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12 Pet Turtle Species That Stay Small

Nicole Cosgrove

Turtles make excellent pets, are incredibly adorable, easy to care for, and more interactive than other pets like fish. But turtle lovers sometimes wish that their giant turtles could go back to being tiny adorable pets (not that being big changes that, though).

While it’s true that turtles require less work than dogs and cats, small baby turtles that grow big quickly can be hard to manage. Also, large turtles outgrow your laps and their habitats, requiring you to replace their tanks so often.

Thankfully, nature has provided turtle breeds that stay small forever for you to choose from. Read on and discover!

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Top 12 Pet Turtles That Stay Small Forever Are:

1. Red Eared Slider

red eared slider in water_Piqsels
Image Credit: Piqsels
  • Lifespan: 20-40 years
  • Size: 6-12 inches
  • Tank Size: 50 gallons
  • Price: $20-$50

Red Eared Slider turtles originated from North America, and they are one of the most common turtles kept as pets. However, what sets these reptiles apart from the rest are their notable red patches around their ears, giving them the “red eared” name and appearance.

One good thing about this pet is that it is hardy and leans on the low-maintenance side more than other turtles. They still need work and dedication as the other breeds, though.

Red Eared Sliders are mainly omnivorous, which means that you won’t run out of feeding options. Also, they are brightly colored and dislike much handling.


2. Spotted Turtles

spotted turtle_Piqsels
Image Credit: Piqsels
  • Lifespan: 26-50 years
  • Size: 3-5 inches
  • Tank Size: 20 to 33-gallon
  • Price: $75-$100

You can find Spotted turtles in Southeastern Canada and the Northeastern United States. They are eye-catching and small pets, measuring just 5 inches long.

Spotted Turtles get their name from the yellow-cream colored spots covering their black or dark-brown heads and shells. You may find some with red, orange, or yellow spots on their bellies as well.

Turtles loathe being handles, but not the spotted species. These reptiles are even-tempered and enjoy being handled.

Spotted turtles are every beginner’s dream turtle pet!


3. Mud Turtles

mud-turtles_Pixabay
Image Credit: Pixabay
  • Lifespan: 25-50 years
  • Size: Up to 5 inches
  • Tank Size: 75-gallon
  • Price: $60-$120

The list would be incomplete without Mud turtles, which grow only up to 4-5 inches long when adults. Mud turtles are native to Africa, Mexico, and some parts of North America.

There are four Mud turtle species, with the famous Mud and Stripped Mud turtles being about 4.5 inches in adulthood.

The other two, Yellow Mud and Sonoran Mud turtles, grow up to six inches at times. And no, the name does not mean that their enclosures will be muddy.


4. Musk Turtle

musk turtle_Vince Adam_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Vince Adam, Shutterstock
  • Lifespan: 40-60 years
  • Size: 3-4 inches
  • Tank Size: 20 to 29-gallon
  • Price: $30-$85

Musk turtles are usually small, with the females being smaller than the males. You can mostly find them in eastern parts of North America.

Unlike most turtles, the Musks do not like brackish water or water whose saline levels are between freshwater and seawater. These reptiles also burrow in the mud during winter.

Musk turtles are ardent climbers, so look out for them if you keep them in an aquarium. They can easily climb out of their tanks.

This turtle is definitely the best option if you want a pet that stays small forever and can live up to 60 years!


5. Reeve’s Turtle

reeves turtle_Felix Wolf_Pixabay
Image Credit: Felix Wolf, Pixabay
  • Lifespan: 10-20 years
  • Size: 4-9 inches
  • Tank Size: 50-gallon
  • Price: $50-$80

You may know Reeve’s turtle as the Chinese Pong turtle. These turtle species are popular in the pet world, especially in China, Japan, and Taiwan.

Reeve’s turtles prefer still or slow-moving water such as lakes, ponds, and streams with lots of vegetation and basking spots.

Although these reptiles might not be as colorful (they are primarily black or dark gray) as others on the list, turtle fanciers adore them for their charming, docile demeanors. Plus, they stay small forever!

You may want to keep an eye on their shells, though. This is because these turtles are prone to various diseases that show on the shells.


6. Bog Turtle

bog turtle_Jay Ondreicka_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Jay Ondreicka, Shutterstock
  • Lifespan: 20-30 years
  • Size: 3-4 inches
  • Tank Size: 40-gallon
  • Price: $250-$450

You can’t talk of tiny pet turtles that stay tiny forever without mentioning little Bogs. The longest Bog turtle only measures up to four inches long! Their small sizes have made them incredibly popular in the U.S, especially among beginners.

You can find these reptiles near swamps and marshes in the Eastern U.S. You can also find some grazing in wet fields amongst cattle.

Little Bogs are usually black or dark brown with a yellow band around their necks.


7. The Desert Box

The desert box turtle_Creeping Things_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Creeping Things, Shutterstock
  • Lifespan: 30-50 years
  • Size: 4-5 inches
  • Tank Size: 30 to 50-gallon
  • Price: $50-$400

Desert Box turtles are breaking the narrative that turtle lovers living in dry environments cannot own such pets. Unlike most turtle breeds, Desert Box species do not need high humidity. Also, they live longer and are famous for their yellowish color.

Desert Box turtles are one of the two subspecies of Terrapene Ornata turtles. Unfortunately, they can be pretty costly to buy as their prices go as high as $400.


8. Florida Softshell Turtle

Florida softshell_Andy Lidstone_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Andy Lidstone, Shutterstock
  • Lifespan: 20-30 years
  • Size: 6-12 inches(male)
  • Tank Size: 125-gallon
  • Price: $15 to $40

You can guess from the name that these turtles are native to the state of Florida. Florida Softshells are nearly entirely aquatic, although you can find them on land sometimes.

If you want a turtle that’s a little out of the ordinary, find Florida Softshell. As the name suggests, these reptiles lack one feature common in almost all turtles-a hard shell. Instead, they are flat, with skin covering the shell, making them resemble pancakes.

You may want to go for a male Florida Softshell Turtle, though. The reason is, males and females vary significantly in the size range.

The males stay small forever, at around six inches, while the females are big and bulky and can grow up to 1.5 feet!


9. Diamondback Terrapins

Diamondback terrapin_Jay Ondreicka_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Jay Ondreicka, Shutterstock
  • Lifespan: 25-40 years
  • Size: 5-7 inches
  • Tank Size: 75-gallons
  • Price: $200-$450

You’ll find out that Diamondback Terrapins are not as small as the listed turtles, but they are still considered small turtle breeds. The males measure up to 5 inches, with females measuring up to 7 inches.

Diamondback Terrapins are hardy, although they are susceptible to fungal infections and shell diseases. You’ll need to put in extra time and space in their care (they fall on the upper spectrum of small-sized turtles).


10. Razorback Musk Turtle

razorback musk turtle_Ryan M. Bolton_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Ryan M. Bolton, Shutterstock
  • Lifespan: 20-25 years
  • Size: 5-6 inches
  • Tank Size: 30-gallon
  • Price: $25-$100

Musk turtles are generally small, and as hard as it is to believe, the Razorback is the biggest of them all. This breed is almost entirely aquatic, although it comes to bask in the sun occasionally.

Razorback Musks are shy and do not bite or get aggressive. However, they’d prefer if you didn’t handle them and only watched them from a distance.

And, they are a delight to watch, especially because they can walk along the tank’s bottom effortlessly.


11. African Sideneck Turtle

African side neck turtle_Megan Czarnocki, Shutterstock
Image Credit: Megan Czarnocki, Shutterstock
  • Lifespan: 25-50 years
  • Size: 7-12 inches
  • Tank Size: 75-gallon
  • Price: $50-$100

The African Sideneck is easy to maintain and thrives in captivity. This turtle has a contagious smile, thanks to their mouths that curve upwards in a “smile.”

African Sideneck turtles are native to the freshwater rivers and lakes of Africa and Madagascar. They are uniquely cute and boast the ability to make their heads turn sideways.

These reptiles are a sight to behold, mainly when they use their long necks to flip themselves over when they are on their backs.


12. Yellow-Bellied Slider

Yellow-Bellied Slider_Chikilino, Pixabay
Image Credit: Chikilino, Pixabay
  • Lifespan: 30-40 years
  • Size: 5-13 inches
  • Tank Size: 75-100 gallons
  • Price: $25-$75

Here’s another small and long-lived pet turtle that’s a great addition to any household. Yellow-Bellied Sliders are closely related to Red Eared Sliders and are just as colorful.

You can distinguish this reptile by its various shell colors, including green, brown, and black with yellow stripes. Its belly is usually solid yellow with black markings, thus the name.

This slider tends to be more active during day time, where they also spend most of the time basking. Also, it doesn’t like much handling.

You get this pet, and you’ll have a small, amiable, and not so needy pet in your home for a long time.

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Summary

Turtles are generally low maintenance, but keeping and caring for giant and overgrown turtles is not as simple as it seems. You’ll need to change their tanks more often, which is expensive and too much work.

Get yourself a pet that will stay small forever, and the most trouble you can go to is to ensure it’s well-fed and thriving. So, which one is your favorite!


Featured Image Credit: Piqsels

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.