12 Top Indoor and Outdoor Turtle & Tortoise Species For Beginners

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

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Thinking about bringing a turtle or tortoise into your home, but not sure where to start?

Whether you have a cozy indoor space or a lush outdoor garden, there’s a shelled friend that can fit perfectly into your life. Turtles and tortoises are fascinating pets, each with their own unique needs and personalities.

In this guide, we’ll dive into the best species for both indoor and outdoor environments, helping you find your ideal companion.

From the compact Russian Tortoise to the adventurous Eastern Box Turtle, let’s explore how these remarkable creatures can become part of your family.

Map Turtle Species You Can Keep As Pets

Indoor vs. Outdoor Turtles

When choosing between indoor and outdoor habitats for tortoise species, I consider several factors.

Indoors, temperature and humidity can be more easily managed, vital for species like the Russian and Greek tortoises. These tortoises require a regulated environment to maintain their health.

Conversely, outdoor enclosures allow for natural sunlight and more space, beneficial for larger species such as the Sulcata tortoise.

Here’s a general guide I follow for habitat requirements:

Indoor Enclosures:

  • Temperature: A stable temperature gradient is necessary, often provided by a heat lamp controlled by a thermostat.
  • Lighting: I ensure there’s UVB light for the synthesis of vitamin D3, crucial for shell and bone health.
  • Substrate and Bedding: I choose materials that can be burrowed into, like coconut fiber, to simulate a natural environment.

Outdoor Enclosures:

  • Space: The enclosure should offer ample space for exercise and natural behaviors.
  • Security: Outdoor homes must be protected from predators, and I make sure there’s no chance for my tortoises to escape.
  • Weatherproofing: I account for seasonal changes by providing a weatherproof sleeping area with a lockable wire safety cover.

Below is a table with care considerations for both indoor and outdoor settings:

Care AspectIndoorOutdoor
Space RequirementsAmple floor space for movementLarger area to accommodate growth
TemperatureHeating pads, ceramic heatersNatural sunlight, heating for nights
LightingUVB and UVA lighting neededNatural sunlight provides UV exposure
SecurityEscape-proof with a solid basePredator-proof with secure fencing
SubstrateEdible plants, safe substrates for burrowSubstrates allowing natural digging
EnrichmentDecor such as rocks and hide spacesVaried terrain, plants for foraging

For species like the Indian Star and Leopard tortoises, outdoor settings can mimic their natural habitat, fostering better physical and psychological health.

However, for hatchlings or certain delicate species like the Egyptian tortoise, I often recommend indoor enclosures to monitor their growth closely and ensure a stable environment.

Whether I’m setting up a tortoise table or building an outdoor enclosure, the overall goal is the same: to provide a habitat that ensures the health and longevity of my pet tortoise, with consideration for the specific needs of the breed.

touching pet snapping turtle
Owner: Josh Kelley

7 Best Indoor Turtle & Tortoise Species

When considering a turtle or tortoise for an indoor pet, it’s important to choose a species suited to this environment.

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The right species will thrive with proper care, which includes suitable lighting, temperature regulation, and enough space for the animal to grow and explore.

The following are some top choices for indoor turtles and tortoises, along with tips for their care.

1. Red Eared Slider

Red Eared Sliders are a popular choice for indoor habitats due to their adaptability. I recommend a spacious tank with a basking area and UVB lighting to mimic natural sunlight, which is crucial for their shell and bone health.

Maintain water temperatures between 75-86°F and a basking area of 90-95°F. Feeding them a diet high in vitamins and minerals is important for their well-being, combining commercial turtle food with fresh leafy greens and occasional protein like crickets or cooked chicken.

2. Eastern Box Turtle

Eastern Box Turtles require a terrarium with both dry and moist areas to simulate their natural habitat.

It’s essential to manage humidity levels around 60-80% and to monitor temperatures, ensuring that their enclosure stays between 70-80°F with a basking spot of up to 85°F.

Their diet consists of various foods including insects, greens, and fruits. Regular veterinary check-ups are a must to prevent common health issues.

How To Take Care Of Eastern Box Turtle

3. Russian Tortoise

Russian Tortoises do well indoors as they are small and manageable. An enclosure for a Russian Tortoise should allow for ample space to move and burrow.

The ambient temperature should be kept around 70-80°F, with a basking area that’s slightly warmer.

The diet should be fibrous with lots of leafy greens and calcium supplements to prevent shell disorders. Providing a UVB light source will help them synthesize vitamin D3.

4. Painted Turtle

Painted Turtles are attractive indoor pets that require aquatic setups. I suggest providing a large tank with both water for swimming and a dry basking area with UVB lighting.

Water temperatures should be kept between 70-75°F, with a basking spot around 85-90°F.

Their omnivorous diet should include a mix of aquatic vegetation, insects, and commercial turtle pellets.

5. Musk Turtle

The Musk Turtle is a smaller species that is easier to house indoors due to their size. They require a fully aquatic setup with a small land area for basking.

Keep their water clean and at a temperature of about 72-78°F, with a basking area of 85-90°F.

Feed them a diet that includes live food, such as worms and snails, as well as commercial turtle food.

6. Map Turtle

Map Turtles need a sizeable aquatic enclosure with space to swim and a basking spot.

Indoor temperature for these turtles should hover around 72-80°F with UVB lighting to provide ample basking warmth.

An omnivorous diet that leans towards more plant-based foods as they mature is ideal, supplemented with turtle pellets for balanced nutrition.

7. Star Tortoise

The Star Tortoise can make a great indoor pet with a well-maintained environment. A dry and warm enclosure, between 80-90°F, with low humidity is necessary.

Their diet comprises of grasses, flowers, and leafy vegetables. It’s important to ensure they receive enough calcium for strong shell growth, often through dusting their food with a calcium supplement.

Proper lighting and temperature control are paramount for their health.

When kept indoors, these species of turtles and tortoises can thrive under attentive care. I recommend consulting with a veterinarian specializing in reptiles to ensure you’re meeting all the necessary dietary and health care needs of your chosen species.

Owner: Rusty Fields Lacy

General Care Tips for Indoor Turtles and Tortoises

TemperatureTemperature gradients are essential for thermoregulation, maintained between 75-85°F, with a basking spot around 90-95°F.
HumidityHumidity levels are crucial, especially for tropical species, aiming for 40-60% for most tortoise species, with some turtles requiring more.
UVB LightUVB light is critical for health, simulating sunlight for vitamin D3 synthesis, with lights on for 10-12 hours per day.
DietA balanced diet appropriate for specific dietary needs, including fresh vegetables, limited fruits, and for turtles, aquatic plants and protein like shrimp or feeder fish.
Substrate and BeddingSubstrate should be chosen based on species’ natural habitat requirements, with a focus on avoiding small or indigestible materials.
LightingLighting is used to create a natural day-night cycle, enhancing the enclosure’s environment.
Health MonitoringRegular veterinary check-ups for health monitoring and early detection of issues.

When I’m setting up an indoor enclosure for my turtles or tortoises, I create a habitat that resembles their natural environment.

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This includes establishing temperature gradients, which are essential for their thermoregulation. I use thermostats to maintain the temperature within an appropriate range, usually between 75-85°F for most species, with a basking spot that’s a bit warmer, around 90-95°F.

Humidity plays a vital role as well, especially for tropical species. I track humidity levels with a hygrometer, aiming for 40-60% for most tortoise species, while certain turtles may require higher levels.

The UVB light is critical for their health, simulating sunlight to help them synthesise vitamin D3 for healthy shell and bone development. I ensure that my UVB lights are on for 10-12 hours per day, mimicking the natural light cycle.

I pay close attention to the diet of my reptiles, providing a balanced mixture appropriate for their specific dietary needs. This includes fresh vegetables, limited fruits, and for turtles, aquatic plants, and protein like shrimp or feeder fish.

Substrate and bedding should be chosen based on the species’ requirements; for instance, forest species prefer a moist, absorbent substrate whereas desert species require a dry, sandy environment. I avoid using small or indigestible materials to prevent accidental ingestion.

To further mimic their natural habitat, I use lighting to create a day-night cycle, and I include hides and plants that offer enrichment and shelter. Regular veterinary check-ups help me monitor their health and catch any issues early on.

By combining these elements, I provide a nurturing environment that promotes the well-being of my indoor turtles and tortoises.

Owner: Megan Lavon Jones

5 Best Outdoor Turtle & Tortoise Species

When selecting a turtle or tortoise for an outdoor environment, it’s crucial to consider their natural habitat needs and ensure that your outdoor enclosure can accommodate them. I’ll guide you through five species that thrive outdoors, along with essential tips on enclosure setup, climate suitability, and seasonal care.

1. Greek Tortoise

The Greek Tortoise is well-suited for outdoor life in temperate climates. They require a pen with plenty of grasses to graze on and sunny basking areas. For their safety, the enclosure should have secure fencing that’s dug into the ground to prevent escapes.

Enclosure Tips:

  • Dimensions: Minimum 4x2x2 feet
  • Substrate: Mixture of sand and soil
  • Climate: Mediterranean, with a shelter for cool nights
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Seasonal Care:

  • Summer: Ensure shade is available to prevent overheating.
  • Winter: Provide a heated shelter if temperatures drop below 50°F.

2. Hermann’s Tortoise

Hermann’s Tortoise is another ideal candidate for an outdoor enclosure. They’re hardy and can cope with temperature fluctuations within a Mediterranean climate range.

Enclosure Tips:

  • Dimensions: Minimum 8x4x2 feet
  • Substrate: Soil with leaf litter
  • Climate: Similar to Greek Tortoise requirements

Seasonal Care:

  • Summer: Shade and water dishes for hot days.
  • Winter: Indoor accommodation may be necessary in colder regions.

3. Sulcata Tortoise

A large species, the Sulcata Tortoise needs a spacious outdoor home with room to roam. It’s crucial to provide a warm environment all year round for these desert dwellers.

Enclosure Tips:

  • Dimensions: Minimum 10x10x2 feet for a single adult
  • Substrate: Dry grasses and sandy soil
  • Climate: Hot, arid conditions

Seasonal Care:

  • Winter: Heating elements essential in cooler climates.

4. Wood Turtle

Wood Turtles excel in outdoor areas with a combination of land and water features. They’re adaptable but require a varied landscape to explore.

Enclosure Tips:

  • Dimensions: Minimum 6x6x2 feet with a water area
  • Substrate: A mix of soil, leaf litter, and aquatic areas
  • Climate: Temperate forest conditions

Seasonal Care:

  • Summer: Monitor water quality in the pond or stream.
  • Winter: Possible hibernation arrangements needed.

5. Leopard Tortoise

Leopard Tortoises thrive outdoors with enough space to accommodate their large size and an environment that mimics their natural grassland habitat.

Enclosure Tips:

  • Dimensions: Minimum 10x10x2 feet
  • Substrate: Grass and soil
  • Climate: Warm, dry regions preferred

Seasonal Care:

  • Summer: Provide ample grazing and basking spots.
  • Winter: They may require additional heat sources if the temperature drops significantly.
box turtle shell collage
Owner: Mark Gilch

Considerations for Outdoor Turtles and Tortoises

Climate Compatibility

When selecting species for an outdoor habitat, I ensure they are suited to my local climate. If my area’s weather doesn’t match their natural environment, I’m prepared to create a controlled setting that does.

Enclosure Security

I prioritize the construction of a secure enclosure that includes fencingburrow-proof barriers, and covers to protect the turtles and tortoises from escaping and to shield them from potential predators.

  • Fencing: Tall enough to prevent climbing out.
  • Covers: Sturdy to guard against aerial threats.
  • Barriers: Deep enough to discourage burrowing escapees.

Environmental Enrichment

I aim to provide a setting that mimics the natural habitat of the tortoise or turtle, enriching their outdoor environment with:

  • Plants: Safe and non-toxic species.
  • Rocks: For basking and hiding.
  • Shelters: To offer shade and protection.
  • Grazing Areas: For tortoises to feed on natural vegetation.

Health Monitoring

I regularly monitor the health of my outdoor-residing reptiles, watching for any signs of illness or distress. This is crucial, as health issues can be less apparent outside compared to an indoor setting.

  • Check for: Changes in behavior, eating habits, and physical appearance.
  • Veterinary Care: I keep up with routine check-ups and consult with a vet if any concerns arise.
Owner: Seth Michael

Legal and Ethical Considerations

When choosing the right turtle or tortoise species for your home, it’s imperative to understand the legal and ethical considerations that underpin responsible pet ownership.

Here’s what I consider essential for potential owners:

Species Protection Status

Many turtle and tortoise species are protected under international, federal, and state laws due to their vulnerable conservation status.

It is illegal to own, buy, or sell individuals of certain species without proper permits.

For example, possession of a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle would violate legal protections due to their critically endangered status.

Always verify the protection status of the species you’re interested in with relevant wildlife authorities to ensure compliance.

Discussion on Legal Implications

Owning a turtle may seem straightforward, but legal implications can include restrictions on breeding, the need for habitat permits, and adherence to anti-cruelty laws.

I recommend consulting resources like the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to understand the legality of international pet trade.

Responsible Pet Ownership

Turtles and tortoises require specific care, including appropriate diets, living environments, and regular veterinary attention.

This commitment spans potentially decades, as many species live long lives. Ensure you’re prepared for this responsibility to provide a stable home for your shelled companion.

Adoption and Rescue Considerations

Instead of purchasing, consider adoption. Many turtles and tortoises end up in rescues due to owners not meeting the care requirements or underestimating the commitment. Adopting from these organizations can be a way to provide a turtle with a second chance in a loving home.

Remember, owning a turtle or tortoise is a significant responsibility with legal and ethical dimensions that I take very seriously. It’s part of my commitment to these creatures’ well-being and conservation.

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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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