by Richard Lunsford
We enjoy owning & caring for turtles &/or
tortoises. Newcomers often ask where to buy a turtle, & even seasoned keepers
may wonder where to find a specific species. Basing your decision on the local
pet store’s stock severely limits your choices
(& usually results in red-eared sliders). Most turtles can clear 20 years
in captivity & many in theory can clear 5 decades; it pays to get the ‘right’
There’s confusion over the Federal 4” Law; are
turtles under 4” SCL sold as pets or not? Are they legal? If illegal, how great
a concern is that (like driving 60 mph in a 55 zone, or like possession of
cocaine)? This is a dicey issue, since much of the turtle market is ‘gray’ in
terms of legality (there are certain unspoken understandings in our hobby). I’m
no lawyer & can’t dispense professional legal advice.
We’ll review the most common venues of turtle
acquisition, link to relevant resources where you can buy or learn more, & hook
you up with reputable or at least known vendors.
Should You Get A Turtle – turtles & tortoises are long to
very long-lived complex cold-blooded wild animals (no matter how docile some may
seem) with involved nutritional & environmental needs. You can get a basic
introduction by starting at Austin’s Turtle Page’s
Basic Turtle Info. Page, read through that & the care sections. And
check out our FAQ. If this is a question for you, do a lot of reading before
returning to this article.
Which Species Should You Get
– Don’t decide based on what
the store has; you’ll spend decades with this animal, so get the right
one. We’ve got a couple of articles to help you (warning; my bias is
toward water turtles for beginners).
Choosing The Best First Water Turtle.
Choosing The Best First Land Turtle.
How To Design Your First Turtle Enclosure – Many people pick a baby
turtle, try to design an enclosure around it, & hope like crazy they can somehow
cope with what it grows up to be. With a red-eared slider (‘RES’) this is
challenging; with a female Florida softshell, or a common or alligator snapper,
it can be overwhelming. Before you bring home anything, think long
& hard on whether & how you’ll house the adult. Click on & read our
article on designing your first.
The 4” Law Issue – In the U.S. it is illegal to sell turtles with a
superior carapace length (‘SCL’) under 4”, ostensibly to reduce Salmonella
transmission. Tom C. has an
editorial on the 4” Law, including its text. Exceptions include sale for
“…bona fide scientific, educational, or exhibitional purposes, other than use as
pets,” (the ‘educational’ bit is used by vendors to make baby turtles available
to the public), & also “…not in connection with a business” (i.e.: someone whose
pets breed can sell the offspring, as this isn’t related to a business). The
latter exception in theory provides for legal pet baby turtle sales but wouldn’t
provide enough. In practice, at expo.s & online sites, vendors post signs
stating sales of turtles under 4” are for educational purposes only. Customers
don’t state they’re buying pets. Vendors often don’t ask about purpose or for
proof-of-educational affiliation. Some people believe the 4” Law makes it
illegal for the vendor making the sale but not the buyer making
the purchase; I’ve heard no proof. Law enforcement seems to have better things
to worry about than this (usually), as long as hobbyists remain discreet.
Bottom Line: the 4” Law probably won’t keep you from buying baby turtles,
but limits their availability at retail outlets so you’ll likely buy online or
at a Reptile Expo. Be discreet when discussing this publicly!
Hatchling Availability is Seasonal – baby turtles are
offered in the greatest numbers & range of species in late Spring, Summer &
Some Species are Available but not Obvious – chicken
turtles, Blandings turtles, Western pond turtles & others don’t show up on
online vendor lists as often as painteds, stinkpots, spotteds & such. They
can be found, but may require contacting less widely known vendors. Vendors
sometimes carry more than they advertise, particularly if they have very few of
a species. If you’re looking for something special, e-mail & ask if they have or
will likely get it.
Vendor Credibility – vendors vary from mass production
turtle farms to individuals unloading pets & turning a quick buck off a
fresh-caught wild animal. It’s not always easy to tell which is which. There
have been thefts of higher end turtle collections; in summer ’04 the famous
Loggerhead Acres suffered a devastating theft of many valuable animals. For
these & other reasons some quality vendors don’t publicize their exact address.
Word-of-mouth on the forum & our
Dealer Listing section should help.
Sources of Turtles:
Wild-Caught – this is how many of us got started but it’s
viciously debated ethically. This limits you to the species/size/age/gender you
can actually catch, & often results in ‘surprise availability’ (you catch one,
then realize you have no setup at home to receive it).
Click here to read our ATP Policy on Wild-Caught Turtles.
Click here to read an article summarizing the debate on wild-caught vs.
commercially purchased/captive-bred, &
click here for our Advanced Herpers’ discussion on it. Species endangered,
threatened or reasonably foresee ably likely to enter decline (i.e.: legions of
box turtles are killed on U.S. highways & they’re vulnerable to habitat
destruction, so wild-collection is frowned on even when locally abundant) are
considered ‘wrong’ to wild-collect by many in the hobby. Bottom Line:
read the article & make your own decision, but excepting very special
circumstances don’t wild-collect box turtles, spotted turtles, bog turtles,
Western Pond turtles, Blandings turtles, flattened musk turtles, yellow-blotched
map turtles, any of the box turtles, etc… Don’t collect wild adult turtles of
Click here for an example of a wild-caught turtle. And
click here for an example of the controversial fire-storm that can erupt
when you post on a public form that you’re pro wild-caught. The community is
solidly against catching turtles to sell.
We recommend first-time owners
purchase rather than wild-catch turtles.
Pet Stores – The outlet most likely to not sale turtles
under 4”. Often one of the worst places you can get a turtle.
Misinformation from employees is common. Selection is usually very limited,
those offered are often not the best beginner turtles, & impulse buying leads to
bad choices. Pet store enclosure conditions are often so bad people buy turtles
out of pity to ‘rescue’ them, which finances bad vendors (& takes business away
from good ones), encourages them to keep more turtles in bad conditions, & puts
you at risk for getting a sick turtle that may die or spread disease to your
others. These same concerns apply to China Town vendors, famous on our forums
for annually dumping hordes of baby RES on the ignorant public. The ethics of
‘rescuing’ turtles from bad pet stores & even food markets (yes, people eat
turtles) have been hotly debated & you can read the arguments in
this thread, & follow up in this
sequel thread. Read Tom C.’s
Editorial on Bad Pet Stores. All that said, there are good pet store
setups but I can’t tell you what’s local. If an online vendor is close, you
can shop ‘on site.’ Bottom Line: Figure out what you want before you
go near a pet store. If by some wonder a ‘good’ one is local & happens to
have the species & size you want, congratulations – do lottery tickets work for
Reptile Expo.s – Often a good source but a mixed bag. Many
reputable vendors of high quality product work the travel circuit working these
expo.s & the larger shows are worth attending just to gawk. The mother of all
U.S. reptiles expo.s is the annual mid-August Daytona Reptile Breeders’ Expo.,
an unofficial annual pilgrimage for our upper level members. Warning:
expo.s focus more on snakes & lizards than turtles. Ask around about the one you
might hit. As with pet stores, beware impulse buying! Decide what you want
before you go! If they don’t have what you want, go home & order
online! We had 2 12-year olds after male Texas maps hit an expo. & come home
with baby red-bellied cooters, the adults are immense by comparison.
Bottom Line: if they have what you’re after, expo.s let you pick
out & examine if before the buy, & take it home without the stress of overnight
shipping. Speak with the vendor face-to-face about care, but don’t count on good
info. unless you know the vendor. Don’t make an impulse buy or settle for
something you didn’t want.
Online Vendors – The top vendors typically have online web
sites with inventory, the best selection, & ship overnight (typically adds
$20-$50 to cost) in the U.S. Always get overnight shipping; shipping is
stressful on turtles, especially hatchlings, & they can get sick & die within
days of receipt & sadly those are the breaks. Most turtles do fine. Some vendors
off the option to include a ‘heat pack’ to keep the turtle warm when shipping
during cold weather, but try to order during moderate weather if you can. You
specify the species, size, sometimes gender, plan the arrival well in advance
(so the enclosure is ready) & choose the day. Drawbacks of this venue include
not seeing before you buy, minor defects (chipped shells, nipped tails, minor
shell rot, etc…), difficulty getting satisfaction in conflicts (refunds or
replacements if the turtle dies, answers to e-mails, etc…). Bottom Line:
reputable online vendors are most peoples’ #1 source of turtles &
recommended. Try hard to get a reputable vendor. Start by researching your
vendor in our
Breeders vs. Resellers –
keep adult ‘breeder’ turtles who lay eggs which
either incubate naturally outdoors on indoors in incubators. Hatchlings may
be kept in indoor enclosures (& thus may be parasite-free & unlikely to
harbor some infectious diseases, depending on vendor practices) or outdoor
enclosures (which may have little contact with nature, like the indoor
setups, or a lot of contact, in which case they can have parasites, germs &
what-not like a wild-caught). Highly
reputable breeders are the people most of us prefer to buy from,
because they not only offer healthy hatchlings accustomed to captivity, but
they breed good adult stock so you’ve that much more likely to ‘get a
winner.’ Sadly, the most reputable vendors often focus on specialty species
like expensive exotics & rare North American species (great for getting an
Indonesian Snake-neck, but may not carry southern painted turtles & RES).
Breeders enjoying the highest reputation include Eric B. (Empire
of the Turtle), Andy (Turtle
Pimp) & Paul V.
buy turtles from vendors & sometimes large ‘turtle farms’ (which produce
mass numbers; think ‘puppy mills’), & in some cases take in wild-caughts,
& resell them to the public. Some are highly reputable. Other resellers
Abbott’s Turtle Farm and
Adoption – There are a number of ‘rehab.’
organizations taking in unwanted pets & re-homing them; like a dog pound, though
I haven’t heard of anyone euthanizing them after a set time. This is a fine
‘socially conscious’ & politically correct venue but does commit you to other
peoples’ cast-offs; limited selection of species, often more adults than
hatchlings, & unlikely to have the most in-demand turtles (i.e. spotted turtles,
male Texas maps, hatchling chicken turtles, etc…).
The Enchanted Turtle Retreat is our affiliate shelter, & there are others
Turtle Homes. You can also check out the resources at
PetFinder.com (we’re told more reptile rescues are starting to post
available animals there).
Classifieds – Some major online sites like
Turtle Forum and Kingsnake offer classifieds for vendors to post offerings &
buyers to post wants. The great thing about classifieds is that you can quickly
scan over a dozen vendors’ offerings & find almost anything over time. The
downside is the risk of dealing with one of the legions of ‘no name’ vendors.
Classifieds are a great resource & a vendor you don’t know yet may be a fine
one, but hit our
Dealer Listing: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly first & do a ‘Search’ for
that vendor to read others’ experiences.
Bottom-Line Advice for
First-Time Turtle Buyers: research the articles I gave you in ‘Basic
Guidelines’ (above), browse at some online vendors to get a feel for prices &
availability, hit our Dealer listings & research a couple of vendors you’re
interested in, & find out whether there are any large reptile expo.s with
turtles near you. If you can get it at an expo. & bring it straight home, get it
there, but don’t compromise on choice! If you can’t, order from a
reputable vendor online. If you can’t find what you want at a known vendor’s,
hit the classifieds.
Okay, let’s down to our current list of turtle
buying resources by category.
Turtle Vendors by Category.
Turtle Breeders (some also resell):
Empire of the Turtle – Eric Holt (Eric B.) – Central Florida. Eric’s one of
our forum’s most high-end gurus & his site is one of our ITTN affiliates.
Turtle Pimp – West Palm Beach, Florida. Andy (Turtle Pimp) is one of our
most knowledgeable & popular contributing posters on the forum & shares lots of
‘eye candy’ photos of his wares with us.
Paul V. (Chelidman) – Another top-tier guru – sort of a turtle E. F. Hutton
(when Paul V. talks turtles, we listen! (Older
forum members know who E. F. Hutton is…). Located in West-central
Florida, USA. Ships nationwide & sets up at the FRBE show in Tampa twice a year
& at the IRBE show in Daytona. Paul’s present inventory is apt to be found in
classifieds postings, or you can e-mail him (click on his name).
These 3 vendors
enjoy the highest reputation out there & if you’re hitting an expo. they service
or ordering online & they have what you want, buy from one of them. Period.
Loggerhead Acres – run by John Richards, a large vendor in Missouri
well-known in the field for his efforts at alligator snapper (a.k.a.
‘loggerhead’) conservation. His
Price List shows a nice range of native U.S. species (including a
number of the most sought-after beginner species) with some exotic offerings.
Not just a snapper site.
Turtle Resellers (some also breed):
Abbott’s Turtle Farm – in Cocoa, Florida. Enjoys a fine reputation & offers
a good variety of native U.S. & exotic species. Phone #’s: (312)639-3325 &
Glades Herps – located at 4258
S.W. 52nd Terrace, Bushnell, Florida, 33513, U.S.A. Glades is a large vendor
offering a large array of domestic & exotic turtles & other reptiles,
amphibians, mammals, etc… including crocodilians & venomous snakes.
Phone: (352) 568-1713, Fax: (352) 568-7639.
GoLizards.com – Jason & Kelli Cruse - located in Overland Park,
Kansas - offers a nice variety (including tortoises). Mentioned here because he
often carries male Texas maps & I’m happy with mine (from there). He also offers
many other reptiles, amphibians & some invertebrates.
Vendors for often-sought specialty turtles:
Diamondback Terrapin World – breeder Jonathan Helms.
The Serpents Den - owned
and operated by Steve Markevich & established 1990 in Milford, Pennsylvania, but
in 2000 moved to a Lehighton location.
Click here & scroll down to Kboissoneua (Keith)’s posting 8-27-04 re: their
use of the term ‘ornate’ though.
Diamond Reptile – may carry Florida chicken turtles.
Texas Map Turtles.
GoLizards.com – carries a variety of species & often offers Texas map
Loggerhead Acres – has been known to offer Texas maps.
3-Striped Mud Turtles.
Enchanted Turtle Retreat – one of our
ITTN Affiliates, a small turtle and tortoise rescue in Santa Fe, New Mexico
operated by Jan O., one of our forum Vice-Administrators.
Turtle Adoption section of our own Turtle Forum – sponsored by Enchanted
Turtle Homes – probably the most well-known turtle & tortoise shelter
organization. Describes itself as “a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to
the safety and welfare of turtles and tortoises worldwide.”
PetFinder.com – we’re told more reptile rescues are starting to post
available animals there.
Melissa Kaplan’s Herp. Care Collection – Herp. Societies and Rescues
(Section 7.), below).
Mid-Atlantic Turtle & Tortoise Society’s Rescues, Rehabilitators & Foster
Organizations Page – lists some regional organizations that may be
Daytona Reptile Breeder’s Expo. – held annually on a weekend in mid-August
at the Ocean Center in Daytona, Florida. Book early at the Adam’s Mark Hotel,
across the street from the Ocean Center.
Lee Watson’s Reptile Swap – located at Crosswinds Farm, 110 West Schaumburg
Road, Streamwood, Illinois 60107. Held twice monthly (one Saturday, one Sunday)
Florida International Reptile Show – held twice yearly at
the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa, Florida right off I 4. It’s held at the
Florida State Entertainment Hall (Note: there’s a different event, the
Florida International Reptile Expo, held in Orlando – be careful to get the
right one if you research online). The Hard Rock Resort is located at the same
For a comprehensive listing of upcoming U.S. reptile expo.s with locations &
dates, check out
Kingsnake.com’s Events Page. Not all reptile expo.s are strong on turtles,
so research the ones near you.
Turtle Forum Classifieds – our own classifieds site.
Kingsnake Online Classifieds – Kingsnake is a large site with global
coverage of reptiles & amphibians. Their classified pages are paid ads, but the
vendor base remains large with a huge total offering.
Turtle Times Classifieds – free classifieds with a large vendor base.
Local Herpetological Societies & Rescues:
Melissa Kaplan’s Herp. Care Collection – Herp. Societies and Rescues
– Ms Kaplan not only discusses herp. societies & indexes, but includes U.S.A.
listings by state, as well as listing for Canada, the United Kingdom & other
countries. A great place to start looking locally for a pet or group of fellow
Hope this article has been