12 Turtles That Stay Small | Only Up To Six Inches In Their Lifetime!

Jun 25, 2021

12 turtles that stay small

One of the oldest species ever to walk on earth, there are over 360 known species of turtles. They are also the oldest in the reptile group—more ancient than even snakes and crocodiles. Turtles range from the smallest of 4 inches to gigantic 9 ft. However, not all of them stay small and fit in your tank. Therefore, you need to plan and choose carefully to keep a turtle as a pet.

Here are 12 small turtles that will stay small for you to keep in your tank. They are Mississippi mud turtle, Bog turtle, Common Musk Turtle, Michigan Spotted Turtle, Reeves Turtle, Male Diamondback Terrapin, Three-toed Box Turtle, Eastern Box Turtle, Desert Box Turtle, Loggerhead Musk Turtle, Striped Mud Turtle, and Southern Painted Turtle.

Mississippi Mud Turtles (4-5 Inches)

  • Common name: mud turtle, eastern mud turtle
  • Scientific name: Kinosternon subrubrum hippocrepis
  • Adult Size: 4-5 inches
  • Life expectancy: 50 years

These turtles are native to ponds of the eastern United States. Famous for their small size, they’re one of the favorites among pet turtle owners. These turtles like to spend their fair share of time in both land and water. So, you need to ensure suitable quality habitats in both land and water. 

Appearance-wise, they are dark with irregular yellow stripes along the side of their neck and head. The lower part of the shell is usually yellow with a tint of brown. The tail has a claw-like appearance.

Like Musk turtles, mud turtles secrete foul odor when they fear danger. This might be a let-off for some turtle owners, but hey, it’s biology! However, many Mississippi mud turtle owners have never experienced pungent smells with a captive one.

Same as every other turtle, you need to keep these turtles in at least a 40-gallon tank. Make sure the tank is longer than taller. Their name suggests they like to live in a muddy environment; however, that need is optional. It is because mud turtles dig burrows under the mud while going to hibernation. And as the captive turtles won’t hibernate, you don’t have to put soil as a substrate.

Bog Turtles aka North American Bog Turtles (3-4 Inches) 

  • Common name: Bog Turtle
  • Scientific name: Glyptemys muhlenbergii
  • Adult Size: 3 to 4 inches
  • Life expectancy: 20 to 30 years in wild

One of the most endangered turtle species, bog turtles, are found in wetlands where there’s abundant opportunity for them to forage, nest, bask, hibernate and take shelter. They thrive in such places and will move away if the habitation isn’t well equipped for them.

The bog turtle is dark black or brown with a bright yellow, orange, or red blotch on its neck. They stay small and feed mainly on seeds, berries, earthworms, snails, insects, and other small vertebrates. Like other turtles, they are diurnal, active during the day, and sleeping at night.

It is similar in appearance to spotted turtles and painted turtles. However, it doesn’t have coloration on the upper part of the shell like the latter two.

For keeping a bog turtle as a pet, you need to make some adjustments in your tank. You need to replicate its natural home by including both terrestrial and pond areas inside your tank. Make sure you have shrubs and pebbles, offering plenty of hideouts for your pet. 

Common Musk Turtles (2-5 inches)

Common Musk Turtles

  • Common name: Common musk turtle, Stinkpot, Eastern musk turtle
  • Scientific name: Sternotherus odoratus
  • Adult Size: 2 to 5 inches
  • Life expectancy: 50 years and over

Known for releasing stinky odor, the common musk turtle is favored by many turtle lovers around the globe. They are found in the eastern regions of North America. Natives of the shallow order, they aren’t powerful swimmers. So, it is hard for them to escape from predators in the wild. This is why they release foul odor, which fends off predators and allows them to make their escape.

Common musk turtles differ in colors. They can be brown, grey and black. Baby musk turtles have pointed dome-like shells, which gradually flattens as they grow older. A baby musk turtle is carnivorous and will feed on various invertebrates like snails, insects, crayfish, clams, tadpoles, etc. But as they grow older, they will also incorporate plants into their diet. 

A common musk turtle owner should provide them with plenty of variation in diet. They shouldn’t be forced to rely only on pellets. Their nocturnal behavior is mainly seen when they are actively foraging during the onset of the evening. You should know that they are surprisingly good at climbing and can be found resting on trees. So make sure you aren’t providing them with some adventure in the tank. 

Michigan Spotted Turtles (3-4 inches)

Michigan Spotted Turtles

  • Common name: Spotted Turtle, Michigan Spotted Turtle, Clemmy
  • Scientific name: Clemmys Guttata
  • Adult Size: 3 to 4 inches
  • Life expectancy: Average 50 years, but some have lived over 100 years too.

Michigan spotted turtle, or commonly known as the spotted turtle, is the native of Michigan State. In a maze experiment conducted in the labs, it was found that these turtles are more intelligent than mice. Though the name depicts that they have dots on their carapace, some do not sport them while others have hundreds.

Talking of hundreds, some reports have claimed that they can live over 100 years of age. However, they require a high degree of care. They have petite bodies and high carapace with a dark cover and yellow spots. The plastron has a yellow/orange tint to it. Their shell is higher than other turtles and heavier too.

In the wild, the spotted turtle is an active hunter. They feed on crustaceans, worms, and every sort of insect. They also feed on aquatic plants and algae. You can provide omnivore captive spotted turtles both meat and vegetables for their overall growth. They will feed on feeder fishes, pellets, fruits like watermelon, etc.

Reeves Turtles (6 inches)

  • Common name: Chinese pond turtle
  • Scientific name: Mauremys reevesii
  • Adult Size: 4 to 6 inches
  • Life expectancy: 20 years

Also commonly known as the Chinese pond turtle, the Reeves turtle is a popular breed in the turtle petting community. These turtles require the same care as red-eared slider turtles. So, they have become frontrunners in the turtle-keeping scene. They are easy to keep and require low maintenance. Adult turtles only grow up to 6 inches. Thus, you don’t have to invest in a huge tank or powerful equipment. 

Originally hailing from China, currently, these turtles are bred prolifically around the world. And this is possible because of the high success rate they have in reproduction. If you plan to get a Reeves turtle as a pet, you need to make sure you have suitable habitat for it. These turtles aren’t that great swimmers, so the tank’s depth should be kept shallow. Include hiding and foraging places in the tank; however, remember not to have weeds that can trap and drown them. And yes, turtles drown too. As for the basking place, keep UV lights in a dry place for them to bask.

Keep the turtle in at least a 40-gallon tank so that you will never have to buy a new one when your turtle comes of age.

Feed them a regular diet with 30 to 40% protein, with greens and veggies making the rest of the portion. Include worms, insects, and feeder fish along with green vegetables like kale, lettuce, and duckweed. Add supplements through pellets that are high in calcium. The baby turtle will need it.

Diamondback Terrapins (5-6 inches) 

Diamondback Terrapins

  • Common name: Terrapin
  • Scientific name: Malaclemys terrapin
  • Adult Size: 5-6 inches for male
  • Life expectancy: 40 years

Diamondback terrapins live in brackish water and coastal bays. The females are bigger than males because of the sexually dimorphic features of this species. It means that the female is twice the size of the male. An adult male diamondback terrapin can reach 6 inches long, whereas the female can get around 12 inches. You can differentiate the male from the female by looking at their tail. Male terrapins have longer and thicker tails.

A diamondback terrapin can be found in several colors. It can be silver, gray, dark gray, dark blue, or black. This variation of color is one of the unique features of the terrapin family.

Although terrapins will survive in a standard water tank, they best thrive in brackish water. Most terrapin owners have reported that they noticed their terrapins becoming ill after keeping them in a regular water tank and showing uneasiness. Therefore, brackish water is preferred for a diamondback terrapin.

You can feed a terrapin almost anything. However, their favorite food is meat. I’d suggest giving boiled meat sparingly and avoiding raw meat altogether. They eat snails, fish, crustaceans, insects, aquatic plants, and vegetables, along with the pellets that you can buy in a pet store.

Three-toed Box Turtles (4 to 6 inches)

Three-toed Box Turtles

  • Common name: Three-toed box turtle
  • Scientific name: Terrapene carolina triunguis
  • Adult Size: 4 to 6 inches
  • Life expectancy: 50 years on average (some have been estimated to live over 100 years)

A subspecies of the box turtle, the three-toed box turtle, spends most of its time on land rather than water. Unlike other turtles, it doesn’t have webbed or padded feet. Instead, it has toes that are more similar to a tortoise’s. This is from where it gets its name, the three-toed box turtle.

The shell of a three-toed box turtle is shaped like a dome. They have a slender ridge on the centerline of the carapace. Three-toed box turtles have yellowish or drab brown color all over their body.

It will feed on every kind of food. However, a box turtle likes to hunt, so it’s not like other aquatic turtles, which require a tank to live. You need to keep them in an open space. The appropriate place to keep your three-toed box turtle would be the backyard. There, it will get ample space to walk, hunt, and scavenge, just like in the wild.

However, make sure that you build his pen nearby with a water source and proper security. Box turtles are easy prey for the passerby raccoons, owls, and other predators.

Eastern Box Turtles (4.5 to 6 inches)

Eastern Box Turtles

  • Common name: Eastern Box Turtle
  • Scientific name: Terrapene carolina carolina
  • Adult Size: 4 to 6 inches
  • Life expectancy: 40 Years, but some have lived up to 100 years

Also a member of the box turtle family, the Eastern box turtle likes to dwell on the land. As the name suggests, they are native to the eastern part of the United States. Their dome-like carapace and bright yellow throat distinguish them from other box turtles. A land turtle by nature, however, still requires shallow water to remain hydrated. Unlike other turtles, they do not bury themselves under the water during winter for hibernation. Instead, they bury themselves in a dry litter of leaves and soil to avoid freezing to death.

Just like the three-toed box turtle, they need larger space to thrive. A backyard will be a suitable spot for them to live and forage. Prepare a shallow pool where they can hydrate themselves whenever they like.

Their calm temperament makes them an excellent choice to keep as a pet. They are more social with humans than most turtles. Frequent caressing and touching will help you in creating a bond with them.

Their daily diet should include vegetables, fruits, worms, grasses, live foods, feeder fish, and the list goes on and on. Though they aren’t aquatic turtles, provide them with a shallow pan of water for hydration. They might waddle on the pan and defecate, so you need to change the water regularly.

Overall, eastern box turtles are shy creatures. They need time to adapt to humans. However, once they are well accustomed to a human’s presence, they will show their side of affection too.

Desert Box Turtles (3-5 inches)

Desert Box Turtles

  • Common name: Sonoran box turtle,
  • Scientific name: Terrapene ornate luteola
  • Adult Size: 3 to 5 inches
  • Life expectancy: 50 years

Sporting more yellow tones than an eastern box turtle, the desert box turtle has a unique appearance than most box turtles. They live and thrive in arid lands, grasslands, and prairies, making them terrestrial reptiles. They dig under the soil while nesting and hibernating. And, they are highly active during summer when there’s high humidity in the atmosphere.

There are two types of colorations in a desert box turtle. One kind sports a pattern, whereas another kind has no patterns in its shell. The color of the eyes tells the difference between males and females. The male has red eyes, whereas the female has brown eyes.

As they live in arid lands where there’s not much vegetation to graze on, these turtles’ diet comprises mainly insects. However, they will also eat plants if they get any. In the wild, they often forage on animal dung to hunt down beetles. 

The captive desert box turtles’ diet can range from live insects to vegetables and fruits. Do not feed the same food that you provide to your dogs and cats. Protein is good in a limited amount, so be mindful while feeding your turtle too much protein-filled diet.

For housing, it is better to keep them enclosed outdoors than indoors. Keeping a box turtle indoors will limit its mobility. Provide them with a swimming space by making a small pond to cool down their body when it’s scorching hot. You need to keep in mind that keeping your pet turtle outdoors can invite predators. Beware of owls, dogs, or cats who might try to harm your desert box turtle.

Loggerhead Musk Turtles (3-5 inches) 

  • Common name: loggerhead
  • Scientific name: Sternotherus minor
  • Adult Size: 3 to 5 inches
  • Life expectancy: 50 years

Named after their enormous head, the loggerhead musk turtle has a larger head than other musk turtles. They are native to Alabama, Northern Florida, Georgia, Southeastern Kentucky, and Mississippi.

They have a close resemblance with Razorback musk turtles. But the razorback is relatively larger. Their carapace is flat, and the plastron is small. The color of the carapace is tan brown, and some have darker shades to it. Males have a longer tail and larger head than a female loggerhead musk turtle with stripes in the neck running from the head to the inner part of its body.

A Loggerhead is found near the rivers and streams in the wild, feeding on aquatic insects, crayfish, and snails. It dives deeper than other freshwater turtles and feeds on plants like algae as well.

Their small size makes them vulnerable to other large species of turtles and reptiles. Alligators, snapping turtles, and large birds hunt for the loggerhead musk turtle as their prey. However, they are well equipped with defensive mechanisms in their body. Whenever they sense fear or are being attacked, they release a foul-smelling musk. Their large head plays an excellent factor for self-defense as it equips them with a powerful bite force.

In captivity, you need to provide them with a large area for thriving. Many turtles need a longer tank for swimming. However, the loggerhead musk turtle can do well in a deeper tank. They dive deep and will feed on the algae growing inside the tank. Make a proper basking area to warm their body.

You can feed them regular pellets. Also, live insects, worms, feeder fish, vegetables, and fruits will be an excellent overall diet for them. The loggerhead musk turtle is diurnal and will feed anytime during both day and night.

While feeding, be careful not to stick your hand anywhere near the turtle’s head. Their jaws’ sheer power can cause accidents, especially for kids.

Striped Mud Turtles (4 inches long)

Striped Mud Turtles

  • Common name: Striped mud turtle
  • Scientific name: Kinosternon baurii
  • Adult Size: 3 to 4 inches
  • Life expectancy: 50 years

Found in the coastal region, the striped mud turtle is native to Florida, Carolina, and Georgia. They live in swampy areas, ponds, and ditches. They can survive on both freshwater and saltwater bodies. These turtles prefer shallow water, and as the name denotes, a muddy area.

As they need moisture, they will spend most of their time underwater. Unlike other turtles, they don’t bask often and will only resurface once a month. While on land, they dig and bury themselves in the mud to keep their body hydrated.

Appearance-wise, they have yellow head stripes with three longitudinal stripes on their dark brown carapace. Unlike the striped mud turtles from Florida, the turtles from Carolina and Georgia have light stripes between the eye and their nostrils. Their plastron has a double hinge, just like the eastern box turtle. The males are smaller than the female; however, they have thicker tails than the females.

In the wild, a striped mud turtle will forage and hunt for insects and other crustaceans. They also feed on the snails and aquatic debris like algae found in the ponds and marshes.

For a captive striped mud turtle, you can feed a wide range of diets for healthy growth. Provide insects (both live and dead), feeder fish, worms, vegetables, algae, regular pellets for turtles, and other commercial foods.

Baby mud turtles need shallow water, so make sure you have a long and shallow tank for them to swim and walk on. Include grasses that are tall enough to help the turtles climb outside for breathing. Even though they aren’t fans of basking, make a dry land where they can sometimes come out for a change.

Many striped mud turtle owners have reported their mud turtle goes into aestivation (summer hibernation). So do not be alarmed if your turtle isn’t showing much activity during the summer.

Southern Painted Turtle (4–6 inches) 

Southern Painted Turtle
  • Common name: Southern painted turtle
  • Scientific name: C.p. dorsalis
  • Adult Size: 4 to 6 inches
  • Life expectancy: 20 to 50 years

One of the four painted turtles, the southern painted turtle, is commonly bred and kept as a pet turtle in the US and Canada. It is the smallest among the subspecies of the painted turtle. Their habitat is further inland to the Georgian mountains and South Carolina. They prefer brackish waters, which suggests that they are coastal turtles. But they are occasionally found in streams, ditches, and ponds.

Appearance-wise, their red stripes are a beautiful attraction to many turtle owners. These red-colored stripes are present on the edges with a thin line in the middle of their shell. The red stripes are also seen on the rest of their body. The carapace is flatter than that of other turtles. It is dark with a bordering red line, while their plastron is tan and spotless.

A southern painted turtle’s diet changes with its age. Juvenile turtles are primarily carnivores and feed on larvae and other aquatic insects. And as they get older, they shift towards a vegetarian diet and drastically cut protein intake. 

The adults will mainly feed on algae and other aquatic vegetation.

In captivity, these turtles need to be adequately fed with well-rounded diets. A baby turtle should be fed feeder fish, bloodworms, and insects. In contrast, the adult’s diet should comprise algae, water hyacinth, lettuce, duckweed, and a wide range of greens and vegetables. As they are omnivores, adults can feed on non-vegetarian diets too.

These turtles require plenty of space to swim. So start with at least a 30-gallon tank. Make sure the tank is longer, which provides more swimming space for them. Have a basking area to dry and install UV lights to provide them with vitamin D for healthy growth. Although these turtles aren’t social pets, they do well with their species. All you need is a bigger tank!

Keep Reading!

Do Turtles Have Fins? If Not, How Can They Swim So Well?

Why Do Turtles Shake Their Shells? There’s More To It Than What Meets The Eye

Do Turtles Eat Lettuce? Or Does It Cause Diarrhea In Turtles?

Do Turtles Eat Worms? List Of Worms You Can Feed Your Turtle

Can Turtles Eat Snails? (What Kind And How Many Per Day?)

Can Turtles Eat Asparagus? Read These 3 Side Effects First!

rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.