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Can You Keep a Wild Turtle as a Pet?

Turtles are fascinating reptiles. If you are considering keeping a wild-caught turtle as a pet, it is essential to know a few things about them! Some local governments have very strict regulations regarding the keeping of turtles.

So, if you’re curious if you can keep a wild turtle as a pet, you’re in luck! This article will tell you everything you need to know! Turtles are fascinating creatures—in fact, they are one of the oldest animals on the planet!

Turtles have survived multiple mass extinction events by adapting to their environments for over 200 million years. They’re also extremely diverse, with over 300 species of turtles just in North America!

Key takeaways:

  • Catching a turtle in the wild is possible, but it is strongly discouraged.
  • Each state has specific turtle species that are permitted and prohibited from being captured and kept as pets. Check with your local wildlife authorities to determine which is which.
  • As much as possible, leave wild turtles in their habitat because they are an essential part of the ecosystem.

Can you keep a wild turtle as a pet?

Mississippi map turtle
Mississippi map turtle | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The answer to this question varies depending on your local government. You can keep wild turtles as pets in some places, while in others you cannot. Keeping a turtle as a pet is legal in some states. However, in some states it is illegal to keep a turtle as a pet at all, whether you purchased it from a pet store or caught it in the wild.

You will be able to keep your pet turtle depending on the type of turtle you have and where you live. Before getting a wild turtle as a pet, do your research and find out what types of turtles are legal in your state and what kind of license or permit is required for ownership.

Are wild turtles protected?

Head turn wood turtle
Head turn Wood turtle | image by USFWS Midwest Region via Flickr

Yes, both state and federal laws protect wild turtles in the United States. Some species of turtles are listed as a species of special concern under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which means they are not currently endangered but may become so in the future.

Some may also be listed as a threatened species in various states, which means these creatures are already on the verge of becoming extinct if populations continue to decline. This is why the Endangered Species Act prohibits taking or disturbing wild turtles on public land.

US states with laws governing the possession of wild turtles

It is illegal in most states to take a wild turtle and bring it home as a pet. There are, however, exceptions to this rule.

Here is a list of some states with strict laws regarding wild turtles and keeping them as pets:

  • Massachusetts – Legally, you are only allowed to keep snapping turtles and painted turtles.
  • Arizona – Other turtles, except for snapping turtles, gopher turtles, and desert turtles, can be kept.
  • Arkansas Without a permit, you can only keep African sideneck, redbelly shortneck, and African mud turtles in Arkansas.
  • Illinois You are only permitted to catch up to two snapping turtles from the wild.
  • Kansas – Except for alligator snapping turtles, common snapping turtles, and soft-shelled turtles, you may keep any native turtle as a pet.
  • Louisiana – There are only a few species of turtles that can be kept as pets in Louisiana; check with your local wildlife authorities for more information, as keeping them still requires a permit.
  • Maine – Yellow mud turtles, alligator snapping turtles, northern diamondback terrapins, and ornate box turtles are legal as long as you have the proper government permits:
  • Maryland – Some turtles can only be kept as pets with a special permit, and you need a license to capture one in the wild.
  • Michigan Some turtles, such as snapping and softshell turtles, can be caught, but some restrictions exist.
  • Montana – Most turtles can be kept as pets if their shell length is greater than 4 inches.
  • New Hampshire – Musk turtles, painted turtles, and snapping turtles must be kept under license.
  • New Jersey – Turtles that can be kept without a permit include snapping turtles and eastern painted turtles.
  • Oregon A Prohibited Species Permit is required before keeping some types of turtles as pets. There are also turtle species that you can keep without obtaining a permit.
  • Rhode Island – Most exotic turtles that aren’t listed as endangered can be kept without a permit if kept safely indoors. Numerous turtle species are also prohibited in this state, so check with the local wildlife authorities.
  • Wyoming – As long as they are safely contained, you are allowed to keep plains box turtles in Wyoming even without a permit.
  • Other States – Other states not mentioned above do not have clear laws regarding the keeping of wild turtles as pets, but it is still important to check with local wildlife authorities about this issue. Some states may allow you to keep a wild turtle as a pet, but only if you obtain a permit from your local government. In other state’s like Tennessee, it is completely illegal to own or sell a pet turtle.
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Importance of wild turtles in the ecosystem

Eastern box turtle
Eastern box turtle

Turtles play an important role in the ecosystem. Without them, many other animals would be in danger because they are an essential part of the food chain. Turtles are essential to the ecosystem because they provide food for many other species.

Turtles’ eggs are a food source for birds and other animals, so they help maintain the balance between different animals. They also aid in water filtration by eating algae that grow on rocks at the bottom of bodies of water such as ponds or lakes; this helps keep the water clean so that it does not harm other species such as fish or birds that rely on these water sources for survival.

Do wild turtles carry diseases?

Unfortunately, wild turtles are known to be salmonella carriers. They usually carry the bacteria on their shells and outer skin. You could become ill if you come into contact with a wild turtle, especially if you have no idea where it came from.

The bacteria can live in your hands for up to two weeks after touching a turtle. While most people will not become sick if exposed to the bacteria, some people may become ill, especially if they have weakened immune systems or other health issues.

If you do intend to touch a wild turtle, make sure to thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water afterward to avoid spreading germs from the turtle to yourself or other people in your household.


If you have enough space and time, you can keep a turtle as long as it’s legal where you live, but it’s not recommended that you keep wild-caught animals of any type. Many states have laws governing where and how you can keep certain types of turtles. It is also critical to understand how to properly care for a pet turtle so that it can live a long and healthy life.