Wild vs Pet-Store 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 an off-chance of 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.

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.


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, only 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, the same goals in life.

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 twelve hours of UV-B a day, he asked me what that is. The poor thing was less than half of the size it should have been at that time; its growth 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 (and a reason why children should not own turtles- you can't expect them to research thoroughly).

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.

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

And in general, don't keep a turtle if you cannot provide all of its needs, including space, temperature, nutrition, and 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.


*Additional Info*

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 ordinary sleep from any living thing). This is why I do not recommend keeping a wild turtle more than a few years. I suspect this may be the reason why wild turtles live longer than pet turtles. It's something they are biologically engineered to do, so depriving them of this natural ritual can shorten their lifespans in the long run. 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.

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Comments 14 comments

VanHid profile image

VanHid 4 years ago from Miami, FL

I have two of them and I love them :)

mariekbloch profile image

mariekbloch 4 years ago Author

Cool! :}

paige 4 years ago

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 profile image

mariekbloch 4 years ago Author

You're welcome.

turtle club 4 years ago

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 profile image

mariekbloch 4 years ago Author

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.

sarah 4 years ago

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 :)

Stephenie 3 years ago

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!

mariekbloch profile image

mariekbloch 3 years ago Author

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.

Raider99 17 months ago

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 profile image

mariekbloch 17 months ago Author

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.

Matt 16 months ago

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 profile image

mariekbloch 16 months ago Author

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.

jake Faircloth 3 months ago

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 .

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