If you are considering jumping into reptile ownership and like the idea of keep a turtle, you may first be asking yourself, “Are turtles reptiles or are they amphibians?” The short answer to that is that they are both.

With that in mind, something important to keep in mind if you are considering buying a pet turtle is that even though there are some particular species that are fairly easy to care for, they can still be a little tricky. Unlike tortoises they are amphibious and require plenty of water.

But, don’t let that turn you away from a very rewarding experience.

Turtles make really fun pets as they are generally much more stout than some other reptiles. One big reason for that of course is they carry a protective shell around with them.

The Top Starter Species

There are many options for new pet turtle owners, but these five are some of the more common and beginner friendly turtle species.

1. Red Eared Slider

Without a doubt the red eared slider is the most common pet turtle. In fact, they have become so commonplace that it isn’t unheard of to see a few of them given away for free at reptile expos, though you shouldn’t expect that to be the case at all of them.

What makes them a popular pet is that they are not too hard to care for and depending on where you live you may even be able to leave them outside for most of the year. They are also very active so they are fun to watch. All of the reasons above are why they are largely considered to be the best turtle for beginners. 

These cute turtles can live for up to thirty years in captivity and they do eat quite a lot, so make sure you are in it for the long haul and have enough disposal income to properly feed them for a long time.

PROS: Fairly calm temperament, easy to find, low cost (for the pet turtle)

CONS: Adults should have a larger tank, can easily outlive an adult keeper

2. Eastern Box Turtle

Another popular pet turtle is the Eastern box turtle. Though mush shyer than red eared sliders, box turtles and friendly and super cute.

While most turtles are aquatic, this box turtle is not. That is why it’s incredibly beginner friendly. However, like red eared sliders you can house them either indoors or outdoors depending on the climate of where you live.

As easy as this species is to take care of, they do have a couple of challenges. First, you need to be very careful about their diet as they have no problem munching on almost anything you present them, healthy or not. Second, an Eastern box turtle can easily outlive a human so be prepared to keep them around for a long time if you plan on getting one.

PROS: Easy to find in pet shops, inexpensive (for pet), fairly friendly

CONS: Will outlive you if cared for properly, not fond of handling

3. African Sideneck Turtle

Moving up the chain of difficulty a little, but still often considered a species that is suitable for a beginner if the African sideneck turtle. They are widely known because they appear to have a human-like smile.

Aside from their adorable smile they have a couple of distinct differences from other species. One is that their diet is meat based, so they need chicken and beef instead of insects. Another difference is that they cannot completely retract their necks.

As an active aquatic species they need a good sized tank to swim about and explore. They also have long lifespans and can live upwards of fifty years, so make sure you have both the space needed and long-term view if you plan on getting one of these cuties.

PROS: Fairly inexpensive in stores, unique appearance

CONS: Easily stressed

4. Western Painted Turtle

The species as a whole are simply considered painted turtles, but the Western painted turtle is a particular subspecies that has won its way into many homes as a pet. They get their “Western” moniker due to mostly being found in the western part of the United States and Canada.

They tend to make OK pets for a couple of reasons. First, they tend to keep to themselves so for perspective owners that don’t want a turtle that needs lots of attention, they are great. Second, they are fairly easy to take care of once you get their living space setup requiring only feeding and some basic cleaning regularly.

These painted turtles are semi-aquatic so you do need housing that’s ample in size, which can be problematic for some people. And regarding lifespans, you should be starting to see a pattern. Western painted turtles can live for up to fifty years.

PROS: Easy to find in shops, smaller than many other beginner friendly turtles but still require a tank size in the larger range

CONS: Not great if you want something you can handle

5. Razor-backed Musk Turtle

The smallest turtle on this list while also being one of the cutest pet turtles you can own despite its ferocious sounding name, razor-backed musk turtles round out the top five. They only grow on average to about six inches in length.

That smaller size allows the owner to save some space on housing and that makes this species potentially possible for those who do not have the room for something like an African Sideneck. You still need to ensure they have enough room so get the right tank size. They are also not the pickiest eaters and don’t require anything you can’t readily find at most pet stores.

Razor-backed musk turtles tend to have shorter lifespans than the other turtles listed above, averaging at around twenty years. Depending on your point of view that could either be seen as a pro or a con.

PROS: Does not require a wide temperature gradient in their enclosure

CONS: Can be very snappy


Any of these five options should be OK for beginners as they aren’t overly difficult to care for. That’s why that are frequently considered the best pet turtles for those new to turtles and tortoises. Some others that might fit the bill as well are false map turtles and yellow-bellied sliders.

Each species has their own unique needs, so beginner friendly or not make sure to do plenty of research before making your purchase. Due to their aquatic nature you will absolutely want to have their aquarium or tank figured out before you take your new buddy home.

Whatever choice you settle on it is sure to be correct if you spend a lot of time caring for and enjoying your new turtle pet.

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