The Reptiles: Turtles and Tortoises
Pet Turtles

How much is that turtle in the window?

Maybe not a lot in terms of price. But beware — keeping turtles as pets can be a complicated responsibility. Before you bring that shelled cutie home, be sure to do your homework, or you and the turtle may suffer.

Not all turtles make good pets for young children. Aquatic turtles, for instance, may need a spacious aquarium and specialized food to thrive. Some need special lights for basking, which keeps their shells strong. Land tortoises may need room to roam, or soft soil in which to dig. Every species has its special needs — and some live a long time, even dozens of years, so be prepared to be around for a while!

Some parents are particularly tempted to bring home a turtle for a child. But experts say they aren’t the greatest pets for little kids. They can be hard to handle and care for. And many can harbor Salmonella bacteria that can sicken — and even kill — kids that don’t wash their hands.

Owners can also pose a threat to their pets. Despite their tough shells, many turtles are susceptible to viruses or bacteria passed along by human hands. And the problem can grow if an owner decides to release a pet turtle into the wild, where it can spread the deadly germs to other turtles and wildlife.

The turtle trade can also hurt wild populations. Some popular species can’t be raised in captivity, so trappers go after wild turtles. As a result, some populations are teetering on the edge of extinction. Before you buy a turtle, check to make sure it isn’t an endangered species, or one that is illegal to buy or sell. And resist the temptation to take home the turtle you find in your backyard. It’s probably best left where it is, particularly since some turtles live their entire lives in carefully tended home territories.

If you must have a pet turtle, start with a hardy species that stays relatively small. Some examples are red-eared sliders, cooters, and mud and musk turtles. But some other species may better fit your needs. Research is key to finding a turtle that you can handle — and hold onto for its entire life.

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