10 Pet Turtles that Stay Small

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While fishes are the popular choice for aquarists, turtles are an intriguing option for those who cannot spend several hours every week in fish tank maintenance.

Besides, they are less needy sea creatures, and some species live for up to 50 years. You get a pal for life when you buy a turtle. 

If turtle-keeping intrigues you, prepare to invest in a tank of adequate size, supply it with clean water, and maintain proper temperatures, plants, and decorations. And a basking spot to keep your turtle healthy and happy.

Also, you must nourish your turtle by providing it with a healthy and nutritious diet to provide it with a long, stable, and healthy life.

 Now that you know the joy of turtle keeping, here is a list of turtles that stay small and are ideal for home aquariums:

1. Red-Eared Slider Turtles

Red-eared sliders are reptiles that start very small and grow slowly compared to other species.

However, they can get reasonably large for a home aquarium over time. Make necessary arrangements to accommodate a red-eared slider turtle as it grows with time.

Young sliders have a bright green shell, appear smaller than females, have longer tails and nails, and curved plastrons. Sliders are social and cope well with other sliders when housed together.

However, these little creatures do not like frequent handling and can bite if they feel threatened or stressed.

Here’s how to succeed at red-eared slider turtle parenting:

  • Monitor your turtle’s head before handling them to prevent getting bitten
  • Once your red-eared turtle gets to know its caretakers, it may come to the water surface when you approach the tank
  • These turtles are excellent swimmers and enjoy spending the most time in the water

A word of wisdom: you should get yourself a red-eared slider turtle if you are new to keeping turtles as they are hardy and lean on the low-maintenance side compared to their counterparts.

Besides, their omnivorous nature gives you several options and flexibility with feeding.

2. Yellow-Bellied Slider Turtles

Did you know that sliders can live for more than a quarter of a century? These are the most popular turtles amongst aquarists.

This species is easy to care for, and they like to spend most of their time in the water but will get out to dry off and rest occasionally.

While turtles, in general, can require lots of tank maintenance, these turtles need a giant tank as they become adults.

If you are eagerly waiting to take your little turtle friend in your hands and play with them like a squishy little stuffed toy, sorry to burst your bubble, your yellow-bellied slider may not like it.

Like most turtle breeds, yellow-bellied sliders hate handling and often place themselves under stress. Do not lose hope yet.

Some turtles take their sweet time getting accustomed to handling. If you’re inpatient, you should get ready for some biting from your little friend.

Here are a few fun facts about yellow-bellied slider turtles:

  • They are entertaining pets if cared for properly.
  • They may never offer you the satisfaction of growing a dog or a cat, as you cannot pet them or cuddle them. However, yellow-bellied sliders tend to have interesting and unique personalities, making your relationship with your little four-legged reptile more endearing.
  • The adult size of a yellow-bellied slider turtle can go up to 13 inches in length. So, make sure to get a 75-gallon tank as they grow into adulthood.

These little mysterious beings eat and leave fecal matter in their aquatic home, which can pose a hygiene problem for your home aquarium.

Installing a tank canister filter or submersible biological filters can save you valuable time in maintenance work and reduce the mess.

Leaving the water dirty can lead to that your little friend developing severe health problems along the way.

3. Bog Turtles

These cute miniature beauties are absolutely to die for and measure less than 4.5 inches.

They have distinct orange-colored polka dots along the sides of their heads, allowing turtle enthusiasts to spot them quite easily.

The critically endangered species bog turtles can be a stunning addition to your home aquarium and offer quite the visual treat.

The bog turtle is diurnal, meaning they are active during the day and like to sleep at night like us humans.

A typical bog turtle routine includes waking up early in the morning, basking until fully warm, and searching for food.

Some fun facts about the bog turtle that you should know include:

  • They can survive without oxygen.
  • Remember not to house two male bog turtles in one tank as they can be territorial and will attack other males if they spot one within 6 inches of their position.
  • The female can be aggressive and likes to defend the area around her nest. She will not allow other encroaching females near her. However, they like to be cordial with the male turtles and usually surrender their area.

If you are thoroughly convinced to get yourself some bog turtles, knowing their diet can help you keep them in good health.

These remarkable reptiles are omnivorous and eat anything from aquatic plants, seeds, and berries to earthworms, snails, slugs, and insects.

Some adult bog turtles also prey on frogs and other small vertebrates. If all you have is some fruits or vegetables at home, go ahead, and feed them to your little friend as they enjoy eating almost anything.

You would be awestruck to find out that these omnivorous turtles enjoy feasting on tinned dog food.

Keep an eye out for bacterial infections as this species often suffer from Aeromonas and pseudomonas.

4. Mud Turtles

Mud turtles are a small aquatic breed popular as pets for their petite size. They are semi-terrestrial, hardly ever bask, and are generally small in size.

These are perfect for turtle enthusiasts with minimal space in their homes for a turtle tank, as this species does not grow over 5 inches in length.

The mud turtles spend most of their time walking, snuggling under aquarium plants, or resting on the bottoms of a tank.

They do not like soaking up the sun like most other breeds. These creatures make great companions for their owners as they live for 50 years.

These are the cutest little beings you will ever meet, but that does not necessarily mean they are docile or friendly.

Mud turtles can be grouchy, and they do not hesitate to bite if they feel stressed, anxious, or provoked. If you plan on getting a mud turtle, you must refrain from picking them or touching your mud turtle unless necessary.

Here are a few astonishing facts about mud turtles for a clearer picture of these tiny reptiles:

  • These turtles require adequate room to swim. So, provide them with at least a 40-gallon fish tank filled with water halfway and the rest with the land. They enjoy swimming and diving alongside roaming around and burrowing on dry land. Remember that the female mud turtles will require a much bigger tank.
  • Mud turtles enjoy a warm ambiance, requiring their owners to invest in large heat lights and separate UVB bulbs. They do not live their best life in tanks with temperatures less than 78 degrees Fahrenheit or more than 82 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Mud turtles are omnivores like most of their counterparts and enjoy a diet encompassing worms, fish, snails, and protein-based meals.

Feed them lots of leafy vegetables, salad greens, and calcium supplements daily.

While you may find your urge to handle a mud turtle hard to control, creating a separate sub-enclosure using a clear floating plastic box may solve your problem.

5. Musk Turtles

The common musk turtle is yet another top choice for aquarists for ease of care and its small size. A funny fact about these little turtles is that they release a foul odor when they feel threatened, earning them the name stinkpot.

While they remain small from birth to death, these turtles can live for up to 50 years with proper care and maintenance.

An adult musk turtle can grow up to 5 inches in length, relatively small compared to their counterparts. Nonetheless, they require a great deal of care and spend most of their time in the water.

The stinkpots are not strong swimmers and are naturally nocturnal, meaning they are more active through the night.

Should you wish to handle them, get ready to sniff some foul-smelling odor from your little playmate. More importantly, you do not want to make your reptile friend feel threatened or uncomfortable, as they will bite you.

Luckily, their long and flexible neck makes it easier for them to attack their target.

Here are a few startling facts about these spunky creatures:

  • To avoid a nasty nip from your turtle, pick your musk turtle by holding them towards the rear of its shell. It makes them less uncomfortable.
  • Most stinkpot spends most of their time in the water. Create suitable areas in your turtle tank to help them come out of the water to bask and rest.
  • A musk turtle eats a large variety of water fish and insects when in the wild. These are carnivorous reptiles and rarely prefer to feed on certain types of algae. Get some good-quality commercial turtle pellets to keep your turtles happy and healthy in your aquarium tank.
  • Supplementing your turtle with high-protein foods like earthworms, crickets, fish, and shrimp can help them experience a healthy, active, and long life.

Keeping a turtle’s habitat clean can be quite the task for an aquarist. Invest in a water filter custom-made for shallow waters to keep your turtle’s habitat clean and hygienic.

6. Reeve’s Turtles

Reeve’s turtles are a popular and exotic species with an adorable personality.

These turtles enjoy a habitat with abundant aquatic vegetation and several basking sites.

Here are some of the basics care requirements for a reeves turtle:

  • Housing – Invest in a turtle terrarium at least 25-30 inches in length.
  • Heating – This species enjoys a basking temperature of 100°F and intense UVB
  • Water Maintenance – Turtle keepers should maintain a temperature of 80°F and install the best quality filter to keep the turtle happy, healthy, and safe from diseases.
  • Diet – This is a carnivorous reptile and enjoys feeding on shrimp, meat, worms, and insects.
  • Decoration – Invest in a large tank with a basking platform and a ramp, as these turtles enjoy spending most of their time in the water.

If you plan on getting a reeve’s turtle, you should make it your utmost priority to keep the water warm and clean as these turtles are messy due to their high protein diet.

The Reeve’s turtles live for approximately 20 years in captivity and make great companions for life. Provide the turtle with proper diet, housing, and care, and you will watch your little friend thrive and flourish.

A word to the wise – a reeve’s turtle is not a very social reptile, making it hard for them to cohabitate with turtles of their own or other species. If you wish to keep a reeve’s turtle, do not house them with other species.

Also, they do not like being handled. Do not handle your turtle unless necessary, as they can feel stressed and may bite.

7. Spotted Turtles

The Spotted Turtle is one of the tiniest species of turtles and makes for a great pet. They are attractive and not too big, making them a perfect choice for a pet.

However, a spotted turtle is not for the faint-hearted as they require a lot of care to stay healthy. On the flip side, these turtles can live for up to 50 years or more with proper care.

These do not grow more than 6 inches in length, making them ideal for owners with minimal space at home for a terrarium.

These aquatic creatures have complex housing and dietary needs. Also, these little beings are not great swimmers and stay in the shallows.

Turtle keepers, in particular, lean towards this species for their vigilant and curious nature. Like most aquatic turtles, they hate over-handling.

To take the best care of your spotted turtle:

  • Do not place your turtles in a deep tank as they can drown or become overly tired. Keep the water levels to a minimum to allow plenty of space for basking. 
  • Try to place logs and raised areas in your terrarium to provide your turtle with resting, exercise, and enrichment. An ideal tank for spotted turtles would encompass plenty of aquatic or plastic plants, hiding spots, and a suitable water filtration system.
  • You must clean your tank and change the water at least once a week to avoid health problems for your turtle.

While spotted Turtles can live together with other species, housing males together may not be a good idea.

They can become aggressive towards one another as they are territorial and aggressive little creatures.

You could have a wonderful time with your little pet if you keep your spotted turtle comfortable, warm, and well-fed.

These primarily carnivorous reptiles enjoy a varied diet encompassing shrimps, worms, insects, cooked beef, etc., and water temperature of 75 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

8. Desert Box Turtles

The western ornate box turtle has a soulful face, baleful eyes, and an indiscriminate diet.

It is one of the most charming sea creatures with reclusive habits, an ornate shell, and endearing behavior.

Some turtle keepers vouch that these aquatic beauties have a humorous personality. You may never know for sure until you get one for yourself.

These are 4 to 6 inches in length and are sociable.

Here are a few astonishing facts about this unique species:

  • They are omnivorous, meaning the western ornate box turtle feeds on both succulent plants and berries and a range of reptiles.
  • The female western ornate box turtle lays hundreds of eggs during its lifetime. However, only a handful survive to adulthood.
  • A western ornate turtle produces a growth ring each year on its carapace. You can estimate the turtle’s age by counting the rings.
  • This breed of turtle thrives well in a home terrarium with logs, flat stones, and other aquatic plants. They enjoy feeding on insects, fruits, and vegetables.

You can enhance your little friend’s lifespan by meeting its needs precisely and providing it with healthy and hygienic living conditions.

9. Diamondback Terrapins

Diamondback terrapins survive in freshwater as well as full-strength ocean water.

They are a great addition to home terrariums, and they can live for up to 40 years.  Less than 2% of diamondback hatchlings make it to adulthood.

Here are some fun facts about the diamondback terrapins:

  • Nesting is the only activity that these turtles do on land.
  • The diamondback terrapin prefers to feed on fish, crustaceans, clams, barnacles, mussels, and mollusks.
  • Diamondbacks get their name from the pattern on their shell scutes that look diamond in shape and encompass concentric circles.
  • Female diamondbacks can grow much larger than a male turtle and measure 19cm in length. If you wish to get one of these little wonders, invest in a large-sized terrarium.

10. African Sideneck Turtles

What can be more mesmerizing than watching an African side neck turtle all day long? A side neck turtle can live for several decades and are quite large.

Their large round eyes and a mouth with a permanently fixed smile make them one of the most breathtaking aquatic animals to keep. One of the core aspects of owning a side neck is that they are easy to care for and is ideal for beginners.

These brilliant little turtles live for as long as 50 years with proper care and upkeep.

They socialize well with other pet aquatic turtles and are active and inquisitive. Here are a few fun facts about an African side neck turtle:

  • African side necks have long necks that they can right themselves using their neck muscles should they turn upside-down, a trait possesses by no other turtle breeds.
  • If you want to socialize with your pet, you should get an African side neck as they enjoy frequent interaction.
  • While these turtles may feel shy at first, they will become friendly and pleasant once they get comfortable. They are an intriguing breed of sea reptiles to have.
  • However, you do not want to touch your African side neck turtle unless and until medically necessary, as they might carry salmonella bacteria.
  • Also, it is pivotal you keep your little turtle friend far from small children to prevent the risk of infection.
  • When it comes to housing your African Sideneck Turtle, the larger the aquarium, the better. We recommend a 75-gallon aquarium filled with water half to three-quarters.
  • African side necks are omnivores and enjoy feasting on insects, fish, crustaceans, and aquatic turtle pellets.


Now that you have learned about the turtle species ideal for home terrariums, it is time to get yourself a little turtle friend for life.

All turtles possess the potential to lead a long life, provided they receive proper care from their owner.

All you need to provide is a healthy environment and a well-balanced diet, and you will watch them thrive and grow into majestic, happy, and friendly creatures.

While turtles do not need lots of attention from their owner, interacting with them regularly can help raise a tame and sociable turtle.

Nonetheless, you can count on years of enjoyment with a turtle as your pet. Get a turtle today.

Author Image Fabian
I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.
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