Home » 6 Turtles That Stay Small – [The Best Pets Based on our Experience]

6 Turtles That Stay Small – [The Best Pets Based on our Experience]

by Janet
6 Turtles That Stay Small 
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Turtles are among the longest leaving creatures on earth. Their kind has been around for many centuries. As a result, you’ll find various types scattered all over the world. They vary in colors, shapes, as well as sizes. Although they are all born small, some grow into large formidable sizes, while others stay small.

Among exotic animals to keep, turtles rank top on the list. You may, however, be concerned by their size, especially those that grow into large sizes. So, if you’re looking for a turtle pet, you’re most likely wonder which turtles remain small all their lives, that way they do not end up outgrowing their tank.

Well, here is a list of six types of turtles that are known to remain small even in adulthood:

  1. Musk Turtles

turtle species that stay small

Musk turtles are normally confused and grouped as mud turtles due to their shared similarities in appearance. The two are, however, very different from one another. For starters, Musk turtles are known to emit a foul-smelling musk to ward off predators or when they feel threatened, hence their name. The musk turtles are also distinguished by the down the center of the high-domed shells that are either brown or black.

The four species of musk turtles include common musk turtles, loggerhead musk turtles, razorback musk turtles, and flattened musk turtles. All four species are considered carnivorous but can sometimes eat plant food. All musk turtles are also amongst the smallest turtles in the world, growing only up to 2-4” at most 5” in length. Their size coupled with the fact that they are easy to care for, make them the best turtle pets for beginners who have no experience caring for turtles. Keep in mind however that they are sensitive and easily threatened, hence can be vicious when handles. For that reason, ensure you handle them with care.

  1. Mud Turtles

small turtle species

The name Mud turtles come from the fact that they prefer muddy habitats. Unlike musk turtles, their domes are slightly flatter, smoother, and olive green or dark brown. They also have yellow heads and eyes. They’re also slightly larger than musk turtles, growing to sizes between 4-6″. You’ll mainly find them in Africa as well as some parts of North America.

There are four main species of mud turtles, including common mud turtle, striped mud turtle, Sonoran mud turtle, and yellow mud turtle. The common and striped mud turtles are smaller and only grow up to 4-5″. The Sonoran and yellow mud turtles, however, can grow up to 6″. They are generally omnivores and can eat insects, worms as well as leafy vegetables. Like Musk turtles, mud turtles also make great pets for beginners with little experience caring for turtles.

  1. Diamondback Terrapin

small turtle

The diamondback terrapin is known for the distinctive diamond-shaped pattern on its shell. The ornate shell varies between grey to brown colors. The males and females differ in size with males growing up to 5″ while females can grow up to 7″. They mostly feed on shrimps, crickets, and mealworms and prefer brackish salty waters.

While they are exotic creatures, Diamondback terrapins don’t do well in captivity. They are prone to fungal infections and shell diseases. As a result, it takes a lot of experience to keep one as a pet. You would also need to invest a lot of time into caring for it. It is therefore not suitable pets for beginners or busy individuals. Additionally, they are highly endangered species therefore protected by strict laws. If you are to keep one as a pet, ensure you follow the right channels and acquire the necessary permits.

  1. Spotted Turtles

small turtle yellow spots

As the name suggests, spotted turtles are identified by the numerous yellow spots on their dark shells and bodies. Males are, however, observed to have fewer spots compared to females. Their dark shells are also smooth with no visible keels. They are freshwater turtles but aren’t great swimmers. For that reason, they prefer shallow waters. As omnivores, they’ll feed on both insects and vegetation. Their favorite food however is algae, aquatic plants, worms, and tadpoles.

They are relatively small in size and can grow up to 3.5-5″ at most 6. They are also relatively easy to care for as pets but may require someone with an intermediary level of experience in caring for turtles. They are also listed under endangered species; hence you should acquire the needed permits to keep them as pets.

  1. Eastern Box Turtles

common box turtles

Eastern box turtles are mostly found on the East Coast of America, hence their name. They are also called, common box turtles and have a sub-species called three-toed box turtles because they have three toes. They inhabit woodlands and grasslands and are considered to be mostly terrestrial. They also don’t have completely webbed feet, hence can’t swim for a long time. During the first five years, they tend to feed mainly on insects, fish, and worms. As they grow older, they transition to mainly eating plants and fungi.

As pets, they are quite common among children especially the three-toed box turtle. They are suitable for individuals with little to no experience since they are relatively easy to care for. Being mostly terrestrial, they do not need an aquarium to survive. Their enclosure should, however, not be completely dry. In terms of size, they tend to grow up to 3-6″ so you don’t have to worry about them outgrowing their enclosure.

  1. Reeve’s Turtles

Reeve’s Turtles

Also known as Chinese pond turtles, the Reeve’s turtles are originally from China and Japan as well as some parts of Korea and Taiwan. Their black or tan-colored rectangular shells have three keels running from the front to the back. They also have noticeable yellow broken lines on their heads and necks. They are not great swimmers hence prefer shallow waters and love to bask in the sun. As omnivores, they eat insects, worms, and snails as well as green leafy vegetables.

They are relatively small in size and grow up to at most 6″ in length. Reeve turtles are also prone to shell diseases, hence require you to invest time into caring for them. This makes them suitable pets for individuals with intermediary to expert experience caring for turtles. If properly cared for, the Reeve’s turtles can live up to 25 years.


Aside from the listed turtles, some are claimed to be small turtles but grow to lengths exceeding 7″. Such turtles include the Red-eared slider that can grow up to 14″ long. There are also the painted turtles that grow up to 10″ longs and wood turtles that grow up to 9″ in diameter. Such turtles start small but may eventually end up outgrowing their enclosure.

Keeping a turtle as a pet commonly requires a tank with a strong filtering system (size varies depending on the turtle) and UVB lighting. Keep in mind, however, that each turtle is different, some are terrestrial while others are aquatic, some prefer freshwater while others prefer salty or brackish water. You should therefore ensure you follow the specific guidelines in creating a proper habitat for them and feeding them the required diet. Also ensure that you have the rights permits for your pet turtles, especially those listed as endangered species.


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