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12 Small Turtles

Have you always wanted to own a turtle, but are intimidated by their colossal size? I’m here to help! Read on to learn about smaller turtles!

Here are the small turtles that you can keep as a pet:

  1. Red-eared Slider
  2. Yellow-bellied Slider
  3. Diamondback Terrapin Turtle
  4. Spotted Turtle
  5. Eastern Box Turtle 
  6. Eastern Painted Turtle
  7. False Map Turtle
  8. Common Musk Turtle
  9. Ornate Wood Turtle
  10. Reeve’s Turtle
  11. Striped Mud turtle
  12. Loggerhead Musk Turtle

1. Red-Eared Slider

Red-Eared Sliders are known for their distinct red coloring around their faces. These aquatic turtles will grow up to 12 inches and can live to be 30 years old. This active turtle requires a 120-gallon tank when they reach adulthood. Red-eared sliders are some of the most commonly kept turtles. They enjoy a basking spot of 85 and their water must be heated to about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. They enjoy a mix of insects, feeder fish, pellet foods, fruit, aquatic plants, vegetables, and even rodents. While these turtles do not enjoy regular handling, they are friendly and will swim to the surface to greet you! Red-Eared Sliders are a good choice for someone who wants a companion that they can observe actively interacting with their habitat.

2. Yellow-Bellied Slider

Yellow-Bellied Sliders are aquatic turtles who are similar in care to the Red-Eared Slider. They are known for their bright yellow coloring. They can live up to 40 years in captivity and can grow up to 13 inches. They will need a 100-gallon tank with a basking platform. Their water needs to be heated to 80 degrees, and they need a basking spot that ranges from 80-100 degrees Fahrenheit. These omnivores can be fed pellets, greens, and the occasional insect. These highly active turtles do not like being handled but are a joy to watch explore their aquatic habitat. Yellow-Bellied Sliders are great pets for someone who wants an active turtle without the hassle of frequent handling.

3. Diamondback Terrapin Turtle

These beautiful aquatic turtles are a personal favorite of mine for their stunning appearance. Diamondback Terrapins have white skin with distinct black coloring and their carapace has black diamond patterns over yellow. They grow up to be 8 inches and will live  over 20 years. These social turtles prefer cohabitation with members of their species. If you are housing multiple turtles, adequate space must be provided to ensure that territorial fighting does not occur. A 75-gallon tank is enough space for a single turtle, but a 90 gallon is preferred for two. An important aspect of their care is to provide brackish, salty water. They also need a powerful filtration pump to keep from developing health complications. Poor water quality is the number one contributing factor to this turtle’s death in captivity. The water should be heated to 78 degrees and kept at a pH of 7. A basking platform should be accessible and heated to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. These turtles can drink freshwater, so it is recommended that you allow them to soak in fresh water periodically. These carnivores enjoy a diet of turtle pellets, fish, shrimp, crayfish, and occasionally krill. This turtle is known for its hardiness and its handleability. It’s less shy and nippy than some of the other small turtles on this list. The Diamondback Terrapin is a great choice for an advanced keeper who is looking for a stunning, social turtle with unique care requirements.

4. Spotted Turtle

The Spotted Turtle is a stunning, semi-aquatic turtle who will grow to be 6 inches and live to be well over 50 years. These cute turtles have a dark carapace and body with white dots and an endearing, upturned nose. They have large, endearing eyes and an orange plastron. A 30-gallon tank will be sufficient, and a prominent land feature is required. These turtles are not strong swimmers, so shallow, warm water is best. The water should be 80 degrees and the basking land area should be 90 degrees Fahrenheit. These turtles will spend the majority of their time on land but will eat in the water. They are carnivores who enjoy shrimp, fish, snails, shrimp, worms, crickets, and other insects. These hardy turtles are curious, active, and alert but prefer to not be handled frequently. The Spotted Turtle is a beautiful-looking turtle that would be a good match for someone looking for an active, mostly land turtle.

A pet turtle munching on some grass outside.

5. Eastern Box Turtle 

Eastern Box Turtles are known for their intelligent, playful personalities. They will live up to 35 years in captivity and will grow to be 7 inches. These land turtles will thrive in a large, outdoor pen, and do not need a prominent water feature. If your climate is not conducive to an outdoor enclosure, they can be housed inside in a pen that is at least 18 inches tall and over 5 square feet. They should have access to a pan of water to submerge themselves. They prefer their enclosure to be 88 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit and 70% humidity. They enjoy burrowing in the substrate that is at least 4 inches deep. These omnivores thrive on a diet that has fruit, vegetables, hay, insects, and cooked lean meats. The Eastern Box turtle is a good choice for someone who is looking for an intelligent, easier-to-care-for land turtle.

6. Eastern Painted Turtle

The Eastern Painted turtle has a bright yellow undershell with red markings on its side. These aquatic turtles will grow to be 12 inches long and live to be 30 years. They require a 100-gallon aquarium tank with a basking platform. The water should be warmed to 80 degrees and the ambient temperature should be 80-95 degrees Fahrenheit. These omnivores enjoy a diet mixed with aquatic plants, vegetables, and insects. Like many of the other turtles on this list, Eastern Painted Turtles do not like to be held frequently. The interaction can leave them stressed and scared. It is best to interact with your aquatic turtle from a distance or watch them explore their enclosure. These turtles are best for keepers who are looking for a challenging, but rewarding pet. 

7. False Map Turtle

False Map Turtles are known for their calm temperament. These aquatic turtles will grow to be 10 inches long and live to around 20 years with proper husbandry. These turtles are brown with a prominent ridge on their shell and wavy lines on their body. They are considered to be docile pets who are okay with infrequent handling. They will require a large, deep tank, as they are used to swimming in moving water. 90 gallons should be sufficient. They also enjoy resting under the water, so a submerged log would be useful. They prefer their water to be heated to 75 degrees and an ambient temperature of around 80 degrees on the basking platform. False Map Turtles are susceptible to shell issues, so their health should be closely monitored. These turtles are carnivores but benefit from the occasional vegetable. Their diet should consist of snails, fish, mussels, aquatic insects, worms, and crickets. False Map Turtles are great for an owner looking to keep a docile turtle that poses some intermediate care challenges. 

8. Common Musk Turtle

Common Musk Turtles are smaller than many of the other turtles mentioned on this list. They will live to be 50 years but will only grow to be 5 inches. These turtles have a prominent ridge on their shell and yellow stripes that run down their faces. These markings will fade with age. When they feel threatened, they will release a foul-smelling musk, earning them their name. These nocturnal turtles prefer shallow water, as they are not strong swimmers. A 40-gallon tank would be a perfect size for this active breed. They spend the majority of their time in the water but would benefit from a basking dock. Their water should be kept at 80 degrees and the basking platform should reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit. These carnivores enjoy worms, crickets, shrimp, pellet food, and leafy greens. These nocturnal turtles are known for their spunky attitude and may become stressed when handled. The Common Musk Turtle is a great choice for a night owl looking for a turtle with a smaller tank requirement. 

Turtles cohabitating in a large enclosure.

9. Ornate Wood Turtle

The Ornate Wood Turtles are known for their intelligence and docile nature. They will grow to be 9 inches in length and live to be 30 years. Their shell has red and yellow blotches, and there are streaks of red and yellow on their bodies. These terrestrial turtles do best when kept in a 4 by 4-foot pen with a prominent water feature that measures 2 feet in diameter. If they can’t be kept outside, an indoor enclosure will be sufficient. They thrive in a pen that has a humidity of 60% and a temperature gradient of 95 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. These omnivores enjoy a varied diet with vegetables, fruit, and insects. With enough patience, your turtle should be comfortable with hand feeding. These turtles are known for their intelligence and sociable nature, making them a perfect choice for someone looking for a hands-on experience with their turtle.

10. Reeve’s Turtle

Reeve’s Turtles are hardy, active turtles, making them a perfect pet for someone with limited experience caring for turtles. They will live to be about 15 years and will reach 9 inches in length. They are not strong swimmers and do best in enclosures that have a shallow water depth. A 30-gallon tank with 20 gallons of water and a basking platform will suffice for this species. They prefer their water to be about 75 degrees and their ambient temperatures can hover around 75 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. These omnivores do best with a diet that consists of insects, fish, fruits, vegetables, and turtle pellets. These turtles find handling to be stressful, so it is important to keep handling to a minimum. Reeve’s turtles are great for owners who are looking for a hardier turtle, mainly for observing their curious behavior in their tank.

11. Striped mud Turtle

Striped Mud Turtles are unique on this list because they are aquatic turtles that also have terrestrial tendencies. Therefore, they will need a land portion in their enclosure in addition to a water component. For this reason, these petite turtles are only recommended for experienced handlers. These shy turtles have three yellow stripes running lengthwise down their domed, brown carapace. This turtle will max out at 5 inches and live to be 50 years old. These skittish turtles will bite when startled or handled, and may also emit a pungent odor when stressed. This turtle will do well in a 40 gallon at minimum, with half land and half water. Some people prefer to build a double enclosure with water in the lower level and then a ramp leading upwards to a land portion in a secondary tank. These turtles are burrowers and will dig beneath any plants instead of basking in the open. If you are looking for a high visibility, interactive turtle, there are other turtles on this list to meet those needs. These omnivores enjoy leafy greens, worms, snails, fish, and turtle pellets as their diet. The Striped Mud Turtle is a solid choice for an intermediate keeper looking for a petite turtle that requires limited handling.

12. Loggerhead Musk Turtle

The Loggerhead Musk Turtle will grow to be 5 inches in length and have a keeled, dark brown carapace. Their bodies are light brown with dark brown stripes or dots and they have a significantly large head, earning their name of “loggerhead”. These highly aquatic turtles will spend the majority of their time underwater and will rarely bask, though a basking platform heated to 90 degrees Fahrenheit is necessary. They get their Oxygen from filtering the water, so it is not unusual for them to not surface frequently for air. These active turtles will be seen swimming and climbing during the day and well into the evening. A water heater should be used to maintain temperatures of about 78 degrees. A 30-gallon tank with a high filtration system and aerated water should be sufficient. These turtles will eat fish, earthworms, snails, aquatic insects, and turtle pellets. These turtles are known for being responsive and outgoing but can release a pungent odor when startled. These turtles should not be handled frequently and they have a very strong bite. Loggerhead Musk Turtles are a great choice for a handler looking for an active, personable turtle to watch explore its aquatic environment.

Final Thoughts

Choosing a turtle that is the best fit is a difficult task, because of their unique care requirements and their long lifespans. This decision should not be made lightly, as you will be caring for your new companion for decades to come. Many of the turtles on this list do not like being handled, and some have difficult habitat requirements.While it is not mentioned specifically, UVB lights will be necessary for all these turtles. Reviewing this list will help you make an informed decision on which turtle would be best for you.

Red-eared Sliders and Yellow-bellied sliders are some of the larger turtles on this list, around 12 inches, but they are known for their active, bold personalities. Diamondback Terrapins are stunning turtles but are reserved for advanced keepers due to their bracky water needs. Spotted Turtles are another beautiful-looking turtle with fewer care requirements than the Diamondback Terrapins, and will grow to be just 6 inches. Eastern Box Turtles are personable omnivores that can be housed outside and do not need prominent water features, making their habitat maintenance minimally involved. False map turtles are calmer and less shy than some of the other turtles listed and may tolerate more frequent handling sessions.

Common Musk turtles are nocturnal, shy aquatic turtles that will release a musk when threatened. They are a good choice for a night owl looking to watch their turtle interact in their captive environment instead of being handled frequently. Ornate Wood Turtles are intelligent and docile turtles who enjoy being handled and thrive on an omnivore diet. Reeve’s Turtle are hardy, active turtles who would make an exceptional pet for a novice handler. Striped Mud Turtles need an advanced keeper who will have a large land and aquatic habitat. Loggerhead Musk Turtles have a strong bite and spend the majority of their time in the water, perfect for a hands-off owner. There is something for everyone on this list featuring twelve small turtles!