List of Turtle Species in Tennessee 2023 (ID + Pics)

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

Tennessee River
Most turtle species in Tennessee can be found in the Tennessee (pictured) and Mississippi rivers and drainages. Blueway, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tennessee’s topography primarily consists of flat plains and grand mountains, with the Mississippi Alluvial Plain and Southeastern Plains to the west and the Blue Ridge and the Appalachian Mountains to the east. Several significant rivers cut into the countryside, but the three most important rivers for turtles are the Tennessee, Mississippi, and Cumberland Rivers.

Most turtle species in the state are found in the Mississippi and Tennessee rivers and drainages, although turtles can be found throughout the state in its various bogs, rivers, marshes, urban areas, and streams.

Outside of Tennessee’s plains and mountains, pond sliders and painted turtles make their home in urban environments where humans have constructed decorative, predator-free ponds in golf courses and parks. These species thrive in artificial areas and take advantage of protection from their natural predators.

Map turtles are abundant in minor rivers and lakes, whereas large, sluggish rivers might house giant snapping turtles. Most of Tennessee’s turtles may not be recognized as threatened globally, but their numbers are dwindling within Tennessee’s borders due to habitat loss, fragmentation, urban development, and habitat degradation.

The common box turtle and bog turtle are of special concern as their populations are declining throughout their range. Common box turtles require a continuous stretch of habitat, known as their home range, of at least 2 acres, although urban development has interrupted this habitat. Bog turtles, on the other hand, specialize in a unique mountain bog habitat located in the extreme northeast corner of the state. Habitat loss is one of the primary drivers of population decline for most species, box and bog turtles included, so protecting the homes of these unique turtles is a priority for conservationists.

1) Common box turtle (Terrapene carolina)

Three-toed box turtle
The three-toed box turtle (pictured) is one of two common box turtle subspecies that can be found in Tennessee. Laura Clark / 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 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 30 years, but can live longer than 100 years
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

Despite the name “common” box turtle, this species’ population is dwindling, although if you see a box turtle, this will be the most likely candidate in Tennessee. Common box turtles are most common in Tennessee’s old hickory forests near water sources. While they were once abundant throughout their range, this species faces 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.

There are two common box turtle subspecies in Tennessee: the eastern box turtle (T. c. carolina) and the three-toed box turtle (T. c. triunguis). Eastern box turtles have large, domed shells 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. The three-toed box turtle is similar to the eastern in appearance but usually has three toes on the hind legs instead of four. Additionally, three-toed box turtles are darker in color.

These tiny 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 old. The breeding season lasts from mid-spring to fall and varies by region. Adult females will lay between three and eight small eggs during this season. Females only need to mate once every few years to produce successful clutches in subsequent years.

2) Pond slider (Trachemys scripta)

Cumberland slider in water
3 pond slider subspecies are present in Tennessee: the Cumberland slider (pictured), red-eared slider, and yellow-bellied slider. Luís Lourenço / CC BY-ND 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

The pond slider is one of North America’s most widespread turtle species and can be found throughout Tennessee. Additionally, there are several subspecies present in the state. The subspecies of pond slider that are located in Tennessee are the red-eared slider (T. s. elegans), the yellow-bellied slider (T. s. scripta), and the Cumberland slider (T. s. troostii). They can be distinguished by examining the striping patterns on the side of their head. Red-eared sliders have a red stripe or “ear.” Yellow-bellied sliders have a yellow line that connects several stripes along the side of the face. Cumberland sliders have a simple yellow stripe and a small red stripe. Other characteristics can be found here.

This species has a flattened shell designed to help them glide through the water where they spend most of their lives. They prefer warm, slow-moving waters where they can feed and bask without the threat of predators. You will often see red-eared sliders sold as little golf-ball sides turtles at pet stores, and their popularity as pets has encouraged their spread throughout the United States. Adult sliders thrive in urban environments and can often be seen in ponds basking on logs or other debris from park lakes and rivers.

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

3) Common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina)

Common snapping turtle basking on rock
Common snapping turtles have stocky bodies with webbed claws and long tails. Gordon Johnston / CC BY-SA 4.0
  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Other common names: Snapper
  • Adult weight: 10 – 35 lbs (4.5 – 16 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 8 – 14 in (20 – 36 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

Common snapping turtles are like largemouth bass in that they have a varied diet limited only by the size of their mouths! Their strong jaws and sharp beaks allow them to incapacitate their prey quickly. Common snappers are stocky turtles with rough shells that have minor ridges along their backs. They also have solid limbs, webbed claws, and long tails. Common snappers are found in muddy, vegetated habitats, providing ample cover for these ambush predators to hide in the muck.

During spring to summer nesting season, 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 less-than-ideal locations. As a result, road mortality is a significant contributor to hatchling turtle mortality. However, roadways are not the only threat to hatchling common snapping turtles. Young turtles prey on large wading birds like herons, egrets, raccoons, and giant turtles.

As babies, the common snappers are barely larger than a quarter and possess the unique suite of characteristics that the adults have. Potential turtle pet owners should think twice before bringing home a baby snapping turtle. While they may be small and cute, adults can be massive and, as their name suggests, can give a nasty bite.

4) Alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii)

Alligator snapping turtle
Alligator snapping turtles have 3 distinct ridges on their shell and a hooked beak. evangrimes / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Other common names: Alligator snappers
  • Adult weight: 155 – 175 lbs (70 – 79 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 31 in (79 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 249 lbs (113 kg)
  • Lifespan (wild): 45 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 70 years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The alligator snapping turtle is a larger relative of the common snapping turtle found in the Mississippi and Cumberland rivers and connected drainages. They are rare in Tennessee and a species of conservation concern.

As their name suggests, alligator snapping turtles are giant, dinosaur-like turtles with powerful jaws. Their thick heads house muscles that allow their beaks to break bones. The alligator snapper’s shell is rugged with three distinct ridges. Compared to the common snapping turtle, the alligator snapper’s ridges are more distinct, and its beak is hooked.

Due to their large size, alligator snapping turtles prefer large rivers and lakes and will hide amongst submerged logs or other debris. They are carnivores that predate upon fish, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. Adults typically consume fish and other large prey items and hunt at night and during the day. When hunting, alligator snapping turtles hide at the bottom of a lake and use a lure-like tongue to draw in unsuspecting fish. During the nesting season, females will dig nests and produce approximately 50 – 60 eggs.

5) Northern map turtle (Graptemys geographica)

Northern map turtle on log
Northern map turtles have a preference for slow rivers, lakes, creeks, and reservoirs. christine123 / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other common names: Common map turtle
  • Adult weight: 0.8 – 5.5 lbs (0.4 – 2.5 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 4 – 10.5 in (10.2 – 27 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 10.8 in (27.4 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 20 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 30 years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The northern map turtle is found throughout Tennessee but is more common in the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers and drainages. Their skin is a vibrant green color with thin, yellow lines that give them a similar appearance to pond sliders (Trachemys scripta). However, unlike sliders, the northern map turtle possesses a minor keel along the back of their shell, distinguishing them from the smooth-backed pond sliders. Northern map turtles also have a yellow dot behind each eye, which most similar turtles lack.

Both species belong to the same family, which explains their similar appearance. However, several other characteristics can help distinguish the two species. First, the margins, or edges, of the shell of map turtles are more serrated than sliders. Map turtles also possess distinct ridges along the back of their shells, whereas pond sliders are nearly entirely smooth. Additionally, the plastron, or underside, of northern map turtles is usually plain, which can help distinguish them from other map turtles.

This species can be found sunning on the banks of weedy aquatic habitats, including slow rivers, reservoirs, creeks, and lakes. Here, they will hunt for insects and crustaceans within the water. Additionally, mature adults possess strong jaw muscles that allow them to crack open snails and crayfish. Adult males and females vary drastically, with males growing up to 6 inches (15 cm) and females growing up to 10 inches (25 cm) long. Interestingly, clutches laid at the end of summer may delay hatching until the following spring. This ability likely improves the survival of clutches through the cold winter.

6) River cooter (Pseudemys concinna)

River cooter
Male river cooters take longer to reach maturity than females, with females becoming mature at around 6 years of age and males at 13 years. Mike Tilley / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other common names: Eastern river cooter
  • Adult weight: 11 lbs (5 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 12 in (30 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 17 in (43 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 40 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 20 years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

River cooters are larger cousins of the pond slider and painted turtle. Although they may occur in the same area, adult river cooters are almost always larger than the other two species. Generally, this species lacks the defining characteristics of similar turtle species, like facial markings, splotches on the plastron, and shell markings. Some examples can be found here.

They are common turtles found primarily in the western half of Tennessee, and their range extends throughout the southeastern United States. River cooters are omnivorous, consuming aquatic vegetation and some aquatic invertebrates. Juveniles consume more invertebrates than adults and gradually hunt larger prey as their mature. They become food for mammals like raccoons, foxes, and opossums.

River cooters display social behaviors, often foraging for food, swimming, and basking. This gregarious behavior may help this species avoid predators as they can observe cues from other turtles, which may observe danger before they do.

Mating and nesting last from the spring to the summer, and clutches can enter a diapause-like state if temperatures are too cold. When this occurs, the eggs delay hatching for several months to give the offspring the best chance of survival. Interestingly, males take longer to mature than females, with females reaching maturity at six years on average and males reaching adulthood at 13 years.

7) Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta)

Southern painted turtle basking
Southern painted turtles (pictured) are easy to identify thanks to their orange dorsal stripe that runs the length of their shell. ilouque / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other common names: Eastern painted turtle
  • Adult weight: 1 lbs (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 in the same family as river cooters and pond sliders, so they share many characteristics with these species. They are dark, green turtles with smooth shells and minimal patterning on their shell. The defining feature of this species is the orange coloration on the exposed inner margins of the shell.

Three subspecies of painted turtle are present in Tennessee: the southern painted turtle (C. p. dorsalis), the eastern painted turtle (C. p. picta), and the midland painted turtle (C. p. marginata). The southern painted turtle was given complete species status in 2003, but scientists need more contention regarding its status as a full species. The Integrated Taxonomic Information System regards the southern painted turtle as a subspecies of the painted turtle as of 2014.

Southern painted turtles are the easiest to identify by an orange dorsal stripe extending from the shell’s anterior-most edge to the posterior-most edge. Eastern and midland painted turtles are more challenging to distinguish, although eastern painted turtles are native to the northeastern corner of Tennessee and are less common than the midland subspecies.

Painted turtles are common in wetlands and marshes, often co-occurring with other similar turtles, although they tend to be smaller than species like the river cooter or sliders. They have an omnivorous diet, including various invertebrates, fish, and plant materials. In addition, young painted turtles are prey for mammals, birds, and predatory fish making this species an important member of the local food chain.

This species is often kept as a pet because of its pretty coloration and docile nature. While they are easily found outside, 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 taking this species from the wild may be illegal.

8) Spiny softshell (Apalone spinifera)

Spiny softshell
Spiny softshells have elongated snouts, enabling them to breathe underwater without exposing their heads. Evan M. Raskin / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Other common names: Spiny softshell turtle
  • Adult weight: 26.5 – 33 lbs (12 – 15 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 5 – 19 in (13 – 48 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 19 in (48 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 50 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 50 years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

Spiny softshells have smooth, olive-colored shells with neat, dark circles on the surface. Their legs possess large, webbed feet. The most striking feature is their elongated, pointed snout that allows them to breathe underwater without exposing their head. As their name suggests, spiny softshells have spines along the front edge of their shell, whereas their cousin, the smooth softshell, does not.

Adult spiny softshells are between 8 and 10 years of age. Females will lay a clutch of round eggs in pits dug in soft soil. Once hatched, baby softshells are incredibly tiny and vulnerable with their highly soft shells. They are usually around 2 – 3 inches in length after hatching. They can often be found in open, shallow, muddy-bottomed rivers, buried in the mud to hide from predators. When disturbed, they can quickly relocate to another spot in the river and disappear into the soil. Spiny softshells can survive well in urban environments, taking advantage of the fragmented water systems and small, muddy streams that urban development creates.

The diet of the spiny softshell includes worms, insects, crustaceans, and sometimes fish. Their diet is predominantly carnivorous. Therefore, they are most active during the day and will hide from predators at night.

9) Bog turtle (Glyptemys muhlenbergii)

Young bog turtle in hand
Young bog turtles are very vulnerable and unfortunately, most do not make it to adulthood. Rosie Walunas/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Adult weight: Unknown
  • Adult carapace length: 3 – 3.5 in (7.6 – 8.9 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 4.5 in (11 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 20 – 30 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 50 years
  • Conservation status: Critically endangered

Bog turtles are tiny, round turtles with a sleek, dark appearance. They have characteristic yellow spots on their head, which can help distinguish them from other species. If you find one in the wild, leave it where it is. This species is critically endangered, so losing adults from the wild could adversely affect natural populations.

The bog turtle diet includes invertebrates and some plant matter. Reproduction occurs in the summer. Females will build a nest from moss and deposit between 1 and 6 eggs underneath the moss. Since clutch sizes are so small, adult retention is significant for the survival of this species. Unfortunately, young bog turtles are incredibly vulnerable, and most do not reach adulthood. It takes bog turtles at least five years to reach sexual maturity.

As with many other endangered species, habitat loss and fragmentation are the primary factors influencing their population decline. In addition, pollution and invasive plants can make their habitat inhospitable. Interestingly, this species also suffers from the natural succession of forests from one type of ecosystem to the next. Bog turtles specialize in bog and fen habitats and are native to the northeastern United States.

10) Ouachita map turtle (Graptemys ouachitensis)

Ouachita map turtle
Ouachita map turtles have a yellow dot under each of their eyes and on both sides of their jaw, while common map turtles do not have a dot on their jaw. Dan Johnson / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other common names: Southern map turtle
  • Adult weight: ~6 lbs (~3 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 5 – 10 in (13 – 25 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 10.25 in (26 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 20 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 18 years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

Like the common map turtle, this species has a rugged shell with serrated edges. However, Ouachita map turtles can be distinguished from common map turtles by the presence of a yellow spot underneath each eye and on both sides of their jaw, whereas common map turtles do not have a spot on their jaw. In addition, map turtles have keeled shells with jagged spines, which can help distinguish them from sliders and painted turtles.

Ouachita map turtles occur in the Tennessee and Mississippi River drainages and prefer habitats with dense aquatic vegetation and ample basking sites protruding from the water. During the breeding season in the spring and summer, females dig nests into soft sand and construct 2 – 3 nests per year. Each nest may contain as many as 16 eggs. As with many other turtle species on this list, the sex of the baby turtles is determined by temperature, with more females produced at higher temperatures, whereas the opposite is true for males. This species has a typical turtle diet of insects and plants and is prey to various mammals and birds. Additionally, they are sometimes caught as bycatch in commercial fisheries.

Turtles typically spend the winter months in a dormant state called brumation. While mammals hibernate, cold-blooded animals like reptiles and amphibians brumate. For example, the Ouachita map turtle typically brumates when temperatures drop from October to April.

11) Eastern musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus)

Eastern musk turtle
Eastern musk turtles are rarely found in urban areas – instead, they can usually be found in shallow rivers or streams connected to the Mississippi and Tennessee rivers. Sam Kieschnick / CC BY 4.0
  • 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 (7.6 – 12.7 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: No accounts exceeding 5 in (12.7 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 20 – 30 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 50+ years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The eastern musk turtle can be found in shallow rivers or streams connected to the Mississippi and Tennessee River systems. They are rare in urban areas. The name “musk turtle” comes from this turtle’s predator-defense ability. When threatened, they release a foul odor of phenoalkalinic acid that deters most predators from eating these smelly turtles. Eastern musk turtles are native to the eastern United States from Texas to Canada and occupy most habitats with slow-moving fresh water.

These tiny, rounded turtles are dull in appearance and somewhat 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. 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.

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 small animals. However, musk turtles bury themselves in the mud when temperatures get too cold for foraging.

12) Eastern mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum)

Eastern mud turtle on road
Eastern mud turtles usually reach maturity from 4 to 8 years of age. Zihao Wang / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Other common names: Common mud turtle
  • Adult weight: 0.34 lbs (0.15 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 2.5 – 4 in (6 – 10 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 6 in (15 cm); 0.45 lbs (0.2 kg)
  • Lifespan (wild): 20 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 38 years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

Not to be confused with the eastern musk turtle, the eastern mud turtle is a small brown turtle. Its carapace is round and smooth without any ridges or spines with a dark, soft shell and lighter underbellies. Like common box turtles, they have a hinged plastron that allows them to seal up their shell when threatened. Adults have two hinges on their plastron, enabling them to close their shells and protect their soft bodies. Juvenile turtles are not born with these hinges and develop them as they age.

The age of maturity for eastern mud turtles is between 4 and 8 years. Females construct a single nest annually and typically lay three to four eggs.

Common mud turtles are predominantly found in ponds, streams, swamps, and wetlands, where they enjoy sluggish water with abundant emergent and submerged vegetation. They can often be observed basking on exposed rocks or logs, although they will scurry back into the safety of the water if they notice humans. Their diet consists of insects, mollusks, fish, and plant material. This species inhabits aquatic habitats with sluggish and shallow water like marshes, swamps, shallow ponds, rivers, or lakes. They have a generalist diet and consume mollusks, amphibians, invertebrates, and even scavenge for carrion.

13) Stripe-necked musk turtle (Sternotherus peltifer)

Stripe-necked musk turtle underwater
Stripe-necked musk turtles are aquatic and rarely spend time outside of the water. Michael A. Alcorn / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Adult weight: 0.3 lbs (0.14 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 3 – 4 in (7.6 – 10.2 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 5.3 in (13.5 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 20 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 23.9 years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The stripe-necked musk turtle inhabits wetland habitats and can be found in creeks, rivers, bogs, swamps, and ponds. They are aquatic turtles that rarely spend time outside the water except for climbing limbs or cypress knees for basking.

Mating occurs in the spring or fall, and nesting occurs from mid-May to July. During this nesting season, females will briefly exit the water to dig nests along river sources, depositing between two and three eggs. They might create up to four nests per year.

Stripe-necked musk turtles specialize in mollusks and have developed mighty jaws to crack open hard snails and clam shells. These powerful jaws also function as an effective defense mechanism against predators. In addition, musk turtles fend off predators by “musking” or producing a foul-smelling liquid from their cloaca.

14) False map turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica)

False map turtle basking
False map turtles like to bask and hunt together with other turtles. Patrick Hacker / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Adult weight: 2.5 – 4 lbs (1.1 – 1.8 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 3.5 – 10.5 in (9 – 27 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 6.2 in (16 cm) males; 10.5 in (27 cm) females
  • Lifespan (wild): 50 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 32.5 years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

False map turtles possess broader heads than other map turtles on this list and are adapted to consume mollusks. However, their dietary needs also overlap with other map turtles including invertebrates and fish. The similarity between the various species of map turtles has confused taxonomists leading to a series of subspecies and species delineations over time. The Ouachita map turtle, for example, used to be a subspecies of G. pseudographica but is now a fully recognized species. So, map turtles are difficult to distinguish, and hybrids are even more difficult.

This species enjoys aquatic habitats and prefers large, slow-moving rivers and lakes with various substrates. They will assemble with other members of their species and other turtle species to bask and hunt.

Females and males are drastically different in size, with males being much smaller than females on average. Females produce two clutches a year of between 8 and 22 eggs. Mammals, birds, and various fish species predate young turtles. In some regions, false map turtles are also vectors for helminth parasites, a type of free-living parasite that infects the tissues of animals.

15) Smooth softshell (Apalone mutica)

Smooth softshell in water
The smooth softshell has a soft, flexible shell, which is different from most other turtle species. calinsdad / No copyright
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Adult weight: Unknown, presumably similar to the spiny softshell
  • Adult carapace length: 4.5 – 14 in (11 – 36 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 14 in (36 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 20+ years
  • Lifespan (captive): 11 years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

Smooth softshells have a flat, smooth shell and a long nose. They are endemic to the Mississippi River drainage and a few other rivers in Tennessee. These turtles are known for their soft, flexible shells, whereas most other turtles have hard, durable shells. Smooth softshells are found in slow river habitats with plenty of cover and soft substrates that allow this species to hide from predators. Cover is especially important for this species because they lack a hardened carapace and are therefore more vulnerable to predators.

Like spiny softshells, smooth softshells have elongated noses to inhale oxygen while keeping their bodies submerged. Interestingly, the smooth softshell has adapted the ability to absorb oxygen from the water, allowing them to stay submerged for even longer. As a result, this species spends almost its entire life exclusively in the water, only leaving it to lay eggs or bask. Additionally, smooth softshells will bury themselves in the substrate of a water body, sticking their nose up to the surface to breathe. This behavior helps them avoid predators and adverse environmental conditions.

Males take four years to mature, and females take nine, on average. Mating even occurs in the water, although females leave the water during their summer nesting period to dig a nest and deposit their eggs. Each nest may include up to 30 eggs.

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