List of Turtle Species in Washington State 2023 (ID + Pics)

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

Washington state map
Washington borders the Pacific Ocean, meaning that it’s sometimes possible to spot sea turtles swimming and feeding off the coast! Peter Fitzgerald, David Benbennick, Shaundd, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Washington State occupies a rainy region in the United States and sits in the northwestern corner of the country. It boasts a cold, wet climate that is inhospitable for the better part of the year for many turtles. Within the state are a wide variety of terrestrial and aquatic habitats from wetlands and estuaries to rivers and impoundments. Additionally, Washington State borders the Pacific Ocean. Although rare, sea turtles can occasionally be spotted swimming and feeding off the coast. They do not come to shore and there are no known nesting sites in Washington.

Only two species are native to the region, the western pond turtle and the painted turtle; however, many more can be found throughout the state. Introduced species made their way to Washington State through the pet trade as escapees or illegal releases. Additionally, turtles are considered a delicacy in many cultures, so they are occasionally transported and accidentally released as part of the food industry.

Non-native turtles have had a significant impact on native biodiversity by competing with native species for food, directly consuming native species, and occupying habitats that would otherwise be used by native species. In addition, some non-native turtle species have the potential to spread diseases to humans.

Winters in Washington State are very cold so turtles in this area must go into a dormant state when temperatures drop, called brumation. Brumation is identical to the hibernation we associate with bears but is exclusive to reptiles.

1) Western pond turtle (Actinemys marmorata)

Western pond turtles on log
Western pond turtles are native to Washington and are unfortunately at risk due to habitat loss and other threats. Matt D’Agrosa / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other common names: Pacific pond turtle, northern western pond turtle, Pacific mud turtle
  • Adult weight: 1.3 lb (0.59 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 6 in (15 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 8.27 in (21 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 50 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 70 years
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

The western pond turtle, a native of Washington State, is (rarely) found within a small range along the Pacific coast. These turtles have distinctive, small, dark green bodies, long tails, and large heads. Their faces are lighter than their bodies, particularly on the beak and chin. The plastron, or underside of their shell, is yellow with large, dark spots.

During the winter, western pond turtles travel to terrestrial habitats in search of burrows to use as overwintering sites. During this time, they undergo brumation, a type of hibernation unique to reptiles. However, while traveling to their brumation spots and nests, western pond turtles are incredibly vulnerable and at risk of predation and vehicle strikes.

This species faces numerous threats, including habitat loss, invasive plant species that restrict their movement across the landscape, and introduced predators like bullfrogs and large predatory fish. Western pond turtles are especially vulnerable when traveling to nesting sites and during droughts that plague the west coast. During these periods, the species relies on permanent pools, which are declining in abundance. As a result, considerable conservation efforts are underway to preserve and restore western pond turtle habitats, as well as to raise hatchlings for later release.

2) Pond slider (Trachemys scripta)

Pond slider on rock
Pond sliders are diurnal creatures, which means they are inactive at night and active during the day. Pirataber / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other common names: Sliders
  • Adult weight: 7 lbs (3.2 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 4 – 11.5 in (10 – 29 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 14.5 in (37 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 20 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 40 years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

Pond sliders are not native to Washington and are believed to have been introduced as escaped pets. They are usually found within painted turtle populations and can be easily mistaken for this species.

They are commonly sold as small turtles in pet stores and their popularity as pets have encouraged their spread throughout the United States. These turtles thrive in urban environments and can be seen basking on logs or other debris protruding from ponds, lakes, and rivers in parks. They are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day and inactive at night.

The pond slider mating season occurs between spring and summer, during which males and females mate underwater, and females later travel onto land to lay their eggs in a nest they have dug. The sex of the hatchlings is determined by temperature. When eggs are incubated below 80.6 °F (27 °C), males are produced, but when turtles are incubated above that temperature, most of the eggs are female.

Another factor that helps them spread is their generalist diet. Pond sliders can eat 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 and eggs are particularly vulnerable and more likely to become food for other animals. Luckily, this species reproduces quickly and their tendency to congregate in groups helps larger adults avoid predators.

3) Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta)

Western painted turtle
The western painted turtle is the only painted turtle subspecies that can be found in Washington. Jeff Birek / 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

Painted turtles can often be seen basking with pond sliders. They are the only other species of freshwater turtle native to Washington besides Western Pond Turtles. This species is another slider look-alike with dark colors, some patterning on their shell, and stripes along the face. The defining feature of this species 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 Washington is the western painted turtle (C. p. bellii) which can be found in the northeastern United States.

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

This species is often kept as a pet because of its pretty coloration and docile nature. 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) Spiny softshell (Apalone spinifera)

Spiny softshell turtle in water
Spiny softshells have an elongated snout that allows them to breathe underwater without lifting their head to the surface. Samantha Heller / 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. Rather than hard scutes, these turtles have smooth shells covered in skin with neat, dark circles on the shell’s surface and legs. Additionally, spiny softshells have an elongated, pointed snout that allows them to breathe while mostly submerged underwater without exposing their head.

This species is not native to Washington and can sometimes 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.

Adult spiny softshells reach maturity between 8 and 10 years of age. Females will lay a clutch of round eggs in pits dug in soft soil. Once hatched, baby spiny softshells are incredibly tiny and vulnerable with their extremely soft shells. They are usually around 2 – 3 inches in length after hatching.

The diet of the spiny softshell includes worms, insects, crustaceans, and sometimes fish. They are most active during the day and will hide from predators at night. Sometimes they are kept as pets, but they are exceedingly difficult and expensive to keep in captivity due to their specialized habitat requirements and aggressive natures.

5) River cooter (Pseudemys concinna)

River cooter on rock
River cooters are an invasive species with a similar appearance to pond sliders. Nathan May / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other common names: Eastern river cooter
  • Adult weight: 11 lbs (5 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 12 in (30 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 17 in (43 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 40 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 20 years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

This next invasive turtle resembles pond sliders, although they grow substantially larger. Other metrics for telling apart the two species can be found here. River cooters are normally found in the southeastern United States and share many behaviors and habits with sliders, including dietary requirements and habitat preference. River cooters primarily consume aquatic vegetation and some aquatic invertebrates, with juveniles consuming more invertebrates than adults. They provide food for mammals like raccoons, foxes, and opossums which readily predate upon young turtles. River cooters are also vectors for parasites like nematodes.

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

River cooters display social behaviors, often foraging for food, swimming, and basking as a group and with other species like the pond slider. This gregarious behavior may help this species avoid predators as they can observe cues from other turtles, which may observe danger before one lone individual does.

6) Common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina)

Common snapping turtle in water
Common snapping turtles have a diverse diet and will eat almost anything, including fish, invertebrates, and aquatic vegetation. Ashwin Srinivasan / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Other common names: Snapper
  • Adult weight: 10 – 35 lbs (4.5 – 16 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 8 – 14 in (20 – 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

Common snapping turtles are another species introduced to Washington State. Baby common snapping turtles may seem cute and unique, but potential pet owners should exercise caution before bringing one home. As adults, these turtles can grow to be quite large and, as their name implies, can deliver a painful bite. Their shells are slightly keeled, and they have thick legs with long claws, pointed beaks, and long tails.

In states like Iowa, snapping turtles are hunted for their meat, which is often stir-fried or used in stews. During the spring and summer nesting season, female snapping turtles seek a suitable place to dig a nest and lay their eggs. Unfortunately, they may be drawn to the warm, soft dirt along roadways, leading to vehicle strikes. Young snapping turtles face danger not only from roadways, but also from predators like large wading birds, raccoons, and other turtles. However, adult snapping turtles are less vulnerable, with their large size, armored shells, strong bite, and aggressive demeanor. In Washington State, they compete with native turtles and fish for food and space.

Common snapping turtles have a diverse diet, much like largemouth bass, and will eat anything from fish and invertebrates to small mammals and other turtles. They also consume a good amount of aquatic vegetation.

7) Olive ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea)

Olive ridley sea turtle in water
The olive ridley sea turtle gets its name from its olive-green shell. Melisa Ojeda / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Other common names: Pacific ridley sea turtle
  • Adult weight: 77 – 100 lbs (35 – 45 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 2 feet (61 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 50+ years
  • Lifespan (captive): Unknown
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

The olive ridley sea turtle is a marine turtle found in the warmer parts of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans. They are the second-smallest sea turtle species, with an average length of about 2 feet and they weigh around 100 pounds. Identifying an olive ridley is easy as this species possesses a unique, slightly circular yet heart-shaped shell that is olive-green in color, hence the common name “olive” ridley. They are related to Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, a species that shares a similar common name.

In the open ocean, olive ridleys feed on jellyfish and other invertebrates. During the breeding season, they are known for their mass nesting events, locally known as “arribadas,” where groups of females come to visit the same beach to lay their eggs.

Despite their huge range, olive ridley sea turtles are vulnerable to extinction due to human activities, such as over-harvesting of eggs and killing of adult turtles, loss of nesting beaches due to coastal development, and entanglement in fishing gear. Conservation efforts to protect this species include protection of their nesting beaches, regulation of egg harvest, and reduction of bycatch in fishing operations.

8) Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas)

Green sea turtle
Male green sea turtles spend their entire lives in water, whereas the females venture onto land. Austin R. Kelly / 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 feet (0.9 – 1.2 m)
  • Maximum verified size: 5 ft (1.5 m); 871 lbs (395 kg)
  • Lifespan (wild): 70+ years
  • Lifespan (captive): 30+ years
  • Conservation status: Endangered

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 migrate between feeding and breeding grounds often. 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 mostly 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.

9) Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta)

Loggerhead sea turtle underwater
Loggerhead sea turtles can be found in all major oceans around the world. shahar chaikin / 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

Loggerhead sea turtles are large, oceanic turtles with brown shells that are 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 floating seaweed mats, and they gradually migrate to coastal waters as they age. As adults, they can be found in a variety of 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. Shortly after mating, female sea turtles will move onto land to dig a nest and deposit eggs. Female loggerhead sea turtles may lay multiple clutches each year 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. Their nesting sites are sometimes developed into coastal cities and sea turtles are often caught in nests made for fish.

10) Leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)

Leatherback sea turtle laying eggs on beach
Female leatherback sea turtles create multiple nests every year and deposit 50 – 170 eggs in each. Kristof Zyskowski / 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): Do not thrive in captivity
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

The leatherback sea turtle might be the most unique sea turtle on the planet. They are the only member of their genus and the only surviving member of the family Dermochelyidae. Instead of scutes, they have deep ridges and leathery skin covering the bony plates that make up their shells. They are also the world’s largest sea turtles. Leatherback sea turtles can be found throughout most of the world’s warm oceans, including off the coast of Washington State.

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.

11) False map turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica)

False map turtle
False map turtles have a preference for large, slow-moving rivers and lakes. Mathew Zappa / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Adult weight: 2.5 – 4 lbs (1.1 – 1.8 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 3.5 – 10.5 in (9 – 27 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 6.2 in (16 cm) male; 10.5 in (27 cm) female
  • Lifespan (wild): 50 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 32.5 years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

False map turtles possess broader heads than the Ouachita map turtle and are adapted to consume mollusks. However, their dietary needs also overlap with other map turtles. The similarity between the various species of map turtles has confused taxonomists, leading to a series of subspecies and species delineations over time. The Ouachita map turtle, for example, used to be a subspecies of G. pseudographica. More species may be described in the future. False map turtles can be distinguished from other map turtles using minute characteristics detailed here.

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

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

12) Ouachita map turtle (Graptemys ouachitensis)

Ouachita map turtle on stone
Ouachita map turtles usually brumate (be in a dormant state) from October to April. Heng Chian Li / CC BY 4.0
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Other common names: Southern map turtle
  • Adult weight: 6 lbs (2.7 kg)
  • Adult carapace length: 5 – 10 in (13 – 25 cm)
  • Maximum verified size: 10.25 in (26 cm)
  • Lifespan (wild): 20 years
  • Lifespan (captive): 18 years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

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

This species is not native to Washington State. Ouachita map turtles prefer habitats with dense aquatic vegetation and ample basking sites jutting out from the water. During the breeding season in the spring and summer, females dig nests into soft sand and construct 2 – 3 nests per year. Each nest may contain as many as 16 eggs.

As with many other turtle species on this list, the sex of the baby turtles is determined by temperature, with more females produced at higher temperatures, whereas the opposite is true for males. This species has a typical turtle diet of insects and plants and is prey to various mammals and birds. Additionally, they are sometimes caught as bycatch in commercial fisheries.

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

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