Do Turtles Make Good Pets?

Some pets only look low-maintenance. Get the facts before adopting a turtle, hermit crab, or iguana.

  • Jennifer King Lindley

Turtles

Think those slow-moving creatures would be exshellent pets? Think again. Turtles are not low-maintenance, warns veterinarian Valarie Tynes. For starters, the sale of turtles with a shell less than four inches long has been banned in the United States since 1975. Like reptiles, they can carry salmonella. The bigger turtles need NASA-style setups: huge tanks (10 gallons of water per inch of turtle), complicated lighting, and powerful water filters. They’ll want regular live chow (crickets, worms, baby fish) in addition to their pelleted fare. Cleaning up this ecosystem to prevent disease can be time-consuming. And turtles are not cuddly; handling stresses them, as they assume they are about to become soup. Your reward for all this TLC? Some species of turtles can live more than 50 years, so yours may beat you to heaven by only a hare.

 

Hermit Crabs

They’re sold as amusing beach souvenirs, but hermit crabs are not trinkets. Hermies need a well thought-out crabitat, says Tammy Weik, the owner of the Hermit Crab Patch, an online retailer in Eustis, Florida. That means a specially prepared sand mixture (with “the consistency you would use to make sand castles,” says Weik), fresh and saltwater bowls (“aquarium sea salt, not table salt”), and well-monitored heat and humidity levels. And you should get at least three. “Although their name leads you to believe they are solitary creatures,” says Weik, “they’re very social and live in large colonies in the wild.”

Iguanas

That cute little thing can eventually get to be bigger than your kid—up to a whopping five to six feet in length—and can live for decades. Iguanas need special heating, lighting, a huge buffet of fresh produce, patient handling to tame them, and, perhaps, as they grow, your spare bathroom. “I had a pair of iguanas as store pets,” says pet-shop owner Connie Packard Kamedulski. “They took over a bathtub-size space, where they had heaters, special lights, and vegetation.” Their razor-sharp spikes and whipping tails can also cause nasty cuts. Yikes—you’ve created a monster!

Try one of thse truly low-maintenance pets instead.