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Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Fish & Wildlife > Nongame & Endangered Wildlife > Wildlife Diversity - Herpetology > Turtles as Pets Turtles as Pets

It is illegal in the State of Indiana to sell native species of turtles, and their subspecies, regardless of whether they are captive-bred or wild-caught. Native turtles include red-eared sliders, painted turtles, map turtles, common snapping turtles, and box turtles. Even if the turtle is not native to Indiana, the FDA prohibits the selling of turtles with a shell under four (4) inches in length in an effort to prevent contact with turtles carrying the Salmonella bacteria. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that children, pregnant women, and persons with compromised immune systems avoid contact with reptiles to prevent contact with the Salmonella bacteria.

Most people do not realize that turtles require time and money for proper care, just like any other pet, such as a dog, cat, or bird. When healthy and properly cared for, some species can live up to 50 years, much past the interest of childhood. Pet turtles do not like to be held and are loners; therefore they can become boring pets for children. It is very important to know what kind of species you want and the care it needs before you acquire a pet turtle. Once you have a pet turtle and no longer want to keep it, it should not be released into the wild because it is not likely to survive. It will have to find its own food, deal with the elements, and deal with predators. These once-captive turtles are also likely to transmit diseases to wild turtle populations.

Turtles are cold-blooded and need a source of heat. They also require an ultraviolet light for proper growth and health. Without this special light, many health issues arise such as metabolic bone disease. Each species has different feeding requirements, with some being strictly carnivores or herbivores. Map turtles, for example, have restricted diets that must include snails, aquatic insects and crayfish. Some species of aquatic turtles, such as the red-eared slider, map turtle, and soft-shell, grow up to 12 inches in length, requiring a large tank for swimming and basking. A filter is also necessary for water cleanliness. Land turtles need a large pen, with sufficient substrate, properly sized water bowl, a hide area, as well as heat. Some require more humidity than others.

Red-Eared Slider TurtleMany native, wild-caught turtles are still sold as pets, even though this practice is illegal in Indiana. The collection of wild turtles has caused many species to become endangered, especially when combined with habitat loss, water pollution and predators. Predators such as raccoons eat a large number of turtle eggs each year, and some species do not even breed until they are several years old, meaning that it can take many years for a population to become established. You can help protect Indiana’s turtles by helping to preserve turtle habitat, especially wetlands, through local conservation organizations or the Indiana Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources does not encourage the keeping of turtles as pets, but does allow it if the turtle is obtained legally with a hunting or fishing license. Endangered species can not be collected from the wild or be sold in Indiana.

For more information on laws pertaining to reptiles in Indiana, please contact the Division of Fish and Wildlife at 317-232-4080 or write to the following address: Reptile Regulations; 402 W. Washington St., Rm. W273; Indianapolis, IN 46204-2781.

Below is a complete listing of Indiana’s native species of turtles:

  • Common snapping turtle
  • Alligator snapping turtle (endangered)
  • Smooth softshell turtle
  • Spiny softshell turtle
  • Eastern mud turtle (endangered)
  • Musk turtle
  • Midland painted turtle
  • Western painted turtle
  •  Spotted turtle (endangered)
  • Blanding’s turtle (endangered)
  • Map turtle
  • False map turtle
  • Ouachita map turtle
  • Heiroglyphic river cooter(endangered)
  • Eastern box turtle (protected)
  • Ornate box turtle (endangered)