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Small Pet Turtles: 7 Little Shelled Cuties That Will Have You Saying “Aww”

Are you looking for the tiniest and cutest pet? Click this list of the best small pet turtles you can choose from for your next little friend.


The tiniest pets are the cutest – no arguments there. These tiny pets are irresistible and usually very sweet. And the ones that take the cake are definitely the small pet turtles.

These pets have been so popular for so long that even governments have stepped in to control the sales of these cute little companions. In the United States, there are laws in place that forbids pet shops from selling turtles under four inches. This happened after selling baby turtles through mail orders became rampant in 1975.

Regulations were set in place after these pets became popular for small children. And given the size of baby turtles, salmonella cases rose as the kids put them in their mouths.

This law saved thousands of baby turtles and their population from going extinct. This means that for the thousands who want to own one of these turtles now, you’re in luck.

Just consider their safety and well-being before you choose to own them. Now that you know the history behind small turtle pets, here are seven of the cutest small pet turtles you can choose from.

  1. Mississippi Mud Turtle (4 inches)
  2. Bog Turtle (3-4 Inches)
  3. Common Musk Turtle (2-4.5 inches)
  4. Michigan Spotted Turtle (3-4 inches)
  5. Reeve’s Turtle (6 inches) 
  6. Diamond Back Terrapins (5-9 inches)
  7. Desert Box Turtle (4-6 Inches)

Let’s discuss each of these cute turtles in detail.

Mississippi Mud Turtle (4 inches)

Small Pet Turtles: 7 Little Shelled Cuties That Will Have You Saying “Aww”

Despite its name, this small turtle specie is more common in Missouri and Oklahoma. However, their habitats are known to span everywhere, from New York to Texas.

Their colors are muted, and most of them are either black or brown. However, they are known for a slightly bright yellow underside. They also have one or two distinct yellow stripes on the sides of their heads. This makes them easier to identify and compare to the rest of the turtles who live in their natural habitats.

These small pet turtles can sometimes grow to eight inches. However, this is very rare. They generally stay within 3.5 to 4 inches in length. Their hatchlings are much smaller too. Newborn Mississippi Mud Turtles are born as one-inch cuties, so they usually take some time before they can be bought.

As pets, Mississippi Mud Turtles need a terrarium or tank that mimics their natural environments. Small adult turtles need at least a 40-gallons aquarium per inch of adult turtle. Based on this criterion, a 6-inch-long adult mud turtle needs 36 square inches of floor space to maneuver around. 

Long aquariums are better for them too. These turtles are known to enjoy roaming around and usually travel often. 

The aquarium floor should either be covered in large rocks or bare. However, the rocks need to be bigger than what the Turtle could fit in its mouth. These rocks need to be disinfected twice a month as well.

They need their aquarium to have an extra canister of clean water. The water is best if it is between 74°F and 84°F. Experienced owners also recommend using a submersible heater to maintain the temperature.

When it comes to basking lamps, it is necessary. It is best to place this light source near a rock or a log somewhere in the tank. Keep the basking area around 85°F and 92° to keep your little turtle comfortable.

The Mississippi mud turtle will eat aquatic animals like mussels, crayfish, and insects in the wild. They also eat certain plants and even small amphibians if they ever find the need to. 

To ensure a balanced diet for your small turtle, they can be fed worms, small feeder fish, and insects. Having these three as part of their regular diet will keep them healthy. They can also be fed commercial food, but it’s best to research them well before giving them to your turtle.

Bog Turtle (3-4 Inches)

Small Pet Turtles: 7 Little Shelled Cuties That Will Have You Saying “Aww”

The name of this turtle matches its personality well. After all, just like every other turtle, it loves staying in bogs.

This small pet turtle enjoys bogs in two locations in the United States. The northern population of Bog Turtles usually lives around Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey. On the other hand, the southern Bog Turtles live around Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina. 

If you plan to choose this turtle, you need to know that its population is close to endangered status because of the black market sales of these turtles. Only buy them from reputable breeders that only sell captive-bred bog turtles. 

These small turtles are incredibly popular because they are the tiniest indigenous turtles in the United States. Interestingly, The largest Bog Turtle ever found was only 4.5 inches long.

Most of them grow to 3 inches, with the larger ones barely breaking 4 inches in length. This turtle is a fantastic choice if the size of the turtle is the most important factor for you. 

Bog turtles are easily recognizable because of the yellow or orange splotches on both sides of their temples. Their shells are either brown or black and occasionally have red or brown streaks. 

The habitat they will need if they’re kept as pets is not complicated. However, male turtles should be kept separate from others as they are known to be very territorial. Otherwise, these small pet turtles are adaptable and will eat almost anything. 

If you want to breed these turtles, experts say it is easily done, even in captivity. Just maintain a clean environment for them in their mating seasons, and they should be able to reproduce well.

The water inside the tank needs to be heated to 65°F and 75°F, while their basking spot needs to be between 85°F and 90°F.

These small pet turtles are omnivores. It would be best if you gave them a range of proteins like worms and insects and occasional treats of vegetables and leafy greens to keep them healthy. They also enjoy the occasional strawberry treat. 

Common Musk Turtle (2-4.5 inches)

The common musk turtles are usually very small. The females are also slightly smaller than the males. They live all over eastern North America and thrive in different areas. However, unlike most turtles, they do not like salty water and prefer to spend winters burrowed in layers of mud. 

The small pet turtles are great climbers and are known to climb trees often. So, if you plan to keep them in an aquarium, take extra precautions to ensure they cannot climb the sides of their tanks.

Unlike most other turtles, they do not need deep water, and about 18 inches should be enough for this specie. You do not need to add substrate to their enclosures, but large gravel would be a welcome addition to make their aquariums more aesthetically pleasing.  

In the wild, the common musk turtle often eats small invertebrates like mollusks and snails. And as pets, they should be few with worms, crickets, and cut-up fish to mimic their natural diets.

Unlike others, this small pet turtle does not need to bask often, but they still like having the option. A basking spot of around 90°F should be enough to keep them happy. 

Like small pet turtles, you should include a UVB lamp in their enclosures to help them absorb nutrients better. Keep their water at 72°F to 78°F as well.

Michigan Spotted Turtle (3-4 inches)

Beauty is in this turtle’s dictionary. The spotted Turtle’s size ranges from 1 to 5 inches. While it is common to see them as small one-inch cuties, they usually grow three times that size by adulthood.

As the name suggests, the Michigan Spotted Turtle is commonly found in Michigan. But its natural habitat ranges all over the eastern coast of the united states. 

This turtle has a distinct yellow polka dot pattern along its back. These spots will fade as they reach adulthood and settle on a slightly faded yellow hue once they stop growing. It is also possible to find Michigan Spotted Turtles without spots, but they are rare. 

This turtle is very pleasing to look at. It has a wide and smooth carapace in brown or black. This shell color is often perfect for young Michigan Spotted Turtles’ bright yellow spots. 

This turtle also has no problem adjusting to captivity. And they are considered great pets for new turtle owners.

This turtle is semi-aquatic and needs at least 20 gallons of water in its tank. However, it is recommended by some to have a larger aquarium to allow the turtle to move around as it pleases.

The water in the aquarium needs to be around 4 to 6 inches deep, based on the size of your small pet turtle. The water also needs to stay between 75°F and 85°F. An ambient air around 82°F to 86°F will be great for a Michigan Spotted Turtle. Meanwhile, the basking spot should be around 88°F.

As for their food, they enjoy eating pre-killed adult mice, fresh fish, worms, pink mice, crickets, and other foods from your local pet store. 

Reeve’s Turtle (6 inches) 

Small Pet Turtles: 7 Little Shelled Cuties That Will Have You Saying “Aww”

The Reeve’s Turtle is slightly larger than the ones that came before it in this list. They are also known as the Chinese pond turtle. Their natural habitats are thought to be China, North and South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. 

They are probably the easiest ones to find and buy. Not only do they breed well in captivity, but they are also very common between May and September when the temperature is hotter.

These small pet turtles like to stay in calm waters in the wild. They have been seen in slow-moving waters like quiet marshes, swaps, and even flooded rice paddies. 

However, despite enjoying the water, they are not great swimmers. They do best in enclosures with shallow water. But you need to ensure that the water is deep enough so they can right themselves if they find themselves on their backs. A good rule when measuring water is that it must be at least 1.5 times deeper than its shell. So, nine-inch deep waters should be sufficient if you have a six-inch turtle. 

The Reeve’s Turtle needs a large habitat to ensure that they get enough exercise. Remember, these are larger than the others on the list and are the most active. 

One Turtle should be in a 50-gallon aquarium, and each additional turtle should add 15 gallons of water more. However, if you get these Turtle as a baby, 10 to 15-gallon tanks will be enough to keep it satisfied. 

The basking area for this small pet turtle is a must. They like their habitats to be warmer than most, and they love to sunbathe. Keep their basking area around 85°F to 95°F. You also need to provide them with a consistent ambient temperature of 75°F to 85°F with 79°Fto 80°F water. Aside from the heat requirement, you also need to provide them shade and a place to hide. 

These turtles are also known for their territorial nature. While they can get aggressive with other common mush turtles, they rarely cause significant damage. 

With all that being said, this is probably best left to more experienced small pet turtle owners. 

Diamond Back Terrapins (5-9 inches)

Small Pet Turtles: 7 Little Shelled Cuties That Will Have You Saying “Aww”

There are seven subspecies of this small pet turtle. They all live along the east and south coast of the United States. Texas is also where their population I most heavily concentrated. 

This Turtle is relatively more popular than other turtles on the list. Their size is quite different for each sex, with the female turtles growing almost twice the length of their male counterpart. 

They have a unique look and a high-contrast shell. It has yellow on range legs while the skin tends to be grey or white. 

The easiest way to determine their sex is by looking at their tails. The male’s tail is larger and wider, while the female has a much shorter tail. In contrast, males are observed to mature more quickly than females. 

This makes them very tricky to breed, and you should consult an expert before trying to get your Diamond Black Terrapin pregnant. 

Their personalities vary depending on sex as well. Male turtles are mostly docile why the females can be more aggressive. The females also tend to bite. Given their large size, you must be more careful when handling these turtles.

Adult Diamond Black Terrapins cannot be crowded in the same tank as they would probably bite each other. Expect to use a 40-gallon aquarium for two Terrapins at most. 

Some people prefer using Rubbermaid bins for these turtles instead of aquariums. The water must be filtered and circulated from around 76°F to 78°F. It would be best if you also gave them an 80°F to 90°F basking space. 

As for their food, experienced small pet turtle owners usually rely on commercial turtle food for their diet. But you can also mimic their natural diets by giving them shrimp and other shellfish. 

Their water requirement is more unusually cute than the others on the list. They live in brackish water and need saltwater in their tanks to prevent their shells from rotting. You can make the water yourself by mixing one tablespoon of table salt per gallon of water in their tanks. However, it would be more accurate if you tried to mimic the natural buoyancy of saltwater around 1.014.

While captive-bred terrapins may not need salt water to survive, you still need to make sure that their shells do not rot. Add salt to their water when you see signs of shell rot. You also need to keep a dish of fresh water for drinking in their enclosure. 

Desert Box Turtle (4-6 Inches)

Small Pet Turtles: 7 Little Shelled Cuties That Will Have You Saying “Aww”

Unlike the others on this list, this is a land-dwelling tortoise. Six subspecies are native to North America and mainly found in warmer regions. Because of their docile nature, it didn’t take long before they became common pets. 

These tortoises are small and have yellowish-brown markings throughout their bodies and shell. They also have long nails that seem better fit for walking than swimming. 

For their habitats, a tank is ideal for box turtles. You will need a substrate for its cage to provide it with humidity and a place for your pet to dig. You can also add soil and peat moss to keep the humidity ideal. 

As for a basking light, you must leave it on for 12 hours daily to mimic the Turtle’s natural habitat. Heat stones are also essential for the tanks. It would be best if you also left a water dish in the tank to keep them hydrated.

As for the food, they eat just about anything. You can feed them various plants and small animals without worrying about adverse effects.

Despite how docile they are, only handle your desert box turtle when necessary to keep them stress-free. 

Benefits of having a small pet turtle. 

Other than the fact that they are adorable, there are several other benefits that you might also like about owning small pet turtles. Here are a few of them:

They are very affordable

While they no longer cost pennies to buy, they are still very cheap. And since you won’t need a giant terrarium to keep them happy, you don’t need to spend much to own one.

Less work to care for

They do not require extensive attention to care for. Depending on your choice, they either need zero to minimal substrate cleaning. You only need to change their filter systems once a week. And you only need to feed them every two or three days. 

If your basking lamp also has a timer, you won’t have much left to do to keep them happy and healthy.

Very easy to feed

While most reptiles and amphibians are known for being difficult to feed since they need specific ratios of nutrients in their diets, turtles are much easier. If you feed them enough food with the nutrients they need, they will certainly thrive. 

However, they will eat just about anything, so do your research and consult your veterinarian before giving them a bite of whatever it is you found. 

The small turtles avoid

While it may seem logical to go to your local bog or river and pick a small turtle up on your way home, this is not a good idea. Similarly to the turtles usually sold on beaches, taking home a wild turtle will never be a good idea. These are better suited to living outdoors and their natural habitats than small enclosures.

If you ever come across one visiting places near their habitats, it is best not to buy them as wild turtles are known to be nervous and aggressive when placed in tanks.

If you want a small pet turtle for yourself, opt for captive-born turtles from certified breeders. These are better suited for tank life and are generally calm and well-adjusted for home environments. 


Small turtles are not as small as you think they are. While they may seem cute while they’re new and young, they will eventually grow into a size deserving of their specie. They won’t stay one inch for long, but this is not a reason not to want them anymore when they do.

They are excellent small if you have the right attitude and proper habitat for them. While it may take some time to get used to carrying a turtle, it doesn’t diminish the sense of accomplishment you will feel when they grow to their adult sizes. And, honestly, even if they do, they are still not that big anyway.

These small pet turtles are amazing companions that, if taken care of well, will be a companion that you will share a huge portion of your life. They might not be as smart as dogs and cats, but they will form a bond with you. And, hopefully, you with them.