Turtles That Stay Small All Their Lives (+ FAQs)




Turtles That Stay Small

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Miniature turtles are one of the most adorable aquatic pets! They’re super popular among people who want a turtle, but don’t necessarily have enough space to house a huge one.

In this article, we will cover the smallest aquatic turtles you can own, as well as address any questions you may have, like if they’ll stay that small and cute forever! (Spoiler: Yes, they will!)

Some species of small turtles include the diamond-back terrapin, red-eared sliders, map, mud, musk, and box turtles. All of these are common choices for pets, as it’s easy to set up an aquarium for them and their small size makes them a little easier to care for.

So, if you’re considering getting a small turtle as a pet, but want to ensure that it’s the right decision, read on! – However, be sure that if you do make this choice to purchase one from a pet store or reputable breeder – Don’t go adopting one from the wild!

What Is the Smallest Water Turtle?

The smallest water / aquatic turtles to be kept in captivity are the mud and musk turtles. Although not the same species, these two turtles are very similar, both growing to the size of 3 to 5 inches at the age of maturity.

The smallest semi-aquatic turtle known to exist, however, is the bog turtle, which grows to lengths of 3.5 to 5 inches. However, bog turtles aren’t able to be housed in captivity.

Tiny non-aquatic turtles are the family of box turtles, with several different species all being equally as tiny as one another.

While the Desert box turtle, three-toed box turtle, and ornate box turtle are all pretty tiny, at lengths of 4 to 5 inches, it’s ultimately the Coahuilan box turtle that takes the prize as the smallest at a size range of 3 to 6 inches.

To make it even more impressive, the Coahuilan is also the only aquatic box turtle species, with the rest living on the land – so if you want to house a box turtle, you’ll want to opt for a terrarium over an aquarium (unless it’s a Coahuilan of course!)

What Is the Smallest Turtle to Keep?

While it’s great knowing which turtles are typically the smallest, if you’re reading this article, then it’s more than likely that you’re interested in which is the smallest species that you can actually keep.

If you don’t have much space in your home or a large tank but are in search of an aquatic turtle, then look no further than the spotted turtle!

These are one of the smallest species able to be kept in captivity and have a unique and beautiful appearance with their cute spotted shells.

Depending on the climate where you live, these turtles are also able to live happily outdoors – so long as it’s warm enough, but if not, you’ll want to provide them with heat lamps, basking platforms, and other places for them to sit and lounge around – they can’t live in the water 24/7.

For the spotted turtle, in particular, this is very important as they’re not very strong swimmers, so ensuring plenty of land space and shallow waters will provide an ideal habitat for them.

One thing that may put you off though could be their lifespan. If you choose to invest in a spotted turtle, it may easily outlive you!

This species can live to be over 100 years old, so they’re a huge commitment. You’ll need to ensure that you’re able to pass them on to someone who will provide them with the same care and love you do.

This species requires a good varied diet, with plenty of meat, greens, and fruit to keep them happy and healthy.

Do Certain Turtles Stay Small Forever?

Of course, if you adopt a cute tiny baby turtle, you may worry that it could quickly outgrow its home and no longer be cute and palm-sized. Well, worry not! If you adopt a Stinkpot Common Musk Turtle, these are unlikely to grow much bigger.

Despite being one of the smallest turtles in the world, this species makes surprisingly good pets for first-timers! So, if you’ve never owned a turtle before, they’re a great choice for you.

Other species of musk turtles include the flattened, razorback, and common loggerhead.

The Stinkpot grows to be around 3 to 5 inches in length, as with most small species, and actually stays that size forever! Much like mud turtles, musk turtles can live to be around 50 years old, making them a lifelong commitment.

These two species (mud and musk) can even be comfortably housed alongside one another, due to their similar care requirements and small size.

Before bringing any new pets home, however, you’ll want to be sure to research them fully as their care requirements depend on the species you ultimately choose to bring home.

You’ll want to ensure that before they arrive home, you have their setup complete, with the correct lighting, habitat requirements, filtration system, temperature, etc.

Their home should be big enough to allow them ample space to both swim and walk around, and you’ll want to provide them with the correct diet while maintaining a clean enclosure for them.

All in all, turtles are pretty simple to care for, so long as you thoroughly research them and are prepared for the task – which brings us to the next question…

Do Small Turtles Require Extra Care?

Turtles That Stay Small

In short: Not a huge amount.

The size of a turtle doesn’t necessarily equate to the amount of care they need – instead, this varies from species to species, but all in all, they’re typically quite simple to take care of. As I mentioned before, just be sure to double-check the requirements of the species you’re adopting.

The one main difference may be that as they’re smaller turtles, they’ll likely inhabit a smaller aquarium, meaning you may need to clean it more regularly.

However, they still require a minimum of around 30 gallons in order to live comfortably, so you’ll want to keep this in mind when choosing a new pet!

More important, though, is the difference in handling. The handling of small turtles is highly discouraged, and you should only be handling them as and when absolutely necessary.

Small turtles are also much more sensitive in comparison to larger animals, so you’ll want to be quite strict about their heating, lighting, and filtration setup in order to ensure that you’re providing them with adequate care.

This isn’t too difficult, though, and with a little practice, you may find that your new tiny turtle is actually a lot easier to care for than it first seemed.

How to Care For a Small Turtle


As the majority of turtles are omnivorous (meaning that they eat plants and meat), they generally have a similar diet to one another and can eat a huge variety of foods.

Some good choices for your pet turtle are insects, such as crickets, worms, snails, and slugs, leafy green vegetables (but never spinach or iceberg lettuce), or fruits such as cantaloupe, apples, and tomatoes.

Another excellent source of nutrients comes from dandelion leaves, which contain huge amounts of Vitamin A and calcium. These can be found as a weed in most people’s gardens, so it’s a cheap and easy way of adding variation to your turtle’s diet.

Just be sure that they haven’t been sprayed with any pesticides or insecticides before feeding them to your pet!

When your turtles are babies, you’ll want to feed them a more meat-heavy diet to help aid their growth. However, as they grow older, giving them less meat and more vegetables is very beneficial to their well-being.

Now, the way in which you feed your turtles is also incredibly important. This is especially true if you have aquatic turtles, which must be fed while they’re in the water.

Aquatic turtles typically prefer little bits of meat, fruits, vegetables, de-clawed crayfish, snails, salamanders, or small frogs, which are all great choices to add to your turtle’s diet.

You must always check with an aquatics specialist before feeding any new foods to your turtle to check that they are suitable for your species. However, never feed them anything you have caught in the wild.

Experts often recommend feeding your aquatic turtles feeder fish, like live goldfish once per week, as they love to chase their prey and this supplies them with not only a nutritious meal, but also mental stimulation and exercise.


Different species of turtles require different temperatures, depending on their natural habitat. Also, turtles that live only on land can retain body heat for much longer than aquatic species.

It should go without saying that this article should provide general guidance across all small turtle species. However, you should thoroughly research the species of your own turtle, and all their specifications that should be catered to before bringing him home.

A general rule though is to keep your turtle’s home at around 80 degrees during the day and at about 70 degrees at night.

For aquatic turtles, you’ll want to divide the tank into a swimming area and a terrestrial area, where your turtle can retreat to relax and sleep when he’s not swimming.

In this area, you should place a little shelter for him to hide away or sleep in, and some wood and rocks for him to lounge around on.

In their natural habitat, they typically live in swamps and muddy areas, where there is plenty of thick vegetation, like around lakes and ponds.

This means that when kept in captivity, they require a habitat with plenty of clean water, which is suitable for them to swim in, and dry land where they can rest.

They’ll also need a separate location for their drinking water. You won’t want your pet drinking water that may be contaminated with feces and decomposing bits of food.

For both of these water sources, natural spring water is the way to go, as tap water contains chlorine and fluorine, which can affect the water’s pH levels and be extremely harmful to your turtle.

Dry space is equally important for both aquatic and land turtles, as both types need to be able to bask under a basking lamp (or even just the sun depending on what climate you live in!).

Basking lamps, or sun lamps, mimic the sun’s natural UV rays, which can be extremely beneficial to your turtle, as it ensures they have enough Vitamin D to stay happy and healthy.

It’s a good idea to keep your sun lamp on a timer, which stays on for 12 hours and then switches off for 12 hours every evening so that your turtle can sleep.

Something else to keep in mind is the positioning of your heat lamp. If it’s positioned too low, it could burn your turtle.

Turtles that only live on land, in particular box turtles, love to dig. For this reason, you’ll want to set them up with plenty of dirt, soil, shredded paper, and even scraps of carpet to satisfy their hobby.

Lining the bottom of the tank with small rocks is also a good digging activity, and this one can work just as easily for aquatic turtles, too!

Land turtles also require plenty of moisture to be able to live happily, and while they might not swim, you’ll want to include plenty of rotting leaves and moist soil in their enclosure.


As previously mentioned, rocks, shelters, and wood are all practical choices of decor to add to your pet turtle’s new home.

Plants are also a great addition! Just be certain that you’re not introducing any species of plant that may be poisonous to your turtle. Chances are if your turtle sees something green and leafy, he’s going to want a taste of it!

Amazon swords, Anachris, Water Hyacinth, and Water Lettuce are all great ideas for turtle-safe plants that you can put in the turtle’s home.

Not only do these plants look nice, but they can also double up as a healthy part of your turtle’s balanced diet.

Overall, small turtles make great pets – no matter what species you choose! They’re all teeny tiny little bundles of grazing and lazing, that are sure to be your friend for a lifetime (provided you take good enough care of them of course!)

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