Best Beginner Pet Turtle and Tortoise

Updated on December 3, 2016
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Whitney has raised and bred different species of geckos, snakes, lizards, tortoises and other exotics since 2003

Choosing a Pet Turtle or Tortoise

Turtles and tortoises can be such a joy for children and adults. Some are very friendly and personable, which make them that much more fun to have as pets, but the problem lies with proper care and long lifespan.

Turtles and tortoises have rather long lifespans, which most people aren't prepared to deal with. When getting a turtle, it is truly a commitment, and not an animal that will die within a few years.

These animals, not only have a long lifespan, but they also require large enclosures. Even smaller species of turtles and tortoises, require larger enclosures- whether inside or out. It's important that they have a proper enclosure, as they need the exercise, and it's really important that tortoises get the outside time, as they need the UV, even if it's just for a few hours a few times a week; it's important.

The enclosure for a turtle or tortoise is very important, as without a proper size enclosure and setup, a pet turtle won't be a healthy turtle.

It's very important to do your research before getting a pet turtle or tortoise, as they are big commitments. You won't be able to stick a turtle in a 20 gallon tank and expect it to be happy and healthy, and when it comes to tortoises, fish tanks are one of the absolute worst that you can use to house one in.

Do the research before getting a pet turtle or tortoise, because it's very important in order to decide whether or not you will be able to properly care for one.


Red Ear Slider

Red ear sliders are native to parts of southern United States. They can be found near rivers and fishing docks of northern Florida to over halfway up the east coast through parts of Georgia and South Carolina, as well as west through the coast of Texas. Sometimes, you can even find the RES in parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Illinois, and Indiana.

This species of turtle is probably one of the more popular pet turtles. Children bring them home from the beach in their tiny plastic containers, and they love their quarter sized pet, but what they don't realize is red ear slider turtles can reach up to 13" in length. What parents don't realize is that they need larger enclosures and a commitment of both the child and parent, as this species will live between 20 to 25 years.

They require large enclosures, so a small fish tank won't keep one adult red ear slider for long. An adult should be housed in at least a 40 gallon tank. The water needs to be about 75 to 85F, and because the species is semi-aquatic, they need a land area to bask, which should be about 90F. The basking temperatures can easily be provided by a UV heat lamp.

RES will eat an omnivorous diet, of aquatic plants and meat proteins. You can offer commercial pellet diets, but RES typically prefer minnows, earthworms, crickets, guppies, and aquatic snails. They can also be provided fresh plants, such as dandelions, endive, escarole, chicory, kale, sweet potato, zucchini, and green leaf lettuce.

Box Turtle

There are several locales of box turtles. In many cases, the Eastern Box turtle will be found in the pet trade, but the North American and Asian box turtles are also popular. These species can be found in various parts of the United States, as well as Asia.

In general, box turtles have an average lifespan of at least 40 years, but it's not uncommon to find a 100 year old box turtle.

These turtles do best when housed outside, but large 50 gallon totes will suffice for one adult turtle. They generally do best with a basking site, enough substrate to burrow in, and high humidity. When outside, they love to swim and bask by a water source, so it may be ideal to set up a large outdoor pen with a kiddy pool with shallow water to swim in. Otherwise, when kept inside, you'll want to mist the tortoise, and soak it several times a week.

When housing inside, you want to offer UV lighting via a UV tube or UV heat bulb. I prefer the heat bulbs, as they provide a basking site with warmer temperatures. It's ideal to keep them around 85F at the basking site, but box turtles will thrive in a wide range of temperatures, ranging from room temperature to a little warmer (around 90F).

Box turtles are omnivorous species, but they thrive on a high protein diet, especially within the first few years of life. These turtles will eat snails, crickets, earthworms, minnows, guppies, eggs, small mice, salamanders, slugs, fungi, flowers, dandelion, fruits, grasses, and various vegetables.

Razor-backed Musk Turtle

This species is native to the United States, ranging eastward from eastern Texas to Mississippi and northward to southeastern Oklahoma and southern Arkansas. The turtle is commonly found near the shallow edges of the river, and near fishing docks basking on sunny days.

This turtle is a very hardy species that is quite inexpensive, which makes them that much more popular. They aren't brightly colored like other turtles and tortoises, but they are neat pets.

Musk turtles live about 15 years, and reach about 6.5" in length as an adult. You will need at least a 20 gallon tank, but larger is definitely better for this aquatic turtle. If you decorate the aquarium, you'll find that larger turtles will destroy all of your efforts, and they'll make the enclosure how they want it. Make sure that any décor and basking sites are fully secured to prevent accidents.

There needs to be a basking site where the turtle can get out of the water to warm up, which needs to be around 90F. The basking area needs to be large enough to accommodate the turtle and strength, as they can be quite strong.

Musk turtles are carnivorous, and live healthily on commercial turtle chow, minnows, worms, and insects.


Russian Tortoise

This species is smaller tortoise species, that is very popular among keepers. They are native to Afghanistan, Northern Pakistan, parts of Iran, and China. They can be found in sand and clay desserts with sparse grasses.

This tortoise can grow up to 10", but typically range to about 6 to 7" in length. They have average lifespans of 30+ years, so they are definitely a commitment.

One Russian tortoise can live in a 50 gallon tote as an adult, but they really should have an outdoor pen as well. Setting up a medium to large sized pen is ideal for them to get UV lighting and sun rays. This species does need UV, so when setting up an indoor pen, you'll want to provide a UV heat bulb, as well as any other supplemental heating to get the temperatures around 90-95F in the basking area.

These tortoises, thrive on mixed grasses and weeds, as well as spring mix lettuces from the grocery store.

Golden Greek Tortoise
Golden Greek Tortoise

Greek Tortoise

There are different locales of Greek tortoises, but in general, we can say they are an African tortoise species, even though they also come from parts of Europe, as well.

These tortoises can reach up to 10" in length, but generally average around 6", which makes them another smaller tortoise species. Like most tortoises, they have an average lifespan of at least 30 years or more.

Greek tortoises, require at least a 50 gallon tote for one adult tortoise, but they should really have an outdoor pen of at least 4'x2'. While inside, the species requires a UV heat bulb and plenty of substrate to dig and burrow in.The basking temperature should be around 90-95F,

These guys do well on a diet of mixes grasses, weeds, and spring mix lettuces.

Red-Footed Tortoise

This is probably not the most ideal for a beginner, but it's still considered a beginner tortoise, based on its temperament and overall ease. These tortoises are native to the southernmost parts of Panama, through Argentina, Columbia, and Brazil, living in the tropical forests.

This species is a larger tortoise, that can range up to 18 inches in length, which means it will require a rather large enclosure. They actually do best when housed outdoors.

Younger individuals will suffice being housed inside, as long as they get a few hours several times a week outside to enjoy the sunlight. Younger individuals can be housed in 50 gallon totes, where adults need at least an enclosure of 4' x 8'. 

Humidity is a must with this species. If you don't have proper humidity, your tortoise will experience pyramiding, which is irreversible.

The diet of red footed tortoises, include fresh vegetables, fruits, and proteins. You want to provide proteins starting at 6 months old, just once a week. They tend to thrive on spring mix lettuce, squash, zucchini, mushrooms, strawberries, melon, etc. Proteins can be provided in the form of worms, crickets, roaches, or high protein dog or cat food.

Red foot tortoises have an average lifespan of up to 30 or more years, so these are truly a commitment.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers


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      • profile image

        Wurtle the Turtle 

        2 weeks ago

        So with the Greek Tortoise, do I have to have a heat lamp if they're inside for like 10 to 15 minutes a day? And do they need any water to swim in in the enclosure? For instance, I have and old Rabbit enclosure that is 4 by 6 feet. Would that work?

      • profile image

        Tortoise lover 

        6 weeks ago

        Do you have to be near those places to have that certain kind of tortoise

      • profile image


        2 months ago

        cool! Actually, what happened is there is this youtubers friend who has 2 baby red ear sliders (this was before I read this) and they where sooooo cute! So a few months later I read this and at the top of the beginner turtles list there were red ear sliders! and my friends are going on a vacation so I'm baby sitting their pet crested gecko and yesterday I got the crested gecko.

      • profile image


        2 months ago

        I want a box turtle now that i found out that some red eared slider is hurmful to peole

      • profile image


        2 months ago

        I love turtles and tortoises i also like dogs

      • profile image


        3 months ago

        I love the information

      • profile image


        3 months ago

        My 7 year old grandson is wanting a tortoise to raise. What do you think would be the best pet for him?

      • profile image


        6 months ago

        I have one asian box turtle and green turtle.. after reading this article im now confused if i can take care of it as my children pet..

      • profile image

        7 months ago

        Where can you buy a box turtle in NYC?

      • profile image


        8 months ago

        I want a turtle not a tortoise can you post more turtles?

      • profile image


        9 months ago

        i love tame

      • profile image


        9 months ago

        Hi my friend wants a small turtle but not a tortoise , what would be the best option for her?

      • profile image


        10 months ago

      • profile image


        10 months ago

        Hi I Love All Animals...

        (Except ticks)

      • profile image

        turtle boy 

        10 months ago

        i like turtles

      • profile image


        11 months ago

        I love turtles

      • profile image

        Beach Ball 

        12 months ago

        I am trying to decide which turtle to get

      • profile image


        12 months ago

        Can u tell me which species i have of turtle

      • profile image


        15 months ago

        I love turtles

      • profile image

        I like turtles 

        15 months ago


      • profile image 

        15 months ago

        can you send me a list of what you need for a razor backed musk turtle pleas respond

      • profile image


        21 months ago

        Are musk turtle's good pets pleas respond to me at

      • skyfire profile image


        8 years ago

        Box turtle looks cute, i wish i could keep 2 of them. :| Unfortunately, Keeping turtle as pet is illegal in India. :(

      • RNMSN profile image

        Barbara Bethard 

        8 years ago from Tucson, Az

        wonderful information about turtles and tortoise' Whitney and the writing just flowed right along/ so easily read as usual/ kept me interested to the end!!


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