List of Turtle Species in Texas 2023 (ID + Pictures)

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

Palo Duro Canyon, Texas
Texas is the largest state in the continental United States and has many different climates, from deserts to coastal marshes. Sefor4, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As the largest state in the continental United States, Texas has room for plenty of different animals. With 266,807 square miles of land, Texas houses 10 ecoregions and has climates ranging from deserts, to grassland, to coastal marshes.

Reptile species in Texas have been extensively documented, with Texas A&M alone housing over 98,000 carefully cataloged specimens since 1936. As would be expected from a region with such diverse ecosystems and wildlife, Texas is host to quite a few species of turtles, native and invasive alike.

The exact number of native turtles that are found in Texas is the subject of debate, as many species closely resemble one another. Furthermore, many claim that certain species, such as the green sea turtle, should not be classified as native as they do not come ashore under normal circumstances.

Regardless of the exact number, Texas is home to a variety of fascinating and memorable species. Listed below are several interesting examples.

1) Red-eared slider

Red-eared sliders on a log
Red-eared sliders are very common and can be seen basking throughout the day. tcantrell52 / CC BY 4.0
  • Scientific name: Trachemys scripta elegans
  • Other common names: Red-eared terrapin
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Adult weight: 3 – 6 lbs (1.4 – 2.7 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 6 – 8 in (15 – 20 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 11.4 in (29 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 30 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 20 – 40 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The red-eared slider is the most common aquatic turtle in Texas and is easily identifiable. It is named for the bright red stripe behind its eye as well as its tendency to “slide” off of basking points when seen. The red-eared slider has a yellow-green carapace with yellow stripes and its plastron has black blotches.

Although it is a Texas native, the red-eared slider is one of the most common invasive species elsewhere. Wherever it and the yellow-bellied slider overlap, they often interbreed. The red-eared slider is a highly popular pet that thrives in captivity but is unfortunately released quite frequently, hence its invasive tendencies.

It is highly prolific, laying up to five clutches a year with 2 – 30 eggs per clutch. Mating may occur in any season except summer, and females deposit their clutches in holes that they dig with their hind legs.

Aside from being common, red-eared sliders are likely the most frequently seen turtle in Texas due to their basking tendencies. Red-eared sliders bask throughout the day and will often stack on one another when there isn’t enough space. They can be seen in almost any type of freshwater, but prefer still waters with muddy bottoms.

Melanism is a rare trait that can be seen in wild specimens. These specimens, which are typically male, grow noticeably darker with age.

2) Texas river cooter

Texas river cooters basking
The Texas river cooter is a large turtle that can be found in many river systems in Texas. Annika Lindqvist / CC BY 4.0
  • Scientific name: Pseudemys texana
  • Other common names: Texas cooter
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Adult weight: 11 lbs (5 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 7 – 12 in (18 – 30.5 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 14.6 in (37.1 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 30 – 40 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 45+ years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The Texas river cooter is a large, lively turtle that is common and abundant throughout its range. It is found in the Brazos, Colorado, and San Antonio river systems, with specimens from each river having their own unique traits. These turtles have greenish-brown bodies and shells, with yellow and black on its head and neck. These markings fade with age.

Texas river cooters share territory with red-eared sliders and live alongside them, often sharing basking grounds. The Texas river cooter is able to breathe underwater due to an adaptive sac beneath its tail known as a cloaca bursae.

Young turtles are highly carnivorous and often seek out fish and aquatic insects. With age, cooters become notably more herbivorous and preferentially seek out certain plants over others. In particular, it appears fond of Carolina fanwort and hydrilla, a highly invasive species.

3) Alligator snapping turtle

Alligator snapping turtle in water
Alligator snapping turtles are large turtles with serrated shells that resemble the texture of an alligator’s skin! John P. Friel Ph.D. / CC BY 4.0
  • Scientific name: Macrochelys temminckii
  • Other common names: Loggerhead snapper
  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Adult weight: 19 – 176 lbs (8.6 – 80 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 14 – 32 in (35 – 81 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 249 lbs (113 kg)
  • Lifespan (wild): 35 – 45 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 70+ years
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

The alligator snapping turtle is one of two snapping species native to Texas. Regularly surpassing 150 pounds (72 kg), this monster of a turtle can be recognized by the texture of its shell. The serrations resemble an alligator’s skin, but often wear down in older specimens.

In addition to their large size, alligator snapping turtles possess a hooked beak and strong jaws (with a bite force of 1000 pounds!). Thankfully, these intimidating turtles are rarely aggressive unless they are bothered or scared and are unlikely to be seen on land.

Alligator snapping turtles are notoriously slow-moving to the extent that algae grows on their carapaces. They bury themselves in the beds of rivers, canals, and lakes, and can hold their breath for 50 minutes at a time.

Alligator snapping turtles are known to have a voracious appetite and an opportunistic diet, but rather than actively hunting down prey, they typically wait for it. This species will hide at the bottom of a body of water and stick out its tongue to attract prey. This thin, red wiggling tongue resembles a worm to potential prey.

With steadily declining numbers, alligator snapping turtles are considered a vulnerable and protected species. Historically, the species could be found in 14 states, but regular hunting has reduced its range to 12.

4) Common snapping turtle

Common snapping turtle
The common snapping turtle is smaller than the alligator snapping turtle and has a smooth shell. Lauren / CC BY 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 smaller of the two snapping turtle species in Texas. While young alligator snapping turtles and common snapping turtle specimens may be easy to mistake, common snapping turtles rarely reach over 30 pounds. The common snapping turtle lacks spikes on its shell and has a noticeably smaller beak than the alligator snapping turtle.

It is an extremely aquatic species that rarely basks, though it is known to reach out of the water to breathe with its long neck. Common snapping turtles are generally docile but may become aggressive and potentially dangerous on land.

The common snapping turtle is a prolific species that can be found throughout the entire Nearctic region, from southern Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico. Accordingly, the species is not threatened and is still regularly hunted and eaten by humans.

Once fully grown, the common snapping turtle lacks any predators other than humans. It readily crosses into neighboring bodies of freshwater or brackish water and is often killed by cars while crossing roads.

Common snapping turtles have a naturally omnivorous diet but tend to prefer meat. They are known to commonly feed on dead or dying animals. The common snapping turtle reaches maturity late in life, at 10 – 15 years. It mates in the spring and lays 10 – 50 eggs at a time.

5) Texas map turtle

Adult texas map turtle
As Texas map turtles get older, their bright colors and patterns fade on their carapace. Brooke Smith / CC BY 4.0
  • Scientific name: Graptemys versa
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Adult carapace length: 5 – 8 in (12.7 – 20.3 cm) females, 2.5 – 4 in (6.4 – 10.2 cm) males
  • Maximum verified size: Unknown
  • Lifespan (wild): 30 – 40 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 35+ years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The Texas map turtle is a colorful species often chosen as a pet for its ease of care, intricate pattern, and timid nature. It is the smallest within its genus, with an average carapace length of 3 inches in males. Texas map turtles are highly sexually dimorphic in terms of size, diet, and even habitat. Females are roughly twice as long as their male counterparts and up to ten times heavier.

The species is named for its distinct shell pattern. The carapace is bright green with intricate yellow and orange markings on each scale, producing a map-like pattern. With age, the bright color and pattern fade from this species’ carapace, but it retains recognizable coloration on its skin. A yellow horizontal line behind its eye curls into a J for easy identification, and it has yellow spots under its chin.

Texas map turtles have a very small range, limited to the Colorado, Concho, and Llano river systems, and Edwards Plateau. This species has an overall omnivorous diet, with females being able to eat more animal material due to their larger heads and males being relegated to insects and plant material.

Map turtles regularly bask but rarely stray far from the water. This excellent swimmer is known for nesting less than 10 feet away from their pond. Mating occurs in spring or fall, and females typically have 4 small clutches of 2 – 6 eggs that they lay in sandy areas on the shore. While they are categorized as a species of Least Concern, Texas map turtles have had noticeably declining numbers.

6) Texas spiny softshell

Texas spiny softshell basking
The Texas spiny softshell has a leather-like carapace and a long, snorkel-like snout. R Stringham / CC BY 4.0
  • Scientific name: Apalone spinifera emoryi
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Adult weight: 0.3 lbs (130 g) males, 33 lbs (15 kg) females
  • Adult carapace length: 5 – 9 in (12.7 – 23 cm) males, 21 in (53 cm) females
  • Maximum verified size: Unknown
  • Lifespan (wild): 35 – 50 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 25+ years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The Texas spiny softshell is one of five subspecies of spiny softshell turtles. The species lacks a hard shell and instead has an olive, leather-like carapace that is flat against its back. The carapaces of young Texas spiny softshell turtles have several spines on the posterior half.

Outside of its recognizable shell, the Texas spiny softshell is distinctive for its long, snorkel-like snout and webbed feet. The black dots on either side of its pupils make it appear as if this species has three pupils in each eye.

With their webbed feet and strong legs, Texas spiny softshell turtles are powerful swimmers that can even move quickly on land. They typically only surface to bask and can breathe underwater by absorbing oxygen through their skin.

Females are dramatically larger than males, usually growing to 1.5 times longer than them and over 100 times heavier. The size of a female’s clutch is determined by its size and can range from as few as 3 up to 40.

This subspecies is native to Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and the Rio Grande. It can be found in a variety of water sources but prefers sandy bottoms with little vegetation. Unlike many other reptiles, Texas spiny softshell turtles do not hibernate. Instead, they become dormant in cold seasons.

7) Common musk turtle

Eastern musk turtle
The common musk turtle usually has algae on its carapace as it spends most of its time in the water! 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 – 12.7 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 5.4 in (13.7 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 40 – 60 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 50+ years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The common musk turtle is a small turtle that can be difficult to identify at times. With a top size of 5 inches long and no distinctive coloration, it can be easy to mistake for young members of other species. The common musk turtle is often the smallest species in its given state and is preyed upon by many animals, such as large fish, bullfrogs, birds, snakes, and even diving beetles.

The carapace of the common musk turtle is dark brown or black, but is often covered in algae as the species is fully aquatic and rarely surfaces. In the rare instances it does surface, common musk turtles are known to be surprisingly adept climbers that are quick in short bursts.

It can be distinguished from the loggerhead musk turtle by the two light stripes on the side of its head, but is otherwise difficult to identify from afar. The easiest way to differentiate the common musk turtle from similar species is by examining its plastron. Its plastron is small for its size and is weakly hinged or unhinged. Notably, exposed skin shows between its scutes and can vary from pink to olive to black.

Handling the musk turtle is not without risk, however. The common musk turtle has been given the name “stinkpot” due to the foul-smelling phenolalkalinic acid it produces from glands under its carapace when handled. In addition to producing this musk, the common musk turtle resists handling with aggression and biting.

The common musk turtle has no federal conservation status but is considered of Least Concern in most areas. It can be found throughout the United States and even Southern Canada. That said, some regions such as Iowa and Ontario have noted declining numbers and consider it a threatened species.

This species is sexually mature at a young age compared to similar turtles; at 2 years for males and 4 years for females. Females lay 1 – 9 eggs in a burrow or under debris and regularly share nesting spots with one another.

8) Eastern mud turtle

Eastern mud turtle being held
When handled, the Eastern mud turtle produces a foul odor. eamonccorbett / CC BY 4.0
  • Scientific name: Kinosternon 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 – 10.2 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: Unknown
  • Lifespan (wild): 30 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 30 – 50 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The eastern mud turtle is similar to the common musk turtle in both genetics and appearance. It similarly produces a foul odor when handled like the stinkpot. Its shell is smooth and without any markings, keels, or overlapping scales and it lacks any markings on its legs. The eastern mud turtle is easily distinguished from the common musk turtle when viewing its plastron. Its plastron is large and hinged, and does not show skin between scutes. It is yellow or brown in coloration with dark smudges. It also has irregular yellow or white markings along its head and sides.

Unlike the common musk turtle, the eastern mud turtle is semi-aquatic and not a strong swimmer. It typically requires shallow water to crawl along the bottom rather than swim. Even on land, the eastern mud turtle is slow. It rarely strays far from the water, but is known to hibernate beneath forest floors by burrowing into sand or leaves. Eastern mud turtles are omnivorous foragers who eat crustaceans, insects, and even seeds.

In cool climates, it usually only has one clutch per year, but in warmer climates it may have as many as three. Eastern mud turtles lay 2 – 6 eggs per clutch in a deep cavity in the soil. Its eggs are uniquely hard-shelled and do not absorb water. Eggs hatch in late summer, but hatchlings remain underground until the following spring.

9) Texas diamondback terrapin

Texas diamondback terrapins swimming
Texas diamondback terrapins have gray spotted skin and live in brackish water. Ken-ichi Ueda / CC BY 4.0
  • Scientific name: Malaclemys terrapin littoralis
  • Other common names: Terrapin
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Adult weight: 0.5 lbs (0.23 kg) males, 1.5 lbs (0.7 kg) females
  • Adult carapace length: 4 – 5.5 in (10.2 – 13.97 cm) males, 6 – 9 in (15.2 – 22.86 cm) females
  • Maximum verified size: Unknown
  • Lifespan (wild): 40 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 50 years
  • Conservation status: Near Threatened

In terms of habitat, appearance, and behavior, the Texas diamondback terrapin is a very unique native species. It is a subspecies of diamondback terrapin and has a small range throughout coastal Texas.

Despite living in brackish and occasionally salty water, the Texas diamondback terrapin cannot be classified as a sea turtle. Instead, it lives primarily in marshes and estuaries and rarely migrates. Texas diamondback terrapins drink exclusively freshwater by sipping from the surface of saltwater during and directly after rain. If it ingests too much salt in the process, the Texas diamondback terrapin will secrete salt from its tear ducts.

The Texas diamondback terrapin is named for the diamond-shaped scales on its carapace. Alongside its brightly patterned brown and black shell, this species is incredibly distinct with its spotted gray skin and pale beak. It can often be seen buried in mud at night or during winter to maintain proper temperatures.

Females can potentially lay up to three times a year, but individuals of this solitary species typically will only lay every four years or so. Females have high nest fidelity and return to the same several spots to lay, often making several practice nests before settling on one.

Diamondback terrapins as a species were nearly hunted to extinction in the 1920s as a popular ingredient in turtle soup. When prohibition outlawed wine, the other primary ingredient in this famous dish, thousands of turtles were returned to the wild.

10) Kemp’s ridley sea turtle

Kemp's ridley sea turtle
Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are one of the most endangered sea turtle species and conservation efforts are ongoing. Tia Offner / CC BY 4.0
  • Scientific name: Lepidochelys kempii
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Adult weight:  80 – 100 lbs (36.3 – 45.4 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 23 – 28 in (58.4 – 71.1 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 29.5 in (74.9 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): Unknown, likely 30 years
  • Lifespan (captive): Unknown
  • Conservation status: Critically Endangered

Despite its massive size at around 2 feet and 100 lbs, the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is the smallest sea turtle species. It is considered to be the most endangered sea turtle species, with a population low of 300 nesting females in Mexico in 1985. Following conservation efforts, population numbers rose for decades but began declining again in 2010 for unknown reasons.

Other than for laying, this species spends its entire life in the ocean and can remain underwater for hours. Kemp’s ridley sea turtles have been found throughout the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coast, with rare observation of juveniles in Europe. Its diet consists primarily of crabs, but it also eats mollusks, fish, and sea jellies.

After spending 10 – 15 years maturing in the ocean, females return to the beach where they were born to lay, possibly using magnetite in their brains to find the magnetic location. 95% of this nesting occurs on three beaches in Tamaulipas, Mexico, and the remaining 5% occur elsewhere in Mexico and Texas.

Kemp’s ridley turtles are the only sea turtles to nest during the day, and they do so in a unique event known as “arribadas”. Arribadas, translating to arrivals, occur in the months of April to July, when large amounts of females gather and come to shore to lay at the same time.

11) Texas tortoise

Texas tortoise on land
The Texas tortoise is exclusively terrestrial, meaning that it has long, sharped claws instead of webbed feet. tereso30 / CC BY 4.0
  • Scientific name: Gopherus berlandieri
  • Other common names: Texas gopher tortoise
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Adult carapace length: 5.5 – 8 in (14 – 20 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 8.75 in (22.2 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 60 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 70+ years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The Texas tortoise is the smallest of the four tortoise species that can be found in North America and the only true tortoise found in Texas. As an exclusively terrestrial turtle, it lacks webbed feet. Instead, this turtle has long, sharp claws that it uses to dig out resting spots known as pallets. They are active year-round, resting on pallets rather than hibernating. Texas tortoises have large, domed shells that are often as wide as they are long. This carapace acts as a reservoir for the desert-dwelling tortoise, which almost exclusively gets its water from the prickly pear and cacti it eats.

For as large and adaptable as it is, the Texas tortoise has a surprisingly fragile population. These tortoises can take as long as 15 years to reach reproductive maturity and have small clutch sizes. Females lay 1 to 2 clutches of around 1 – 5 eggs annually, and few of these hatchlings survive to adulthood. Furthermore, Texas tortoises are often hit by cars or disrupted by citizens. While they lack designation as a threatened species by the IUCN, the state of Texas categorizes Texas tortoises as threatened. Due to this protection, it is illegal to collect or possess Texas tortoises.

12) Desert box turtle

Desert box turtle in hand
Desert box turtles can be easily sexed, as the males have red irises and females have brown. Logan Ediger / CC BY 4.0
  • Scientific name: Terrapene ornata luteola
  • Other common names: Sonoran box turtle
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Adult weight: 0.4 – 1.2 lbs (0.18 – 0.54 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 4 – 5 in (10.16 – 12.7 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 5.9 in (15 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 35 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 50+ years
  • Conservation status: Near Threatened

The western box turtle is a species with two subspecies, the desert box turtle and the ornate box turtle. The desert box turtle has a range throughout Northern Mexico and Southwest Texas. There are patterned and unpatterned carapace varieties, with unpatterned carapaces being less common. Turtles with patterned carapaces have a brown or pale carapace with thin yellow striping. Its body and legs have similar yellow markings.

As a box turtle, it has a hinged plastron which allows it to fully withdraw its head and legs into its shell. Sexing desert box turtles is straightforward, as males have red irises and a turned-in back toe. Females, on the other hand, lack this turned toe and have brown irises.

The desert box turtle prefers arid and semi-arid regions with high temperatures and low soil temperatures. It requires soft soil to rest in and is often seen around prairie dog towns. It spends eight months of the year underground, burrowing to different depths depending on temperature.

In the summer it emerges from the ground and forages primarily for insects. It is famous for digging through cow dung for dung beetles. Even when active, the desert box turtle spends much of its day resting in shaded areas.

13) Ornate box turtle

Adult ornate box turtle
The ornate box turtle isn’t particularly adapted to extreme temperatures in comparison to the desert box turtle, and is more likely to be found in prairies. Peter Paplanus / CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Terrapene ornata ornata
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Adult weight: 0.44 – 1.2 lbs (0.2 – 0.54 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 4 – 5 in (10.16 – 12.7 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: Unknown
  • Lifespan (wild): 35 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 40 – 60 years
  • Conservation status: Near Threatened

As its name would suggest, the ornate box turtle is a brightly colored species with large yellow stripes radiating on each scute of its rounded carapace. The ornate box turtle has a range extending from Texas up into the Midwest. Despite this large range, individual box turtles may spend their entire lives in a range of as little as 0.3 acres (0.12 hectares)! Most turtles have a home range of about 5 acres, but this mostly solitary species often has shared ranges, overlapping areas with others. It is less adapted to extreme temperatures than its desert counterpart and typically lives in prairies rather than arid regions.

The ornate box turtle is active from April to October, when temperatures and humidity are favorable. It is especially active following rains and during wet seasons. It spends the remainder of the year hibernating in burrows, and may also retreat underground when its environment is too hot, dry, or cold.

Ornate box turtles will either dig these burrows when the sand has been softened by rain or use existent burrows made from other turtles or mammals. It is an omnivorous species that mostly eats insects, preferring grasshoppers, beetles, and caterpillars. It is also known to eat berries and carrion.

The ornate box turtle lays 1 – 2 clutches annually. Females dig a shallow hole in the sand with their hind legs and deposit 2 – 8 eggs in it. As there is no further parental care, ornate box turtles are victims of many predators before and soon after hatching.

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