The biggest problem people run into when keeping turtles, especially those like the Red-Eared Slider, are that they often have a hard time providing a large-enough tank or pond for the turtles.
By choosing a smaller species, you can avoid that issue.
That’s why, when it comes to the best turtle breeds for beginners, I recommend a couple of aquatic turtles that may be small but can still pack a punch in the turtle-keeping hobby.
Here are the 2 turtle breeds for beginners that I recommend:
- Stinkpot Turtle
- 3-Striped Mud Turtle
Small in Size, Big in Personality
Most people say their turtles have a lot of personality, and the Stinkpot and the 3-Striped Mud are no exception.
Some of them will become bolder over time, regularly begging for food or even engaging in people watching.
Yours will probably 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 open until you put them back down.
Now let’s take a closer look at these turtles and learn more about them…
2 Turtle Breeds for Beginners
#1 Turtle Breed for Beginners: Stinkpot Turtle (Common Musk)
Reaching no more than 4–5 inches as adults, Stinkpot Turtles are known to explore the bottom of their tank for those precious food bits.
Unlike many other turtles, Stinkpots don’t bask often. If they’re basking more than usual, it could be a sign of illness.
These 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).
Housing for a Stinkpot Turtle
- 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 — 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.
Water and Basking Temperatures for a Stinkpot Turtle
The water temperature should be:
- 70–75 F for adults
- 80 F for hatchlings
Maintain the basking area in the high 80s to low 90s F. Having a large basking area allows for a range of these temperatures.
Heating and Lighting for a Stinkpot Turtle
- 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.
Stinkpot Turtle Diet
Predominantly carnivorous, Stinkpots will accept:
- Mazuri Aquatic Turtle Pellets
- Ghost shrimp
Stinkpot Turtle Behavior
Stinkpots have powerful jaws. Although you can house them 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 shy but also bold enough to beg for food — it will depend on the individual.
- Most don’t enjoy handling, 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.
#2 Turtle Breed for Beginners: 3-Striped Mud Turtle
Coming in at 3–4 inches SCL, with females being slightly larger, the 3-Striped Mud Turtle is named for the 3 lines down its carapace. These turtles have distinctive lines on the head as well.
This is another small turtle with a big set of jaws meant for crushing snails.
- They can bite, but don’t let that take away from this little beast’s value.
- 3-Striped Mud Turtles 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 since the hatchlings are so frail. You may have to do some searching online for breeders or reputable vendors to find one.
Housing for a 3-Striped Mud Turtle
- A 20-gallon tank is the minimum for 1 turtle. 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 and Basking Temperatures for a 3-Striped Mud Turtle
The water temperature should be:
- Mid- to high 70s F for adults
- 80 F for hatchlings
The basking temps should be in the high 80s to low 90s F.
Heating and Lighting for a 3-Striped Mud Turtle
Please heat lamp and UVB fixtures above the basking area.
3-Striped Mud Turtle Diet
Mazuri, Reptomin and cichlid pellets are all great staples to keep in rotation.
Meatier foods include:
- Small crayfish
Mud turtles may not take much vegetable matter, but you can offer it in the form of algae wafers and pellets made for tortoises. Also, try blanching zucchini or squash for them once in a while.
3-Striped Mud Turtle Behavior
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 about aquarium gravel:
- Use sand or gravel large enough that the turtles can’t swallow any of it.
- Small pebble-sized gravel has caused intestinal blockages in turtles. This usually requires a costly trip to the veterinarian and possibly 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 for Beginners
- 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 20 years or more.
- Don’t buy any turtle on impulse. Set up the tank and test the temperatures at least a few days before getting turtles. 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 vets. You can also ask a local reptile club.
What to read next:
Here’s how to care for aquatic turtles — including instructions for creating the perfect turtle habitat. See the article