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

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

Appalachian Mountains range
Ephemeral bogs that form in the Appalachian Mountains range (pictured) provide habitat for the endangered bog turtle. Famartin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It is no surprise that there are many turtle species native to Virginia. This temperate state is home to a variety of habitats and ecosystems that make different types of turtles feel right at home. From forested swamps and bogs harboring mud turtles and spotted turtles to coastal beaches and estuaries with terrapins and sea turtles, there are many turtles to discover throughout Virginia’s diverse landscape.

While several sea turtles visit Virginia’s coastline, shoreline nests are rare. If you are looking for sea turtles in Virginia, you are more likely to find loggerheads and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. Diamondback terrapins are also salt-tolerant turtles, but they are more common in brackish water and are not found in the ocean. In addition, terrapins visit the land far more often than sea turtles since only female sea turtles leave the ocean to lay their eggs.

The Appalachian Mountains, which run through Virginia, are among the oldest mountains in the world. Ephemeral bogs that form in these mountain ranges provide a habitat for the endangered bog turtle. Conversely, human development has altered natural habitats throughout the state, but turtle species, like the pond slider, thrive in urban ponds and take advantage of this habitat.

1) Common box turtle (Terrapene carolina)

Common box turtle on road
The conversion of native woodlands to urban environments threatens common box turtle populations. Dean Stavrides / 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 (19.8 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

The common box turtle is the only box turtle found in Virginia. They have a large, domed shell with reddish-brown markings. The bottom of their shells, called the plastron, has a hinged plate that can cover the front of the shell and protect the turtle’s head and neck. As a result, common box turtles can almost completely enclose themselves inside their shells when threatened.

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

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

2) Pond slider (Trachemys scripta)

Pond slider on log
Pond sliders are commonly seen basking on logs or other debris. Brooke Smith / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • 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

You will often see red-eared sliders sold as little golf-ball-size turtles at pet stores, and their popularity as pets has encouraged their spread throughout the United States. Red-eared sliders thrive in urban environments and can often be seen in ponds basking on logs or other debris from park lakes and rivers.

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

Red-eared sliders are so ubiquitous that they are considered invasive in some states. In North Carolina, for example, they are illegal to import or sell within the state. In addition, this species is not native to Virginia but can be found in many counties. As a result, this species has had numerous impacts throughout its introduced range, from out-competing native species to spreading deadly diseases.

3) Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta)

Eastern painted turtle
The eastern painted turtle (pictured) is the only painted turtle subspecies found in Virginia. averagewalrus / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Other common names: Eastern painted turtle
  • Adult weight: 1 lb (0.5 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 5 – 6 in (13 – 15 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 10 in (25 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 20 – 25 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 20 – 25 years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

This species is a slider look-alike with dark colors, some patterning on the shell, and stripes along the face. The defining feature of painted turtles is the orange coloration on the exposed inner margins of the shell. They also have very ornate red patterns on their underside, although the degree of patterning varies by subspecies. The only subspecies found in Virginia is the eastern painted turtle (C. p. picta), which can be found in northern Mississippi and along the eastern coast of the United States. Their range extends as far northward as New Brunswick in Canada.

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 pond slider. Painted turtles have an omnivorous diet that includes various invertebrates, fish, and plant materials. In addition, young painted turtles are prey for mammals, birds, and predatory fish, making this species an essential member of the local food chain.

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

4) Common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina)

Common snapping turtle
Female snapping turtles look for a place to dig a nest & bury their eggs during the spring & summer. Alina Martin / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Other common names: Snapper, tortuga lagarto
  • Adult weight: 10 – 35 lbs (4.5 – 16 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 8 – 14 in (20.3 – 35.6 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 19.3 in (49 cm); 75 lbs (34 kg)
  • Lifespan (wild): 30 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 47 years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

As babies, these dragon-like turtles are small and peculiar, but potential turtle pet owners should think twice before bringing home a baby snapping turtle. Adults can be massive and, as their name suggests, can give a nasty bite. These turtles have slightly keeled shell scutes, thick legs with long claws, pointed beaks, and long tails.

In some states, like Iowa, snapping turtles are hunted for their meat which is stir-fried or cooked into a stew.

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.

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

5) River cooter (Pseudemys concinna)

River cooter
River cooters are common throughout the southeastern United States and primarily consume aquatic vegetation. Kim / 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 (43.2 cm); in Virginia, 12 inches (30 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 40 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 20 years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

This native North American turtle resembles pond sliders, although river cooters grow substantially larger. Other metrics for telling apart the two species can be found here. They are common turtles found throughout the southeastern United States and share many behaviors and habits with sliders, including dietary requirements and habitat type. They primarily consume aquatic vegetation and some aquatic invertebrates, with juveniles consuming more invertebrates than adults. As prey items, this species provides food for mammals like raccoons, foxes, and opossums. River cooters are also vectors for parasite species like nematodes.

Mating and nesting last from spring to summer, and clutches can enter a diapause-like state if temperatures are too cold. When this occurs, the eggs simply 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 of age.

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

6) Eastern mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum)

Southeastern mud turtle
One of the eastern mud turtle subspecies that can be found in Virginia is the southeastern mud turtle (pictured). Amanda Hurst / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Adult weight: 0.34 lbs (0.15 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 2.5 – 4 in (6.4 – 10.2 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 0.45 lbs (0.2 kg)
  • Lifespan (wild): Unknown
  • Lifespan (captive): 38 years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

Kinosternon subrubrum is a small, brown turtle. Its carapace is round and smooth without any ridges or spines. It possesses two hinges on its plastron, which allow the eastern mud turtle to close its shell and protect its soft body. Juvenile turtles are not born with these hinges and develop them as they age. One subspecies present in Virginia is the southeastern mud turtle (K. s. subrubrum). Another species of mud turtle present in Virginia is the striped mud turtle (K. baurii). Striped mud turtles have stripes on their head and along their shells, whereas eastern mud turtles do not.

Eastern mud turtles are native to eastern Virginia. This species inhabits aquatic habitats that are sluggish and shallow. These habitats include marshes, swamps, shallow ponds, rivers, and lakes. They have a generalist diet and consume mollusks, amphibians, invertebrates, and even scavenge for carrion.

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

7) Striped mud turtle (Kinosternon baurii)

Striped mud turtle
In northern states like Virginia, the nesting season for striped mud turtles takes place in the summer. Siddarth Machado / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Adult weight: Unknown
  • Adult carapace length: 4.1 – 4.6 in (10.4 – 11.7 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 5 in (12.7 cm); in Virginia, 4.8 inches (12.2 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 40 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 40+ years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

As their name suggests, the striped mud turtle is marked with three stripes running along their shells and on their face. In some areas, especially in the Carolinas and Virginia, striped mud turtles are missing the lines on their bodies but not their head. These two species are so similar that they were considered the same until the 1980s. Unlike the eastern mud turtle, nesting for this species occurs in the fall. The nesting season occurs in the summer in northern states like North Carolina and Virginia.

Striped mud turtles occupy the same habitats as the eastern mud turtle, including swamps, bayous, creeks, and sluggish rivers. This omnivorous species enjoys seeds, leaves, algae, mollusks, and invertebrates. The bulk of their diet consists of invertebrates.

During the nesting season, females lay about four eggs in a single nest. Therefore, they only create one nest per season. Despite their relatively low reproductive rate, striped mud turtles are not endangered.

8) Spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata)

Spotted turtle
Spotted turtles are around 4.5 inches long on average and reach maturity at 8 – 10 years of age. Seth Wollney / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Adult weight: 0.5 – 0.75 lbs (0.22 – 0.34 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 4.5 in (11.4 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 5.6 in (14.2 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 6 years (up to 110 years)
  • Lifespan (captive): 26 years
  • Conservation status: Endangered

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

Adult spotted turtles reach maturity between 8 and 10 years of age. Mating occurs after spotted turtles emerge from brumation in the spring, and females lay eggs in nests dug into the sand shortly after that. On average, a single female will lay between 3 and 5 eggs yearly, although females will occasionally lay a second clutch. This relatively low number of offspring per breeding season means that long-term adult survival is essential for the continuation of the species.

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

9) Eastern musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus)

Eastern musk turtle
Eastern musk turtles get their name from their ability to release a smelly scent when threatened. Violet T. / 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

These tiny, rounded turtles are dull in appearance and somewhat resemble rocks, attaining an average length of around 3 to 5 inches (7.6 to 12.7 cm). They are usually darkly colored with a pigmented plastron and long claws, which they use to climb. Eastern musk turtles are native to the eastern United States from Texas to Canada and occupy most habitats with slow-moving fresh water.

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

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

Their small size and cute appearance make the eastern musk turtle an attractive pet for turtle enthusiasts. However, while they are not endangered, prospective stinkpot parents should obtain a turtle from a reputable breeder rather than get a wild individual.

10) Diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin)

Northern diamondback terrapin
Diamondback terrapins are not yet endangered but are classified as vulnerable to extinction. Seth Wollney / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other common names: Diamond-backed terrapin
  • Adult weight: 0.5 – 1.5 lbs (0.2 – 0.7 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 4.5 in (11.4 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 5.6 in (14.2 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 6 years (up to 110 years)
  • Lifespan (captive): 26 years
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

There are seven recognized subspecies of diamondback terrapin, and they vary by range with some minor biological and habitat differences. Most subspecies are found in Florida, and the most common subspecies present in Virginia is the northern diamondback terrapin (M. t. terrapin). The carapace of this species is covered in ornate scutes with multiple dark rings on each scute. This pattern can be found on the back and plastron. Their head and neck are decorated in shady spots, and the beak of these turtles is often bare and light-colored. The entire body may be lighter grey than the shell, although exact coloration varies by population.

Interestingly, this species specializes in saline habitats from coastal marshes, brackish waterways, estuaries, and tidal flats. Despite this preference for salty habitats, the diamondback terrapin still needs a nearby source of freshwater to survive.

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

11) Northern map turtle (Graptemys geographica)

Northern map turtles basking
In Virginia, northern map turtles can usually be found basking in the southwestern counties. Annie Bélair / 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 – 26.7 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 10.8 in (27.4 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 20 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 30 years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

Northern map turtles are common in the northeastern part of the United States and are superficially similar to pond sliders (Trachemys scripta). Both species belong to the same family, which explains their similar appearance. However, a few clues can help a turtle fanatic tell them apart. 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 slides 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.

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 winter.

In Virginia, northern map turtles are found largely in the southwestern counties. 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.

12) Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta)

Loggerhead sea turtle
Loggerhead sea turtles are large turtles that inhabit all of the world’s major oceans. Sarah Faulwetter / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Other common names: Loggerhead
  • Adult weight: 155 – 375 lbs (70 – 170 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 36 in (91 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 84 in (213 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 80 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 80 years
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

These are large, oceanic turtles with brown shells marked with light markings. They can be distinguished from other sea turtles using the characteristics described here. This species has large, powerful jaws, which they use to crush the shells of mollusks and other oceanic invertebrates.

They inhabit all the world’s major oceans. Baby sea turtles are closely associated with mats of floating seaweed, and they gradually migrate to coastal waters as they age. As adults, they can be found in various coastal habitats, from salt marshes to coral reefs.

During the breeding season, male loggerhead sea turtles migrate to breeding grounds where they wait for females. After mating, female sea turtles will move onto land to dig a nest and deposit eggs. Female loggerhead sea turtles may lay multiple clutches yearly with between 23 and 195 eggs per nest. This species needs to produce many young because young sea turtles are very vulnerable, and most do not survive the trip from the nest to the ocean.

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

13) Spiny softshell (Apalone spinifera)

Eastern spiny softshell
The eastern spiny softshell (pictured) is the most common spiny softshell subspecies in Virginia. Sandra Keller / 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 are a peculiar-looking turtle species. These turtles have smooth shells with neat, dark circles on their surface and legs with large, webbed feet. In addition, spiny softshells have an elongated, pointed snout that allows them to breathe underwater without exposing their head. In Virginia, you are most likely to find the subspecies known as the eastern spiny softshell (A. s. spinifera).

They can often be found in open, shallow, muddy-bottomed rivers, burying themselves 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.

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 extremely soft shells. They are usually around 2 – 3 inches in length after hatching.

14) Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas)

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

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

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

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

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

15) Leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)

Leatherback sea turtle
Female leatherback sea turtles deposit 50 – 170 eggs in each of their nests every year. ntitelbaum / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Dermochelyidae
  • Other common names: Leatherback, leatherback turtle
  • Adult weight: 550 – 1500 lbs (249 – 680 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 4 – 6 ft (1.2 – 1.8 m)
  • Maximum verified size: 10 ft (3 m); 2019 lbs (916 kg)
  • Lifespan (wild): 50+ years
  • Lifespan (captive): Unknown
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

Of all the sea turtles native to Virginia, the leatherback sea turtle might be the most unique. This is because the turtle has deep ridges on its shell instead of scutes and no claws on its fins. Instead of scutes, their skin covers protective bony plates. They are also the largest sea turtle. Leatherback sea turtles are the only member of their genus and the only surviving member of the family, Dermochelyidae. They can be found throughout most of the world’s warm oceans.

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

The leatherback’s diet is chiefly composed of soft-bodied invertebrates like squids and jellyfish. They possess delicate, scissor-like beaks which allow them to cut through their prey and process prey items into small chunks.

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

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

Kemp's ridley sea turtle on beach
Kemp’s ridley sea turtles spend most of their lives alone, only meeting others during breeding season. José Francisco Colorado-Dapa / CC BY-SA 4.0
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Other common names: Kemp’s ridley
  • Adult weight: 77 – 108 lbs (35 – 49 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 22 – 29 in (56 – 74 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 29.5 in (75 cm); 23.1 in (59 cm) Virginia record
  • Lifespan (wild): 30 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 30 years
  • Conservation status: Critically endangered

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles can be found along the Gulf and East coasts of the United States. However, their home range encompasses much of the Atlantic Ocean in the northern hemisphere from North America to Europe.

Their diet primarily consists of crustaceans like crabs, but they will also consume squid, fish, and jellyfish. As with other sea turtles, Kemp’s ridley is vulnerable to commercial fishing activities, plastic pollution, and vanishing nesting habitats along beaches.

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

Kemp’s ridleys are the most critically endangered sea turtles, with only 7,000 and 9,000 nesting females as of 2021. Surprisingly, this represents a comeback for the species, which once consisted of only 200 nesting females. They are also the world’s smallest sea turtles.

17) Bog turtle (Glyptemys muhlenbergii)

Bog turtle in hand
Young bog turtles are very vulnerable and most do not reach adulthood. Zach Welty, CC BY-SA 2.0, 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 (11.4 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 20 – 30 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 50 years
  • Conservation status: Critically endangered

Bog turtles are small, round turtles. They have 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 the loss of 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 2 and 5 eggs. 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.

18) Loggerhead musk turtle (Sternotherus minor)

Loggerhead musk turtle
Loggerhead musk turtles spend most of their time underwater and leave the water only to bask or dig nests. Court Harding / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Adult weight: 0.3 lbs (0.1 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

Loggerhead musk turtles are native to Lee and Scott Counties of southwestern Virginia. This species 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 water in the spring, 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.

The diet of the loggerhead musk turtle includes insects, crayfish, and mollusks. Specific subspecies, like S. m. peltifer, 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.

Loggerhead musk turtles might be confused with the common musk turtle (S. odoratus). One way to tell the two species apart is by examining their chins for barbels. An eastern musk turtle will have two barbels on its chin, whereas loggerhead musk turtles do not.

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