List of Turtle Species in Rhode Island 2023 (ID + Pics)

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List of Turtle Species in Rhode Island (Identification, Range, & Pictures)

Block Island, Rhode Island
There are 4 small islands in the state of Rhode Island; the water bodies between these islands offer a habitat for sea turtles. Timothy J. Quill, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Rhode Island is well known for its diversity of turtles. There is an abundance of rivers, streams, lakes, forests, and coastlines within the state which support many different turtle species from classic and common pond sliders to the massive and highly endangered loggerhead sea turtle. Interestingly, the “island” of Rhode Island constitutes a small percentage of the state’s total land. In fact, there are four small islands within the state. The water bodies between these islands can provide a habitat for sea turtles.

As a northern state, Rhode Island gets too cold for turtles to remain active throughout the year. So, most turtle species brumate through the winter. Brumation is like hibernation but occurs only in reptiles. Terrestrial turtles will usually find a burrow, whereas aquatic turtles might sleep at the bottom of water bodies or bury themselves in the mud.

Turtles in Rhode Island are threatened by human and nonhuman factors. Human factors include habitat loss, direct taking of individuals as food or for the pet trade, vehicle strikes, and pollution. Turtles are also threatened by predators, parasites, and diseases. For example, ranaviruses can affect not just turtles but also amphibians and fish. Unnatural movement of turtles, such as the introduction of non-native species like the pond slider, can increase the transmission of ranaviruses and have other impacts on native ecosystems. Pond sliders are such a concern for the state that it is illegal to have one in your possession.

It is illegal in Rhode Island to introduce non-native turtles or take native turtles from the wild. Additionally, the sale of native species is prohibited.

1) Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta)

Eastern painted turtle
Eastern painted turtles are the only painted turtle subspecies that can be found in the state of Rhode Island. steve b / No copyright
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Other common names: Eastern painted turtle
  • Adult weight: 1 lb (0.5 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 5 – 6 in (13 – 15 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 10 in (25 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 20 – 25 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 20 – 25 years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

Painted turtles are common in the wetlands and marshes of Rhode Island. This species can be seen basking with Pond Sliders. Painted turtles are similar to pond sliders, but painted turtles tend to be smaller than the other species. Like most other freshwater turtle species, they have an omnivorous diet of insects, aquatic invertebrates, fish, and plants. In turn, juveniles become food for many predators.

Size is not entirely sufficient to tell these turtles apart. They share the same dark colors and patterns on their shells as pond sliders, but a key characteristic of the painted turtle is the intricate red and orange patterns on the exposed inner margins of the shell. They also have very ornate red designs on their underside, although the degree of patterning varies by subspecies. The eastern painted turtle is the only subspecies in Rhode Island (C. p. picta).

Rhode Island’s painted turtles reproduce at about ten years of age, with females producing a clutch of eggs in June each year.

This species is often kept as a pet because of its pretty coloration and docile nature. Potential painted turtle parents should acquire their new pet from a reputable breeder rather than from the wild. While not federally endangered, some states are reporting declines in painted turtle populations, and thus taking this species from the wild may be illegal.

2) Common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina)

Young common snapping turtle
Young common snapping turtles are at risk of falling prey to large wading birds and other animals such as raccoons. jfox16 / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Other common names: Snapper
  • Adult weight: 10 – 35 lbs (4.5 – 15.9 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 8 – 14 in (20.3 – 35.6 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 19.3 in (49 cm); 75 lbs (34 kg)
  • Lifespan (wild): 30 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 47 years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

Adult common snapping turtles resemble the stone gargoyles of European cathedrals. Common snapping turtles have slightly keeled shell scutes, thick legs with long claws, pointed beaks, and long tails, giving them a prehistoric appearance. They are not nearly as massive as their cousin, the alligator snapping turtle, but they can still pack quite the bite. As babies, these dragon-like turtles are tiny, about 2.5 to 4 inches (6.4 to 10.2 cm) long and weighing only a couple of ounces.

Rhode Island’s common snapping turtles nest in the late summer. During this time, female snapping turtles will search for a place to dig a nest and lay their eggs. Unfortunately, female turtles are sometimes attracted to the warm, soft dirt along roadsides and choose to construct their nests in these less-than-ideal locations. As a result, vehicle strikes significantly contribute to hatchling turtle mortality.

Roadways are not the only threat to hatchling common snapping turtles. Young turtles fall prey to large wading birds like herons and egrets, and other groups like raccoons, giant turtles, and more. Adults, however, are not as vulnerable. With their large size, armored shell, staggeringly strong bite, and aggressive attitudes, adult common snapping turtles are not animals that predators will eagerly mess with.

Common snapping turtles have a varied diet limited only by the size of their mouths. Therefore, these turtles will eat prey, ranging from fish and invertebrates to small mammals and other turtles. Common snapping turtles also eat a fair amount of aquatic vegetation.

3) Spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata)

Spotted turtle on log
Spotted turtles have 1 – 2 yellow spots on each of their shell scutes and are usually around 4.5 inches in length. Chris Hoess / CC BY-SA 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Adult weight: 0.5 – 0.75 lbs (0.2 – 0.3 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 4.5 in (11 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 5.6 in (14 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 6 years (up to 110)
  • Lifespan (captive): 26 years
  • Conservation status: Endangered

These tiny black turtles have yellow spots adorning their shells and bodies, usually with 1 – 2 spots per shell scute. On average, adults are around 4.5 inches (11.4 cm) long and weigh less than a pound (~0.5 kg). Their range extends along the east coast of the United States and around the Great Lakes region. Spotted turtles almost exclusively occupy dynamic aquatic habitats with substantial terrestrial components like marshes, bogs, and fens.

Adult spotted turtles reach maturity between 8 and 10 years of age. Mating occurs after spotted turtles emerge from brumation in the spring, and females lay eggs in nests dug into the sand shortly after that. On average, a single female will lay between 3 and 5 eggs yearly. While females occasionally lay a single clutch, this is not the case in Rhode Island. This relatively low number of offspring per breeding season means that long-term adult survival is essential for the continuation of the species.

Unfortunately, the spotted turtle is suffering concerning population declines due to the lack of juvenile recruitment into adult populations and reduced adult lifespans. There are several factors influencing both. Predation mortality is naturally high for juveniles, with mammals like foxes and raccoons hunting the tiny turtles. Additionally, their beautiful appearance and small size make them desirable to pet owners, so there is some demand for them in the pet trade. In addition, this species requires a sensitive habitat type that is dynamic and may naturally disappear over time or be destroyed by human development. Spotted turtles are also susceptible to stress and pollution.

4) Common box turtle (Terrapene carolina)

Common box turtle
Common box turtles used to be abundant in their range, but are now threatened by habitat degradation & conversion of native woodlands to urban environments. Daniel Patterson / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other common names: Eastern box turtle
  • Adult weight: 1 – 2 lbs (0.5 – 1 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 4.3 – 7 in (11 – 18 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 7.8 in (20 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 30 years, but can live longer than 100
  • Lifespan (captive): 30 years, but can live longer than 100
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

Common box turtles are not as common as their name suggests. This species is considered vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN. Despite their classification, this species will be the most likely candidate if you see a box turtle. They have a large, domed shell painted with red-brown patterns. The bottom of their shells, called the plastron, has a hinged plate that can cover the front of the shell, protecting the turtle’s head and neck. As a result, common box turtles can almost completely enclose themselves inside their shells when threatened. In Rhode Island, common box turtles occur in the same areas as wood turtles. Box turtles have red and orange scales on their heads that cannot be found on wood turtles.

These small turtles are surprisingly long-lived, routinely living longer than 30 years and even over 100 years of age. They take a long time to mature compared to other reptile species, with mature adults being at least ten years adult. The breeding season lasts from mid-spring to fall and varies by region. Adult females will lay between 3 and 8 small eggs during this season. Females only need to mate once every few years to produce successful clutches in subsequent years.

While they were once abundant throughout their range, common box turtles face a series of threats that have resulted in severe population declines over the last twenty years. Namely, habitat degradation and conversion of native woodlands to urban environments. In addition, predators, disease, vehicles, and people are also contributors to box turtle mortality. Death of adults severely impacts populations due to how long it takes for adults to reach maturity.

5) Pond slider (Trachemys scripta)

Pond slider underwater
Pond sliders are very common as pets, which has led to the introduction of this species in many states. Ben Keen / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other common names: Sliders
  • Adult weight: 7 lbs (3.2 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 4 – 11.5 in (10 – 29 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 14.5 in (37 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 20 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 40 years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

Pond sliders are not native to Rhode Island. Their popularity as pets has caused them to be widespread throughout the United States, and they are considered invasive in the state.

You will often see red-eared sliders sold as tiny turtles at pet stores, a practice that encouraged their spread throughout the United States. Red-eared sliders thrive in urban environments and can often be seen in ponds basking on logs or other debris from park lakes and rivers. In addition, they reproduce rapidly, with females producing 1 – 2 clutches with between 2 and 20 eggs each. This allows them to coexist with humans and quickly take over new environments.

Another factor that helps them spread is their generalist diet. Pond sliders can consume plants, insects, eggs, and even small fish. In turn, pond sliders become prey for other animals like gar, snakes, coyotes, and opossums. Young pond sliders are particularly vulnerable and more likely to become food for other animals. However, this species reproduces quickly, and their tendency to congregate in groups helps larger adults avoid predators.

6) Diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin)

Diamondback terrapin
Diamondback terrapins have multiple dark rings on each scute and dark spots on their head & neck. Zygy / No copyright
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other common names: Diamond-backed terrapin
  • Adult weight: 0.5 – 1.5 lbs (0.2 – 0.7 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 4 – 9 in (10 – 23 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 5.6 in (14 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 6 years (up to 110 years)
  • Lifespan (captive): 26 years
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

There are seven recognized subspecies of diamondback terrapin that vary by range with some minor biological and habitat differences. This species is the rarest turtle species in Rhode Island. The carapace of this species is covered in ornate scutes with multiple dark rings on each scute. This pattern can be found on the back and plastron. Their head and neck are decorated in dark spots, and the beak of these turtles is often bare and light-colored. The entire body may be lighter grey than the shell, although exact coloration varies by population. Males are significantly smaller than females.

Interestingly, this species specializes in saline habitats from coastal marshes, brackish waterways, estuaries, and tidal flats. To survive in these ecosystems, they evolved special glands that allow them to remove excess salt from their bodies. Despite this preference for salty habitats, the diamondback terrapin still needs a nearby source of freshwater to survive.

The diamondback terrapin is classified as vulnerable to extinction, meaning that their populations are dwindling, and conservationists are concerned, but they are not yet endangered. This designation is good news because the species was once endangered in the early 1900s. Familiar threats like habitat loss and vehicle collisions reduce adult populations which can be devastating for this species.

7) Eastern musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus)

Eastern musk turtle
The eastern musk turtle releases a scent when it feels threatened, which prevents most predators from eating them! adrozdowicz / No copyright
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Other common names: Stinkpot, musk turtle, common musk turtle
  • Adult weight: 1.5 lbs (0.7 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 3 – 5 in (8 – 13 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: No accounts exceeding 5 in (13 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 20 – 30 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 50+ years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

These tiny, round turtles are dull in appearance and resemble rocks, attaining an average length of around 3 to 5 inches (8 to 13 cm). They are usually darkly colored with a pigmented plastron and long claws, which they use to climb. Eastern musk turtles are native to the eastern United States from Texas to Canada and occupy most habitats with slow-moving fresh water. They may look similar to young snapping turtles but snapping turtles lack the markings found on the musk turtle’s face.

The name “musky turtle” comes from this turtle’s predator-defense ability. When threatened, they will release a foul odor of phenoalkalinic acid that deters most predators from eating these smelly turtles.

Adults reach maturity between 2 and 4 years of age, with females producing two clutches per year containing up to nine eggs each. Eastern musk turtles will forage at night for various food items, including plants, insects, and some small animals. However, when temperatures get too cold for foraging, musk turtles bury themselves in the mud.

Their small size and cute appearance make the eastern musk turtle an attractive pet for turtle enthusiasts. However, while they are not endangered, prospective stinkpot parents should obtain a turtle from a reputable breeder rather than get a wild individual. In Rhode Island, it is illegal to capture and keep wild turtles.

8) Leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)

Leatherback sea turtle on beach
Leatherback sea turtles are the largest sea turtles in the world and live very long lives, living for more than 50 years in the wild. William Stephens / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Dermochelyidae
  • Other common names: Leatherback, leatherback turtle
  • Adult weight: 550 – 1500 lbs (249 – 680 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 4 – 6 feet (1.2 – 1.8 m)
  • Maximum verified size: 10 ft (3 m); 2019 lbs (916 kg)
  • Lifespan (wild): 50+ years
  • Lifespan (captive): Unknown; does not thrive in captivity
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

The largest sea turtle in the world sometimes makes an appearance along the Rhode Island coastline. In addition to its remarkable size, the leatherback sea turtle boasts an intriguing evolutionary history and peculiar appearance. Instead of scutes, the turtle has deep ridges and no claws on its fins. In addition, they are the only member of their genus and the only surviving member of the Dermochelyidae, a taxonomic family older than the dinosaurs.

These creatures are large and long-lived. One characteristic that accompanies these traits is a relatively late age of sexual maturity. Leatherback sea turtles reach sexual maturity between 15 and 25 years of age. During the breeding season, mature females will migrate long distances to nesting sites, a few of which are found in Puerto Rico, Florida, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Additionally, this species nests on many different continents. Females will create many nests during each breeding year and will deposit between 50 and 170 eggs into each.

In Rhode Island, they just pass by coastlines in search of food. The leatherback’s diet is chiefly composed of soft-bodied invertebrates like squids and jellyfish. They possess delicate, scissor-like beaks which allow them to cut through their prey and process prey items into small chunks.

The most significant threats to leatherback sea turtles are commercial fishing industries which catch sea turtles by accident, and plastic pollution that ensnares giant tortoises, causing health issues and drowning.

9) Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta)

Loggerhead sea turtle underwater
Loggerhead sea turtles are considered vulnerable and often get caught in nets made for fish. Kseniia Marianna Prondzynska / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Other common names: Loggerhead
  • Adult weight: 155 – 375 lbs (70 – 170 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 36 in (91 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 84 in (213 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 80 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 80 years
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

While they can be found in Rhode Island, loggerhead sea turtles are rare in the state. These are giant, oceanic turtles with brown shells marked with light markings. The loggerhead sea turtle can be distinguished from other sea turtles using the characteristics described here. This species has large, powerful jaws, which they use to crush the shells of mollusks and other oceanic invertebrates that make up the bulk of this sea turtle’s diet.

They inhabit all the world’s major oceans. Baby sea turtles are closely associated with mats of floating seaweed, and they gradually migrate to coastal waters as they age. As adults, they can be found in various coastal habitats, from salt marshes to coral reefs. During the breeding season, male loggerhead sea turtles migrate to breeding grounds where they wait for females. After mating, female sea turtles will move onto land to dig a nest and deposit eggs. Female loggerhead sea turtles may lay multiple clutches yearly with between 23 and 195 eggs per nest. This species needs to produce many young because young sea turtles are very vulnerable, and most do not survive the trip from the nest to the ocean.

Despite having a large amount of habitat spatially, many loggerhead sea turtle populations are genetically isolated from one another because males and females return to the same breeding sites each year, so gene flow between breeding sites is uncommon. Loggerhead sea turtle populations also suffer from climate change, pollution, and pathogens. In addition, their nesting sites are sometimes developed into coastal cities, and sea turtles are often caught in nests made for fish.

10) Wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta)

Wood turtle
Wild wood turtles are sometimes illegally captured and sold as pets. Blake Ross / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Adult weight: 2.2 lbs (1 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 7 – 9 in (18 – 23 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 9.2 in (23 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 40 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 40 – 60 years
  • Conservation status: Endangered

Wood turtles are a rarity in Rhode Island and, as a result, are a species of conservation concern. Their lives are split between aquatic habitats and terrestrial habitats. They are found in or near streams and flowing pools in forests and fields during most seasons but, during the summer, they are more terrestrial and roam along streams and habitat corridors. Wood turtles can only live within a narrow temperature gradient, so climate change may cause populations in warmer climates to go extinct.

Wood turtles have a varied diet of fruit, plants, fungi, and invertebrates, and occasionally they scavenge for carrion. To catch earthworms, wood turtles will thump their feet and plastron against the ground, creating vibrations that scare earthworms to the surface.

Some individuals capture wild wood turtles and sell them into the pet trade. This practice is illegal in Rhode Island but their small size and intelligence make them attractive pets. The capture and sale of any native turtles in Rhode Island is unlawful. Road mortality and habitat loss are other significant factors in declining wood turtle populations.

11) Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii)

Kemp's ridley sea turtle
Although it’s possible, it’s extremely rare to spot a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle in Rhode Island. Tia Offner / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Other common names: Kemp’s ridley
  • Adult weight: 77 – 108 lbs (35 – 49 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 22 – 29 in (56 – 74 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 29.5 in (75 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 30 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 30 years
  • Conservation status: Critically endangered

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles can be found along the Gulf and East coasts of the United States. However, their home range encompasses much of the Atlantic Ocean in the Northern Hemisphere, from North America to Europe. As with other sea turtles, Kemp’s ridley is vulnerable to commercial fishing activities, plastic pollution, and vanishing nesting habitats along beaches.

Their diet primarily consists of crustaceans like crabs, but they will also consume squid, fish, and jellyfish.

This species reaches maturity at 13 years. Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are solitary animals and only interact with other members of their species during the breeding season. Female turtles will produce up to three nests during each breeding season. Each nest contains approximately 110 eggs. Once the eggs are laid, the female turtle returns to the ocean and provides no parental care for her young.

Kemp’s ridleys are the most critically endangered sea turtles, with only 7,000 and 9,000 nesting females as of 2021. Surprisingly, this represents a comeback for the species, which once consisted of only 200 nesting females. They are also the world’s smallest sea turtles. They are extremely rare and, while it is possible to spot one in Rhode Island, such an event is extremely unlikely.

12) Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas)

Green sea turtle in ocean
Male green sea turtles spend all their lives in the water; only females venture onto land. Long Vu / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Other common names: Common green sea turtle
  • Adult weight: 240 – 420 lbs (109 – 191 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 3 – 4 ft (0.9 – 1.2 m)
  • Maximum verified size: 5 ft (1.5 m); 871 lbs (395 kg)
  • Lifespan (wild): 70+ years
  • Lifespan (captive): Unknown
  • Conservation status: Endangered

Unlike the leatherback sea turtle, the green sea turtle belongs to the family Cheloniidae. This family contains all other turtle species known as hard-shelled sea turtles. They have rigid plates, or scutes, on the external surface of their shells rather than beneath their skin. Green sea turtles have five scutes in the center of their shells and four flanking in the center row.

This species is native to the world’s warmer tropical and temperate oceans and often migrates between feeding and breeding grounds. Green sea turtles may migrate more than one thousand miles in one trip. Young green sea turtles spend several years in the open ocean until they are large enough to survive in seagrass beds. Their diet consists primarily of seagrasses, sponges, and aquatic invertebrates. In Rhode Island, they can periodically be found in bays and lagoons.

Only female green sea turtles venture onto land; males spend their entire lives in the water. Nesting occurs in the spring. Females will construct several nests and deposit over one hundred eggs into each nest. This may occur only once every few years.

Green sea turtles face many threats and are classified as endangered by the IUCN. Among the typical threats listed under other turtle entries on this page, the intentional harvest of green sea turtle eggs severely reduces the number of offspring that make it to the ocean.

2 thoughts on “List of Turtle Species in Rhode Island 2023 (ID + Pics)”

  1. To whom it may concern,

    I just wanted to inform you about a few things regarding the species listed for the state of Rhode Island. Firstly, the photo you have attached for the Eastern Box Turtle is actually a Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta). I am not sure how this photo made it to research grade on iNaturalist, but you can tell it is not a box turtle due to it’s head coloration and pyramiding of carapace.

    Secondly, there are no Map Turtles resisding in Rhode Island. There may be the occasonal loose pet, but there are no populations currently living here.

    Thanks for you time!



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