Turtles Types – The 3 Major Categories of Turtles

Turtles can make great pets and a welcome addition to any home if treated right. In order to properly care for these creatures having an understanding of the different turtles types is highly beneficial. Turtles are seen as kind of an exotic pet and most people underestimate the care and routine maintenance involved in keeping them as pets.

There are lots of different species and they all have sub-species. Learning about all the different species would take months, but there are ways of breaking the turtle types down to make it more manageable. In a broad sense turtles can be classified into three categories: turtles, tortoises and sea turtles. These three turtle types have very different lifestyles and requirements.


When speaking of these animals people think of all kinds of different examples. Some people think of a little box turtle they caught when they were a child while some would think about the majestic sea turtles that glide through the oceans surrounding tropical islands. They are both types of turtles, but they lead very different lives.

A turtle by definition is a semi aquatic animal, meaning that it spends some of its life in the water and some of its life on land. Most turtle species spend most of their time in the water and come on land primarily to bask in the sun which emits some much needed vitamin D3.

Good examples of semi aquatics are the painted turtle and the red eared slider. As pets these turtles have more water than land in their environment. A small section of their tank would be dedicated for the turtle to bask under a UV lamp. This provides vitamin D3 and raises their core body temperature.


Tortoises are terrestrial, meaning they spend most of their time on land. This is just as well as these turtles are very clumsy swimmers. That is not to say that they will not take a dip in shallow waters from time to time, but if they get flipped upside down and stuck underwater they could drown.

A prime example of a tortoise would be the box turtle. People who own box turtles as pets typically keep them in an out door turtle pen, where weather and temperature permit. Only shallow water is provided for wading and drinking. Their wild life environment has to be recreated precisely for good health. Factors such as temperature, humidity and some kind of stimulation for the turtle are necessary for good health and development.

Sea turtles

Sea turtles stay in the water all the time. Sea turtles inhabit every ocean of the world, aside from the arctic region where it is far too cold to support sea turtle life. The only time these turtles leave the ocean is to lay their eggs, then they return back to the sea.

Sea turtles typically live in salt or brackish waters. Pet turtles that stay in the water can be referred to as “aquatic”. These come in fresh water varieties as well, but many say even a little sea salt to their freshwater tank is much better for their health.

With an understanding of the three turtles types it is far easier to break up the sub species from there. Among all the species some have tendencies and behaviors that lean more towards other types of turtles. For example there are people who own typically clumsy swimming box turtles that were quite graceful in the water. On the other hand, certain types of painted turtles spend more time on land than others. This is a good starting point for learning about the many types of turtles.