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Wild vs. Pet Store Turtles: Should You Catch or Buy a Pet Turtle?

Marie is an aquarium aficionado and loves taking care of her turtles and frogs.

Should you keep a turtle caught from the wild? In the short term, maybe, but it's not advisable long term. Learn more about wild turtles and pet store turtles in this article.

Should you keep a turtle caught from the wild? In the short term, maybe, but it's not advisable long term. Learn more about wild turtles and pet store turtles in this article.

Caught vs. Bought Turtles

Caught vs. bought, which turtle is for you? Normally, when people decide they want a pet turtle, they don't grab a net, go to their local pond, and wait to catch one. No, most people who decide they want a turtle as a pet go to the pet store. Catching a turtle in the wild is usually a fisherman's mistake or, on the off chance, a civilian who comes across one and decides to nab it. (Word of warning: Never take a turtle when it is traveling on land; they are females needing to bury their eggs at an exact location.)

So what is the difference between the turtle from the lake and the turtle from the aquarium? Well, I say there is very little difference if it's the same species, but that small difference does matter when a person wants to buy or keep an animal. Here's the main difference:

  • Wild turtles are meant to stay in the wild.
  • Pet store turtles, sadly, are meant to stay in artificially simulated environments.

Is It Okay to Release Pet Store Turtles Into the Wild?

Pet store turtles should not be released into the wild if they did not start out that way. If you are wanting to buy a turtle that shares its environment with other pet store turtles, then it most likely carries diseases that it would not have in the wild. So, if you were to release a bought turtle into the wild (even if its species lives there), you're probably introducing a new bacteria that may harm the ecosystem.

Turtles bred and raised in captivity are meant to stay in captivity.

Turtles bred and raised in captivity are meant to stay in captivity.

Which Turtle Makes a Better Pet?

By keeping turtles so close together in less than perfect conditions, sickness is common in pet stores. In the wild, turtles have all the space they desirably want, so it is rare for a turtle to catch something from another turtle. Receiving all their needs in nature, wild turtles are healthier than those in the market place.

So, am I saying wild turtles are better pets? Neither turtle makes a better pet. Like I said before, they are pretty much the same—except one gets food easily and recognizes its owner as "bringer of food" while the other does not have it so easy. Besides that, they have the same instincts and the same goals in life.

Research Turtle Care Before You Decide to Keep a Wild Turtle

I cringe when I hear someone say they just caught a turtle and want to keep it, because I don't know if that person knows what they're doing. I am not against keeping a wild turtle for a while (obviously, for I am guilty of this), but to permanently remove it from its natural habitat and place it in a glass box for the rest of its life is kind of depressing, and it happens a lot. People also have the tendency to decide they want to keep the turtle before they even know its necessities—or worse, they never look up the information. This is what really gets me.

I once had a chat with a kid online, telling me he has had this one turtle for six years. When I asked if he gives it 12 hours of UV-B a day, he asked me what that is. The poor turtle was less than half of the size it should have been at that time; its growth was deprived by the years of no vitamin D3. The boy's parents should have looked up the necessities for that animal, but they clearly did not.

How can someone own an animal for six years and not know its basic needs? Sadly, this happens all the time, which is why I advise people to let the animal go where they found it (it's also a reason why children should not own turtles—you can't expect them to research thoroughly).

A turtle in the wild.

A turtle in the wild.

Keeping a Wild Turtle Short-Term Can Be Okay

If a person does know what they are doing and wants to keep a wild turtle (especially a vulnerable baby) for a few months to a few years, I think this is okay. As long as they take care of it and then release it back into the wild as it gets older (while avoiding contact with other turtles or foreign animals), then it's perfectly safe; the turtle is not going to forget how to survive in the wild.

If You Want to Keep a Turtle Long-Term, Get One From the Pet Store

But if a person does not want to let their turtle go, and as long as they have the required space, then a pet store turtle is for you. Because when you buy a turtle, you're buying it for life. And if for some reason you cannot keep it any longer, it will have to be handed off to another pet owner (do they refund turtles?). Pet store turtles are not temporary pets. And if you buy a baby, you may regret it later on when it grows (as it should grow, a lot).

So be wary of buying a turtle if you don't plan to keep it forever. And be wary of keeping a wild turtle when it deserves much better.

Pet turtles in a tank.

Pet turtles in a tank.

Make Sure You Meet Your Pet's Needs

In general, don't keep a turtle if you cannot provide all of its needs, including:

  • space
  • temperature
  • nutrition
  • UV-B lighting

These things vary between turtle species, so I can't overemphasize the need for diligent research and cross-reference on the web.

A wild turtle on a log.

A wild turtle on a log.

About Turtle Hibernation

Wild turtles can go a few years without hibernation and it won't affect their health, but beyond that, it can shed some time off their lives (much like depriving any living thing of ordinary sleep). This is why I do not recommend keeping a wild turtle for more than a few years. I suspect this may be the reason why wild turtles live longer than pet turtles. Hibernation is something they are biologically engineered to do, so depriving them of this natural ritual can shorten their life spans in the long run.

Artificial Hibernation Is Very Risky

I also discourage the attempt of artificial hibernation. It can be done and has been done, but it is a big risk for those who have never tried it before. I've heard many tragic stories about well-intentioned owners trying to hibernate their turtles.

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.


Zac on April 06, 2019:

I found a female on some train tracks going through a college today, didn’t realize she may be trying to go lay eggs. Where would be the best place to put her

mariekbloch (author) on June 20, 2018:

Research it. Look up pictures of native turtles in your area and see if it matches the turtle you have. Release it if it's native, and find it a home if it isn't native. Could always make a trip to an exotic vet or a wildlife preserve if you still aren't certain.

Katelyn on June 19, 2018:

So I just found a turtle in my yard and I don’t know if it was a pet of

Somebody’s and just got out or if it’s a wild turtle. It’s pretty small and I don’t know if I should release it cause I don’t know if it’s wild or not

mariekbloch (author) on May 31, 2018:

First, look up what kind of turtle it is. Is it aquatic? Is it native? First make sure it is getting everything it needs to survive. If it's native, I would let it go, but make sure its away from cars.

Chian ashley on May 31, 2018:

Hi I really need advice there was a turtle on my back patio and I broiyhim in because he was just there and wouldn't leave... I don't know if he was someone's pet or wild but he's so friendly and takes food from my daughter and sticks his head out all the way all the time. His shell is badly damaged by the top of his head and I feel like he needs to but also like I don't wanna take him out of his environment...there's no creeks or anything byu house though and my house is a 20 minutes from any wooded area...any advice?

Head Mistress little Squish/SmartBoy;) on February 17, 2018:

Ive been thinking about getting a turtle lately but Big squish denied me of This joy

How dare he!

Also, How big is the average turtle tank? As i was thinking about getting a Turtle behind big Squishes back, wish me good luck!

Thankyou and goodnight

L.R. on August 09, 2017:

I have a baby turtle (rescued from owners who bought her as a baby in Chinatown) that is now about 5-6 months old. Since I've gotten her 2.5 months ago she's grown from 1" to about 4"! I have gotten her everything she needs - proper lighting, space, etc.,. However, I don't like the idea of keeping her in captivity and would like to release her when she is just a little bit bigger. Since she hasn't been with other turtles - except when she was first hatched - would it be dangerous for the ecosystem if I released her? Also, a primary reason that I want to release her is because I don't want her life to be cut short by captivity. If I release her will it be more likely that she lives a longer life?

Thanks for your answers.

Lucas Bussard on June 30, 2017:

Im wanting to Index all turtle species any tips

mariekbloch (author) on October 27, 2016:

I personally would never keep a wild turtle as a forever pet. Wild turtles deserve to be free at some point. Pet turtles on the other hand are bred in captivity and are never meant to be returned to the wild, as they can wreck havoc on the ecosystem. I would not mix a pet store turtle with a wild turtle. Pet turtles are known for carrying diseases that wild turtles never come across, and vice versa. One or both turtles have the potential of getting sick. Also, once you put a pet turtle in with a wild turtle, you can never release that turtle back in the wild, and maybe one day you will want to do that. That's my advice. Thanks for commenting.

Maggie on October 25, 2016:

I have a baby eastern turtle and I got it from the wild and I wanted to get another turtle to keep him company, but from a pet store so I was wondering if it's a good idea to have a wild turtle and a pet store turtle. I have all the supplies for a turtle and have had my wild turtle for about 6 months. But he bites and if I get another turtle will it bite him too?. And is it ok to take it/my baby turtle from the wild and keep it for a forever pet?

jake Faircloth on July 12, 2016:

I have two yellow slider turtles. i got them from a lake last year . they were about the size of a quarter .. one year later . mine are the size of a silver dollar .. very healthy and happy ..they have the proper lighting for their aquarium ..and i also have a small plastic pool outside ...they get sun and swim in the daytime hours ...they are inside at night ..they have the proper light for night ..they eat minnows as fruit and veggies .. they also eat ghost shrimp that i keep for bottom cleaning ...2 crawfish also stay on the bottom is a 55 gallon aquarium with driftwood so they can bask and sleep .. i changed the water every two weeks ..clean the white rocks once a month...the system that i use keeps the water very clean plants do very well ..i have a cave for the crawfish to hide in ... my turtles are in very good health and get exercise everyday ..i researched everything i needed to know ..mine were wild and now are spoiled and healthy ..looking forward to many years of joy with them .

mariekbloch (author) on June 08, 2015:

That I don't know. Depends how well kept the turtle was before. Does it seem healthy? If so, then it is probably no cause of concern.

Matt on June 06, 2015:

Is there a difference between say a pet store bought turtle and turtles that were released into a large, artificial, filtered, enclosed lake, about the size of the inside of a 400M track?

In other words, would releasing 7 year old store bought turtles into this enclosed, filtered, business lake bring any harm to them or the other turtles?? Note that people regularly feed the turtles and most actually gravitate toward people who walk by as they know there's a chance they'll get fed.


mariekbloch (author) on May 05, 2015:

Absolutely, as long as you feed it a healthy, varied diet, provide it 12 hours of uvb light a day, and give it adequate space, then why not keep it and let it go when it's too big to be devoured by most fish? Just be sure you have a good filtration, and partially change out the water 1-2 times a week. Good luck.

Raider99 on May 05, 2015:

Hello, I know this is pretty old topic, but I have one question.

My brother found wild baby turtle (I think it's Emys Obicularis) and all I can get from advices is "let it go", of course, I know that's the best solution, but if it's a baby, can't it adept to another environment for a shord period? I planned to keep it at least until it grows up and then I can let it go, is it a bad idea? I did my research and I'm aware what everything I need for healthy turtle.

mariekbloch (author) on September 29, 2013:

Is your eastern painted a wild-caught turtle or a store-bought one? Is your tank big enough for two turtles?

There's really no safe way to introduce turtles besides watching them very closely. Don't put them together and then take off for work--keep checking on them as often as possible. After a few days I'd think that will tell you if they'll get along.

I would set up a separate tank at the meantime as a back-up plan. Sorry for the late response.

Stephenie on September 22, 2013:

I have owned an eastern painted turtle for about 18 years. She seems healthy and happy.

I have a friend who needs to re-home a turtle that she has had for about a year. She took hers from a local stream.

Everything in me screams nooo but I would like to help her out.

Is there any safe way to introduce this turtle to my turtle's existing habitat?

Maybe an extended quarantine?

Any advice will be appreciated!

sarah on August 23, 2012:

can someone help with this question, i need to add two more points to the list below, and im thinkning of using routine and knowledge of the pets species.

To ensure good welfare for a turtle :

-Allow stable relationships to form between social animals, and avoiding keeping one individual on its own if it is a species that prefers to live in a group

-Avoid situations of overcrowding, with too many animals being kept together in unsuitable groups, especially if some animals are being bullied

-Keep the animal in an environment that allows for mental stimulation.

-Feed a suitable diet that is close to what it naturally requires.

-Provide adequate space for the animal to exercise

-Reduce the risk of parasite infestation, by worming regularly when necessary or applying flea treatments if required

-Reduce the risk of developing infectious illness, by vaccinating if appropriate and ensuring good hygiene practices for example cleaning

-Observe the behaviour of the animal to pick up on signs that it may be experiencing stress or discomfort, and taking appropriate action

-Knowledge of the species: to know why it has to be cared for a certain way as they did in the wild, and to know what illnesses the pet can gain later in life.

-Managing a routine of cleaning and feeding and other care duties to comfort the pet.

i would really appreciate any help thanks !

please email me back @, thanks :)

mariekbloch (author) on May 01, 2012:

You're welcome. A lot of people don't know that, so I keep trying to get the word out on my hubs. If you ever catch a young turtle in the water, then it would be okay to keep it for a while, assuming you know about the species and it's specific care. Glad to have helped.

turtle club on May 01, 2012:

I live in a neighborhood where we have a pound across the street from us. My mom and I found a turtle in the street and took it home and but it in an old fish tank. she told me to research if wild turtles can live in captive. i'm soooo glad i did. we are going to release her to the lake ASAP!!!!!! Thanks soooooo much!!!!

mariekbloch (author) on April 08, 2012:

You're welcome.

paige on April 06, 2012:

you answered pretty much all of the questions i had left. i was getting really sick of everyone saying NEVER take a wild turtle but not explaining why.

thank you! finally!

mariekbloch (author) on January 31, 2012:

Cool! :}

Vanessa Hidalgo from Miami, FL on January 17, 2012:

I have two of them and I love them :)