The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
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Though they are not for the faint of heart, turtles make great pets for a variety of reasons. They are very cute, and it is quite fun to watch them doing everyday things such as eating, swimming, and interacting with each other.
What is more, turtles are pretty hardy and can live for a very long time.
But there are also a lot of myths out there about the size of turtles—do turtles really keep growing until they reach the size of their environment or tank? How big can they actually get?
These are important questions, since pets are commitments, and you don’t want to end up with a turtle too big to care for properly.
Let’s look at the reality behind turtle sizes.
How Big Can Turtles Get?
Let’s clear something up before we move on: Turtles will not necessarily grow to the size of their tank or environment. This is a misconception that causes a lot of turtle suffering, actually.
There are some facts from which this myth originated, though: what is true is that putting a turtle in a tank that is too small for it will stunt its growth. It isn’t just some kind of biological response; your turtle will be unhappy and unhealthy, and a number of factors related to this will stop it from growing.
What is more, your turtle’s life span will be dramatically stunted as well, and that is sad.
Some uninformed turtle owners put their pets in a container that is far too small for them, thinking that it will control their size. Imagine raising a Labrador puppy in a closet—it’s a very similar experience for your turtle.
Containing any animal in an enclosure that is too small for it is cruel. Instead of controlling the size of your turtle by limiting its environment, there are better ways to make sure that your turtle will grow to an appropriate size for your lifestyle. One of those is buying the right turtle in the first place.
What Kind of Turtle Do You Have?
Just as there are many different types of dogs, there are also many different types of turtles, and they do not all grow indefinitely or even get very big. It is crucially important to know what type of turtle you have not only so that you know how big it will get, but also so that you can properly care for it.
Different types of turtles have different needs, as well—both environmental and nutritional. As a responsible pet owner, you need to know about these to take proper care of your animal.
If you’re concerned about size, you can get a miniature turtle! Some small turtle species include the Bog Turtle, Diamondback Terrapins, Mississippi Mud Turtle, Musk Turtles, and Reeve’s Turtle. These all grow to be less than one foot (12 inches) in size.
When you’re shopping for a pet turtle, the smallest ones might go by different names, such as dollar turtles, dwarf turtles, miniature turtles, and quarter turtles.
How Can I Identify My New Pet Turtle That I Found Outside?
It might be possible to identify the species of turtle that you happened upon and carried home, but you shouldn’t try. That’s because you shouldn’t have taken the turtle home with you in the first place.
Very often, turtles wander because they are females looking for a place to lay eggs. Your home is certainly not the suitable place, and the turtle will hold onto them for as long as it can, causing damage to it and causing the eggs to die.
An animal born and raised in the wild needs to stay in the wild. The reasons for this (besides the one cited above) are numerous, but trust us: if there’s a turtle in the road, help it to the side, but other than that, don’t move turtles (or other animals) that you find out in nature.
What Can You Do with a Pet Turtle That Grew Too Large?
Whatever you do, DON’T release your turtle into the wild. In general, it’s never a good idea to release a pet into the wild, be it a turtle or any other type of animal.
For one thing, your turtle might not be native to your region, and if it’s not, it won’t be able to meet its environmental or nutritional needs and it will die slowly. On the other hand, it could become an invasive species and cause suffering to other wildlife.
What’s more, you have raised and cared for this animal in captivity. While it still has some survival instincts, your turtle is used to having its needs met through you; it is unfair to expect it to suddenly have to survive on its own.
The best thing that you can do is rehome your turtle. Place ads on local message boards, and interview potential new owners. If you can’t care for your turtle yourself, find someone who can and will.
Avoid the Problem in the First Place
The best way to avoid ending up with a pet turtle that is too large to keep safely and comfortably is to buy smart in the beginning. Since there are breeds and species of turtles that do not get so large, make sure that you purchase one of these.
We recommend against most major big-box pet stores. These are great for adoption events, dog food, and all kinds of supplies (including a tank and other necessities for your turtle), but they are usually staffed by part-time, hourly employees who simply do not have the extensive knowledge needed to advise you on this.
Try to find a store that specializes in aquariums and marine life. Alternatively, you can order aquatic pets on the Internet from reputable sources.
Of course, you also need to do your research. Decide ahead of time what kind of turtle you want as a pet by reading all about them, including what they require to be happy and healthy and how big they will grow.
If you buy the right turtle for your lifestyle in the first place, you will never have to worry about having to deal with it getting too big, or any other unexpected issues.