What’s the Difference Between Turtles & Tortoises?

Have you ever wondered, “What’s the difference between turtles and tortoises?” If so, you’re not alone. Many people confuse turtles and tortoises because these two types of reptiles are very similar in overall physical appearance.

However, when it comes down to it, turtles and tortoises are very different animals and have very different care requirements when kept as pets.

In this article, we’ll delve into the similarities and differences between turtles and tortoises. In our opinion, both make excellent pets, but you’ll want to know if a turtle or tortoise is better suited to your needs before you adopt one.

turtles vs tortoises
This hatchling common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) is a turtle species that spends nearly all of its time in the water.

What’s the Difference Between Turtles and Tortoises?

Physical Traits

Upon first glance, turtles and tortoises appear very much the same, mainly because they both have hard shells that allow their body to retreat inside of it. However, when you examine both reptiles closer, you’ll see that their physical characteristics are actually slightly different to reflect their different life styles.

The shells of tortoises tend to be dome-shaped and weigh a fair amount. The shape helps to ward off potential predators. On the other hand, turtle shells are usually flat, smooth, and overall fairly light-weight in proportion to the animal. This is to keep the animal stream-lined for an aquatic or semi-aquatic life style.

A tortoise’s legs are chunky, sturdy and stay bent at the “knee” area to promote walking on land. Conversely, turtles’ legs tend to come straight out from underneath their bodies to support swimming and a more aquatic life style.

peninsula cooter turtle
This Peninsula Cooter (Pseudemys peninsularis) turtle has a flat shell, webbed feet, and claws which suit it to an aquatic life style.

Turtles also have claws or toe nails on their webbed feet, which tortoises tend to lack. And if a tortoise does have toe nails, the nails themselves are worn down and not sharp due to the fact that they spend a lot of time walking on dry land. Some turtles have even adapted to have flippers instead of feet. This is generally only true if the turtle species in question is truly aquatic (i.e. a sea turtle).


We’ve already hinted at what is probably the biggest different between turtles and tortoises – their habitats. Turtles tend to live fully aquatic or semi-aquatic lives, whereas tortoises live on land.

While there are some turtles that prefer life on land such as box turtles and there are also some turtles that live in the water nearly 100 percent of the time, such as sea turtles, most turtles will split their time between both land and water.

sri lankan star tortoise hatchling
This Sri Lankan Star Tortoise hatchling (Geochelone elegans) has a dome-shaped shell to protect it from predators on land.

When you create a turtle habitat in captivity, you need to do your research and make sure that you are setting up the proper habitat to support your turtle’s life style. Some need a dry home with a water dish, whereas others will need a tank filled with water with a platform to emerge from the water to bask. It really does depend entirely on the species you choose to keep as a pet.

Turtles vs. Tortoises: Diet and Food

Most tortoises are vegetarian herbivores, but turtles can be carnivores or omnivores. Just like with habitat requirements, dietary requirements vary from turtle species to turtle species because they consume a wide variety of food.

Pet tortoises need to have leafy greens and veggies as their main diet. We give ours kale, collard greens, spinach, and root veggies like carrots. Occasional fruit can be given as treats too. And we should mention that commercial tortoise pellets are also a great option if you worry about your tortoise receiving a fully balanced diet.

adult ornate box turtle
This is an adult Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata). Although it is a turtle, it is a species that is primarily terrestrial.

Feeding a pet turtle is actually really easy. Aquatic turtles tend to like turtle pellets. We supplement pellets with crickets, roaches, and meal worms too. And it’s wise to leave some vegetable matter in the enclosure too so that your turtle has access to it if it chooses.


Both turtles and tortoises lay eggs. Both species dig a hole, lay their eggs, and then cover the eggs. The eggs will incubate for a time and then the hatchlings will dig their way out of the dirt or sand.

The main difference between turtle and tortoise reproduction is in incubation times, which vary from species to species, and in upbringing methods. Turtle hatchlings are essentially on their own from the time they emerge from the egg. Tortoise hatchlings, on the other hand, have some degree of protection from their mother. Some tortoise species will guard their nest, while others simply stick around and babysit the hatchlings for some time.


Ultimately, turtles and tortoises are very similar in build and physical appearance and we would recommend either reptile to anyone interested in a  relatively low maintenance pet.

If you are debating between a pet tortoise or a pet turtle, we recommend going with a tortoise if you want a land-dwelling animal and a turtle if you want to provide an aquatic habitat.

Western Painted Turtle Care (Chrysemys p. belli)

Aquatic turtles make great pets for all types of people and we’d say that the Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys p. belli) is one of our top selling animals for this reason. In this blog article, we’ll lay out how to best care for your pet Western painted turtle.

Western Painted Turtle Care Sheet

Western Painted Turtle Description

Western painted turtles are certainly a very attractive species of aquatic turtle. They are dark olive, brown, or green with very colorful markings that range from bright orange to striking yellow. The underside of their shell is an explosion of orange or red, while the top of their carapace is bordered with yellow or red seams. They also have red, yellow, or orange stripes on their heads and necks.

There are several varieties of painted turtles that are widespread throughout the U.S, but they all have virtually the same care requirements in captivity. The Western painted turtle is native to the Western side of the U.S. as its name suggests.

Another reason Western painted turtles are such popular pets is that they will reach a moderate size which makes them manageable as indoor pets. An average painted turtle will be anywhere from six to eight inches with females being relatively smaller in comparison to males.

Western painted turtles are also very long-lived pets. Captive animals have been reported to live as long as fifty years! However, most painted turtles will live between ten and twenty five years realistically.

western painted turtle care
Painted turtles make great aquatic pets and they are very attractive to look at.

Western Painted Turtle Care Requirements

Many people are inclined to create elaborate homes for their painted turtles, however this is not a requirement for the turtle to be healthy. In fact, you can create a simple enclosure or a very decorated one depending on your preference so long as the turtle’s basic needs are met.

Although Western painted turtles are aquatic by nature, you should never be filling an entire tank with water. A good rule to follow is to never make the water level higher than twice the width of the turtle’s shell. It is also imperative that you have a platform of some type that allows your turtle to get out of the water completely and bask.

The water temperature should stay between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Ambient air temperature should be between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit and the basking area underneath the lights should be kept between 85 and 95 degrees. In order to keep the basking area warm, we recommend providing a full spectrum UV light. You can regulate temperature using a thermometer placed at a convenient place inside the tank.

Even though they are mid-sized turtles, painted turtles are relatively active reptiles, so they do need a moderately sized tank. A hatchling can be accommodated in a ten gallon tank for a short period of time, but as it grows, you will of course need to upgrade your tank size. Housing a bigger animal means a bigger tank will be required.

Adult painted turtles will do equally well indoors or outdoors. If you live in a climate that does not have temperature extremes, painted turtles will thrive in a backyard pond. You might even end up with baby turtles if you have more than one per pond. They will naturally reproduce according to the seasons.

western painted turtle
Western painted turtles are omnivores and will eat both plant and vegetable matter.

Western Painted Turtle Diet

All painted turtles are opportunistic omnivores. They will gladly consume meat or vegetation with  no hesitation as they are not picky feeders.

There are many commercial turtle foods on the market, but we like to supplement our painted turtles’ diets with fresh food. Hatchlings are growing and need lots of protein, so we give them small invertebrates like crickets and mealworms in addition to leafy green veggies. Kale, spinach, and even aquatic plants are all good choices.


Western painted turtles might not be the most hands-on pet, but really, most turtles prefer to be left to their own devices anyways. Painted turtles are most certainly beautiful to look at and they make excellent additions to backyard ponds.

If you are ready to purchase a Western painted turtle of your own, Backwater Reptiles has got you covered!

Most Common Wild California Reptiles

Backwater Reptiles is based out of California and we experience many climates. We’ve got dry deserts, brisk coasts, and even mountains. This means that we’re lucky enough to have many different species of reptiles thriving in our own backyards!

In this blog article, we’ll tell you a little about some of the most commonly found wild reptiles we see in the Golden State.

California King Snake (Lampropeltis g. californiae)

In addition to being widespread in the wild throughout the state of California as their name suggests, California king snakes are also extremely popular pets in captivity.

Cal Kings can actually be found all along the west coast of North America. They are very adaptable and live in all types of habitats – woodland chaparral, grassland, deserts, marshes, and even developed suburban areas.

most common reptiles in California
This is a normal morph California king snake, although king snakes have been bred to express many different types of markings and colorations.

They have a habit of rattling their tail, coiling their bodies, and hissing when they feel threatened in an attempt to mimic their much more dangerous cousin, the rattlesnake. However, it should be noted that if you find a Cal King in the wild and are able to pick it up and handle it, these snakes are not venomous or dangerous to people. The worst that could happen to you is the snake might defecate on you or you could get a small bite.

Side Blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana)

The common side blotched lizard is found all along the Pacific coast of North America. They are small lizards that typically don’t surpass two and half inches long. Males are larger than females.

female side blotched lizard
This is a female side blotched lizard. Females are less colorful than males who often times have blue spots and stripes.

There are three distinct wild morphs of side blotched lizards. Each lizard has a different color throat (yellow, orange, or blue) and actually behaves differently when it comes to mating strategies. But one thing all three morphs have in common is a mark, blotch, or dot on their torso behind their forearms. This mark is what gives the lizard its common name and also helps identify it in the wild.

Side blotched lizards are really interesting to observe in the wild and do make good pets. However, be warned that they are small lizards and have relatively short life spans. They also don’t enjoy being held as they are prey for many predators in the wild, so it may take lots of handling to tame one as a pet.

Red Eared Slider Turtle (Trachemys s. elegans)

Let us preface this section by stating that although red eared slider turtles are now commonly seen in ponds and lakes throughout California, they are not endemic to the state. In fact, they are actually considered invasive as they compete with native turtles for food and basking spots.

Red eared sliders are very adaptive and can thrive in any body of water ranging from a river to a pond in your backyard. They are opportunistic omnivores and will eat decaying organic matter whether it’s protein-based or plant-based.

red eared slider turtle hatchlings
Red eared sliders are popular pets, but because they are invasive to the state of California, please re-home your turtle responsibly if you can no longer care for it.

While they make fantastic pets, many of the sliders found in the wild in California are actually pets that have been released into local ponds, canals, or estuaries when they are no longer wanted. If you own a red eared slider, please be a responsible pet owner and re-home your turtle appropriately if you can no longer care for it.

Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)

Western fence lizards are extremely common not only in California, but also in Nevada, Oregon, Arizona, Idaho, Utah, Washington, and Northern Mexico. Many people refer to them as “blue bellies” due to the bold blue coloring on their throats and tummies.

western fence lizard
This is the common Western Fence Lizard, also known as the “blue belly” lizard. The photo shows its underside which demonstrates how this little lizard got its common name.

Western fence lizards are very common throughout all areas of California. They inhabit chaparral, grasslands, sage brush, woodland, forests, farmland, and surprisingly, even suburban areas. In fact, if you live in a sunny area of California, it’s not uncommon to find a blue belly basking in your yard or scuttling underfoot if you cross their path.

Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer)

Gopher snakes are very commonly found throughout much of North America and any California herp enthusiast has probably caught or encountered a wild one at some point in his or her life. This snake’s broad range is a testament to its adaptability, hardiness, and overall survival skills.

Although most California natives can probably find a gopher snake in their backyard or within an hour’s distance of their backyard, if you want one for a pet, we always recommend purchasing a captive bred animal. They generally don’t have any parasites, are more docile, and have grown accustomed to a captive life style.

gopher snake
Gopher snakes are usually pretty docile and captive bred animals take to human interaction well.

Gophers have simple care requirements. Virtually any type of substrate will suit them, although we prefer aspen snake bedding. Provide more horizontal floor space than vertical climbing space, a few hiding spots, and a water dish, and your gopher snake should thrive. It’s not even necessary to provide any special UV lighting, although we always use one just to help regulate the temperature and provide day/night cycles.


All of the species listed above are very commonly found throughout the state of California. We’d even wager that most California natives will or have already come in contact with three out of the five species listed.

Common Snapping Turtle vs. Florida Snapping Turtle

We get asked lots of questions at Backwater Reptiles ranging from how to care for specific animals to behavioral information queries. Name a question – odds are we’ve probably been asked before!

In this article, we’ll set out to answer a question we get asked occasionally:

What’s the difference between the common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) and the Florida snapping turtle (Chelydra s. osceola)?

And because the answer to this question is actually very straight forward and simple, we’ll follow up the answer with some care tips and tricks for snapping turtles.

Common Snapping Turtle vs. Florida Snapping Turtle
Here is a side by side depiction of a common snapping turtle (top) and a Florida snapping turtle (bottom).

Common Snapping Turtle vs. Florida Snapping Turtle

Florida snappers and common snappers are extremely similar in appearance. We’d even go so far as to say that it would take an experienced reptile enthusiast to be able to distinguish between the two.

But there are two main characteristics that mark these species as different from one another – the location where each animal can be found in the wild and their physical appearances.

First of all, the common snapping turtle can be found all across North America in any slow-moving or brackish water environment. The Florida snapper on the other hand, is only found in peninsular Florida.

However, it should be noted that just because a snapper is found in the state of Florida, that does not automatically make it a Florida snapping turtle. That’s where knowing the physical differences between the two species comes in handy.

Truth be told, there are not a whole lot of physical differences between Florida snappers and common snappers and those few differences are not that marked or noticeable.

Both species of snapping turtle have soft spikes on their necks and heads that are known as tubercles. Common snappers have rounded tubercles, whereas the tubercles on Florida snappers are pointed.

The second physical difference between the two species of snapper is coloration. Florida snappers tend to be a warm, light brown in color when they are young. Common snapping turtles, on the other hand, are usually a dark grey or black.

As far as habits and behavior are concerned, both turtles are identical. This means that they have the same care requirements in captivity. Continue reading if you want to find out how we care for our snapping turtles at Backwater Reptiles.

common snapping turtle
Pictured is a common snapping turtle. They are found all across the U.S. in slow-moving or brackish bodies of water.

Snapping Turtle Behavior

Young snapping turtles are relatively docile, but as they mature, they definitely live up to their common name and are known to deliver quite a powerful bite.

Snapping turtles are aquatic reptiles and reside in bodies of water. They can usually be found resting along the bottom of rivers, lakes, and ponds burrowed into the dirt, debris, and silt along the bottom.

Juveniles are more active than adults and will sometimes forage for food, but adults tend to stay in once place and ambush prey as it stumbles across their path.

Although they do live most of their lives in water, snappers can be found on land at times. In Florida, they are commonly seen crossing roads in order to reach new bodies of water.

As far as behavior is concerned, there is noting to mention in the Common snapping turtle vs. Florida snapping turtle conversation, as they are virtually identical in this area.

Snapping Turtle Care

When keeping a snapping turtle as a pet, you will require an aquatic enclosure. It’s not necessary to have a tank filled to the brim with water. A shallow layer that fully allows the turtle to submerge will suffice.

We always place plenty of hiding spaces in the tank as this allows the turtle to feel secure. Logs, hollowed out rocks, and even items purchased from pet store are all great hides.

Even though snappers are not particularly avid baskers, we do always put some sort of platform in the water that enables the turtle to climb out and bask if it desires. This also means that we have a full spectrum UV light on during the day time.

Florida snapping turtle
This baby Florida snapping turtle is lighter in color than a common snapper.

Snappers are voracious eaters and are therefore not difficult to feed. They are true omnivores as well as opportunistic feeders in the wild, so this makes it easy to provide a healthy diet in captivity.

We feed ours everything from feeder fish to worms. You can also try vegetation. The best method is to place a little bit of fresh vegetable matter in the tank daily or even every other day, and remove it if it is uneaten.

Regarding the Common snapping turtle vs. Florida snapping turtle conversation, there is no difference in care between the two species.

Conclusion: Common snapping turtle vs. Florida snapping turtle

Although there are not too many differences between Florida snapping turtles and common snapping turtles, they both make good pets for experienced herpers who can handle their ornery dispositions.

If you are ready to adopt a snapping turtle of your own, Backwater Reptiles has got you covered!



Most Popular Pet Turtles

Turtles are very popular house pets. Not only are they cute, but they’re easy to care for, very robust, gentle around children, and can also be very interactive lifelong companions. We highly recommend turtles for people who are new to keeping reptiles.

So, if you’re in the market for a simple pet, read on to find out our top picks for the best pet turtles.

Red Eared Slider (Trachemys s. elegans)

If you want a pet turtle with an aquatic habitat, our first recommendation would be a red eared slider. These turtles are very common pets and tend to thrive in captivity. They’re also almost always captive bred nationwide, which limits the risk of parasites.

most popular pet turtles
Red Eared sliders (Trachemys elegans) are some of the most popular pet turtles worldwide, and for good reason.

Red eared sliders get their common name from the red marking on the sides of their head. Aside from having red “ears,” sliders also tend to scoot themselves right into the water when they sense any kind of danger in the wild, hence the “slider” portion of their name.

We feed our hatchlings commercially prepared turtle pellets, although we do supplement with live insects from time to time. Red eared sliders are omnivores and eat decaying animal and plant matter in the wild, so they are very accepting of many types of food in captivity.

Adult red eared sliders will grow to be approximately twelve inches long and can live for around twenty years if cared for properly. Due to their size, we do recommend at least a ten gallon tank for hatchlings.

As they grow, the turtles will require about ten gallons of water for every inch of shell. So, for instance, a turtle that is five inches long should be housed in a tank that is at least fifty gallons in size.

If you’re ready to get a red eared slider of your own, Backwater Reptiles sells captive bred Red ears, as well as their awesome cousins, the Yellow-bellied sliders (Trachemys scripta).

Painted Turtles (Chrysemys sp.)

Painted turtles are another fantastic species of aquatic turtle, however they only reach approximately six to eight inches long at maturity, which makes them very manageable in size.

Painted turtles are a bit harder to come by in captivity, although they are by no means rare. You just won’t tend to find them available in most large-scale, chain pet stores. Many people like the colorful red or yellow borders around the seams of the turtle’s inner carapace.

eastern painted turtle
This shy Eastern Painted Turtle might be able to hide his face from the camera, but he can’t hide the beautiful red coloration on his shell.

There are three main species of Painted turtle, including Eastern, Western, and Southern. All three look quite similar, with minor physical differences.

Painted turtles have very similar care requirements to the red eared slider, however they are slightly more carnivorous. Commercial turtle pellets can serve as a staple food, but painted turtles will thoroughly enjoy feeder fish, aquatic worms, aquatic shrimp, and traditional crickets when on land.

The key to keeping a painted turtle happy and healthy is offering a variety of foods in the form of both animal protein and vegetation.

Unlike the red eared slider, Painted turtles are less skittish and not as inclined to bolt into the water around people. This means they are more interactive pet turtles, although we still can’t guarantee that your turtle will enjoy being picked up, handled, and/or coddled.

Want a Painted Turtle of your own? Backwater Reptiles has got you covered!

Peninsula Cooter (Pseudemys peninsularis)

Like the Painted Turtle and Red Eared Slider, the Peninsula Cooter is an aquatic turtle that will require an aquatic enclosure. They thrive in both indoor or outdoor setups and many people even enjoy having them in turtle ponds in their backyard. However, we do recommend that smaller cooters be kept indoors until they reach a reasonable size.

There are many species of cooter turtles and identifying and classifying them into subspecies and categories can be confusing. However, the Peninsula Cooter is a subspecies of pond slider and they tend to live in areas with slower moving currents of water.

pet peninsula cooter
Peninsula cooters aren’t as shy or flighty as red eared sliders but do have very similar care requirements.

Peninsula cooters can grow quite large for an aquatic turtle. Females will be considerably larger than full-grown males and can be up to thirteen inches long at maturity.

Feeding your cooter shouldn’t be hard. They are not known for being picky eaters and their omnivorous diet means they’ll pretty much enjoy anything you give them. At Backwater Reptiles, we give turtle pellets for simplicity and supplement with protein every few days such as crickets, night crawlers, or roaches. We also make sure that a small amount of leafy greens are available, even if the turtles don’t always eat it.

Backwater Reptiles has healthy Peninsula Cooter Turtles for sale.

Hybrid Eastern Box Turtles (Terrapene sp.)

We highly recommend Eastern box turtles for reptile enthusiasts of all ages and levels of experience. These are very low maintenance turtles with long life spans and very docile dispositions.

Box turtles don’t require an aquatic habitat like all the other turtles on this list. They can even be kept outdoors in small contained areas provided that the temperatures in your area are not too extreme.

Here at Backwater Reptiles, we keep our Box turtles in a lush outdoor pen where they eat, sleep, and breed!

hybrid eastern box turtle
Box turtles are great outdoor pets.

Juvenile Eastern box turtles tend to be more carnivorous than adults, but no matter what the age of the turtle, a varied diet of both plant and protein should be offered. For adults, we tend to give leafy green veggies and some insect such as night crawlers and crickets.

Eastern Box turtles are easily hybridized in captivity which results in some really interesting shell colorations and markings.

Backwater Reptiles has hybrid Eastern box turtles for sale.

Conclusion – Best pet turtles

Whether you desire an aquatic turtle or a land-based turtle, we think that any of the turtles on this list would make a great addition to your family.

They are all relatively low maintenance reptiles and the only real care concern with these popular pet turtle species is making sure you have enough room for the larger adult species.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our article on the best pet turtles and if you have any follow-up questions, please send us an e-mail.


Best Pet Aquatic Turtles

Personally, we think that all species of turtles make wonderful pets, whether they live mainly aquatic existences or prefer to live on land. However, for the purposes of this blog article, we will focus on detailing our top four turtle species that spend a great deal, if not most of their lives, in water.

Red Eared Slider (Trachemys s. elegans)

Probably the most common turtle sold in the U.S. at pet stores and from breeders is the red eared slider. These turtles make great classroom pets and are also great for outdoor pond enclosures.

Fun fact: red eared sliders get their names from the red ear patches located on both sides of their heads. While basking, they are also known for quickly sliding or scooting into the water if any perceived threat appears.

red eared sliders
Here is a collection of baby red eared sliders. They can be kept communally as hatchlings but will need to be separated as they grow.

Keep in mind that red eared sliders start out very small as hatchlings, but will grow into a rather large-sized adult turtle. Hatchlings are anywhere from the size of a quarter to a silver dollar, whereas an adult turtle will average around twelve inches long.

Red eared sliders are very strong swimmers and will spend most of their time in the water, which means they will need a fairly large tank that holds water, just like all of the turtle species on this list. Make sure that there are plenty of spaces for the slider to exit the water and bask though, since they do enjoy soaking up the heat and UV rays.

Red eared slider turtles are very commonly available at pet stores, but you can also purchase one from Backwater Reptiles.

Eastern Spiny Shoftshell Turtle (Apalone spinifera)

Softshell turtles in general are flat, with snooty noses, and leathery, pancake-like shells. They get their common name from the pliable, soft nature of their shells.

The Eastern Spiny Softshell turtle is a brown, tan, or olive-colored turtle with dark speckles on its carapace. It’s shell is also trimmed around the circumference with small, spines, hence its common name.

hatchling spiny softshell turtle
Hatchling Eastern spiny softshell turtles can fit in the palm of your hand, but they will get quite large.

Like the red eared slider, the spiny softshell turtle will grow quite large and will require a large, aquatic enclosure at maturity. It should be noted that a big difference between the enclosures of a standard/non-softshell turtle and a softshell turtle is that a softshell’s tank shouldn’t have any hard, rough, or jagged surfaces that the turtle can brush against. Due to the soft nature of their carapaces, softshells can easily scratch themselves and even get infections, so you’ll want to make sure that all tank decor is smooth and unimposing.

You can have a spiny softshell turtle of your very own. Purchase today from Backwater Reptiles.

Reeves Turtle (Mauremys reevesii)

We recommend Reeves turtles to hobbyists who would like an aquatic turtle with similar habits and care requirements as a slider, but who would like their turtle to stay small and manageable. Smaller turtle = smaller tank.

Reeves turtles are considered mid-size turtles. Very large adults have been reported to reach nine inches in length, but most won’t surpass six inches. Their life span is anywhere from ten to twenty years.

hatchling Reeves turtle
This is a hatchling Reeves turtle.

The diet of a Reeves turtle is simple. They are omnivores who are perfectly content to eat pre-packaged turtle pellets or frozen aquatic worm pellets like blood worms. They will also enjoy live insects such as night crawlers, crickets, or roaches.

Ready to bring home a mid-size turtle of your own? Backwater Reptiles sells Reeves turtles.

Razorback Musk Turtle (Sternotherus carinatus)

Of all the aquatic turtles on our list, we’d say that the razorback musk turtle is the shyest by nature. They prefer to hide out, whether that be in aquatic plants or in a hide designed specifically for them.

Razorbacks also have very interesting physical traits. They get their common name from a very distinctive sharp keel or ridge running down the center back of their carapace. Their skin color is beige or olive with dark polka dot-like accent spots.

hatchling razorback musk turtle
If you take them out of the water, Razorback Musk turtles are very shy. We had a hard time coaxing this hatchling out of his shell for the camera.

Because musk turtles in general are not known to bask a lot, you can expect that your razorback will not come out to soak up UV rays all too frequently. However, as with all aquatic turtle species, it is an absolute necessity to provide areas where the turtle can completely emerge from the water if it so desires.

If you would enjoy a quiet, shy aquatic turtle, Backwater Reptiles sells hatchling Razorback Musk Turtles.


If you enjoy aquatic set ups and you want to add a pet turtle to your home, we feel that any of the turtles on this list would be great to start out with.

Each of these aquatic turtles has its own unique physical traits and habits, but we think that each is just as rewarding a pet as the last.

How to Care for a Hatchling Eastern Box Turtle

Your hatchling Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene c. carolina) just arrived in the mail. Now you’re wondering how to care for your new little turtle friend. No worries – at Backwater Reptiles, we get loads of questions about how to best care for the animals we ship out, so we’re happy to tell you all about what we recommend in order to keep your little reptilian friend happy and healthy.

Right off the bat, your hatchling Eastern box turtle will obviously need a home in which to thrive. As they mature, the box turtles will do best when kept in outdoor pens (at least if you live where the weather permits this), but when they are under a year old, it is best to keep the little turtles in an indoor enclosure. Indoors they will be safe from neighborhood roaming pets, predatory birds, and other natural threats. Plus because they will be more sensitive to temperature fluctuations when young, you can better control their climate indoors. Another good reason to keep them indoors while they’re small is that you can better keep an eye on the food they are eating and make sure that they are getting the proper nutrients.

baby box turtle care
A cluster of our baby Eastern Box Turtles. Notice the shell pattern variation.

Baby Box turtle care

The hatchlings we sell at Backwater Reptiles are small enough to live in a ten or 20 gallon tank for the first year of their life. If you have multiple baby turtles in the same home, then the size of the enclosure will need to be bigger. You’ll need a proper heat lamp as well as a proper UV light, even if you take your turtle outdoors from time to time. Make sure that one side of their home is “sunny” with heat as well as a full-spectrum UV light.

If you’re new to reptile care and husbandry, it’s important that you know that the entire habitat cannot be hot and “sunny” – all reptiles need a cooler side of the enclosure to retreat to. You wouldn’t enjoy spending all your time in the heat and sun, would you? Neither will your baby box turtle. This allows them to thermoregulate their body temperature.

box turtle pet
This is an adult Eastern Box Turtle. As they grow, their shell becomes more of a pronounced dome shape and they develop brighter colors.

Your hatchling box turtle will eat protein as well as veggies, but make sure that it has access to both. When they are little, they need more protein to allow them to grow, but they do still require plenty of leafy greens to supplement. Their diets tend to be more carnivorous at this young age.

As with many young reptiles, variety in the diet is important. You can feed the little turtle small crickets, turtle pellets, wax worms, meal worms, and any other insect that they can catch. As far as vegetation goes, dark leafy greens are always a good bet. Veggies like kale, collard greens, and spinach contain a lot of nutrients and your baby box turtle will love them.

hatchling box turtles
These hatchlings are roughly the size of a silver dollar. Notice the variety in shell coloration.

It’s important to note that like human beings, baby box turtles don’t all look the same. They have color variations and their markings can appear different from turtle to turtle. Some will have very dark shells and some will have lighter shells with more visible yellow tones – it’s all normal box turtle coloring.

Making sure your baby Box turtle has a damp hide spot is extremely important–do not ignore this advice! If you allow them to become dry, their eyes will seal, and they will begin to dessicate (dehydrate). It can lead to their death quickly.

We provide damp sphagnum moss on the cool side of the enclosure–always make sure it’s quite damp, but not soaking wet. They will bury themselves in this for part of the day. They tend to eat in the morning, and retire for the rest of the day. As babies, they lose hydration very quickly and their shells haven’t completely hardened, and their skin isn’t as thick as it will be as they mature.

Backwater Reptiles currently has an assortment of hatchling Eastern Box Turtles for sale. We love knowing that they go to homes with educated owners, so ask us questions in the comments if you have any.

Florida Softshell Turtle vs. Spiny Softshell Turtle

What’s the difference between Florida and Spiny softshell turtles? Here at Backwater Reptiles headquarters, we regularly ship out soft-shell turtles, but the two species that we have found to be the most popular (and prevalent) are the Florida Softshell Turtle (Apalone ferox) and the Spiny Softshell Turtle (Apalone spitfire). Read on if you want to learn about what makes these turtles similar and what makes them different.

Morphology & Appearance

As far as looks go, both species of turtle are semi-flat with soft shells – go figure, right? We’ve heard them described as wet, leathery pancake turtles before and don’t disagree. They also both have snooty little protruding snout noses, long necks, and paddle-like back feet.

florida softshell vs spiny softshell turtle
Notice the yellow edging on this hatchling Florida soft shell’s shell.

What really makes these two turtles differ from one another in appearance most is the patterns and colors on their shells. The Florida softshell has orange markings on its head and edging its carapace. As it matures, these bright colors tend to fade into duller browns and olive green shades. The spiny softshell on the other hand, is a shade of brown, tan, or olive with darker speckles on the shell. Another distinguishing trait of the spiny softshell are the small spines that edge the circumference of the turtle’s shell.

Eating Habits

Both species of softshell turtle are carnivorous and eat prey items ranging from small crayfish to aquatic insects. In the wild, both are opportunistic feeders and will eat any animal that is small enough to fit in their mouth.

spiny softshell turtle
Notice how flat the shell is on this hatchling spiny soft-shell turtle.

In captivity, we feed ours crickets, canned insects, and even roaches. They can also eat small feeder fish from any pet store or varieties of frozen worm turtle pellets (i.e. bloodworm pellets).

Keeping Softshells in Captivity

Because their morphology is very similar, both the Florida softshell and the spiny softshell have very similar care requirements when kept in captivity.

The first thing to consider before purchasing a pet softshell is their size. For a turtle, they can grow quite large. The average size for a softshell is 12 inches, but it’s not unheard of for these guys to get up to two feet long. Large turtle = large enclosure, so keep that in mind when purchasing.

florida softshell turtle
This photo provides a view of the Florida softshell turtle’s shell spots and yellow edging.

Softshells are also known for their attitudes. They have been known to bite not only handlers but other turtles. Make sure that they are not bullying their tank mates (if they have any).

Because both the Florida softshell and the spiny softshell are scooters and burrowers, they require a substrate that supports both these habits. Sand is best because in addition to being burrow-able, the turtles will scoot underneath it and exfoliate their shells, eliminating bacteria and fungi and stimulating new shell cell growth.

Due to the soft nature of their shells, hard, abrasive rocks and other decorative items need to be avoided because the turtles will scuff against them and injure themselves.

Although they are mainly aquatic, softshells are regular baskets as well, so an adequate basking area must be maintained. Make sure that they can safely get all the way out of the water and heat themselves as well as absorb the proper UV lights.

apalone ferox vs apalone spinifera

Ultimately, if you can handle the attitude that they sometimes pack, both species of softshell turtle make great pets. Backwater Reptiles currently offers captive bred spiny softshell turtles for sale and captive bred Florida softshell turtles for sale.

How to Breed Box Turtles

Breeding Box turtles isn’t all that tough, and we’ll explain how within the below article. This week at Backwater Reptiles headquarters, we witnessed a pair of our Three Toed Box Turtles (Terrapene carolina triunguis) mating, something we have seen many times here in our outdoor turtle pens. We figured since Spring/Summer is the time of year for reproductive behavior to occur, it would be a great opportunity for us to share our knowledge on how to breed these wonderful turtles.

box turtle breeding

As we all know, the first thing you need to breed any animal is a male and female of the species. While Three Toed Box Turtles are not exactly sexually dimorphic, there are some tricks you can use to identify whether or not you’ve got the correct genders to produce babies.

Males of the species tend to be more brilliantly-colored than the females, exhibiting orange, red, or white on their faces with red eyes, while females are duller in color and usually have green eyes. Males are generally smaller than females but do have larger, longer tails and rear nails. The male has a concave plastron (underside) so that he can conform better to the shape of the female’s shell as he mounts her, whereas the plastron of the females is flat.

how to breed box turtles
Here’s one of our healthy, beautiful box turtle breeders.

Once you have sexed your turtles, it is ideal to house them outdoors as it allows them to have a natural cycle to follow for breeding. If they are housed outside, after the cooler winter/fall months have passed, the females will emerge from hibernation and begin looking for a suitable area to nest and lay eggs. It is best if you create your own “suggested” areas for the female to lay her eggs as they will be buried and you want to be able to know where she has deposited them. Suggested areas are warm and moist and will have soft soil for digging.

Breeding will have occurred the previous spring/summer. Males will circle the female, butting up against her and sometimes biting her. Sometimes the males will also inflate their necks in order to promote receptivity in the female. Once the courtship ritual has been completed, the male will mount the female and she will lower her plastron letting him hook his nails beneath her carapace. She will then close up her carapace on his nails so he doesn’t slide off during the actual copulation, which can take up to an hour. It should also be noted that females can retain this sperm and lay viable eggs for up to four years after breeding, so she may not lay eggs for several years.

The Three Toed Box Turtles at Backwater Reptiles during copulation. We keep them in very large outdoor setups, with plenty of food, water, and shelter.

Box Turtle Eggs

Eggs will take about 70 days to hatch and should be kept between 84 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit. If you transfer your eggs from outdoors to inside so you can keep a better watch on them, do so carefully. You want to make sure the eggs are not shifted, turned over, or jostled. It’s best to make a pencil or marker line on the top  so that as you gently move them to a new container, you won’t accidentally turn them. Store the eggs in a temperature controlled room in moist vermiculite or perlite.

Once the babies start emerging from the eggs, they should not be allowed to live outside right away as they require more structured conditions as they grow. The newborns must have access to water at all times as well as a place where they can completely get out of water (i.e. a patch of dry land). They will eat appropriately-sized dusted and gut-loaded insects, plant matter, and pre-made turtle chow. It’s a personal choice what to feed your baby box turtle – just make sure that it’s varied and frequent as growing reptiles (like growing humans) need to get lots of vitamins, protein, and nutrients.

Here’s one of our flawless, captive bred baby Box turtles.

We don’t currently have any hatchling Three Toed Box Turtles available (although we will in a few weeks once the eggs start hatching), but we do have adult Three Toed Box Turtles for sale that are around three to five inches in length – just the right size for if you want to start your own breeding project.

Box turtle egg
Here’s the end result: a Box turtle egg!

Madagascar Big-Headed Turtle Care

We are very excited to announce that we just received captive bred baby Madagascar Big-Headed Turtles (Erymnochelys madagascariensis)!

madagascar big headed turtle care
Here’s one of our captive bred baby Madagascar Big-headed turtles.

These ultra-rare turtles are endemic to Madagascar as their name suggests and are classified as one of the 25 most endangered turtles in the world largely due to the fact that they are prized as food in Madagascar and exported illegally to Asia for the same purpose. Not to worry – the ones we have for sale are all captive-bred and we are hoping to sell them to someone who wants to breed and help preserve this turtle species.

The Madacascar Big-Headed Turtle lives in freshwater areas and is highly aquatic. In general, these turtles only emerge from the water to lay eggs – even their preferred basking areas tend to be surrounded by water. We have a turtle bank and basking bulb available to them, but we have never once seen them use it!

erymnochelys madagascariensis


Babies are carnivorous and eat virtually any small invertebrates and critters they can fit in their mouths, but in captivity, they should be fed insects and pre-packaged turtle food. As they grow, Madagascar Big-Headed Turtles will eat a more vegetarian diet, but will still consume meat-based dietary items.

Our baby Madagascan Big-headed turtles have huge appetites. We feed ours crickets, waxworms, earthworms (red wigglers), and turtle pellets, all of which are eaten quickly in a frenzy of consumption!

We keep our’s in glass turtle tanks with about four inches of water, the aforementioned turtle bank, UVB basking bulb, pebble substrate (large pebbles to prevent ingestion), artificial turtle grass for cover, and an Exo Terra Repticlear filter to help clean the water and maintain circulation (water that has no circulation can become stagnant).

Our captive-bred Madagascar Big-Headed Turtle for sale needs to go to a good home. If you are interested, click the link and select the species from the appropriate drop-down menu.

erymnochelys madagascariensis care