Freshwater Turtles You Can Keep In Outdoor Ponds 2022 (Native Species)
Turtles are incredibly unique vertebrates, comprised of between 300 and 400 different species (the exact number is contested), and these belong to three groups that are often mistakenly spoken about interchangeably: true turtles, tortoises, and terrapins. However, true turtles live primarily in water and have webbed feet, tortoises are primarily terrestrial and have stubby short legs that have evolved for land, and terrapins live both on land and in water. Turtles and terrapins are the ones that are found in ponds, bogs, lakes, swamps, and the like.
Like most other reptile species, worldwide turtles are facing immense threats from habitat loss, destruction, and overall degradation, as well as poaching and the illegal black market pet trade. In particular, the loss of 87% of the world’s wetlands pose the greatest threat to these creatures, and nearly half of all turtle species are severely threatened with extinction in the near future. Within this, about 60% of freshwater turtle species are endangered or threatened.
This is one of the reasons why incorporating them into your pond (and/or allowing wild ones to call it home) can help with the survival of a variety of species as well as performing various ecological functions, such as helping to control algae and insect populations as many turtles will happily eat both of these.
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Considerations Before Buying Pond Turtles
When choosing a turtle species to incorporate into your pond, you should first make sure that it won’t be possible for it to escape your pond area, as it could then become an invasive species and cause a surprising amount of damage to surrounding ecosystems. Some species sold as pets may be native to your area (for example, red-eared sliders are a common pet species but are also native throughout much of the U.S. and Mexico). All of the turtles covered here will need basking sites with plenty of sunlight in the pond, as basking is essential for turtles to maintain a healthy metabolism, healthy skin, and aids in proper digestion.
Furthermore, be aware that the illegal turtle pet trade is a massive issue and one of the culprits causing the demise of countless turtle populations and entire species – make sure to only purchase species that are native to your country/region, and ones that are humanely bred in captivity and not yanked from sensitive wild populations. For example, if you see a black spotted turtle (native to India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) in your local pet shop or being sold by a local individual, you shouldn’t buy it – it’s likely been captured from its native habitat and is being sold illegally, much to the detriment of the struggling species.
Below we will cover some freshwater pond turtle and terrapin species (and where they’re native) that are suitable to incorporate into your pond ecosystem. Asian and African species will not be included, as they are commonly victims of the pet trade. Furthermore, most species here are traditionally found in the U.S., as the U.K. does not have many native turtle species (aside from several sea turtle species), but many of them are now safely bred there in captivity and we will mention whether or not the listed species can be legally purchased in the U.K.
List of Freshwater Pond Turtles (Facts, Care & Species Advice)
1) Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta)
The painted turtle is native throughout much of the U.S., Canada, and northern Mexico. They can be found for sale in the U.K., though be aware that they must never be released into the wild as they will become an invasive species. A fairly easy species to take care of, and pretty to boot with red-accented shells and unique yellow markings on their bodies (hence their name), painted turtles prefer water temperatures to be as near to 70° F (21° C). They’re a fairly small turtle, usually around 5 to 7 inches in length, making them ideal for any pond size. Painted turtles look very similar to red-eared sliders (below), however, they lack the distinct red ear markings and have an orange or red underbelly, whereas sliders have a yellow underbelly.
While they prefer to spend much of their time in the water, they will need at least one easy entry and exit point as they’ll want to wander out of the pond every now and then. This isn’t an issue if you live within their native range; however, as mentioned above, if not then you’ll need to be sure that they cannot escape into nature.
2) Red-eared Slider/Terrapin (Trachemys scripta elegans)
Red-eared sliders, also known as red-eared terrapins in some areas, spend just about as much time on land as they do in the water, as is typical of terrapins. As such, they’ll need to be able to come and go from the water easily in order to be happy and healthy. It’s so named for the vibrant red splash of color on either side of its head behind each eye. Their maximum average size is about 8 inches in length, though slightly larger or smaller is not uncommon.
Considered one of the world’s top 100 worst invasive species because of their high adaptability and the illegal pet trade exporting them out of the U.S. (where they’re native east of the Mississippi River Basin) to many different countries, you should only get a slider if you live in the eastern U.S. Red-eared sliders can both climb and dig very well, and as such are quite likely to get out of your pond, even if it’s enclosed. They’re very well adapted to both warm and cool temperatures, and really just need a mixture of water, land, and food (they’ll eat just about anything, from insects to fruits to algae and even baby birds), which makes them easy to care for (hence them being a highly sought-after pet). However, this also means that it won’t be an issue for them to make their home in a natural waterway where they will easily out-compete any native turtle species. Be sure to only have this turtle if you live within its native range, or will have it in an enclosed tank or indoor pond rather than an outdoor pond where it could escape.
3) Common Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica)
Map turtles range in size from 6 to 10 inches in length, with the males being typically about half this size. Their shells usually have neat map-like markings covering the surface, and with many different genuses their overall appearance can differ. For example, sawback map turtles have raised saw-like structures on their carapace (the top of their shell), while northern map turtles tend to have flatter shells, and Mississippi map turtles often have more pronounced map markings. They prefer water to be between 72 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and are also quite sensitive – meaning that they need high water quality, else they are prone to bacterial infections and deadly shell rot. In addition, they prefer slightly moving water rather than still water (in the wild, they’re typically found in streams and slow rivers rather than ponds or lakes), so you’ll need to have some form of water disturbance in your pond, such as a pump, waterfall, or fountain.
The young will eat mostly plant matter, like duckweed, so you’ll need to be aware of this if you purchase them as babies and have aquatic plants in your pond. The adults, however, are primarily carnivores and prefer insects, worms, crayfish, though the occasional vegetable (such as romaine lettuce, kale, and endive) can be eaten as a treat. While they are only native in the U.S., they are often sold around the world – this doesn’t seem to be of terrible concern, as they require such excellent water quality and are less likely to become a nuisance species. Regardless, keep your pond somehow enclosed to prevent them from escaping into the wild.
4) Box Turtle (Terrapene)
Box turtles encompass four subspecies and are found, depending on the species, throughout most of the U.S. as well as portions of Mexico and Canada. The Asian box turtle is, as expected, native throughout Asia. They’re typically between 4 to 8 inches in size, with large domed shells that may be plain or have extensive yellow markings, depending on the exact species. Despite their popularity, they are quite difficult to keep as pets since they become stressed very easily, don’t enjoy being handled, need high humidity, are particular about substrate (they like to burrow), and need temperate conditions as they’re more prominent in warmer areas. Additionally, box turtles are terrestrial, meaning they should never be placed in your actual pond! While many can swim, they are not made to stay in water for really any length of time. In terms of diet, this may be the only “easy” aspect of keeping them as a pet, as they have a generalist diet and will eat anything from insects to cacti to berries to gastropods such as snails and slugs.
Box turtles have a low reproduction rate and all species are struggling, so never take them from the wild (as with any of the turtles in this article). In many states, it’s illegal to capture wild box turtles. Rather, only obtain them from an ethical breeder or a store that sells legally-obtained captive bred box turtles. They can be found for sale in parts of Europe, but be aware that there is no known legal trade of box turtles outside of the United States, nor is there any legal trade of Asian box turtles. If you encounter an Asian box turtle (and you’re not in Asia), you should report it. There are some legal captive box turtle breeders in Europe, so do your research before purchasing the turtle to make sure that it was obtained legally by the seller so as to not damage wild box turtle populations or encourage the black market pet trade.
5) European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis)
The European pond terrapin is found throughout much of Europe, northwest Africa, and western and central Asia. It’s considered non-native in the U.K., but this is only because they were considered extinct in this region due to climatic cooling but have since returned as people keeping them as pets have released them into the wild. Thankfully, because it used to be a natural species here, in this case releasing them wasn’t necessarily a bad thing (though you still shouldn’t do it with any pet turtle, regardless of species!). Most importantly, it is now illegal to have a European pond terrapin as a pet, regardless of where you live, as part of the effort to conserve the species. We included it in this list because it can still often be found for sale and is regarded as a popular pet in many areas, but it needs to be known that this species should not be kept as a pet.
6) Yellow-bellied Slider (Trachemys scripta scripta)
About the same size as red-eared sliders, yellow-bellied sliders are so named for the prominent yellow striping that occurs on the sides of their head, neck, and the bottom of their shell (called the plastron). The water temperature should be kept at 75-80o F (25oC), as these turtles are native to southeastern portions of the United States. As semi-aquatic turtles, they prefer shallow water with plenty of both submerged and emergent vegetation that they can hide in and munch on. They’ll need a variety of basking spots, such as logs and rocks, and have a diet that is composed around 90% of meat – insects, minnows, frogs – but they will occasionally nibble on plants and algae. These are commonly sold (legally) in the U.K., but are technically listed as an invasive species so you must not allow them to leave the confines of your pond or yard; the same thing goes if you don’t live within this turtle’s native range within the U.S.
7) African Sideneck Turtle (Pelomedusidae)
There are several species of African sideneck turtles, all of which are native to eastern and southern Africa. They’re not hugely exploited by humans like many other turtle species, and so the sale of them in the U.S. and the U.K. is currently legal. Though they may appear somewhat plain, these turtles have a great deal of personality. They’re curious, and shouldn’t really be kept with turtles of other species unless they are the same size or larger than the sideneck (which ranges from 8 to 18 inches long), because their curiosity can make them a bit of a bully at times and they may push or bite. They’re known to (rather humorously) “battle” over basking spots, climbing on top of one another and basking on top of whatever individual is in their desired spot – it’s not uncommon to see many sidenecks stacked atop each other! They’re also unique in that they cannot retract their heads completely into their shell like most turtles; instead, they pull it in as far as it’ll go and then turn their neck and head to the side.
You’ll also notice that sideneck turtles have two small barbels on the bottom of their jaw (they look more like bumps than barbels) – these are incredibly sensitive organs that help them to feel around for food as well as sense changes in the water that may mean prey or a predator are nearby. They also have large eyes and a mouth that appears to curl up into a smile, rendering them pretty endearing to look at.
Since they’re from Africa, sidenecks need warm temperatures so you shouldn’t keep them in an outdoor pond unless you live in a warm area in which air temperatures don’t often fall below 60° F (at a minimum) and water temperature is between 70 and 80° F. They don’t hibernate, so if you don’t live in a warm area and experience cool/cold winters, you could alternatively have an indoor pond or tank set up for them to overwinter in. They will occasionally venture into deeper water to browse for food or simply to swim somewhere else, but typically prefer water that is less than a foot deep, with plenty of basking areas and easy access into and out of the pond, so try to keep at least a quarter to a third of your pond on the shallower side if you plan on having a sideneck. They will readily eat insects, worms, some small fish (be aware of this), snails, and greens like spinach and romaine.
23 thoughts on “Types of Freshwater Pond Turtles For Outdoors (Pond Turtle Pets)”
I heard Turtle go into hibernate during winter is this true? where do they go to do that>
Some turtles do indeed hibernate during the winter! Specifically, they brumate, a form of hibernation that means they bury themselves and then go dormant for weeks or months at a time. Larger turtles like mature snapping turtles sometimes remain partially active during the winter, occasionally waking up to hunt for food beneath the ice, while other species prefer to burrow into the mud in lakes and ponds until temperatures increase enough to allow for their metabolisms to kick in again. They might bury themselves deep in the mud on the edges of water, or in the mud deep underwater. They’re able to survive for months underwater since their metabolisms slow dramatically, and they have a number of blood vessels close to their skin’s surface that allows oxygen from the water to diffuse into their body.
I have had a turtle for over 20 years which my son brought home but left the turtle when he moved. It started out in a 20 gal tank then moved up to a 75 gal tank. 10 years ago my husband dug a Koi pond and attached to it higher than the Koi pond a turtle pond for Houdini which is the turtles name. We leave him out in the spring when the water is 65 and bring him in to the tank in the winter again when the water goes down t 65 or 70. We are in middle of Texas. I feed him aquatic turtle food as he wont eat live food… we tried and he makes friends with them. My question is the tank get so nasty and even though I have 4 under water filters two with uv lights and wondered if he could stay in the pond all winter… I have no idea what kind of turtle he is. When he was small we thought he was a red eared slider but now he is older is is just a dark turtle no color expect on his underside which is not much… Im worried about leaving him out but he goes a little crazy when he goes from the pond to the tank and wondered if maybe it would be better or ok for him to stay in the pond… so much more room for him to swim and get natural sunlight when he sits on his rocks in the middle of the pond… Could you give me some advice on what is best for him. Im afraid to just release him in a lake since he has been had fed for over 20 years really closer to 25 years and comes up to his feeder when I go out there which is once a day… I dont want to kill the poor guy but he is growing and Im worried… what do you do with a trutle that has been in a tank for 6 months and in a small pond 6 months out of the year..?
First of all, congrats on having a turtle that old! Many people struggle to keep them alive for even a few years but it sounds like you’re taking excellent care of him.
Can you describe him to me any further? I know you said he’s dark but what colors are his skin/shell, does he have any markings on his skin or shell, approximate size, etc.? You can also upload a picture of the turtle to postimages.org if you’d like – we don’t allow pictures on the site for security reasons, but postimage is secure. Once you post the picture, you’ll have to copy website URL and paste it in a comment on here to link us to it so that we can see the picture. I know it’s a bit complicated, but currently it’s the safest option that we have for images.
In terms of keeping the turtle outdoors, I can certainly understand that! I used to have a red-eared slider, actually, and despite having two filters and cleaning the tank twice weekly it would still get grimy rather quickly – and she wasn’t a large turtle! However, safely keeping turtles outdoors does depend somewhat on the species, so if I can identify what kind of turtle he is I can give you more specific information. Generally, though, most turtles are able to overwinter by burrowing in mud and will do this instinctually. Since you’re in Texas, your winters don’t get terribly cold so I imagine he would be just fine out in the pond! If you decide to do this, certainly keep an eye on him, especially at first, to make sure he adjusts alright when temperatures start to decline. If you keep your pond heated year-round, then there’s little concern for him, I would think.
Hi, I live on Long Island, NY it gets quite cold, freezing in winter. Is there a turtle that adapts and can stay in the pond throughout the winter here? I have a 750 gal pond with goldfish and lilies
Apologies for such a delayed reply!
Since your pond is outdoors, we very very highly recommend getting a turtle species that is native to New York. Purchasing exotic or non-native turtles from pet stores quite often results in them escaping into nature and wreaking havoc on ecosystems and native species (who would’ve thought a turtle could be destructive?). Here is a list of turtles native to New York, that would be able to overwinter just fine: https://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7479.html
Please do not try to capture any of these species from the wild. Species with more stable populations may be available for sale.
I have 3 red sliders in my pond I am trying to also grow plants in the pond but they clip the stalks or lie on top of them and kill the plants. Are there ways to keep the turtles off of the plants? They have plenty of space to bask in the sun and an island to sit on top of.
Apologies for such a late response! I would suggest placing protective plant baskets or non-sharp fencing that completely encase the plants and go over the top of them. The turtles will, of course, climb on this but if it totally covers the plants, they won’t be able to eat them, at least. Other than this, there is not much that can be done to help keep your turtles from eating or climbing on the plants – they’re quite resourceful and determine animals!
I was thinking about getting a turtle for our koi pond that’s between 250 and 290 gallons the pond also has a small waterfall we also live in Florida so I don’t know if that has an impact. And we got the pond about 8 months ago so the koi are still small. I was wondering if you could give us An idea of which species to pick.
Sorry about the delayed response!
Letting me know your location was actually quite helpful! There are over 2 dozen freshwater turtle species native to Florida. Of those, I think the red-eared slider or yellow-bellied slider would likely be the easiest to care for while posing the least threat to your koi (and vice-versa). They’re also quite common, and as such are cheaper (and also legal) to purchase.
What species of turtle is appropriate for my location, near Salem, Oregon?
And what is a source?
I have a red-eared slider, i think- my tortoises look closer to it than any others- and you said the were native to the east of the Mississippi River Basin- BUT I LIVE IN MALAYSIA, what do i do?!! i don’t wanna ba a part of the illegal pet trade……please help me..
I think you’re fine if you just keep the slider through the rest of its life and don’t release it in nature where it would cause issues. In the future, all we can do is try to research our pets before getting them to make sure we’re getting an animal that is ethically treated and sold, and not an invasive or illegal species. If you got it from a particular pet store, you can always look up more info on the store or contact authorities to look into them and ensure they are obtaining animals legally and ethically, if that’s a route you’d wish to go.
If I live in Austin Texas and have a rock waterfall about 3 ft. deep what kind of turtle should I get for outdoors even in the winter. Thank you !!
My boyfriend found a tiny baby turtle near a pond. I saw the little guy – he looks to have had a head or neck injury. Tommy, the turtle (of course, he named him!) holds his tiny head to the one side. He found Tommy lying upside down, very weak, dirt covered. He is about the size of a quarter with a reddish underbelly.
My boyfriend took some pond water and Tommy home where he’s been for the past week weeks in his garage. We live in southern NJ. Every few days my boyfriend gets fresh pond water and puts Tommy in it.
Tommy hardly moves. He’s tiny feet still move from time to time but he never changes his head position. I fear Tommy had been a heron’s lunch but somehow the heron dropped poor Tommy which may explain the head injury.
My boyfriend wants to help Tommy to live out his natural life in a healthy, safe manner. Please share any ideas regarding a tank, food, water, etc.
This sounds like a painted turtle based on your description. Your best bet is to find a rehabilitator who specializes in turtles. Keeping the turtle in a garage can be potentially dangerous to the turtle if proper UV light and heat are not provided for basking. Turtles can be tricky to care for, particularly wild ones, and unfortunately the shock of this new environment and new food and water could potentially prevent healing. I absolutely understand wanting to care for the turtle, and commend your and your boyfriend’s efforts – I’d want to do the same! However, again I highly recommend trying to find a wildlife rehabber who can take the turtle. Juvenile painted turtles primarily eat vegetation like duckweed and water lilies, though can also be provided with nutrient-dense veggies like kale and red-leaf lettuce. Worms and aquatic insects are another important part of their diet. In fact, during their first several years of life protein should make up around 70 to 80% of their diet as they are growing quickly and solidifying their shell.
According to this site, there are at least two listed wildlife rehabilitation facilities in NJ that accept turtles: https://njawr.com/nj-wildlife-rehabilitators/?msclkid=191b43dbc70611ec802d62f2a914dadd
We have a half-acre surface pond containing lots of native plants found here in Michigan: cattail, pickerel weed, water Lily, rushes…and we desperately want to attract turtles to our pond! We have large semi-submerged rocks and driftwood. It seems like a perfect place for turtles yet we have none.
How to I get them to come? The pond was installed about ten years ago.
Hi I live in Concord California and have a 3200 gallon koi pond that I put in there is a fountain in the center and a waterfall on 1 side. 1 evening my wife and I were feeding the fish and a turtle shows up I have no idea where it came from neighbors said they did not lose any turtles it looks like A northern map turtle from what I can tell. The pond is about 2′ deep and no mud on the bottom I was wondering about Winter and any tips you can give me
Hi I live in Concord California and have a 3200 gallon koi pond that I put in there is a fountain in the center and a waterfall on 1 side. 1 evening my wife and I were feeding the fish and a turtle shows up I have no idea where it came from neighbors said they did not lose any turtles it looks like a northern map turtle from what I can tell. The pond is about 2′ deep and no mud on the bottom I was wondering about Winter and any tips you can give me.I forgot to mention that it’s shell is about 2 to 3 inches (head to tail) and loves the good quality food that I feed the fish.
Hi I live in Orlando , I have two turtles in a small pond 150 gal in my garden with water fall and filter , I think one is a yellow bellied and the other one I don’t know they are both 2 years, in spring we decided to make a small pond for them for more space than the aquarium , I just wonder if they can survive outside during the winter or if I can put in the pond the heater that they have before in the aquarium, thank you
Hey, I live in SC, Anderson. I have a pond that is lined and have comet fish. It’s currently 7×13 and 2-3ft deep. I thought about expanding my pond out but wondered if I could still have a turtle that could stay outside year-round in the type of pond I have and what kind would be the best.
Hi! I’m in Northwest Indiana. A baby painted turtle found my pond I think in May. My pond is 4ft. deep and has a floating basking log which he used in the summer. Now the water is 47 degrees as we are heading into winter. I noticed that the turtle now only walks along the bottom. He doesn’t swim since the water temperature has dropped. I also noticed that he’s trying to climb the walls of the pond, he gets so far, then falls to the bottom. The walls of my pond are straight. Just wondering about these behaviors, not swimming and climbing, and if they are normal or if there is anything I can do to help him.
Are there any Western or eastern painted turtles in UK?
Is there any website or breeder of such species please?