Top 10 Pet Turtles That Stay Small

If you’re looking for a type of pet that’s unique and doesn’t require a lot of space, consider a small pet turtle.

Small pet turtles that stay small are a popular choice among pet owners for several reasons.

These miniature turtles make excellent pets, although not all are for beginners.

Some are hardy, don’t require a lot of maintenance, and stay small forever, making them ideal for those with limited space.

Let’s get down to the list of pet turtles that stay small.

Turtle SpeciesSizeLifespanDifficulty Level as Pet
Reeve’s Turtle (Chinese Pond Turtle)4-8 inchesUp to 20 yearsBeginner
Diamondback Terrapins3-7 inches25-40 yearsExpert
Mud Turtles3-5 inches30-50 yearsBeginner
Musk Turtles (Common Musk Turtle)3-4 inches20-50 yearsBeginner
Box Turtles (Eastern Box Turtle)4-6 inchesUp to 50 yearsBeginner
Spotted Turtles3-5 inches25-50 yearsBeginner
Razorback Musk Turtles3-5 inches20-40 yearsBeginner
Painted Turtles4-10 inchesUp to 30 yearsBeginner
Ornate Box Turtles4-6 inchesUp to 37 yearsBeginner
Map Turtles5-8 inches (average)15-20 yearsExpert
Table of top 10 pet turtle that stay small

Please note that the difficulty level as a pet is a general estimation and can vary depending on individual circumstances and experience with turtle care.

Reeve’s Turtle: The Chinese Pond Turtle

Reeve’s Turtle - Chinese pond turtle
By Σ64 – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4387160

Reeve’s turtles, also known as Chinese pond turtles, are a popular choice for pet owners looking for small pet turtles that stay small.

They are known for their hardiness and adaptability, making them suitable for both beginner and experienced turtle owners.

Appearance

Reeve’s turtles are known for their unique appearance. They have a slightly domed, oval-shaped shell that ranges in color from brown to black.

The shell is often adorned with yellow or cream-colored lines that add to their distinct look. Their skin is dark with yellowish or whitish spots, and they have a small head with a pointed snout.

Size

One of the reasons why Reeve’s turtles make great pets is their small size.

Males typically reach between 4 and 5 inches in shell length, while females are slightly larger, measuring between 6 and 8 inches.

This small size makes them ideal for those who have limited space for a pet.

Lifespan

Reeve’s turtles are known for their long lifespan. With proper care and maintenance, these turtles can live up to 20 years or more.

This makes them a long-term commitment and a pet that can be with you for a significant part of your life.

Habitat & Enclosure

In the wild, Reeve’s turtles are found in a variety of aquatic environments in Eastern Asia, including ponds, marshes, and slow-moving streams.

As pets, they require a well-designed aquatic enclosure with clean water for swimming and a basking area where they can dry off and absorb heat.

The water temperature should be kept between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, while the basking area should be between 85 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Diet Requirements

Reeve’s turtles are omnivores and require a varied diet to stay healthy. Their diet should include a mix of vegetables, fruits, and proteins.

They can be fed commercially available turtle pellets, along with fresh vegetables like lettuce and fruits like apples. They also enjoy eating small amounts of fish, worms, and insects.

Diamondback Terrapins: The Aquatic Turtle

By Ryan Hagerty Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24886066

Diamondback terrapins are a unique and fascinating species of turtle that make excellent pets. Known for their striking appearance and aquatic lifestyle, these turtles are a popular choice among turtle enthusiasts.

Appearance

Diamondback terrapins are easily recognizable due to their unique appearance.

They have a diamond-shaped pattern on their carapace (shell), which gives them their name. Their shell colors can range from gray to brown to black, with lighter colored patterns.

Their skin is usually gray or white with dark spots or streaks, and they have large, webbed feet for swimming.

Size

Diamondback terrapins are considered a medium-sized turtle species.

Males typically measure between 3 and 5 inches in shell length, while females are larger, measuring between 4 and 7 inches.

Despite their slightly larger size compared to other small pet turtles, they are still manageable and do not require an excessively large enclosure.

Lifespan

With proper care, diamondback terrapins can live a long life. On average, they can live between 25 to 40 years in captivity.

This makes them a long-term commitment, but also a pet that can be a part of your family for many years.

Habitat & Enclosure

In the wild, diamondback terrapins are found in brackish water environments along the eastern and southern coasts of the United States.

In captivity, they require an aquatic setup with a basking area.

The water in the tank should be brackish (slightly salty), and a water heater is necessary to maintain a water temperature between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

The basking area should be kept at around 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Diet Requirements

Diamondback terrapins are omnivores, and their diet in the wild consists of fish, snails, worms, and aquatic vegetation.

In captivity, they can be fed a diet of turtle pellets, supplemented with fresh fish, shellfish, and occasional fruits and vegetables.

Mud Turtles: The Small Turtle Species

By No machine-readable author provided. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1475824

Mud turtles are a group of small, hardy turtles that are often chosen as pets.

They are known for their small size, adaptability, and interesting behavior, making them a great choice for both beginner and experienced turtle owners.

Appearance

Mud turtles have a relatively simple, yet charming appearance. They have a smooth, oval-shaped shell that ranges in color from brown to black.

Their skin is typically dark with some lighter colored spots or streaks.

One of the distinguishing features of mud turtles is their hinged plastron (the underside of the shell), which allows them to close their shell tightly when threatened.

Size

Mud turtles are one of the smallest turtle species, making them an excellent choice for those looking for a pet that doesn’t require a lot of space.

They typically measure between 3 and 5 inches in shell length, making them easy to handle and house.

Lifespan

Despite their small size, mud turtles have a surprisingly long lifespan. With proper care, these turtles can live up to 30 to 50 years in captivity.

This makes them a long-term commitment, but also a pet that can be a part of your family for many years.

Habitat & Enclosure

In the wild, mud turtles inhabit a variety of freshwater environments, including ponds, marshes, and streams.

In captivity, they require a semi-aquatic setup with both a water area for swimming and a dry area for basking.

The water temperature should be kept between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, while the basking area should be between 85 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Diet Requirements

Mud turtles are omnivores and have a varied diet. In the wild, they eat a mix of aquatic plants, insects, and small fish.

In captivity, they can be fed a diet of turtle pellets, supplemented with fresh vegetables, fruits, and occasional live or frozen-dried invertebrates.

Musk Turtles: The Common Musk Turtle

By Ontley – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=115998173

Musk turtles, often referred to as stinkpots, are a popular choice for those seeking a small, manageable pet turtle.

Known for their hardy nature and interesting behavior, these turtles make great pets for both beginners and experienced turtle owners alike.

Appearance

Musk turtles have a distinct appearance that sets them apart from other small turtle species.

They have a domed, oval-shaped shell that is typically dark brown or black. Their skin is also dark, often with yellow or greenish tints.

One of the distinguishing features of musk turtles is the presence of barbels (small, fleshy projections) on their chin and throat.

Size

Musk turtles are a small turtle species that stay small, making them ideal for those with limited space.

They typically measure between 3 and 4 inches in shell length, making them one of the smallest turtle species that can be kept as pets.

Lifespan

Despite their small size, musk turtles have a long lifespan. With proper care, these turtles can live up to 20 to 50 years in captivity.

This makes them a long-term commitment, but also a pet that can be a part of your family for many years.

Habitat & Enclosure

In the wild, musk turtles are found in slow-moving bodies of water with a soft bottom. In captivity, they require an aquatic setup with a water area for swimming and a basking area.

The water temperature should be kept between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, while the basking area should be between 85 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Diet Requirements

Musk turtles are omnivores and have a varied diet. In the wild, they eat a mix of aquatic plants, insects, mollusks, and small fish.

In captivity, they can be fed a diet of turtle pellets, supplemented with fresh vegetables, fruits, and occasional live or frozen-dried invertebrates.

Box Turtles: The Eastern Box Turtle

By I, Jonathan Zander, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4086625

Eastern box turtles are a beloved species known for their vibrant colors and unique shell design. They are a popular choice for pet owners looking for a small, terrestrial turtle that is both engaging and manageable.

Appearance

Eastern box turtles are known for their striking appearance.

They have a high-domed, oval-shaped shell that is typically brown or black with vibrant yellow, orange, or red markings.

Their skin is also dark with similar colorful markings. One of the distinguishing features of box turtles is their hinged plastron (the underside of the shell), which allows them to completely close their shell when threatened.

Size

Eastern box turtles are small pet turtles that stay small, making them ideal for those with limited space. They typically measure between 4 and 6 inches in shell length, making them easy to handle and house.

Lifespan

Eastern box turtles are known for their long lifespan. With proper care, these turtles can live up to 50 years or more in captivity.

This makes them a long-term commitment, but also a pet that can be a part of your family for many years.

Habitat & Enclosure

In the wild, Eastern box turtles are found in a variety of terrestrial environments, including forests, meadows, and marshy areas.

In captivity, they require a terrestrial setup with a large enclosure that includes a variety of substrates for digging, hiding spots, and a basking area.

The basking area should be kept at around 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Diet Requirements

Eastern box turtles are omnivores and have a varied diet. In the wild, they eat a mix of plants, fruits, insects, and small animals.

In captivity, they can be fed a diet of turtle pellets, supplemented with fresh vegetables, fruits, and occasional live or frozen-dried invertebrates.

Spotted Turtles: The Smaller Turtle Species

By John J. Mosesso, NBII – http://images.nbii.gov/details.php?id=22104&cat=Reptiles, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5061890

Spotted turtles are a charming and attractive species that are often sought after by turtle enthusiasts.

Known for their distinctive spots and small size, these turtles make excellent pets for both beginners and experienced turtle owners.

Appearance

Spotted turtles are easily recognizable due to their unique appearance. They have a smooth, black shell adorned with a varying number of yellow or orange spots.

Their skin is also dark with similar colored spots. This distinctive pattern makes them one of the most visually appealing turtle species.

Size

Spotted turtles are a smaller turtle species that stay small, making them ideal for those with limited space.

They typically measure between 3 and 5 inches in shell length, making them easy to handle and house.

Lifespan

Despite their small size, spotted turtles have a long lifespan. With proper care, these turtles can live up to 25 to 50 years in captivity.

This makes them a long-term commitment, but also a pet that can be a part of your family for many years.

Habitat & Enclosure

In the wild, spotted turtles are found in a variety of semi-aquatic environments, including marshes, ponds, and slow-moving streams.

In captivity, they require a semi-aquatic setup with both a water area for swimming and a dry area for basking.

The water temperature should be kept between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, while the basking area should be between 85 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Diet Requirements

Spotted turtles are omnivores and have a varied diet. In the wild, they eat a mix of aquatic plants, insects, and small fish.

In captivity, they can be fed a diet of turtle pellets, supplemented with fresh vegetables, fruits, and occasional live or frozen-dried invertebrates.

Ornate Box Turtles: The Decorative Terrestrial Pet

By Onebiglie – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15533911

Ornate box turtles are a popular choice for those seeking a terrestrial pet turtle with a unique and decorative appearance. Known for their intricate shell design and vibrant colors, these turtles make great pets for both beginners and experienced turtle owners alike.

Appearance

Ornate box turtles are easily recognizable due to their unique appearance. They have a domed, dark brown to black shell adorned with a white to gold radiating pattern on each scute. Their skin is also dark with similar colored stripes. This distinctive coloration makes them one of the most visually appealing turtle species.

Size

Ornate box turtles are a medium-sized turtle species, with adults typically measuring between 4 and 6 inches in shell length. Despite their slightly larger size compared to some other species mentioned, they are still manageable and do not require an excessively large space.

Lifespan

Ornate box turtles have a long lifespan. With proper care, these turtles can live up to 37 years or more in captivity. This makes them a long-term commitment, but also a pet that can be a part of your family for many years.

Habitat & Enclosure

In the wild, ornate box turtles are found in the Midwest section of the United States. They prefer terrestrial environments with a mix of grassland and forested areas. In captivity, they require a terrestrial setup with a large enclosure that includes a variety of substrates for digging, hiding spots, and a basking area. The basking area should be kept at around 80 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit at night. If your local climate permits, it is best to keep your ornate box turtle in a 4′ x 4′ or larger outdoor enclosure. The walls of the pen should be at least 18″ tall, and extend at least 12″ into the ground to prevent escape via burrowing.

Diet Requirements

Ornate box turtles are omnivores and have a varied diet. In the wild, they eat a mix of plants, fruits, insects, and small animals. In captivity, they can be fed a diet of turtle pellets, supplemented with fresh vegetables, fruits, and occasional live or frozen-dried invertebrates.

Razorback Musk Turtle: The Turtle That Stays Small Forever

By Photographer: LA Dawson – en: Image:Sternotherus carinatus.jpg, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=923917

Razorback musk turtles are a popular choice for those seeking a small, manageable pet turtle. Known for their distinctive shell and small size, these turtles make great pets for both beginners and experienced turtle owners alike.

Appearance

Razorback musk turtles have a unique appearance that sets them apart from other turtle species.

They have a keeled, rectangular shell that is typically brown or olive in color.

The shell has a distinctive raised ridge, or “keel,” down the center, which gives them their “razorback” name. Their skin is also dark with light stripes on the sides of their head.

Size

Razorback musk turtles are a small turtle species that stay small forever, making them ideal for those with limited space.

They typically measure between 3 and 5 inches in shell length, making them one of the smallest turtle species that can be kept as pets.

Lifespan

Despite their small size, razorback musk turtles have a long lifespan. With proper care, these turtles can live up to 20 to 40 years in captivity.

This makes them a long-term commitment, but also a pet that can be a part of your family for many years.

Habitat & Enclosure

In the wild, razorback musk turtles are found in slow-moving bodies of water with a soft bottom.

In captivity, they require an aquatic setup with both a water area for swimming and a dry area for basking.

The water temperature should be kept between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, while the basking area should be between 85 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Diet Requirements

Razorback musk turtles are omnivores and have a varied diet. In the wild, they eat a mix of aquatic plants, insects, and small fish.

In captivity, they can be fed a diet of turtle pellets, supplemented with fresh vegetables, fruits, and occasional live or frozen-dried invertebrates.

Painted Turtles: The Colorful Aquatic Pet

By USFWS Mountain-Prairie, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47171081

Painted turtles are a popular choice for those seeking a vibrant and active pet turtle. Known for their colorful markings and lively behavior, these turtles make great pets for both beginners and experienced turtle owners alike.

Appearance

Painted turtles are easily recognizable due to their unique appearance. They have a smooth, dark green shell adorned with red and yellow markings.

Their skin is also dark with similar colored stripes. This distinctive coloration makes them one of the most visually appealing turtle species.

Size

Painted turtles are a medium-sized turtle species, with adults typically measuring between 4 and 10 inches in shell length.

Despite their slightly larger size compared to some other species mentioned, they are still manageable and do not require an excessively large space.

Lifespan

Painted turtles have a long lifespan. With proper care, these turtles can live up to 30 years or more in captivity.

This makes them a long-term commitment, but also a pet that can be a part of your family for many years.

Habitat & Enclosure

In the wild, painted turtles are found in a variety of aquatic environments, including ponds, lakes, and slow-moving streams.

In captivity, they require an aquatic setup with both a water area for swimming and a dry area for basking.

The water temperature should be kept between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, while the basking area should be between 85 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

A good rule of thumb is to change about 20-25% of the water every week to maintain cleanliness and remove any toxins.

Diet Requirements

Painted turtles are omnivores and have a varied diet. In the wild, they eat a mix of aquatic plants, insects, and small fish.

In captivity, they can be fed a diet of turtle pellets, supplemented with fresh vegetables, fruits, and occasional live or frozen-dried invertebrates.

Map Turtles: The Aquatic Navigator

By Eekhoorntje – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=112362332

Map turtles, also known as Northern Map Turtles or Common Map Turtles, are a fascinating species known for their distinctive markings and aquatic nature.

They are native to North America and are commonly found in freshwater habitats.

Appearance

Map turtles are named for their unique shell markings, which resemble the lines of a topographical map.

They have a keeled, serrated carapace that is typically olive or brown in color with a complex pattern of yellow lines.

Their skin is also dark with yellow stripes, and they have a distinctive yellow spot behind each eye.

Size

Map turtles exhibit extreme sexual size dimorphism.

Male map turtles are smaller, typically measuring between 10-16 cm (3.9-6.3 in) in carapace length.

Females, on the other hand, are significantly larger, measuring between 18-27 cm (7.1-10.6 in) in carapace length.

Lifespan

Map turtles have a relatively long lifespan. With proper care, these turtles can live up to 15-20 years in captivity, although some individuals have been known to live longer.

Habitat & Enclosure

In the wild, map turtles are found in large freshwater bodies of water like rivers, lakes, and ponds.

They prefer habitats with plenty of basking spots and underwater hiding places. In captivity, they require a large aquatic setup with a basking area and plenty of swimming space.

Diet Requirements

Map turtles are omnivores with a preference for animal matter.

Their diet in the wild consists of a variety of aquatic invertebrates, such as insects, crustaceans, and mollusks, as well as fish and amphibians. They also consume some aquatic vegetation.

In captivity, their diet can be supplemented with commercial turtle pellets, along with fresh fruits and vegetables.

Benefits of Having Small Pet Turtles That Stay Small

Small pet turtles that stay small offer a variety of benefits that make them an appealing choice for many pet owners. Here are some additional advantages to consider:

Space Efficiency

Small turtles require less space than their larger counterparts. This makes them ideal for those living in apartments or homes with limited space.

Their enclosures can fit comfortably on a tabletop or a small stand, leaving plenty of room for other furnishings.

Easier Handling

Due to their small size, these turtles are easier to handle, making them a great choice for families with children.

They are less intimidating and easier to manage, especially for young or inexperienced pet owners.

Lower Maintenance

Small turtles often require less maintenance than larger species.

They eat less food, produce less waste, and require smaller habitats, which can be easier to clean and maintain.

This can make them a more manageable choice for busy individuals or families.

Variety of Species

There is a wide variety of small turtle species available, each with its own unique characteristics and behaviors.

This variety allows potential pet owners to choose a turtle that best fits their lifestyle and personal preferences.

Educational Value

Small turtles can be a great way to teach children about responsibility and the needs of living creatures.

They can also provide an opportunity to learn about different species of turtles, their habitats, and conservation efforts.

Long Lifespan

Despite their small size, many small turtle species have a long lifespan. This means they can be a long-term companion, providing years of enjoyment and companionship.

Aesthetically Pleasing

Many small turtle species are quite attractive, with colorful markings and unique shell designs.

They can be a fascinating addition to your home, providing both entertainment and a conversation piece.

Lower Cost

While there are costs associated with setting up a suitable habitat and providing ongoing care, small turtles can be less expensive to care for than larger turtle species or other types of pets.

They eat less and require smaller habitats, which can save on costs over time.

Summary

Small pet turtles make great pets for a variety of reasons. They’re unique, easy to care for, and don’t require a lot of space.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced turtle owner, there’s a small pet turtle that’s perfect for you.

Remember to do your research, understand the needs of your chosen turtle species, and enjoy the rewarding experience of turtle ownership.

About David Nitta

I am a lifelong lover of turtles and have dedicated years of research to understand and care about this wonderful creature. I regularly post blogs, mostly from what I read and my own experience, covering everything from turtle care, health, feeding habits, habitat setup, and so much more.