Welcome Turtle Lovers!

We are frequently asked here at the Turtle Club about which species are the best for beginners to keep. This can be a difficult question to answer; one must consider that turtle ownership is not a short lived hobby but more of a long term commitment. Most turtles live a very long time and many species will definitely outlive their owners. In consideration of this one must not only plan for the long term they often must plan beyond that and consider who will care from them after they're gone. That said turtles are very easy to care for if you provide them with the right stuff. The right stuff depends on which species you have.

There are many good sites out there on the internet that provide excellent care sheets once you know which species you have. At this time the Seattle Turtle and Tortoise Club does not provide individual care sheets, but we hope to aid in your identification of your animal by showing some of the more commonly kept (or member kept) species here. Beside each example we will provide a score of 1 to 5 relating to the difficultly of keeping each species. This scale is our own and one we have developed over time from the amount of calls we get asking for assistance.

BEST 1st PET SCALE

[1] Best Beginner Pet - [5] Advanced Husbandry Required

box turtle All the BOX TURTLES will have the distinctive hinged shell on their bottom side! If you flip the animal over and you do not see a hinge on their plastron then you do not have an American Box Turtle of any kind. They have the ability to retract fully into their shells and close the door shut tight, effectively keeping their head and all limbs safely inside while the intruder is shut out! box turtle closed

 

Three Toed Box Turtle (Terrapin carolina triunguis) +

The smallest of the American box turtles the 3-Toed box turtle can [contrary to its name] sometimes have 4 toes. Characteristic features are small size (4" dia Adults), carapace highly domed and plain in colors, although the face and legs may be highly colored. Full grown adults can usually fit in the palm of your hand. Species is often seen hybridized with other American box turtles making identification difficult.

3 toed 3 toed 3 toed 3 toed 3 toed
  • Semi Aquatic Set-Up
  • Diet:Omnivorous
  • Sexual Maturity Age:10
  • Lifespan:100+ yrs.?
  • 3

Eastern Box Turtle(Terrapene carolina) +

The Eastern Box turtles are some of the brightest colored box turtles. With colors ranging from pale yellow through bright red and patterns just as extreme in opposition the Eastern Box Turtle's are probably the most variable. High domed although often truncated and oval shaped. While not conclusive the males are known for their bright red eye color. Naturally occurring hybrids can make for difficult identification. While all box turtles are considered only "semi-aquatic" I've seen some individuals who stay submerged with only their nose above water for days.

eastern eastern eastern eastern eastern
  • Semi Aquatic Set-Up
  • Diet:Omnivorous
  • Sexual Maturity Age:10
  • Lifespan:100+ yrs.?
  • 3

Gulf Coast Box Turtle(Terrapene carolina major) +

The Gulf Coast Box turtles are the largest of the American Box turtles and often have a raised vertebral ridge along their back. High domed and oval shaped they often show a narrowed girdle middle from above. Most are dark to black in color but can be brown instead. Their greatest outstanding feature is their size. Gulfie's are known for eating more insects than plants and can suffer respiratory distress if not keep in high humidity. Males are aggressively territorial.

gulf coast gulf coast gulf coast guld coast gulf coast
  • Semi Aquatic Set-Up
  • Diet:Omnivorous
  • Sexual Maturity Age:10
  • Lifespan:100+ yrs.?
  • 3

Greek Tortoise (Testudo graeca) +

A small tortoise with adults as little as 7" in length, maximum recorded size of 11" in length. Having a high dome and oval shave with a wide range of colors across the four subspecies. Scutes are generally dark in the center and are highlighted with a lighter shade of dark brown to tan color. Golden Greeks on the other hand are very light in color and show little color variation across the scutes. Due to it's native arid climate this hearty species can be an excellent first pet. They are small but very active tortoises with a tendency to climb instead of dig.

greek greek greek golden greek greek
  • Arid Terrarium Set-Up
  • Diet:Herbivorous
  • Sexual Maturity Age:15
  • Lifespan:100+ yrs.?
  • 1

    Russian Tortoise (Testudo horsfieldi) +

    The Russian Tortoise is small in size and an excellent beginner tortoise; if you find one that is captive bred. Many of these are wild caught and legally imported into the country. Wild caught animals can be more difficult to keep healthy. General coloration descriptions are similar to the Greek tortoise but these guys are more round instead of oval shaped. Russian's are highly active tortoises with a tenancy for digging under fencing. A hearty species that is very cold tolerant. Females can be considerably larger than the males.

    russian russian russian russian
    • Terrarium Set-Up
    • Diet:Omnivorous
    • Sexual Maturity Age:10
    • Lifespan:100+ yrs.?
    • 2

    Sulcata Tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) +

    The Sulcata tortoise is an adorable little hatchling, but doesn't stay small for long. This is the 3rd largest tortoise species in the world. Adult males reach 200 pounds and adult females around 150 pounds. These gentle giants are also diggers and will burrow into the ground to depths around 6 feet with tunnel offshoots 30 feet in length. By the age of 5 they can no longer be keep indoors (ie. destroy furniture and walls) and require a heated outdoor enclosure. Besides their massive size these tortoises require a strict diet high in fiber and low in protein. The wrong diet leads to shorten lifespans and physical deformities like pyramiding carapaces. Because of their housing requirements we rate them only for experienced keepers. Unfortunately we are called to rescue sulcatas way too often after they reach adult sizes and they are very hard to place! Most calls for a sulcata rescue are placed on hold while we attempt to locate a proper facility to place them. If you are a home owner with the space and willingness to accept a huge tortoise into your family please contact us at once to be placed on a list for sulcata rescues, before our next call.

    sulcata sulcata sulcata sulcata sulcata
    • Heated Outdoor Enclosure
    • Diet:Herbivorous
    • Sexual Maturity Age:10
    • Lifespan:50+ yrs.?
    • 5

    Musk Turtle (Stermotherus oderatus) +

    The Common Musk turtle (most all species of Musk turtles) are very small and easy to care for water turtles. Easy to identify with their pointed beaks and oval carapaces and a joy to watch swimming because of the amount of time they spend underwater. Musk turtles can hold their breath longer than most turtles so they spend a lot of time foraging the bottom of the tank and scaling the vertical rocks. Musk turtle are always swimming and therefore don't spend as much time basking as most turtles. They can be kept along with some fish species (fast ones) as they are mostly insectivorous (insect eating) when young and as adults become more molluscivorous (snail eating). We recommend feeding Total Turtle pellets as the main food source.

    musk musk musk musk musk
    • Aquarium Set-Up
    • Diet:Pellets
    • Sexual Maturity Age:10
    • Lifespan:+ yrs.?
    • 1

      Red Eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) +

      The Red-Eared Slider is the single most popular turtle in the pet trade! Their popularity has earned them the distinction "most commonly feral turtle populations in the world". The pet industry has exported these for years and so many have been released into the wild from uneducated pet owners that they know have established feral populations on every continent except Antarctica. Red Eared Sliders are easy to care for but their large adult size requires a pond and not an aquarium to live in, this is the main reason we suggest them as inappropriate as a beginner turtle. When turtles get large owners release them into the wild not realizing the damage they can do to native populations. The majority of our rescue calls are for placing Red Eared Sliders and they are very hard to place! If you are interested in any size RES please adopt through the STTC ! If you have a fenced yard with a pond on it and are willing to except RES please contact us immediately as we get way more calls then we can accept for rescues.

      RES RES RES RES RES
      • Outdoor Pond Set-Up
      • Diet:Herbivorous
      • Sexual Maturity Age:6
      • Lifespan:60 + yrs?
      • 5

      There are over 300 species of turtles and tortoises, and many species not shown here could also be great for beginers. What we have listed here are the ones that we receive the most call about. The most important question to ask yourself before acquiring a pet turtle is what is there native habitat like and how closely can you replicate it.

      Turtle or Tortoise?
      IdCheckList
      Male or Female?
      Male or Female
      Shell Anatomy
      Shell Anatomy