Recently, a reader and reptile enthusiast named Sara Garcia reached out to Team MUTTS to express her thoughts about the proper care and portrayal of turtles and tortoises. Because we share her concerns, we invited her to contribute a guest post to help educate us and others interested in learning more about these wonderful, often misunderstood creatures.

Hi, I’m Sara. I’ve worked with various turtle and tortoise species for almost a decade. I’ve gained experience rehabilitating several turtles and tortoises over the years, especially through my former job at a reptile store. Working there put me directly in the line of the “forgotten” and “easy” creatures that are often seen as “beginner pets.” During the summer — our busy season — we would get anywhere from three to 16 turtles dropped off because they had become “too difficult to care for” or they “weren’t what was expected.”

Naturally, working there spilled into my home life and I ended up taking home quite a few turtles and tortoises that required round-the-clock care to get them back to their healthy state.

There are literally hundreds of misconceptions about turtles and tortoises. But to keep things relatively short, here are just a few:

  1. They are great “beginner pets.”
  2. They don’t need a lot of room because they’re slow and don’t do much.
  3. They need friends.
  4. They grow to the size of their tank.
  5. They don’t need any special light requirements like other reptiles do.
  6. They are cheap pets.
  7. They should be able to walk around the house.
  8. They can eat whatever we feed them.
  9. It’s okay to paint their shells.
  10. They’re boring!

Here are some things to remember when it comes to rescuing and caring for turtles and tortoises:

  1. They’re lifelong pets. Most turtles and tortoises can live to be 60 years old or even older. Be prepared to take care of them for as long as they’re around!
  2. Bigger is better. Tank size should be the maximum a species needs, bigger if possible. Check what species you have and see what they need. Just because they’re small doesn’t mean they don’t need to be active.
  3. Turtles and tortoises are generally not friendly when it comes to their own species. They like to be left alone. While there are exceptions, single is better than a pair. In videos where a tortoise helps his flipped “friend,” this is usually a sign of aggression — and typically, the “helpful tortoise” was the one who flipped the other in the first place.
  4. They need proper diet and care. Each species is different, but almost every species of turtle and tortoise need UVA/UVB lighting, correct heat temperatures, and a place to bask.
  5. Free-roaming isn’t always good. Turtles and tortoises can get sick walking around the house, where they can eat something that makes them ill. Get a big enough enclosure (Outdoor enclosures are great too!) and your new friend will be as happy as a reptile can be.
  6. Don’t forget: Tortoises and turtles do not behave the same way that cats and dogs do. Behaviors that might seem like something a pet should do (like chasing a ball) typically isn’t the same for tortoises. If they’re chasing something, they’re usually being territorial and are often stressed out. But they do beg for food (a lot like my dog, hmm …).

So yes, turtles and tortoises sound like a lot of work. And, don’t get me wrong, they certainly can be. But they’re also wonderful creatures that remind me of mini-dinosaurs! It’s amazing to watch them stomping around their enclosure or pulling themselves up to bask with their legs spread out so they can soak up the sun. They’re animals that can entertain you for years and years.

Interested in learning more about caring for turtles or tortoises? Thinking that one would make the perfect pal for you? Here are a few additional sources where you can learn more about these fantastic creatures.

Tortoise Forum

Red Ear Slider: Basic Care

Austin’s Turtle Page

About the Author: Sara Garcia graduated as an English Major from Stony Brook University. She works to educate others about misunderstood species such as turtles and tortoises and hopes to continue to work with and help more of them. She has two adopted Red Eared Sliders (Olive and Scooter, both seven years old) and one rescued Forsten’s Tortoise (BamBam, 30 years old).

Comments (4)

One VERY important fact that was overlooked in this article is that turtles carry salmonella… not may… DO! You need to be very careful when handling them and they should NEVER be allowed to wander your house. Children should never handle turtles.

Kevin Blakely

Turtles need to be taken care of properly and if u dont have time to do that you should not own a turtle or any pet .

Pamela Roach

Hi, I live in Hawaii and have a man made cemented pond. It fills with Bufo / Cane toads, and I wondered if I could introduce a turtle to this pond to help cut down on the frog/toads — would they eat the tadpoles?


An excellent article about a misunderstood pet! Also… in my experience, at least… turtles, which are mainly aquatic, are infinitely more challenging to care for properly than the mainly land-based tortoises! They need an aquatic habitat and very, very powerful filters to keep their water clean. They are costly to maintain, and are definitely NOT a starter pet! As with all reptiles, they don’t express emotions the same way that mammals do, and can be a challenge to keep healthy – they don’t always show that they’re not feeling well. Poor turtles and tortoises who have been dumped because they’re “too much work” or “not what the owner expected” – that’s on the owner for not doing their homework first!

Christina Vrba