List of Turtle Species in Florida 2022 (ID + Pictures)


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

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Green sea turtle
Sea turtles are the most endangered turtle species, with climate change negatively affecting the ratio between males and females. LASZLO ILYES from Cleveland, Ohio, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Florida is in the top spot for the most diverse turtle population in the United States, with other countries looking at it as one of the leading spots for chelonian diversity in the world. Florida has well over 30 different water turtle species, allowing it to uphold its top ranking. These species range from freshwater turtles, sea turtles, and Florida’s only tortoise making up a vast array of turtle inhabitants. People come from everywhere to interact with these beloved reptiles for curiosity, photography, and the overall experience of being in the presence of an amazing animal who can tell us so much about our past with fossil records dating back to 220 million years ago!

Unfortunately, there have been extreme drops in a lot of turtle populations due to pollution, climate change, invasive introductions, and harmful commercial fishing. According to the IUCN, approximately 129 of the 300 species of turtles are listed as vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered.

In Florida, these statistics are seen in plenty of species, but specifically in the most beloved and well-known turtle species, sea turtles. Due to sea turtles (and most all other turtle species) having temperature-dependent sex determination, or TSD, global warming has created an influx of female turtles in the last 4 years, which has become a very serious concern for scientists, as they worry that sea turtle populations will become stinted without a good male-to-female ratio being in place.

These reptiles are exploited as food, pets, and traditional medicine, with lots of them being accidentally killed in our unsustainable fishing industry, along with encroachment on their nesting habitats. Education and action are the most important steps in keeping these beautiful creatures protected and we are happy that you are here to learn some turtle facts and spread some knowledge!


Water Turtles in Florida

1) Common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina)

Common snapping turtle
Common snapping turtles are not as large as alligator snapping turtles, but still have a record weight of 86 lbs! Dean Stavrides / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Other names: None
  • Average adult length: 8 – 14 in (20 – 36 cm)
  • Conservation status: IUCN least concern

These omnivorous reptiles are at the top of the food chain in Florida’s freshwater environments, with the adults’ only predators being alligators and humans. These turtles are not the largest of the two snapping turtles in Florida, but still have a world record size of 86 lbs (39 kg) and 19 ½ in (49.5 cm). They can be found hidden in the mud, ready to ambush their prey, or floating on top of the water to bask in the sun. The common snapping turtle has a large snake-like neck that can extend as long as the full length of their bodies, with nostrils placed on the top of their snout to work as a snorkel when laying on the bottom of shallow waters.

During the mating season, beginning in April, the males will fight for a female’s attention. These turtles are not often found on land, but the female will travel out of the water to dig a hole in fine sandy soil and lay their clutch of 25 – 80 eggs. These offspring will hatch after 9 – 18 weeks and will take 12 years to sexually mature.


2) Alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii)

Alligator snapping turtle
Alligator snapping turtles are the largest freshwater snapping turtles in the United States. John P. Friel Ph.D. / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Other names: None
  • Average adult length: 26 in (66 cm)
  • Conservation status: IUCN vulnerable

These massive animals are the largest and oldest of the freshwater snapping turtles in the United States with males reaching weights up to 249 lbs (112.9 kg) and fossil records dating back to 200 million years ago. These opportunistic feeders have a small pink tongue with a very unique mouth that has an inner lining, which is grayish brown with black splotches. These reptiles have a feeding strategy of resting in the mud with their mouths open, attracting fish towards their worm-like tongue before snapping their mouths shut on their prey.

Their mating season begins in February, when the males begin to approach the females by coming face to face with them and bobbing their heads left to right. Once accepted, the males mount the females and connect cloacal openings. Once the female is inseminated, the females are able to hold the sperm for several years before becoming impregnated.

These turtles, like the other snapping turtles in Florida, are rarely seen out of the water, but females will travel up to 700 feet (213.36 m) away from the water to lay their clutch of 20 – 50 eggs in a sandy hole they have dug. These offspring will hatch after 100 days of incubation.

Unfortunately, these animals are considered a vulnerable species due to poaching and pollution, but luckily these turtles have some preservation in Florida as they are a protected state species, meaning that they have 12 sets of rules and regulations for their protection under the chapters relating to endangered or threatened species.


3) Diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin)

Diamondback terrapin
Diamondback terrapins lay eggs several times a year, with 1 in 6 eggs being born female. Ryan Hagerty, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other names: None
  • Average adult length: 6 – 11 in (15 – 27.9 cm)
  • Conservation status: IUCN near threatened

The diamondback terrapin is the only obligate estuarine chelonian species in the United States and can be found in saltwater habitats such as lagoons, tidal flats, and marshes. Although these animals prefer to be in saltwater, they do require freshwater for drinking purposes, with studies showing that they are able to completely rehydrate 15 minutes after drinking freshwater. These animals also osmoregulate by changing their diets and basking time. Since these animals only eat under the water, they will take in saltwater when feeding, so what they tend to do is eat small amounts when the salinity is high and then eat large amounts of food when they re-enter the freshwater estuaries.

These turtles can lay eggs several times a year with small clutches of around 4 – 8 eggs, with 1 in 6 being born female. Post-hatching, the offspring will spend their first 5 years upstream until they decide to make the journey to saltier areas with more food sources and better nesting sites.


4) Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina)

Common box turtle
Eastern box turtles display sexual dimorphism by their eye color — males usually have red eyes, whereas females have brown. Rene Kimray / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other names: Common box turtle
  • Average adult length: 4 in (10 cm)
  • Conservation status: IUCN vulnerable

Eastern box turtles are labeled as vulnerable according to the IUCN Red List, but still manage to be the most commonly seen box turtle in the United States. They have a domed carapace that is very brightly colored with yellow, red, and orange lines. Their plastron is also hinged, meaning they are able to completely enclose themselves within their shells for protection, which is why they are labeled turtle instead of tortoise as this feature has allowed them to be a member of the American pond turtle family. The dimorphism between the males and females lies within their eyes; the males typically have red eyes while the females have brown.

These turtles can be found in shallow streams or puddles and can be submerged in mud for days at a time. In Florida they do not have a hibernation period and are considered to be opportunistic generalists, chasing and eating anything they can catch from bugs, grasses, to snails. Mating season begins in late spring with courting, which lacks romance as the male chases and bites the female’s neck, legs, and head while sometimes even flipping her on her back and hooking his toes into her shell, before connecting cloacas. Females are able to hold sperm for extended periods of time, but if they are impregnated they lay their eggs when the rainy season has begun. Eggs hatch after 70 days with small clutch sizes ranging from 1 – 9 eggs per year.


5) Florida box turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri)

Person holding Florida box turtle
Florida box turtles live for 70 years on average and can lay eggs throughout their long lives! Briggs Armstrong / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other names: Jewel of Sanibel
  • Average adult length: 6.5 in (16.5 cm)
  • Conservation status: IUCN N/A

This small turtle is one of the 6 subspecies of T. carolina (eastern box turtles). These omnivorous animals eat anything that moves, ranging from grass, snails, fish, insects, and frogs. Florida box turtles are found throughout the peninsula of Florida, with their range not extending further than southern Georgia.

These turtles were given the name “Jewel of Sanibel” for their beautifully colored shells with yellow stripes throughout to camouflage into Sanibel Island’s vegetation. These turtles also have a hinged plastron which allows them to enclose their bodies fully into themselves, like a box. These reptiles can live to an average of 70 years old and are able to lay eggs throughout their lives (even into old age).


6) Gulf Coast box turtle (Terrapene carolina major)

Gulf Coast box turtle
The Gulf Coast box turtle is the largest & most aquatic box turtle species in the US. Lauren McLaurin / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other names: None
  • Average adult length: 8 in (20.3 cm)
  • Conservation status: IUCN N/A

The Gulf Coast box turtle is the largest and most aquatic of the United States box turtles. These animals have shells that flare at the bottom, with scutes that range from a tan color to a dark brown with faint markings.

It was originally thought the dimorphism between the males and females was shown by eye color, but it turns out females always have brown eyes and the males can vary between brown and red. Although the dimorphism isn’t different in the way these turtles look, there has been research showing that their home ranges and habitat usage strategies differ between the sexes.

A study done between 2014 – 2017 showed that female Gulf Coast turtles had a home range that was 11 times larger than that of the males. The females were also shown to prefer wet coniferous land over heavily vegetated forested areas, which the males preferred.


7) Three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis)

Three-toed box turtle in puddle
Three-toed box turtles have solid shells with no markings. James Todd McCann / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other names: None
  • Average adult length: 6 in (15.2 cm)
  • Conservation status: IUCN N/A

This subspecies of box turtle has a solid shell that varies in color from tan, yellow, or olive with no markings. They are most commonly identified by the 3 toes they have on their back feet, and just like other box turtles, they prefer to reside in wet environments with shallow water to rest and hunt in.

A study done in 2001 tracked three-toed turtles’ reproduction habits and found that these animals were able to produce healthy viable eggs throughout their whole lives with a lifespan that well exceeds 70 years.


8) Eastern chicken turtle (Deirochelys reticularia reticularia)

Eastern chicken turtle
Eastern chicken turtles are semi-aquatic turtles that can lay up to 6 clutches in one breeding season. evangrimes / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other names: American snake necks
  • Average adult length: 8 in (20.3 cm)
  • Conservation status: IUCN N/A

These semi-aquatic turtles can be found in any freshwater area with slow-moving currents and high vegetation. They are identified by their shells which are green with yellow markings throughout, along with their long striped necks that are 70% of the length of their plastron, giving them the nickname “American snake necks”. Male chicken turtles court by waving their long nails on their foreclaws against the females’ faces. Once inseminated, the females nest in sandy heavy soils, with Florida chicken turtles laying up to 6 clutches in one continuous breeding season lasting from September to March.

Generally, these turtle eggs must go through a period of diapause in the late gastrula stage; this time frame is when the eggs must experience a cooling temperature at the 78th – 89th-day mark before development proceeds. Research done in Louisiana in 2017 showed that eggs collected from Florida were incubated and hatched without breaking their diapause, and were able to hatch at a constant temperature of 25 – 29°C (77 – 84°F) in 78 – 88 days.


9) Florida red-bellied cooter (Pseudemys nelsoni)

Florida red-bellied cooter eating spatterdock
Florida red-bellied cooters prefer areas that have lots of plants and sandy bottoms. Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other names: Cooter
  • Average adult length: 13 in (33 cm)
  • Conservation status: IUCN least concern

Red-bellied cooters thrive in both brackish and freshwater habitats, with Florida residents inhabiting lakes, ponds, and rivers. They prefer high densities of plants and sandy bottoms and can be found basking outside of the water on logs and fallen debris. These animals can be identified by their beautiful scutes with red peeking through, along with their red-tinted bellies.

The mating season occurs all year, with males beginning to court by moving in front of the females and using their arms to drag her by her head. The males can also be seen fighting one another to assert dominance in front of a female. These turtles can lay up to 6 times a year, with their preferred egg laying spot being in American alligator nests.


10) Eastern river cooter (Pseudemys concinna)

Eastern river cooter on log
Eastern river cooters have different carapaces and plastrons depending on if they were born in slow- or fast-moving water! Dick Mansfield / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other names: Cooter
  • Average adult length: 8 – 16 in (20.3 – 40.6 cm)
  • Conservation status: IUCN least concern

These elongated shelled turtles prefer fast-moving rivers and streams all over the eastern side of the United States. They have shells that are dark green with C-shaped markings on their scutes, along with sexual dimorphism affecting their size, with females being the larger of the two. Another interesting feature about these turtles is that their carapace and plastron show differences if born in slow-moving versus fast-moving water. In lactic (fast-moving) waterways, they are more streamlined than animals who have grown up in lentic habitats.

During the mating season, these turtles stick out their necks and touch each other’s faces with their long-nailed foreclaws. These turtles are polyandrous, with up to 30% of each clutch being fathered by multiple males, and they are able to produce 1 – 6 clutches a year.


11) Peninsula cooter (Pseudemys peninsularis)

Peninsula cooter swimming
Peninsula cooters are herbivores that can be found in Florida’s basin marshes and floodplain swamps. Richard Stovall / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other names: Cooter
  • Average adult length: 9 – 13 in (23 – 33 cm)
  • Conservation status: IUCN least concern

These dome-shelled semi-aquatic turtles can be found throughout Florida’s floodplain swamps, basin marshes, and tidal marshes basking on logs. These reptiles are herbivores, feeding on grasses and aquatic vegetation, with juveniles occasionally catching minnows.

Peninsula cooters reach sexual maturity at the age of 6 for females and 4 years of age for males with mating beginning in April. The male gets on top of the female, dropping his tail at her cloacal opening and the two turtles sink to the floor to copulate. Females lay their eggs according to rainfall, with clutches ranging up to 3 a year with offspring numbers between 11 and 16. The gestation period is 72 days with a lifespan of 30 years.


12) Barbour’s map turtle (Graptemys barbouri)

Barbour's map turtle basking
Female Barbour’s map turtles are 3 times the size of their male counterparts! mfeaver / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other names: None
  • Average adult length: 6 – 11 in (15 – 28 cm)
  • Conservation status: IUCN near threatened

Barbour’s map turtles have a highly domed shell with a protrusive vertebral keel. The dimorphism in this species is very prominent, with the females being 3 times the size of the males. These animals reach sexual maturity at vastly different times as well, with females able to reproduce starting between the ages of 15 and 20, while the males have a headstart in sexual maturity beginning at the age of 2. Once sexual maturity is reached, the females range from 15 – 33 cm (6 – 13 in), and the males are quite small, ranging from 9 – 14 cm (3.5 – 5.5 in).

Courting takes place when a male comes face to face with a female as he begins to touch each side of her head with the center of his front feet. Clutches of eggs can be produced up to four times a year in groups of 10 eggs.


13) Eastern mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum)

Eastern mud turtle on road
Although eastern mud turtles are very small, they can be very aggressive to each other and predators! Zihao Wang / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Other names: Common mud turtle
  • Average adult length: 9 – 13 in (23 – 33 cm)
  • Conservation status: IUCN least concern

Mud turtles can be found in shallow waters with low currents, as their swimming skills are weaker than most. They prefer high levels of vegetation and typically burrow along the edges of wetlands. They have high populations in fragmented landscapes, such as golf courses. These oval-shaped turtles have some dimorphism between the sexes, with females growing larger and males having larger tails, heads, and raised scales on their hindlegs.

Their mating season starts in mid-March but really doesn’t begin until a male has detected the female pheromones she emits when she’s ovulating. Although very small, these turtles are known for their aggression towards each other and predators, so during mating, the male will mount the female and bite her head and carapace. The females will lay their eggs two months later and the offspring are on their own once they hatch.


14) Florida mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum steindachneri)

Florida mud turtle
In the past, the Florida mud turtle was considered to be a subspecies of the eastern mud turtle but is now its own distinct species. mark-groeneveld / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Other names: Cow dung turtle
  • Average adult length: 5 in (13 cm)
  • Conservation status: IUCN least concern

This species was considered a subspecies of the eastern mud turtle until recently and is now its own distinct species. They can be found in slow-moving rivers, swamps, and near cow pastures. These turtles feed on animal matter and plants and were given the nickname “cow dung turtle” due to them often being found eating cow manure. The mating season occurs throughout the year but peaks in September and November. Females are able to lay up to 6 times a year with each clutch averaging 6 eggs.


15) Striped mud turtle (Kinosternon baurii)

Striped mud turtle
Striped mud turtles are considered imperiled in Florida and could be wiped out completely if sea levels rise, as they reside in the Florida Keys. Adam Cushen / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Other names: Three-striped mud turtle
  • Average adult length: 4 – 5 in (10 – 13 cm)
  • Conservation status: IUCN least concern

These turtles are no longer a federally endangered species, but are still considered an imperiled species in Florida. Striped mud turtles have a diet that consists of insects, worms, snails, and algae. These mud turtles can be found in ponds and ditches in Florida that have less than 15 parts per thousand salinity.

The protected populations in Florida reside in the Florida Keys, and the reason they are in decline in these areas is that salt water has begun to leach into freshwater reservoirs. If sea levels rise, as predicted by climate change models, the striped mud turtle population in the Keys will be wiped out completely because the area will quickly become uninhabitable.


16) Common musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus)

Common musk turtle
The common musk turtle is also known as “stinkpot”, as it can release a foul scent from its musk glands as a defense mechanism! Bailey Olson / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Other names: Stinkpot
  • Average adult length: 2 – 4 in (5 – 10 cm)
  • Conservation status: IUCN N/A

This turtle is a small, stocky reptile found in shallow, muddy areas throughout the eastern side of the United States. These animals were given the name “musk turtle” due to their defense mechanism of releasing a foul scent from their musk glands, which has also given them the nickname “stinkpot”. These are nocturnal turtles and differ from most other water turtles in the fact that they will walk along the bottom of the water they inhabit, instead of swimming.

The common musk turtle mates underwater and will lay up to twice a year. The females are known to create nests at the water’s edge where she uses dead leaves under rotten pieces of wood. It is not uncommon for musk turtles to nest in communal nesting spots with other musk turtles. Each female averages 9 eggs and they hatch within 74 days.


17) Loggerhead musk turtle (Sternotherus minor)

Loggerhead musk turtle
Loggerhead musk turtles become sexually mature when they reach the age of 5. Jana Miller / No copyright
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Other names: None
  • Average adult length: 3 – 4.5 in (8 – 11 cm)
  • Conservation status: IUCN least concern

These fully aquatic turtles are able to stay submerged for up to 60 hours in aerated waters through cutaneous respiration, with the possibility to stay underwater indefinitely under proper conditions. These turtles have extremely strong jaws to break through mollusk shells, which are their preferred meal.

These animals can be found walking along the river, creek, or stream floor in search of prey, and are typically active during the early morning. Loggerhead musk turtles become sexually mature at the age of 5 and can produce eggs up to five times a year, with eggs ranging from 1 to 5 per clutch.   


18) Florida softshell turtle (Apalone ferox)

Florida softshell turtle swimming
The largest recorded Florida softshell turtle in the US weighed 71 lbs! Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Other names: None
  • Average adult length: 15 – 30 in (38 – 76 cm)
  • Conservation status: IUCN near threatened

Florida softshells are the largest soft-shelled turtles throughout North America with the largest recorded at 32 kg (71 lbs). Their shells resemble that of a gray leather pancake due to the layer of skin covering their carapace. These animals have tubular nostrils and eyes that sit on the top of their heads that resemble a baby alligator from afar when they are partially out of the water.

In Florida, it is common to stop and have to move turtles out of the road; during the mating season from March to July it happens often! Something important to keep in mind is that these turtles have a neck span that can reach halfway down their shells, so always watch your fingers!


19) Spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera)

Spiny softshell turtle underwater
Spiny softshells can breathe underwater thanks to their skin, pharyngeal lining, and cloacal lining. Rene Kimray / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Other names: None
  • Average adult length: 9 – 11 in (23 – 28 cm)
  • Conservation status: IUCN least concern

Spiny softshells are one of the two largest softshell species in the United States and look very similar to the Florida softshell. The differences between the two are slim, but can be seen in their colors, patterns, and one differing shell texture. Florida softshells have orange markings, while spiny softshells have shades of browns and olive greens in speckles on their shell. The other characteristic of the spiny softshells is the presence of small spines lined along the edge and front areas of the carapace.

Both species have opportunistic diets and can be seen burying themselves into the sand to escape predators. Another awesome feature these species share is their ability to breathe underwater due to the pharyngeal lining, cloacal lining, and skin.


20) Southern painted turtle (Chrysemys dorsalis)

Southern painted turtle on log
Southern painted turtles can be found across the east side of the US in static waters. Lillie / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other names: None
  • Average adult length: 5 – 7 in (13 – 18 cm)
  • Conservation status: IUCN least concern

These turtles are opportunistic eaters and can be seen feeding on bugs, algae, and fish. The range of painted turtles is all over the east side of the United States in static waters, but the southern painted turtles are distinguishingly different from the rest by their small size and the red line that starts at the top of their head and flows down their carapace.

These reptiles begin mating in early spring, with males courting by fluttering their long nails in front of the female’s face until she allows him to mount her. They typically lay 2 times a year with clutches ranging from 2 – 8 eggs. Once hatched, the painted turtle’s offspring tend to grow fast, with their size doubling in their first growing season. 


21) Red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)

Red-eared slider basking
The red-eared slider can take over waterways and compete with other native species for resources. Sandy Wolkenberg / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other names: None
  • Average adult length: 12 in (30 cm)
  • Conservation status: IUCN least concern

This animal has been the most popular turtle in the pet trade, with more than 52 million turtles exported from the United States! This species has been known to move to different freshwater habitats and take over the waterways, competing with other native species for resources. In Florida, these animals are currently reproducing with native populations of yellow-bellied sliders, affecting pure native species.

Currently, these invasives have become established in places all over the world due to their ability to have success in many different environments. Research in Spain used histopathological analyses to show what exactly these invasives were bringing to their country, and as it turned out, 88% of tested turtles had internal pathologies of hepatic lipidosis and chronic nephritis, which were diseases that were not present in the native turtles.


22) Yellow-bellied slider (Trachemys scripta scripta)

Yellow-bellied slider in water
Yellow-bellied sliders rarely leave the water except to move to a different water body or to make a nest. Kseniia Marianna Prondzynska / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other names: None
  • Average adult length: 12 in (30 cm)
  • Conservation status: IUCN least concern

These are the most common turtles in Florida, often seen basking in piles on anything sticking out of the water. These abundant animals do not typically leave the water but occasionally do when moving from one body of water to the next or when creating a nest. Their mating season begins in early spring, with females only laying once per season with clutches ranging from 10 – 24 eggs. These turtles have a lifespan of 30 years in the wind.


Saltwater Turtles in Florida

1) Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas)

Green sea turtle underwater
Green sea turtles are gentle giants, with the largest recorded weighing 869 lbs! Donald Davesne / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Other names: None
  • Average adult length: 3 – 4 ft (0.91 – 1.2 m)
  • Conservation status: IUCN endangered

Green sea turtles are an endangered species found in tropical and subtropical climates. This beautifully colored green reptile is one of the most researched reptiles in the world and has captivated so many with its gentle existence. Green sea turtles are extremely large animals, with the largest recorded being 394 kg (869 lbs)!

They have an average lifespan of 70, with the oldest recorded at the age of 90. Unfortunately, these turtles have tons of threats resulting in their rapid decline. Sea turtles face extreme levels of poaching for their eggs, meat, skin, and shells. They are also known to die in accidental captures from commercial fishing and in garbage debris that has entered the oceans and suffocated them or impacted them internally.


2) Hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)

Hawksbill sea turtle
In Florida, hawksbill sea turtles can be found near reefs in the Florida Keys. Donald Davesne / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Other names: None
  • Average adult length: 2.5 ft (0.8 m)
  • Conservation status: IUCN critically endangered

The hawksbill sea turtles were given their name for their hawk-like beak. Currently, there are only 8,000 nesting females found throughout the world in the wild. These turtles can be found specifically in the Florida Keys near reefs. Unfortunately, these reefs are beginning to die off from coral bleaching and stony coral tissue loss disease creating habitat loss and food scarcity for these animals.  

During the mating season, females will store sperm for 75 days before laying multiple nests on a beach. One of the main reasons their populations are declining is due to the erosion of Florida’s shores and an influx of people moving to the state, creating habitat encroachment, which disrupts the females’ nesting habits.


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

Kemp's ridley sea turtle
Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is the most endangered sea turtle species, with only approximately 22,000 mature adults left in the world. Tia Offner / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Other names: None
  • Average adult length: 27 – 32 in (69 – 81 cm)
  • Conservation status: IUCN critically endangered

The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is the smallest and most endangered sea turtle, with only 22,341 mature adults left in the world. These animals are shown to only nest on one beach in the world and that is the Rancho Nuevo beach on Mexico’s gulf coast, but in the last few years, they have been recorded nesting in areas of Texas and parts of Florida.

During the month of April, female Kemp’s ridley sea turtles gather in groups offshore of Rancho Nuevo, Mexico in a process called “arribada”, which means arrival in Spanish. These turtles come ashore and lay 3 clutches of 100 eggs each which will hatch 50 days later to begin the cycle again. These animals have a rapid decline due to the fishing industry; they are often caught accidentally in nets and ultimately drown.


4) Leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)

Leatherback sea turtle on shore
Leatherback sea turtles do not have a hard carapace and are instead covered in layers of fatty tissues and tiny bones with a thin layer of skin on top.ntitelbaum / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Dermochelyidea
  • Other names: None
  • Average adult length: 6 – 7.2 ft (1.8 – 2.2 m)
  • Conservation status: IUCN vulnerable

Leatherback sea turtles are the largest sea turtles in the world, with the largest weighing 915.9 kg (2,019 lbs) and 3.05 m (10 ft long). Unlike other sea turtles who have a hard carapace, the leatherback turtle has thick layers of fatty tissues and tiny bones with a thin layer of skin laying on top. Currently, these gentle giants have many threats, including illegal poaching for their eggs and meat, increased beach development which affects their nesting habits, and accidental capture in fishing lines, nets, and crab trap lines, resulting in them drowning.


5) Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta)

Loggerhead sea turtle in ocean
Loggerhead sea turtles lay their eggs on beaches every 1 – 2 years. Yves Bas / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Other names: None
  • Average adult length: 3 ft (0.9 m)
  • Conservation status: IUCN vulnerable

This is the most commonly seen sea turtle in Florida, laying their nests on beaches every 1 to 2 years after traveling an average of 3,000 miles (4,828 km). These turtles lay up to 7 nests every 14 days, with 100 – 120 eggs per clutch. This turtle’s diet consists of jellyfish, crabs, and clams which they crush with their extremely strong jaws.

These animals are also considered to be a keystone species as they feed on large numbers of invertebrates, which then creates calcium sources for other species. The final aspect is that loggerhead turtles have over 100 species from 13 phyla living on their carapace, creating an incredible mobile reef!


Florida’s Land Tortoise

1) Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)

Gopher tortoise
Low-growing plants are an essential part of a gopher tortoise’s diet. Leila Dasher / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Other names: None
  • Average adult length: 9 – 11 in (23 – 28 cm)
  • Conservation status: IUCN vulnerable

Gopher tortoises are the only native species of land tortoises found in Florida and are federally listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, with all individuals needing to be relocated before any land development takes place. These animals live in burrows they create, ranging from 4.5 meters (15 ft) in length and 2 meters (6.6 ft) deep, and share their burrows with over 350 other species and are therefore categorized as a keystone species. These burrows help to protect gopher tortoises from controlled burns, which are crucial in creating new, low-growing plants that are essential in gopher tortoise diets.

Gopher tortoises reach sexual maturity around the age of 9 and have a mating season occurring from March to October. Many tortoises may not lay each year due to sperm retention that they can withhold for many years, but when they do lay, their clutches have an average of 6 eggs. Once laid, no parental care is given, although many tortoises will return and pace over their nest for multiple days. Once hatched, the tortoises are on their own, eating grasses and cacti, and have a lifespan of 70 years, with the oldest recorded being a tortoise named Gus, aged 99.

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