12 Turtle Species That Stay Small

Turtles make excellent pets, very adorable, easy to care for, and more interactive than other pets such as fish. But turtle lovers sometimes wish their giant tortoise could return to being an adorable little pet (though that’s not a big change).

While it’s true that tortoises require less work than dogs and cats, small, rapidly growing baby turtles can be difficult to manage. Also, large tortoises grow out of your lap and their habitat, so you will need to change their tank frequently.

Fortunately, nature has provided a variety of turtles that stay small forever for you to choose from. Read and discover!

12 pet turtles that stay small

1. Red Ear Slider Turtle

red eared slider on water_Piqsels

  • Age: 20-40 years old

  • Size: 6-12 inches

  • Tank Size: 50 gallons

  • Price: $20-$50

The Red Eared Slider turtle is native to North America, and they are one of the most common turtles kept as pets. However, what sets these reptiles apart from the rest are the conspicuous red patches around their ears, giving them their “red-eared” name and appearance.

One good thing about this pet is that it is strong and leans on the low maintenance side more than other tortoises. They still need work and dedication like any other breed.

The Red Eared Slider is mostly omnivore, which means you’ll never run out of eating options. Also, they are brightly colored and don’t like much handling.

2. Spotted Tortoise

spotted turtle_Piqsels

  • Age: 26-50 years old

  • Size: 3-5 inches

  • Tank Size: 20 to 33 gallons

  • Price: $75-$100

You can find Spotted tortoises in Southeastern Canada and the Northeastern United States. They are attractive and small pets, measuring only 5 inches.

The Spotted Tortoise gets its name from the creamy yellow spots that cover its head and its black or dark brown shell. You may find some with red, orange, or yellow spots on their bellies as well.

Tortoises hate handles, but are not a sighted species. These reptiles are grumpy and easy to handle.

The spotted turtle is every beginner’s dream turtle pet!

3. Mud Turtle

mud turtle_Pixabay

  • Age: 25-50 years old

  • Size: Up to 5 inches

  • Tank Size: 75 gallons

  • Price: $60-$120

This list would not be complete without the mud tortoise, which only grows to 4-5 inches as an adult. Mud turtles are native to Africa, Mexico and parts of North America.

There are four species of mud turtles, with the famous mud and mud turtles measuring about 4.5 inches at maturity.

The other two, the Yellow Mud and Sonoran Mud tortoises, sometimes grow to six inches. And no, the name doesn’t mean that their cage will be muddy.

4. musk turtle

musk turtle_Vince Adam_Shutterstock

  • Age: 40-60 years

  • Size: 3-4 inches

  • Tank Size: 20 to 29 gallons

  • Price: $30-$85

Musk tortoises are usually small, with females being smaller than males. You can mostly find them in the eastern part of North America.

Unlike most turtles, Musk does not like brackish water or water that has a salt content between fresh water and sea water. These reptiles also hide in the mud during the winter.

Musk tortoises are avid climbers, so be careful if you keep them in an aquarium. They can easily get out of their tank.

This turtle is definitely the best choice if you want a pet that stays small forever and can live up to 60 years!

5. Reeve’s Tortoise

reeves turtle_Felix Wolf_Pixabay

  • Age: 10-20 years old

  • Size: 4-9 inches

  • Tank Size: 50 gallons

  • Price: $50-$80

You may know Reeve’s tortoise as the Chinese Pong tortoise. This species of turtle is popular in the pet world, especially in China, Japan and Taiwan.

Reeve’s tortoises prefer calm or slow-moving water such as lakes, ponds, and rivers with plenty of vegetation and basking.

Although these reptiles may not be as colorful (especially black or dark gray) as others on the list, turtle keepers adore them for their charming and docile demeanor. Plus, they stay small forever!

You may want to keep an eye on the shell. This is because these turtles are susceptible to various diseases that can be seen in their shells.

6. swamp turtle

bog turtle_Jay Ondreicka_Shutterstock

  • Age: 20-30 years old

  • Size: 3-4 inches

  • Tank Size: 40 gallons

  • Price: $250-$450

You can’t talk about a tiny pet turtle that stays small forever without mentioning Little Swamp. The longest Bog tortoise measures only up to four inches! Its small size makes it very popular in the US, especially among beginners.

You can find these reptiles near marshes and marshes in the Eastern US You can also find some grazing in wet fields among cattle.

Little Bogs are usually black or dark brown with a yellow band around their neck.

7. Desert Box

Desert box turtle_Creeping Things_Shutterstock

  • Age: 30-50 years old

  • Size: 4-5 inches

  • Tank Size: 30 to 50 gallons

  • Price: $50-$400

Desert Box turtles break the narrative that turtle lovers living in dry environments cannot have such pets. Unlike most turtle breeds, the Desert Box species does not require high humidity. Also, they live longer and are famous for their yellowish color.

The Desert Box turtle is one of the two subspecies of the Terrapene Ornata turtle. Unfortunately, they can be very expensive to buy as they run up to $400.

8. Florida Softshell Tortoise

Florida Softshell_Andy Lidstone_Shutterstock

  • Age: 20-30 years old

  • Size: 6-12 inches (men)

  • Tank Size: 125 gallons

  • Price: $15 to $40

You can guess from the name that this turtle is native to the state of Florida. Florida Softshells are almost entirely aquatic, although you can occasionally find them on land.

If you want a tortoise that’s a little different than usual, find Florida Softshell. As the name suggests, this reptile lacks one feature that is common in almost all turtles – a hard shell. Instead, they are flat, with the skin covering the shell, making them resemble pancakes.

You may want to choose a male Florida Softshell Turtle. The reason, males and females are very different in size range.

The males stay small forever, around six inches, while the females are big and bulky and can grow up to 1.5 feet!

9. Diamondback Terrapins

Diamondback terrapin_Jay Ondreicka_Shutterstock

  • Age: 25-40 years old

  • Size: 5-7 inches

  • Tank Size: 75 gallons

  • Price: $200-$450

You’ll find that Diamondback Terrapins are not as small as the turtles listed, but they are still considered descendants of small turtles. Males measure up to 5 inches, with females measuring up to 7 inches.

Diamondback Terrapins are hardy, although susceptible to fungal infections and shell disease. You should put extra time and space in their care (they belong to the upper spectrum of small turtles).

10. Razorback musk tortoise

razorback musk turtle_Ryan M. Bolton_Shutterstock

  • Age: 20-25 years old

  • Size: 5-6 inches

  • Tank Size: 30 gallons

  • Price: $25-$100

Musk tortoises are generally small, and hard to believe, the Razorback is the largest of them all. The breed is almost entirely aquatic, although it occasionally basks in the sun.

Razorback Musks are shy and do not bite or become aggressive. However, they prefer it if you don’t handle them and just watch them from a distance.

And, they are fun to watch, especially since they can walk along the bottom of the tank with ease.

11. African Sideneck Tortoise

African side-neck turtle_Megan Czarnocki, Shutterstock

  • Age: 25-50 years old

  • Size: 7-12 inches

  • Tank Size: 75 gallons

  • Price: $50-$100

African sidenecks are easy to care for and thrive in captivity. This turtle has an infectious smile, thanks to its mouth that curves upwards in a “smile”.

African sideneck tortoises are native to freshwater rivers and lakes in Africa and Madagascar. They are uniquely cute and pride themselves on the ability to make their heads turn to the side.

These reptiles are very interesting to look at, especially when they use their long neck to turn when they are on their back.

12. Yellow Belly Slider

Yellow Belly Slider_Chikilino, Pixabay

  • Age: 30-40 years old

  • Size: 5-13 inches

  • Tank Size: 75-100 gallons

  • Price: $25-$75

Here’s another small, long-lived pet tortoise that is a great addition to any household. The Yellow-Bellied Slider is closely related to the Red Eared Slider and is also colorful.

These reptiles can be distinguished by their various shell colors, including green, brown, and black with yellow stripes. The belly is usually deep yellow with black markings, hence the name.

These sliders tend to be more active during the day, where they also spend most of their time sunbathing. Also, don’t like a lot of handling.

You get this pet, and you will have a small, friendly, and less needy pet in your home for a long time.



Tortoises are generally low maintenance, but raising and caring for a giant and bushy tortoise is not as simple as it seems. You have to replace their tank more often, which is expensive and too much work.

Get yourself a pet that will stay small forever, and the biggest problem you can face is making sure it is well fed and growing. So, which one is your favourite!

Featured Image Credit: Piqsels

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