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


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

Elk State Forest, Pennsylvania
Approximately 60% of Pennsylvania is made up of deciduous forest, which protects the state’s watershed. Nicholas T (Nicholas A. Tonelli) on Flickr, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As one of the 13 original colonies of the United States, you might expect Pennsylvania to be vacant of any of its pre-colonial prowess. But despite its early colonization, Pennsylvania maintains a rich wealth of wildlife and a variety of biomes. Approximately 60% of Pennsylvania is made up of deciduous forest, with more than 16 million acres of diverse trees and animal life.

These ancient forests protect the state’s watershed, allowing a variety of unique wetlands, lakes, and rivers to thrive alongside the state’s rolling mountains and meadows. 39 species of reptiles and 39 species of amphibians call Pennsylvania home, but unfortunately, many of these creatures are at risk.

Many of Pennsylvania’s unique ecosystems are shifting due to climate change, leaving critically endangered species, such as the bog turtle, especially at risk. Worse, these native species face competition or even predation from invasive species such as the red-eared slider and zebra mussel. One turtle species, the smooth softshell, has already become entirely extirpated from the state.

With much of its critical biomes and wildlife on private land, education and awareness are key to maintaining healthy habitats for all of Pennsylvania’s unique species. This article will go over the 12 native turtle species that call Pennsylvania home.


1) Blanding’s turtle

Blanding's turtle
It’s rare to see a Blanding’s turtle in Pennsylvania as they are a threatened species. Howard Williams / CC BY-SA 4.0
  • Scientific name: Emydoidea blandingii
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Adult weight: 1.5 – 3 lbs (0.68 – 1.4 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 7 – 9 in (17.8 – 22.9 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 10 in (25.4 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 75 – 100 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 75 – 80+ years
  • Conservation status: Endangered

The Blanding’s turtle is a large semi-aquatic turtle that can often be observed basking. They can easily be recognized by their bright yellow throats and smooth, black carapaces. Although they are such a prominent and distinctly colored species, most Pennsylvanians have not seen a Blanding’s turtle, as they are a threatened species that is only found within Erie County.

Rather than having a home body of water, Blanding’s turtles spend much of their lives moving between temporary bodies of water in search of food. Although more than half of their diet consists of crustaceans, this carnivore will happily eat anything that will fit in its mouth.

This species hibernates from mid-November to early March but is otherwise active in the search for food. Despite how migratory this species appears to be, females display high nest fidelity, meaning they often return to lay in the place where they were hatched. Rather than one male mating with multiple females, females of this species take on several male partners.

They typically lay 3 – 19 eggs containing different amounts of DNA from each mate and leave shortly after laying. The several males who have mated to a given female will remain behind and collectively guard her nest until just before hatching.


2) Bog turtle

Bog turtle
Bog turtles rely on short vegetation to bask on cooler days and openly incubate eggs. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Scientific name: Glyptemys muhlenbergii
  • Family: Emyudidae
  • Adult weight: 3.9 oz (111 g)
  • Adult carapace length: 4 in (10 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 4.5 in (11.4 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 20 – 30 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 40+ years
  • Conservation status: Critically Endangered

With an adult carapace length of only 4 inches, the bog turtle is the smallest turtle species in all of North America. It is highly endangered, partially because its bright colors and rarity make it a sought-after target for illegal harvesting.

The bog turtle has distinct coloration, with orange and brown radiating on each scute of its dark brown carapace. Along with its bright shell, the bog turtle has a large orange patch on its head which can make it stand out from a distance.

In addition to being regularly poached, this species requires a very specific and unique biome to survive. As its name suggests, it can only live in bogs, which contain the acidic, wet soil, deep mud, and biodiversity needed for it to live and reproduce.

Bog turtles rely on mucky soil to protect themselves and stay cool on hot days, but also need short vegetation to bask on cooler days and openly incubate their eggs. More than 150 species of plants may be found within a single bog, many of which play a unique role in the life of a bog turtle, such as the use of sphagnum moss for nesting.

Unfortunately, this biome is highly sensitive to climate change and most bogs throughout the country are found on privately-owned land. Bog turtles were once found throughout the eastern United States, but have now been isolated into two distinct populations 250 miles apart.


3) Common musk turtle

Common musk turtle on branch
Although they’re not the best at swimming, common musk turtles are great climbers and can be found resting high in trees! inbetweenbays / CC BY 4.0
  • Scientific name: Sternotherus odoratus
  • Other common names: Eastern musk turtle, stinkpot
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Adult weight: 1 – 2 lbs (0.45 – 0.9 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 2 – 5 in (5.1 – 12.7 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 5.4 in (13.7 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 40 – 60 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 50+ years
  • Conservation status: Least Concerned

Due to its small size, unremarkable appearance, and secretive nature, the nocturnal musk turtle is a rarely-seen member of the mud turtle family. It has a dark, mostly unmarked carapace and skin that allows it to hide in mud. Its only distinct markings are the pair of yellow and white stripes on either side of its head.

Despite being highly aquatic and rarely leaving the water, the common musk turtle is a poor swimmer who must walk along lake and river floors. It forages primarily in the evenings, eating a varied and omnivorous diet. Common musk turtles are not known to bask, but in the rare instances they do leave the water, they are surprisingly good climbers.

They can be observed on occasion resting high in trees, and are known to fall into the boats of unsuspecting boaters. If caught and handled, this species will secrete phenolalkalinic acid, a foul-smelling chemical that has earned it the name “stinkpot.”

Females leave the water to nest and lay 2 to 9 eggs in shallow burrows or under debris. They are known to nest in groups for safety and may form nests in close clusters.


4) Common snapping turtle

Common snapping turtle basking
The common snapping turtle is the largest turtle species in Pennsylvania and can weigh up to 35 lbs! Gordon Johnston / CC BY-SA 4.0
  • Scientific name: Chelydra serpentina
  • Other common names: Snapper
  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Adult weight: 10 – 35 lbs (4.5 – 16 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 8 – 14 in (20 – 36 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 75 lbs (34 kg) and 19.3 in (49 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 30 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 40+ years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The common snapping turtle is the largest turtle found in Pennsylvania, regularly surpassing a foot in length but known to reach much larger sizes. One individual in Wayne County was found to be over 60 pounds, and monster-sized turtles have been found throughout the state. This massive species is incredibly abundant and occupies almost any freshwater habitat in every county.

Snapping turtles are hardy and adaptable, able to venture into brackish water as needed. This species has a dark carapace and skin and lacks any distinct markings. Despite this, it is easily recognized by its large, hooked jaws, long tail, and sharp claws.

Although snapping turtles are so prevalent and easy to spot, they go ignored in many waters due to their reclusive tendencies. This heavily aquatic species rarely basks outside of the water, instead choosing to float just below the surface. Snapping turtles are typically only seen on land in May and June in Pennsylvania, when they come out to lay. Females spend only a brief time on land to seek out a loamy area to nest in. After laying 15 to 50 eggs in a 5- to 7-inch hole, females loosely cover their eggs and return to the water.

On land, this species will aggressively defend itself with its incredibly strong jaws and sharp claws. In the water, however, snapping turtles will instead retreat from threats. Although the snapping turtle is named for its hunting tactic of ambushing prey, many gentle giants within Pennsylvania instead feast largely on duckweed and carrion.


5) Eastern box turtle

Eastern box turtle
Just like a tree gains rings annually, the eastern box turtle grows a new ring on each scute every summer. Cameron Christopher Dunn / CC BY-SA 4.0
  • Scientific name: Terrapene carolina carolina
  • Other common names: Land turtle
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Adult weight: 1 – 2 lbs (0.45 – 0.9 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 4.5 – 6 in (11.4 – 15.2 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 7.8 in (19.8 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 25 – 30 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 50+ years
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

The eastern box turtle is a highly terrestrial turtle that can be found in every county of Pennsylvania. Although its numbers are declining, it is still the most commonly seen turtle on land. The eastern box turtle can be identified by its strongly domed carapace, which has numerous yellow and orange lines, blotches, and bars along each scute. Its body is similarly colored and patterned, with yellow and orange streaks along its dark head, neck, legs, and tail.

As a box turtle, its highly patterned plastron is double-hinged, allowing for it to fully pull its head and limbs into its shell for protection.

This incredibly long-lived species is known to grow a new ring on every scute each summer, much like a tree gains new rings annually. While it is very difficult to distinguish the precise number of rings after 15 years, an individual in Central County was found to be 150 years old, with many other wild specimens surpassing 50 years throughout the state.

This omnivorous species spends most of its life within a home range of 5 to 10 miles, but females are known to venture further for laying. Females typically lay 2 to 8 eggs annually but do not require a mate every year. Females are able to store and use genetic material from a single mating as many as 4 years later.


6) Eastern spiny softshell turtle

Eastern spiny softshell turtle basking
Spiny softshell turtles rarely leave the water, only leaving to bask or lay eggs. Tim Hite / CC BY 4.0
  • Scientific name: Apalone spinifera spinifera
  • Other common names: Northern spiny softshell turtle
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Adult weight: 0.3 lbs (130 g) males, 33 lbs (15 kg) females
  • Adult carapace length: 5 – 9.25 in (12.7 – 23.5 cm) males, 7 – 17 in (18 – 43.2 cm) females
  • Maximum verified size: 18 in (45.7 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 50+ years
  • Lifespan (captive): 25+ years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

As a member of the softshell family, the spiny softshell has a soft, leathery shell that lacks any scutes or protective features. It is known as the spiny softshell due to the series of spines along the front edge of its carapace. Its close relative, the smooth softshell, was once found in Pennsylvania but has been determined extirpated.

Because they lack shells for protection, spiny softshells rely on their speed and strong jaws to protect themselves from predators. They are known to bite when threatened and will flee quickly at any sign of danger.

Along with its distinct shell, the spiny softshell can be recognized by the long, pig-like snout it uses to probe along lake beds and vegetation. Due to their sensitivity, spiny softshells often rely on muddy or sandy bottoms in their habitats to hunt and hide. They are known to bury themselves in lake bottoms and ambush prey using their long, extendable necks, much like snapping turtles.

Spiny softshells are almost exclusively aquatic, leaving water only to bask or lay. Females leave only briefly to lay 2 to 34 eggs at a time near the shore.


7) Northern map turtle

Northern map turtle in water
Northern map turtles primarily live in river systems and rarely leave the water. Gordon Johnston / CC BY-SA 4.0
  • Scientific name: Graptemys geographica
  • Other common names: Common map turtle
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Adult weight: 0.3 – 0.9 lbs (136 – 410 g) males, 1.5 – 5.5 lbs (0.7 – 2.5 kg) females
  • Adult carapace length: 4 – 6 in (10 – 15 cm) males, 7 – 10 in (18 – 25 cm) females
  • Maximum verified size: 10.625 in (27 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 20+ years
  • Lifespan (captive): 15 – 20 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

Northern map turtles can be found in scattered populations throughout Pennsylvania and live primarily in river systems. They are named for the map-like pattern of yellow lines across their carapace, and this species can also be distinguished by the large yellow spot behind its eye.

They are highly aquatic and feed entirely underwater on mollusks, insects, and carrion, but may eat aquatic vegetation as needed. Northern map turtles are known to occasionally bask in groups, but will flee quickly at the slightest sign of danger. This species rarely leaves water other than to lay, and even then will rarely stray far.

As with other members of its family, northern map turtles show extreme sexual dimorphism, with females getting twice as large as males and weighing up to ten times as much. Accordingly, females take twice as long as males to reach maturity at fourteen years.

Occasionally, female northern map turtles may travel across roads to find appropriate laying grounds and often lay twice a year. Due to how susceptible reproductive females are to being hit by cars in search of a place to lay, artificial nesting grounds have been built and fenced off by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation since 1999. Females that nest in these designated areas are measured and marked by researchers to keep track of their growth and population.


8) Northern red-bellied cooter

Northern red-bellied cooter swimming
The northern red-bellied cooter has deep red bars that run along its scute, but they’re usually only visible when the cooter’s carapace is wet. inbetweenbays / CC BY 4.0
  • Scientific name: Pseudemys rubriventris
  • Other common names: American red-bellied turtle
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Adult weight: 6.6 lbs (3 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 11 – 12.5 in (28 – 32 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 15.7 in (40 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 40 – 55 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 15 – 30 years
  • Conservation status: Near Threatened

The northern red-bellied cooter is a large aquatic turtle found in open, slow-moving waters in southeast Pennsylvania. It has a domed carapace which is typically brown or black, but has deep red bars along its scutes running perpendicular to its spine. Despite their bright coloring, these bars are often only visible when the red-bellied cooter’s carapace is wet, making identification difficult at times.

Juveniles of this species lack these red bars and instead have yellow lines that divide their shells into irregular shapes. They have a pink or red plastron and yellow lines along their legs that fade with age.

Due to heavy competition with invasive red-eared sliders and even historic harvesting for food, the red-bellied cooter is threatened within the state and near-threatened throughout the United States. Additionally, females typically lay clutches of 10 to 12 eggs 100 meters away from the water, but regularly travel further, making them liable to getting hit by cars.


9) Painted turtle

Midland painted turtle
The midland painted turtle (pictured) is one of two painted turtle subspecies that can be found in Pennsylvania. Chloe Robinson / CC BY-SA 4.0
  • Scientific name: Chrysemys picta
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Adult weight: 11 – 18 oz (312 – 510 g)
  • Adult carapace length: 4 – 7 in (10.2 – 17.78 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 10.5 in (26.7 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 35 – 40 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 35 – 40 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

Prolific and adaptable, the painted turtle is the most widespread turtle species in all of North America. Two of its four subspecies, the midland painted turtle and the eastern painted turtle, can be found in Pennsylvania. These subspecies are difficult to tell apart at a distance, as they have the same basic coloration.

Both subspecies have a dark, olive-green, or brown carapace with red markings on the tops and bottoms of their outmost scutes, and both have intricate yellow patterning on their limbs and head. The primary difference between these subspecies lies in the arrangement of their scutes and the color of their plastrons. Eastern painted turtles have an unpatterned tan plastron, and scutes aligned in a grid on their carapace. Midland painted turtles, meanwhile, have misaligned and irregular scute on their carapace as well as a distinct dark blotch in the middle of their plastron.

Historically, these populations had distinct regions, but in recent years the midland turtle population has expanded eastward. In these overlapping regions, midland and eastern painted turtles regularly interbreed, producing hybrids known as intergrades. In many areas of eastern Pennsylvania, intergrade turtles have become the predominant population in a brief amount of time.

This change in population can be attributed in part to the early maturity of painted turtles. Both subspecies become mature at only 3 to 5 years of age and begin laying 4 to 15 eggs annually. Despite how prolific they are, painted turtle numbers are kept in check due to their high mortality rate. Nest predation can claim as much as 95 to 100% of eggs in some years, and newly hatched painted turtles are defenseless against their many predators. The few who are able to survive to adulthood grow rapidly and may live upwards of 35 years.


10) Spotted turtle

Spotted turtle
The spotted turtle can be seen on land during warmer months and mating season. Paul Bedell / CC BY-SA 4.0
  • Scientific name: Clemmys guttata
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Adult weight: 0.25 – 0.5 lbs (113 – 227 g)
  • Adult carapace length: 3.5 – 5 in (8.9 – 12.7 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: Unknown
  • Lifespan (wild): 30+ years
  • Lifespan (captive): 50+ years
  • Conservation status: Endangered

As its name would suggest, the spotted turtle is a jet black species with small yellow dots covering its carapace, head, and neck. Hatchlings typically have one yellow spot per scute, but the entire carapace becomes freckled with age. The dorsal side of its head and limbs are similarly black, but it has a pinkish or even red ventral side.

This species is fairly aquatic, spending much of its time in standing or slow water. It is often seen on land, specifically during warm months and mating season. On the hottest days of summer, it is known to burrow into mud or even venture into abandoned mammal burrows to stay cool.

Despite its small size, the spotted turtle feasts heavily on other animals, such as snails, worms, and slugs. It will eat aquatic plants or carrion in shallow waters as needed, but prefers live prey. Spotted turtles are vulnerable in part due to their slow age of maturity, at 7 to 14 years.

Although few spotted turtles reach maturity, those that do can be prolific breeders. Wild females typically lay 1 to 8 eggs annually, but those in prime conditions may lay multiple times a year. One captive female produced 8 clutches over a 13-month period, for a total of 42 eggs. Unfortunately, wild individuals are often captured illegally, causing declining numbers.


11) Southeastern mud turtle

Southeastern mud turtle
Southeastern mud turtles are endangered in Pennsylvania largely due to habitat loss. Rose Ryan / CC BY-ND 4.0
  • Scientific name: Kinosternon subrubrum subrubrum
  • Other common names: Common mud turtle
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Adult weight: 1 – 2 lbs (0.45 – 0.9 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 2 – 4 in (5.1 – 10.2 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: Unknown
  • Lifespan (wild): 30 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 30 – 50 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The southeastern mud turtle is a small species of mud turtle that is easily confused with musk turtles due to its similarly patternless carapace and unpatterned limbs. Although it can be distinguished due to the gray mottling on its head as opposed to the musk turtle’s stripes, the easiest way to tell these species apart is by examining their plastrons. Southeastern mud turtles have large, double-hinged plastrons, whereas musk turtles have small, single-hinged plastrons. This double-hinged plastron allows mud turtles to fully retract their head and limbs into their shell, a trait that is rare among aquatic turtles.

Despite being abundant and secure in many southern states, southeastern mud turtles are critically imperiled in Pennsylvania. In fact, a roadkill individual found in 2008 was the first recorded mud turtle in the state for 46 years.

Much of this endangerment is due to a loss of habitat, as southeastern mud turtles require not only a source of clean water to live in, but terrestrial habitats such as meadows, forests, and thickets. They feed on insects and aquatic vegetation primarily in slow-moving bodies of water, and use loamy and sandy soils to hibernate and lay in. Disruption of either of these habitats due to pollution, construction, or invasive species can dramatically impact the mud turtle population.


12) Wood turtle

Wood turtle
Wood turtles move around throughout the year to forage for food, with those in Pennsylvania mainly eating green leaves and fungi. Matthew Gerke / CC BY 4.0
  • Scientific name: Glyptemys insculpta
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Adult weight: 1.5 – 2.5 lbs (0.7 – 1.1 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 5 – 9 in (12.7 – 22.86 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 9.2 in (23.4 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 40 – 80 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 50+ years
  • Conservation status: Endangered

Wood turtles are large, easily recognized turtles that can be found throughout Pennsylvania. Despite what its name may suggest, this semi-aquatic species can be found in a wide variety of landscapes. It typically spends the majority of its life within a 2.5- to 15-acre range in fields, forests, bogs, creeks, and more, as long as it is near a flowing body of water. Wood turtles are highly omnivorous, moving around throughout the year to forage for a variety of foods.

While wood turtles in other states tend to mostly eat earthworms, those in Pennsylvania most heavily feast on green leaves and fungi. They are known to heavily prefer fungi and may enter some forests to scavenge exclusively during mushroom season. Wood turtles are not territorial, but where wood turtle ranges overlap, this mostly solitary species is known to form hierarchies of dominance.

Although they are ranked only as a vulnerable species in Pennsylvania, wood turtles are considered endangered on a federal level and are at risk of becoming endangered within the state. This species takes 14 to 18 years to mature, so any reproductive individual is of key importance to the overall wood turtle population. Unfortunately, female wood turtles travel long distances to lay and are often victims of being hit by cars or illegally collected during these journeys.

 

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