For you convenience, I have added the longevity chart of different turtles,

Turtle SpeciesLife Expectancy In Captivity
Box turtle50 years
Red eared slider20 to 40 years
Map turtleUp to 30 years
Painted turtle15 to 20 years
Musk turtle15 to 20 years
Wood turtleUp to 60 years

Getting a turtle means having a company for almost a lifetime. Take in a species with a shorter lifespan if you are not ready for a long-term commitment.

The alligator snapping turtle is the largest freshwater turtle species in North America, with males capable of reaching over 200 pounds in weight.

4. Turtle Species & Their Temperament

Dogs and cats are very different from turtles. They are more friendly to their owners. Unlike them, turtles are barely social. In fact, they prefer a solitary life.

It means you can not expect the turtles to play with you. Nor can you pet them like you do with a dog or cat. Frequent touch and handling can stress out the turtles. In the end, the pets will mark you as a threat and unleash an attack.

But don’t get me wrong. Turtles are not ferocious or moody. They just love their own space. These creatures also recognize their owners and show excitement when they spot them.

Turtles are docile and will keep you entertained as long as you maintain the distance. The map turtles, red eared sliders, yellow eared sliders, painted turtles, etc., are more friendly to the owners. In contrast, snapping turtles and softshell turtles stay mostly in an aggressive mood.

Check the behavior and temperament of your preferred turtle species. See whether you can handle them or not.

5. Focus On The Housing Arrangements

Luckily, most turtle species thrive in both indoor and outdoor habitats. So, do not stress if you do not have a yard space for a pond. You can prepare the indoor tank with all the necessary supplies.

The location may not be a problem, but the space is. Turtles need a spacious home. So, if you can manage a small area, go for the small pets. Mud turtles, musk turtles, spotted turtles, bog turtles, etc., always stay small.

Do not put your turtles in a congested area. It will affect their growth and mental stability.

All turtle species have similar housing requirements. For example, they need lighting arrangements, water and land area, heated water, and a freshwater source. You can not compromise with these demands no matter which species you select.

See, box turtles are land turtles. They only go to water for bathing, drinking and pooping. Generally, aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles need water areas up to 3/4th of the habitat. But the box turtles can live on a substrate with only a bowl of fresh water.

So, box turtles should be your priority if you do not want to manage a water tank for the turtles.

two snapping turtles inside a tub
Owner: Josh Kelley

The diamondback terrapin is a unique species of turtle that lives in brackish water habitats along the eastern coast of the United States. It is the only species of turtle that has adapted to live exclusively in brackish water.

6. Go Through The Other Requirements

Food and health care are 2 crucial demands for turtles. Generally, most turtles are omnivorous, which means they eat both animal protein and plants. Drafting a feeding guide is less complex for these species.

However, if your turtle is herbivorous or carnivorous, you must carefully plan the meal chart. The feeding routine and overall lists are the same for most turtles. So, you can not really choose a turtle solely based on their diet habits.

Finally, look for the probable health risks in the turtle species. Some turtle species are more prone and vulnerable to diseases. Many owners tend to avoid those species altogether.

7. The Surroundings

Well, many professionals suggest getting a native turtle if possible. For example, if you live in Florida, a Florida box turtle or Florida softshell turtle will be a better choice for you. This way, the pets find no trouble adjusting to the environment and thrive.

However, I do not see it as a crucial requirement. You can always recreate the natural vibe with artificial supplies.

Yet, if you want to get a turtle native to your region, read this article. I have listed 200+ turtles and their home range throughout the USA.

8. Keep Your Experience In Mind

Never overestimate yourself. If you are a beginner, start your journey with a single, easy-to-maintain species. For example, a red eared slider or a yellow slider.

The razorback turtles, diamondback terrapins, or snapping turtles demand a more detailed care sheet. A newbie can not handle these species and end up giving up the pets for adoption.

9. Get Into Finances

We have discussed all aspects of turtles and their requirements in the above sections. I am sure you will choose one species based on its appearance, behavior, or easy maintenance. But do not forget the investment that goes into raising a turtle.

Primarily, you have to spend up to $100 to get a common baby turtle. The price can hit up to $500 and even $1000, depending on the availability of the species. Setting up the enclosure costs around $500 to $700. You can cut the cost if you DIY most supplies.

Besides, you have to spend around $200 to $500 annually to feed the turtles and get their medical checkups. Generally, the carnivorous turtles have a more expensive diet.

So, yes, raising the turtles can be costly, especially if you buy an exotic species. The common turtles are cheap and grow up without special requirements. You should go through your financial state and see which turtle species fits the best on your budget.

You will find the complete breakdown of pet turtle prices in this post.

10. The Final Call

Review each one of the above-mentioned points before buying a turtle. Reading and researching these parameters will help you buy the perfect turtle.

snapping turtle screaming
Owner: Josh Kelley

4 Things To Remember When Buying A Turtle

Now that you have selected a turtle, it is time to get the pet. But where to buy a healthy turtle and how? Here are some last-minute tips for you,

  1. Always select a reputable and trusted pet store to buy your turtle. It can be a physical shop or an online website. Private and licensed breeders also offer nice deals on the turtles. Avoid black markets at all costs.
  2. You must buy the captive-bred turtles. Ask for verification if needed.
  3. Some organizations offer turtle adoption and foster care. You can sign up for those turtles if you wish.
  4. When buying a turtle, examine its health thoroughly. The healthy turtles will be active. Runny nose, cloudy eyes, soft shells, limping, overgrown beaks, etc., are signs of sick turtles.

An Additional Tip: If you are a beginner, do not buy a pair. Start your journey with a baby turtle instead. However, you have to buy a male and a female turtle if you plan to breed the creatures in the future.

Remember, keeping the male and female turtles together can lead to frequent fights in the enclosure. Hence, I discourage housing multiple turtles in a single tank. You can try community habitat once you get experienced.

Which Turtle To Buy? My Recommendation

Honestly, I have tried my luck with many turtle species, and I love them all. So, it is hard to tell which turtle is the best or worst.

I guess each turtle is special. It is just that we sometimes do not vibe with a turtle species. This happens when you get a turtle without any background research.

Anyway, here is my top 10 favorite turtle list. Remember, some species here are perfect for beginners, while some are for experienced ones. So, do not forget to look into the turtle’s profile.

  1. Red eared slider
  2. Painted turtle
  3. Map turtle
  4. Mud turtle
  5. Diamondback terrapins
  6. Snapping turtle
  7. Box turtles
  8. Wood turtle
  9. Bog turtle
  10. Pond turtle

If you are a beginner, go with the painted turtle or red eared slider. Some of the box turtle subspecies are also beginner-friendly. On the contrary, the snapping turtles are only for professional turtle keepers.

Wood Turtle

Why You Should Not Buy A Turtle?

I am not discouraging anyone, but raising a turtle will not be easy. There are certain things you should keep in mind before getting this pet. For example,

  • Turtles carry salmonella bacteria. This disease is highly contagious and can spread in humans. Children and babies are at the most risk of getting infected by salmonella.
  • These pets are picky and demanding. They need access to heat, UV light, and freshwater. Compromising any of the basic requirements will make the turtles sick.
  • You have to invest much time in keeping the enclosure clean. Turtles can not stand filthy and unhygienic habitats.
  • Turtles require a spacious habitat, which can be hard to manage if you live in small apartments. Also, these pets get on each other’s throats when you try building a community habitat.
  • Turtles will bite you without a second thought if you rough handle or touch them frequently. So, no cuddling or petting.
  • Most people know nothing about raising a turtle. So, you can not drop off the pet at your friend’s house when you are out of town. It means you have to think of an alternative arrangement.
  • Turtles live a long life. Not every owner is up for such a long commitment.

Before You Go…

Do you want a small profile of all the turtle species? Click the link below and get your hands on 17 types of turtle species.

17 Types Of Pet Turtles: Best Turtles To Have as Pets

About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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