First of all, let me say that I think tortoises, terrapins and turtles (all hereafter referred to collectively as chelonians) are beautiful creatures. That is why you should consider carefully the following before rushing down to the pet store with your money:

Do you have any idea which of the above chelonians you would like to buy?

If the answer to the above is no, a good idea would be to get a book out of the library. When my wife first fell in love with a pair of leopard geckos, that's what I did. Apart from hooking me on lizard keeping, the books I borrowed showed what was available, and at what level of cost and difficulty. Most such books are also well endowed with pictures, and as many chelonians are display animals more than companion pets, you can see what takes your fancy.

When thinking about the sort of chelonian you want to purchase, you will need to consider the next lot of questions:

And, most importantly…..

If the answer to all of the above is yes, then it is still a good idea to trot down to the library and do a bit of research. Alternatively there are often books available from pet shops on the tortoise you are interested in.

Having listed all the potential pitfalls, I should also list the advantages of chelonians over some over pets: Significantly, however, there are not many practical advantages to owning a chelonian, unlike snakes and lizards. Compare the advantages of snakes and lizards and compare the position of the chelonian:

The Pros and Cons of Squamata vs Chelonia
They don't take up a lot of room, in most cases They do take up a lot of room, in most cases
They don't normally scratch or gnaw the furniture (apart from free-roaming igs or monitors) They will probably scratch and climb up things if you keep them indoors. They are actually better at climbing than most people imagine. If you keep them in the garden without an enclosure, be aware that (a) they eat plants (b) they are good at burrowing
They don't smell (if you clean them out, especially the ones that leave big droppings) They don't smell themselves, but like big reptiles, they may need frequently cleaning after them. Herbivorous creatures tend to leave larger droppings. Aquatic species can be surprisingly messy and may need their water changing at least once a week.
They don't eat a vast amount of food Tortoises do eat daily - not three times a week or once a week, but seven times a week. Turtles and terrapins vary, but at least one species benefits from having feeder fish in the tank at all times.
Lizards (apart from the fierce demonstrative ones) don't frighten people into thinking they're going to be bitten to death or eaten. Snakes admittedly can do One up for the tortoises here. Most people find the tortoise an innocent and endearing creature, even those who know little about them. Just make sure that you don't get your finger caught in their beak-like jaws, which can be painful. On the other hand, some aquatic species can be quite vicious, notably the snapping turtles and the softshells.
They don't need to be taken for a walk each day They don't need to be taken for a walk each day. Just make sure that they don't take themselves for a walk outside of your supervision.
They can be left for weekends Even if you only go away for the weekend, you will need to get someone in to feed them each day and possibly change the water.
They don't make a lot of noise or disturb the neighbours True enough. However, security is another you need to consider. Unfortunately, the escalating cost of tortoises - from pet shop expendable to specialist item - has meant an increase in theft of these animals. While you can't keep them under lock and key like a piece of jewellry, micro-chipping should certainly be done at the earliest age that is safe, and insurance may also be worthwhile.

In the following section I would like to consider some chelonians that are commonly seen for sale, and give my opinion on the level of difficulty of keeping them. Those which I have direct experience of will be marked. All the others I have either read up on to a good degree or spoken to some of their owners.

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