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Discovering Your Turtle’s Species: How to Tell What Kind of Turtle You Have


Turtles are fascinating creatures that come in many shapes and sizes. From the common box turtle to the exotic mata mata turtle, there are over 300 species of turtles in the world. If you have found a turtle and are wondering what kind it is, there are several identifying features you can look for. In this article, we will explore the different types of turtles, their identifying features, and how to determine the species of your turtle.

One of the most obvious features of a turtle is its shell. The shell is made up of two parts: the carapace (top part) and the plastron (bottom part). The shape, size, and color of the shell can provide clues to the species of the turtle. In addition to the shell, you can also look at the turtle’s head, feet, and tail to help with identification. Knowing the habitat and environment where the turtle was found can also be helpful in determining its species.

Whether you are a turtle enthusiast or just curious about the turtle you found in your backyard, identifying the species can be a fun and rewarding experience. With a little knowledge and observation, you can learn to tell the difference between a box turtle and a red-eared slider, or even identify exotic species like the Indian star tortoise. So, let’s get started and learn how to tell what kind of turtle you have!

Key Takeaways

  • Turtles come in many different species, each with unique identifying features.
  • The shape, size, and color of the shell can provide important clues to the species of the turtle.
  • Knowing the habitat and environment where the turtle was found can also be helpful in identifying its species.

Types of Turtles

When it comes to turtles, there are many different species and subspecies. Here are some of the most common types of turtles:

Freshwater Turtles

Freshwater turtles are the most common type of turtle kept as pets. They are usually found in ponds, rivers, and lakes. Some of the most popular species of freshwater turtles include cooters, sliders, mud turtles, map turtles, and musk turtles.

Sea Turtles

Sea turtles are the largest turtles and are found in all oceans except the Arctic. There are seven species of sea turtles, including the green sea turtle, loggerhead sea turtle, and leatherback sea turtle.

Land Turtles

Land turtles, also known as tortoises, are found on every continent except for Australia and Antarctica. They have a thick, heavy shell and are adapted to life on land. Some of the most popular species of land turtles include Greek tortoises, Russian tortoises, Indian Star tortoises, and red-footed tortoises.

Softshell Turtles

Softshell turtles have a soft, leathery shell instead of a hard one. They are found in freshwater habitats and are known for their long necks and pointed snouts.

Box Turtles

Box turtles are a common species that live in the east and southwest U.S. as well as in northern Mexico. They are easy to spot since they have a small body and a big dome-shaped shell that they can retreat into when threatened.

Snapping Turtles

Snapping turtles are known for their aggressive behavior and powerful jaws. They are found in freshwater habitats and can grow up to 18 inches in length.

Cooters and Sliders

Cooters and sliders are both species of freshwater turtles that are commonly kept as pets. They are similar in appearance but have some differences in behavior and habitat.

Mud Turtles

Mud turtles are small freshwater turtles that are found in ponds, streams, and swamps. They have a smooth shell and are known for their ability to burrow in the mud.

Map Turtles

Map turtles are named for the map-like pattern on their shells. They are found in rivers and streams and are known for their long necks and pointed snouts.

Musk Turtles

Musk turtles are named for the musky odor they produce. They are found in freshwater habitats and are known for their small size and long lifespan.

Overall, there are many different types of turtles with unique characteristics and habitats. It’s important to know the differences between species to properly care for your pet turtle or identify a wild turtle you come across.

Identifying Features

When it comes to identifying turtles, there are a few key features to look for. These include the shape and pattern of the shell, as well as the markings, keel, head, feet, neck, tail, and nostrils. Let’s take a closer look at each of these features.

Shell Shape

The shape of a turtle’s shell can vary depending on the species. Some turtles have a flat, round shell, while others have a more elongated, streamlined shape. Look closely at the shell to determine its shape.

Pattern, Markings, and Keel

The pattern and markings on a turtle’s shell can also help identify the species. Some turtles have spots or lines on their shells, while others have a more uniform color. Additionally, some turtles have a keel, or ridge, running down the center of their shells.

Head

The shape and size of a turtle’s head can also provide clues as to its species. Look for differences in the size and shape of the head, as well as any unique features such as bumps or ridges.

Feet

The shape and size of a turtle’s feet can also vary depending on the species. Some turtles have webbed feet, while others have more claw-like toes. Take a closer look at the feet to determine their shape and size.

Neck and Tail

The length and shape of a turtle’s neck and tail can also provide important clues as to its species. Some turtles have long, slender necks and tails, while others have shorter, thicker ones.

Nostrils

Finally, take a look at the turtle’s nostrils. Some species of turtles have nostrils that are located on the top of their snout, while others have nostrils that are located on the sides.

By taking a closer look at these identifying features, you can begin to determine what type of turtle you have. Remember to take note of any unique characteristics that may help with identification.

Shell Details

When it comes to identifying turtles, the shell is one of the most important features to consider. It is made up of several parts, including the carapace, plastron, marginal scutes, pectoral scute, hinged plastron, and yellow plastron.

Carapace

The carapace is the top part of the turtle’s shell and is made up of keratin. It can vary in shape, size, and color depending on the species of turtle. Some turtles have smooth carapaces, while others have bumpy or ridged ones. The carapace can also have patterns or markings that can help with identification.

Plastron

The plastron is the bottom part of the turtle’s shell and is also made up of keratin. It can have different shapes and sizes depending on the species of turtle. Some turtles have flat plastrons, while others have curved ones. The plastron can also have patterns or markings that can help with identification.

Marginal Scutes

The marginal scutes are the small plates that make up the edge of the turtle’s shell. They can vary in shape and size depending on the species of turtle. Some turtles have smooth marginal scutes, while others have jagged or serrated ones.

Pectoral Scute

The pectoral scute is the plate that covers the turtle’s shoulder. It can also vary in shape and size depending on the species of turtle.

Hinged Plastron

Some turtles have a hinged plastron that allows them to close their shell tightly to protect themselves from predators. This feature is most commonly found in box turtles.

Yellow Plastron

The yellow plastron is a feature found in some land tortoises, such as the yellow-footed tortoise. It is a bright yellow color and can help with identification.

In conclusion, the shell is an important feature to consider when identifying turtles. By examining the carapace, plastron, marginal scutes, pectoral scute, hinged plastron, and yellow plastron, you can determine the species of turtle you have.

Identifying Species

When it comes to identifying turtles, there are several species you may come across. Here are some of the most common species and their identifying features.

Red-Eared Slider

The red-eared slider is a freshwater turtle with a distinctive red stripe behind its eyes. It has a greenish-brown shell with yellow stripes and a yellow underbelly. They are commonly found in ponds, lakes, and other slow-moving bodies of water.

Painted Turtles

Painted turtles are another common freshwater turtle. They have a dark green or brown shell with yellow or red stripes and a yellow underbelly. They are found in ponds, lakes, and other slow-moving bodies of water.

Diamondback Terrapin

The diamondback terrapin is a brackish water turtle found in the coastal marshes of the eastern and southern United States. They have a grayish-brown shell with black spots and a yellow underbelly.

Spotted Turtle

The spotted turtle is a small freshwater turtle with a black shell covered in yellow spots. They are found in wetlands and other shallow bodies of water.

Bog Turtle

The bog turtle is a small freshwater turtle found in bogs and other wetlands. They have a brown or black shell with orange spots and a yellow underbelly.

Eastern Box Turtle

The eastern box turtle is a land turtle with a distinctive domed shell. They have a brown or black shell with yellow or orange markings and a yellow underbelly.

Wood Turtle

The wood turtle is a freshwater turtle found in wooded areas. They have a brown or black shell with yellow or orange markings and a yellow underbelly.

Greek Tortoise

The Greek tortoise is a small land tortoise with a brown or black shell and yellow or white markings. They are found in the Mediterranean region.

Indian Star Tortoise

The Indian star tortoise is a small land tortoise with a distinctive star-shaped pattern on its shell. They are found in India and Sri Lanka.

Red-Footed Tortoise

The red-footed tortoise is a medium-sized land tortoise with a brown or black shell and red or orange markings on its legs. They are found in South America.

Chelydra Serpentina

The chelydra serpentina, also known as the snapping turtle, is a freshwater turtle with a large head and powerful jaws. They have a brown or black shell and are found in ponds and other slow-moving bodies of water.

Spurred Tortoise

The spurred tortoise is a small land tortoise with a brown or black shell and spiky projections on its legs. They are found in Africa.

Hawksbill Sea Turtle

The hawksbill sea turtle is a medium-sized sea turtle with a distinctive pointed beak. They have a brown or black shell with yellow or orange markings and are found in tropical waters around the world.

Russian Tortoise

The Russian tortoise is a small land tortoise with a brown or black shell and yellow or white markings. They are found in Central Asia.

Glyptemys Insculpta

The glyptemys insculpta, also known as the wood turtle, is a freshwater turtle found in wooded areas. They have a brown or black shell with yellow or orange markings and a yellow underbelly.

Atlantic Ridley Sea Turtle

The Atlantic ridley sea turtle is a small sea turtle with a grayish-brown shell. They are found in the Atlantic Ocean.

Leatherback Sea Turtle

The leatherback sea turtle is a large sea turtle with a black or dark brown shell. They are found in all the world’s oceans.

Green Turtle

The green turtle is a medium-sized sea turtle with a brown or black shell and greenish skin. They are found in tropical waters around the world.

In conclusion, identifying the species of a turtle can be challenging, but by learning the identifying features of each species, you can become an expert in no time.

Habitat and Environment

Turtles are found in a variety of habitats and environments, ranging from freshwater to land and aquatic habitats. Understanding the environment and habitat of your turtle is important for its care and well-being.

Freshwater

Most turtles you will come across are freshwater turtles. These turtles are usually found in ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams. Some common freshwater turtles include the Red-Eared Slider, Map Turtle, Cooter, and Softshell Turtle. Freshwater turtles are generally smaller compared to other turtles, and they are adapted to living in slow-moving or still water.

Land

Land-dwelling turtles, also known as tortoises, are adapted to living on land and are found in arid or semi-arid regions. They are usually larger and have more robust shells compared to aquatic turtles. Some common land turtles include the Box Turtle and Wood Turtle.

Aquatic Turtles

Aquatic turtles are found in both freshwater and saltwater environments. They are adapted to living in water and have streamlined shells that help them move through the water. Some common aquatic turtles include the Red-Eared Slider and Softshell Turtle.

Land-Dwelling Turtles

Land-dwelling turtles are adapted to living on land and are found in arid or semi-arid regions. They are usually larger and have more robust shells compared to aquatic turtles. Some common land turtles include the Box Turtle and Wood Turtle.

Wood

Wood turtles are found in wooded areas near streams, rivers, and ponds. They are adapted to living in both water and land environments. Wood turtles have a unique shell pattern that makes them easy to identify.

Water

Water turtles, also known as aquatic turtles, are adapted to living in water and are found in both freshwater and saltwater environments. They have streamlined shells that help them move through the water. Some common water turtles include the Red-Eared Slider and Softshell Turtle.

Understanding the habitat and environment of your turtle is essential for its care and well-being. Make sure to provide your turtle with the appropriate environment and habitat to ensure it thrives.

Turtles as Pets

Turtles make great pets for people of all ages, especially for those who live in apartments or small homes. They are low-maintenance and can be fascinating to watch. However, before you decide to bring a pet turtle into your home, there are a few things you should consider.

Choosing the Right Turtle

There are many different species of turtles, and each has its own specific needs. Some turtles are better suited for life in an aquarium, while others are more comfortable in an outdoor enclosure. Before choosing a turtle as a pet, do your research and make sure you can provide the right environment and care for the species you are interested in.

Housing

Pet turtles need a clean and safe living space. For aquatic turtles, a plastic aquarium or a custom-built tank with a filter and a basking area is ideal. Terrestrial turtles, on the other hand, require a secure outdoor enclosure with access to sunlight and shade.

Diet

Turtles have specific dietary needs that must be met to keep them healthy. A balanced diet for a pet turtle includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, and protein sources such as insects, worms, and fish. Avoid feeding your pet turtle processed or packaged foods, as these can be high in preservatives and low in nutrients.

Plastic Hazards

It’s important to note that plastic is a hazard for pet turtles. They can easily mistake plastic for food and ingest it, which can cause serious health problems. Make sure to keep plastic out of your pet turtle’s enclosure and dispose of it properly.

Overall, pet turtles can make great companions for those willing to provide them with the proper care and environment. Make sure to do your research and choose the right species for your lifestyle and living situation.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to identify my turtle?

Identifying your turtle can be a bit tricky, but there are a few key features to look for. Check the hardness of the carapace, the coverage of the plastron, the ridges on the carapace, and the scutes on the turtle’s body. You can also look for specific characteristics of different turtle species to narrow down your identification.

What are the characteristics of different turtle species?

There are many different turtle species, each with their own unique characteristics. For example, box turtles have a domed shell and can retract their head and limbs into their shell for protection. Painted turtles have a smooth, flat shell and webbed feet for swimming. Snapping turtles have a large head and powerful jaws for catching prey.

What are the differences between water and land turtles?

Water turtles, such as red-eared sliders and painted turtles, have flatter shells and webbed feet for swimming. Land turtles, such as box turtles and tortoises, have domed shells and sturdy legs for walking on land. Water turtles also require a water source for swimming and soaking, while land turtles do not.

How to distinguish between wild and pet turtles?

Wild turtles will typically have a more natural appearance and behavior. They may have algae or other natural growth on their shells, and they will likely be more skittish and try to escape if handled. Pet turtles, on the other hand, may have a cleaner appearance and be more accustomed to human interaction.

How to identify a snapping turtle?

Snapping turtles have a large head and powerful jaws. They also have a spiked tail and long, sharp claws. Their shells are typically dark brown or black with ridges and bumps.

What are the common types of pet turtles?

Some common types of pet turtles include red-eared sliders, painted turtles, box turtles, and Russian tortoises. Each of these species has different requirements for care and habitat, so be sure to do your research before bringing one home.