Best Small Turtle for Beginners

If you’re looking to get your first pet turtle, you’ve probably heard smaller is better. I genuinely agree with this sentiment, as smaller turtles are usually easier to care for. They have smaller habitat requirements, and they also produce less waste. In today’s article, I’m going to review some of the best small turtles for beginners.

The best small turtles for a beginner

The best small turtles for beginners are spotted turtles, mud turtles, musk turtles, male diamondback terrapins, and box turtles.

All of the turtles on this list only require a tank of 40 gallons, which is a lot cheaper and easier to maintain compared to larger tanks. Now let’s get into each species.

Spotted turtles

spotted turtle for beginner

Spotted turtles are one of the smallest semi-aquatic species, usually ranging in length from 4 to 5 inches. Baby spotted turtles can be put in a 20 gallon tank, while adults will likely require a 40 gallon tank.

They have a really unique shell design that is primarily dark brown and scattered with yellow spots.

While they do like to swim, they also like to have a little space to roam around on land as well. They are generally a very friendly species, but they can be shy so it’s important to include a couple of hiding spots for them in the water.

A spotted turtle’s diet is omnivores, which means they will eat both plant and animal matter. It’s recommended to feed them a combination of vegetables, pellets, and insects every now and then. In terms of water temperature, they can comfortably withstand a temperature range between 75 and 82 degrees fahrenheight.

If you are considering buying a turtle, you should check out my article on things to know before buying a turtle.

Mud turtles

mud turtle

Mud turtles are another small aquatic species that don’t grow larger than 4 inches. As their name suggest, they typically spend most of their time digging through the mud/substrate in the wild. They have a uniquely shaped shell that has a much lower dome compared to other aquatic species.

They are omnivores, so you can feed them a mixture of plants, insects, pellets, and aquatic plants. Mud turtles are pretty good swimmers, so you can fill up the majority of their tank with water. While most mud turtles could be fine with a 20 gallon tank, some adults may require a 30-40 gallon tank.

Musk turtles

musk turtle

Musk turtles are another very small turtles species that make a great pet. They usually don’t grow larger than 5 inches, so a 40 gallon tank should be enough space for them.

In terms of appearance, they have one of the most unique shell shapes. Their shells are pretty small compared to their body, and also typically have a high dome. They are also one of the few species of turtles that can’t fully retract their head into their small shell. This results in their head and neck sticking out longer than most other aquatic species.

Unlike most of the other turtles on this list, musk turtles are primarily carnivorous. You can feed them primarily commercial turtle pellets that are high in protein. If you want to see some action, you can also feed your musk turtle small fish or insects. While musk turtles are decent turtles, they sometimes struggle swimming upwards so it’s recommended that their tank isn’t filled with more than 50% of water.

Male diamondback terrapins

diamondback terrapins

Diamondback terrapins are another great option for a pet. However, if you want a small one, make sure you get a male. While male diamondback terrapins usually only reach a length of 6 inches, the females can get up to 11 inches long.

In my opinion, they are the prettiest species on the list. They typically have a greyish skin that is covered in black spots. Their shells also usually have a cool yellowish orange design that is very distinguishable from other species.

While diamondback terrapins usually live in brackish, saltwater, they can comfortably live in a freshwater tank. They are also very strong swimmers, so you can fill up the majority of their tank with water. If you want to give your tank a beachy feel, a diamondback terrapin is a great option because they are one of the few species that can safely live in a tank with a crushed coral substrate.

Diamondback terrapins are a very social, and it is common for them to swim up to the side glass whenever they see a human. They’re also known for begging for food. They are mostly carnivorous, so I recommend you feed them pellets that are high in protein. You can also feed them live fish or insects.

If you are interested in getting a diamondback terrapin, you should read my article on where to buy a diamondback terrapin.

Box turtles

box turtle

Another small turtle that is a good option for a beginner is the box turtle. Unlike all the other turtles on the list, box turtles are terrestrial which means they live on land and not water. They usually reach an adult size of 5-7 inches and require a terrarium of around 30 gallons. You can learn more in my guide on how big do box turtle get?

One of the advantages of being a land turtle means that you don’t have to worry about doing regular water changes, which is one of the most time consuming chores when owning an aquatic turtle. On the flip side, you will need to remove their poop from the terrarium once a day. However, this shouldn’t take more than a minute or two.

Box turtles are typically more social than aquatic turtles. They usually like to be handled more often, and don’t bite at humans as much.

Caring for a small turtle as a beginner

Compared to other pets, turtles are usually way less maintenance. As long as they have a clean and healthy environment, they typically require less than 5 minutes of work per day. In particular, smaller turtles are easier to care for because they require smaller tanks which are quicker and easier to clean.

Regardless of which species you choose, make sure you do your research before you buy the turtle. Since many species can live beyond 30 years, it’s important to understand what you’re getting into.

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