Other Animals

2 Turtle Breeds for Beginners

Some turtles don’t love being handled, but others may tolerate it. By: Rusty Clark

These aquatic turtles may be small, but they can still pack a punch in the turtle-keeping hobby.

Most turtles mentioned here are of more diminutive size when fully grown and will be much easier to house for most people. The primary issue people run into when keeping turtles, especially those like the Red-Eared Slider, often have a difficult time providing a large-enough tank or pond for them.

By choosing a smaller species, you can avoid that issue.

Small in Size, Big in Personality

Most people will attest that their turtles have personable qualities, and these species are no exception. Some of them will become bolder over time, regularly begging for food or even engaging in people watching.

Many like to forage during the day, walking along the bottom of the tank searching for uneaten food. Some dislike handling so much that they’ll hold their mouths in a gape until they are put down.

Some of these recommended turtles are also less destructive toward plants, allowing the keeper to grow a nice variety of freshwater plants. This will not just add aesthetic appeal to the aquarium but will help improve water quality.

Most of the turtle species mentioned are commonly available throughout the hobby. Message boards, forums and some online vendors are all great avenues to find them.

Stinkpot (Common Musk)

Reaching no more than 4–5 inches as adults, Stinkpots are known to explore the bottom of their tank for those precious food bits. Unlike many turtles, they don’t bask often. If they’re basking more than usual, it could be a sign of illness.

The small, carnivorous turtles are fun to watch, and they will benefit from either real or fake plants and driftwood within the tank. Provide plenty of hiding spots for them — this will help make them feel safe during acclimation.

Because Stinkpot hatchlings are so tiny and fragile, start with a juvenile that is at least 1 inch straight carapace length (SCL).


A 30-gallon aquarium is the minimum size for 1 adult. Bigger is better if you want to give them more room to roam.

Fill the tank with a maximum of 8–10 inches of water; these turtles like it shallow. Use a shallower depth of water for hatchlings because they aren’t yet strong enough swimmers.

Provide lots of climbing areas, since Stinkpots prefer to climb up to the surface rather than swim. Another important factor is water filtration. Turtles are messy, and to maintain decent water quality, strong filtration is needed.

Turtles start out tiny, but you’ll need to give them plenty of space in their aquarium as they grow. By: A. Drauglis

Water & Basking Temperatures

The water temperature should be:

  • 70–75 degrees F for adults.
  • 80 degrees F for hatchlings.

Maintain the basking area in the high 80s to low 90s. Having a large basking area allows for a range of these temperatures.

Heating & Lighting

Incandescent bulbs in dome fixtures work well as heat lamps.

UVB lighting made for reptiles needs to be suspended over the basking area and tank. This helps the turtles absorb calcium that is essential for shell and bone health.


Predominantly carnivorous, Stinkpots will accept Mazuri Aquatic Turtle Pellets, crickets, earthworms, ghost shrimp, bloodworms and krill.


Stinkpots have very powerful jaws, and while they can be housed with other turtles, they may become aggressive, causing serious injury if not separated quickly enough.

Stinkpots show the most aggression toward their own species. For the most part, these turtles aren’t interested in eating plants, and they’re not fast enough to hunt fish. This makes them a fairly peaceful turtle for a community setting.

They can be very shy or bold enough to beg for food. It will depend on the individual. Most will not enjoy handling at all, and they can deliver an extremely painful bite.

If you need to remove them from the tank for any reason, hold them from the very back end of the shell so they can’t reach you with their mouth.

3-Striped Mud

Coming in at 3–4 inches SCL, with females only being slightly larger, the 3-Stripe Mud turtle is named for the 3 lines down its carapace. They also have distinctive lines on the head as well. This is another small turtle with a very big set of jaws meant for crushing snails.

They can bite, but don’t let that deter from this little beast’s value.

They love to explore and forage in planted aquariums, walking and climbing over driftwood and rocks to search every nook and cranny. Observing this naturalistic scene is worth the patience it takes to care for a 3-Striped Mud.

Find turtles that are 2–3 inches SCL due to the fact that hatchlings are so frail. You may have to do some searching online for breeders or reputable vendors to find one.

Here’s a great example of a 3-Striped Mud turtle. By: Wikipedia


A 20-gallon tank is the minimum for 1 turtle, and larger will offer them extra space to roam around. It’s best to have a medium-sized land area with a bank that slopes into the water.

Keep the water depth around 6–8 inches, with plenty of driftwood and climbing structures throughout the tank. 3-Stripe Muds are not strong swimmers and need easy climbing access to the surface to prevent drowning.

Water & Basking Temperatures

The water temperature should be:

  • Mid- to high 70s for adults.
  • 80 degrees F for hatchlings.

The basking temps should be in the high 80s to low 90s.

Heating & Lighting

Heat lamp and UVB fixtures need to be placed above the basking area.


Mazuri, Reptomin and cichlid pellets are all great staples to keep in rotation. Meatier foods include crickets, earthworms, bloodworms, krill and small crayfish.

Mud turtles may not take much vegetable matter, but it can be offered in the form of algae wafers and pellets made for tortoises. Also, try blanching zucchini or squash for them once in a while.


Some Mud turtles will come begging for food as soon as they see you. Others will remain shy and take longer to trust their keeper.

They are a slow-growing species, and it’s best if they are full grown before being placed in a tank with any other turtles. They may get along with same-sized turtles but can show aggression toward other Muds.

There’s never a guarantee that they’ll be peaceful with other turtles, so be prepared to separate them should you observe any sign of trouble.

A quick note of caution regarding the use of aquarium gravel: Use sand or gravel large enough that the turtles cannot swallow any of it.

Small pebble-sized gravel has caused intestinal blockages in turtles. This usually requires a costly trip to the vet and possible surgery if the turtle can’t pass it. Avoid this by using aquarium-safe sand or large river stones.

Check out this adorable 3-Striped Mud Turtle:

Do’s and Don’ts With Pet Turtles

  • Do read everything you can about the species of turtle you decide to bring home. Plenty of resources cover the proper habitat, diet and health aspects of care for each species.
  • Do make sure you’re prepared to care for the animal for the duration of their life, which could be in excess of 20 years.
  • Don’t buy any turtle on impulse. Set up their tank and test the temperatures at least a few days before getting the turtle. You want them to be comfortable and safe.
  • Do have a vet experienced in caring for turtles lined up in case you need them. If your turtle becomes ill, someone who has experience treating turtles is vital. There are online directories of recommended veterinarians. You can also ask a local reptile club.

Additional Resources

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Angela DeRiso is a freelance writer passionate about the proper education, care and rescue of all animals we share our lives with. Her articles have been published on HealthyPets, Tampa Bay House Rabbit Rescue, The Suncoast Herpetological Society newsletter and more.

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