Being the oldest and most primitive members of the reptile family, the Turtles have been around for millions of years, probably surpassing even human beings. These ancient, shelled creatures dwell in freshwater, saltwater, and on land.
Many turtle species are also popularly kept as pets by humans. There are over 300 different species of turtles throughout the world. In this article, I will list down 26 species of turtles that inhabit the state of Florida.
Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
The Hawksbill Sea Turtles are large marine turtles that are the only extant species of their genus.
Much like the other marine turtles, these turtles have a thick, protective carapace, limbs shaped like flippers to help them swim, and a typically flattened body.
However, they have a sharp, curving beak-like mouth with a prominent cutting edge, which sets them apart from the other sea turtle species.
Their carapace is amber in color, with irregular light and dark streaks running all over it.
Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas)
Also known as the “Pacific green turtle,” the Green Sea Turtles are large sea turtles that have a flattened body, a carapace shaped like a teardrop, colored in black or olive, and a pair of large flippers that appear more like paddles.
The “green” in their name refers not to their carapace color but to the green fat found beneath it. They have a short snout and an unhooked beak, which sets them apart from their close relative, the Hawksbill Sea Turtle.
Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)
The Loggerhead Sea Turtles are a large species of oceanic turtles that are considered to be the largest hard-shelled turtles in the world.
These turtles’ head and carapace range from yellowish-orange to reddish-brown in color, while their plastron is pale yellow. They have a brown neck and sides on top, which turns yellow on the bottom.
The sexually mature adults display sexual dimorphism, wherein the males have a shorter plastron and thicker tail than their female counterparts.
Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
Commonly known as “Lute turtle” and “Leathery turtle,” the Leatherback Sea Turtles are the largest extant turtle species in the world, and the fourth-heaviest reptiles, after three members of the crocodile family.
These turtles have the characteristic leathery carapace covered by oily flesh. Their uppersides are black to dark grey in color and have white spots or blotches on them, whereas their underparts are lightly colored.
Florida Softshell Turtle (Apalone ferox)
Endemic to the southeastern parts of the United States, the Florida Softshell Turtles are the only softshell turtle species that are found throughout the Florida peninsula.
These turtles have a large body that is shaped like a pancake, with a long, snorkeled face and webbed feet. Their carapace is made not of scutes, like the other turtles, but of cartilage, and is covered with a leathery skin. Their body color ranges from olive-green to dark brown, with a cream-colored plastron.
These turtles display sexual dimorphism in their size, wherein the females are about 3-5 times larger than their male counterparts.
Spiny Softshell Turtle (Apalone spinifera)
Being one of the largest freshwater turtles in North America, the Spiny Softshell Turtles are named after the spine-like projections on the edge of their carapace. The carapace of these turtles ranges from brown to olive in color. While the males sustain the same carapace color throughout their lives, the carapace of the females becomes darker with age.
These turtles display sexual dimorphism, with the females being larger than their male counterparts in size. The characteristic spines are seen more often in males.
Smooth Softshell Turtle (Apalone mutica)
The Smooth Softshell Turtles are a species of softshell turtle native to North America. These turtles possess an anapsid skull, that is mostly found in the earliest reptiles.
As their name suggests, their carapace is smooth and flexible and is covered by skin instead of scutes.
They display sexual dimorphism, wherein the females are larger in size and have an olive carapace with irregular, brown blotches on it. On the other hand, the smaller males have a brownish-grey carapace with dark dots on it.
Common Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odaratus)
Endemic to the eastern United States and southeastern Canada, the Common Musk Turtles are a small species of mud turtles.
Commonly known as “Stinkpot,” these turtles have a defense mechanism of releasing a foul, musky odor to repel their predators.
They have a highly domed carapace that is colored in black, grey, or brown. Although their legs are short, these turtles have a long neck marked with yellow lines.
They are sexually dimorphic, with the males having a longer tail with spikes growing at its edge.
Striped Mud Turtle (Kinosternon baurii)
The Striped Mud Turtles are small turtles that are native to the southeastern United States. The scientific name of these turtles commemorates George Baur, the German herpetologist.
As their name suggests, they have three distinctly light-colored stripes running along the length of their carapace.
Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum)
The “Common mud turtle” is also known as the Eastern Mud Turtles, one of the most widespread mud turtle species. These turtles inhabit the rivers, swamps, and lakes found in the southern parts of the US.
They have a small, keelless carapace colored in yellow to brown. You cannot find any patterns, spots, or stripes on their carapace.
Their plastron is larger in comparison, is double hinged, and has a dark pattern. They have a yellowish-grey chin and throat, with grey tail and limbs.
Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)
The Common Snapping Turtles are the most widespread members of the family of Snapping Turtles, as their name implies.
These turtles have a rugged, muscular body with a ridged carapace, which appears to be more pronounced in the juveniles. Unlike most turtle species, the male Common Snapping Turtles are larger than their female counterparts.
Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii)
The Alligator Snapping Turtles are a species of turtle endemic to the freshwater habitats in the United States. Among all the freshwater turtles in the world, these turtles are by far the heaviest.
A large, heavy head characterizes them and a thick carapace colored in olive-green, black, brown, or solid grey, which consists of three dorsal ridges made of large scales.
These features make the Alligator Snapping Turtles appear slightly like the plated dinosaurs.
Diamondback Terrapin (Melaclemys terrapin)
Native to the brackish coastal marshes found in southern as well as eastern parts of the United States, the Diamondback Terrapins are the turtles that have the largest range in North America.
As their name suggests, these turtles have diamond-shaped patterns on the top of their carapace that is shaped like a wedge.
Their body and carapace’s color varies greatly, with their carapace having a grey-to-brown color, and the rest of their body is yellow, brown, grey, or white.
These turtles are sexually dimorphic, wherein the males are much smaller in size than their female counterparts.
False Map Turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica)
Commonly kept as pets, the False Map Turtles are a small species of turtle that are endemic to the United States. These turtles are also known as “Sawback turtles” due to the vertebral row of low spines on their carapace.
The color of their carapace ranges from olive to brown, with yellow markings and black borders. Whereas their plastron is creamy-yellow in color and has dark lines running over it.
The rest of their body is greyish brown, marked with whitish stripes. They also have distinctive light-colored spots on their chin and below their eyes.
Eastern River Cooter (Pseudemys concinna concinna)
Endemic to the eastern United States, the Eastern River Cooters are a species of freshwater turtles. These turtles have a dark greenish-brown carapace with a distinctly C-shaped marking on it.
Their plastron is yellow to orangish-red in shade and has dark patterns, which sets them apart from the Coastal Plain Cooters.
These turtles prefer to inhabit water bodies with flowing water like rivers, and have a unique sac on the base of their tail that allows them to breathe underwater. This feature makes the Eastern River Cooters unique among all the Emydids.
Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta)
Inhabiting the slow-moving freshwater bodies with an abundance of aquatic vegetation, the Painted Turtles are native to North America.
As their name suggests, these turtles have a distinctively colored head that seems to be painted. It is dark in color, covered with yellow stripes, and have a large, yellow spot and streak behind the eyes.
Their carapace is olive to black, while the plastron is yellow or red, with dark markings in the center. The female Painted Turtles are larger than their male counterparts and have a higher carapace.
Red-Eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)
A number knows the Red-eared Sliders of different names, such as “Slider turtle”, “Red-eared terrapin”, etc. These semi-aquatic turtles are commonly kept as pets in North America, and throughout the world. They get their name due to the red stripes around both their ears.
Their carapace is covered with vertebral scutes, while the light-colored plastrons have green patterns on them. They are sexually dimorphic, with the females being larger than the males.
These turtles are unable to regulate their body temperature, which is why their environment plays a major role in their well-being.
Chicken Turtle (Deirochelys reticularia)
Of all the turtles found in the United States, the Chicken Turtles are one of the rare species. These turtles inhabit the southeastern parts of the US and are named “Chicken” because of the taste of their meat which is very similar to that of the chickens.
These turtles somewhat look like the Eastern Painted Turtles but have a longer, striped neck. All four of their legs have yellow stripes on them, ending in webbed feet. Their carapace is shaped almost like a pear, with a net-like pattern drawn over it.
Although the male Chicken Turtles are smaller in size than their female counterparts, they have a longer tail and front claws.
Yellow-Bellied Slider (Trachemys scripta scripta)
Living both on land as well as in water, the Yellow-bellied Turtles are medium-sized species of pond sliders endemic to the southeastern parts of the United States.
These turtles are one of the most popular pets in North America and live in diverse habitats, such as ponds, seasonal wetlands, marshes, floodplain swamps, and slow-moving rivers.
They have a brownish-black carapace, an S-shaped yellow stripe on their face, and markings shaped like question marks on their bellies.
These turtles are often confused with the Eastern River Cooters because of their yellow stripes. However, the Yellow-bellied Turtles have green spots on their body that distinguishes them from the latter.
Suwannee Cooter (Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis)
Named after the wild, blackwater Suwannee River, the Suwannee Cooters are large, freshwater turtles that are endemic to Florida. The carapace of these turtles is black with yellow markings all over it.
On the contrary, their plastron ranges from yellow to orange in color with black marks on it. Being herbivores, they mainly feed on aquatic plants.
Barbour’s Map Turtle (Graptemys barbouri)
Native to the southeastern regions of the United States, the Barbour’s Map Turtles are a species of sawback turtles that have been named after Thomas Barbour, the American herpetologist.
The female Barbour’s Map Turtles are much larger in size than their male counterparts and are said to possess an enormous head.
Towards the lower end of their carapace, these turtles have black-tipped spines that look like dorsal fins. These spines are more noticeable in males.
Peninsula Cooter (Pseudemys peninsularis)
The Peninsula Cooters are medium-sized freshwater turtles that are found in abundance in the peninsular regions of Florida. These turtles are closely related to the Florida Redbelly Cooters.
Many people often tend to confuse the two species. However, the Peninsula Cooters have yellow stripes running along their carapace as well as their head, limbs, and tail.
They are sexually dimorphic, with the males being smaller in size than the females and having more elongated front claws that they use to stimulate their partner during mating.
Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata)
The Spotted Turtles are a small species of semi-aquatic turtles found all over the US. These turtles have a black carapace with a bluish sheen, with small, yellow spots over it. The spotting also extends to their head, neck, and limbs.
The Spotted Turtles display sexual dimorphism, wherein the adult males have a thick, long tail and a concave plastron (lower shell), and the adult females have a comparatively shorter and thinner tail with a flat plastron.
Florida Red-Bellied Cooter (Pseudemys nelsoni)
Endemic to Florida and the southern part of Georgia, the Florida Red-bellied Cooters are large river turtles that are closely related to the Peninsula Cooters.
You can easily identify these turtles by the red tinge on their plastron and two cusps on their upper beak.
They display sexual dimorphism, wherein the females are larger in size than their male counterparts. These turtles are also known for laying their eggs in the nests of alligators frequently.
Common Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina)
Found throughout the US and Mexico’s eastern parts, the Common Box Turtles are a species of turtle that is primarily terrestrial in nature.
These turtles have been named after their shell’s unique structure that has a large, hinged plastron (lower shell).
The plastron allows them to close the shell completely, packing their vulnerable body parts inside to avoid any threat or danger. They have a hooked upper jaw and display sexual dimorphism.
The males have red irises, shorter and curvier claws, and a long, thick tail. On the other hand, the irises of the females are yellowish-brown in color. Their tails are also shorter than their male counterparts.
Coastal Plain Cooter (Pseudemys concinna floridana)
Often known as “Florida Cooter”, the Coastal Plain Cooters are large freshwater turtles that mostly inhabit the still water bodies such as ponds, lakes, sloughs, slow-flowing streams, etc.
These turtles display reverse sexual dimorphism, wherein the females are larger in size than the males. The color of their carapace ranges from brown to greenish-brown, with dull yellow patterns all over it.
They have a small, dark face with large beady eyes and thin, yellow vertical lines running along it.
Conclusion: Species of Turtles in Florida
A large population of turtles found in Florida is the Emydids. Apart from these turtles, you can also find Snapping Turtles, Softshell Turtles, Mud Turtles, and Sea Turtles in the state. Most of these turtles are endemic to the state and remain here throughout their lives.
Since the population of many of these turtles is endangered or vulnerable, the government has laid down strict regulations to protect them from extinction.