27 Types of Turtles Found in Texas! (ID Guide)

What kinds of turtles can you find in Texas?”

 

common turtles in texas

 

I was amazed at the number of turtle species there are in Texas!

 

In fact, there are so many species I have broken them down into a few different categories.


Today, you will learn about the 27 different kinds of turtles in Texas.

 


Freshwater Turtles in Texas:

Freshwater Turtles make up the largest group of turtles native to Texas. They are strong swimmers and spend most of their lives in or very near water.


#1. Common Snapping Turtle

  • Chelydra serpentina

types of turtles in texas

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Weighs 10 to 35 lbs. and is 8 to 18 1/2 inches long.
  • The snapping turtle has a long tail, chunky head, and large webbed feet.
  • The carapace (upper shell) coloring is black, brown, or olive with no distinct pattern.

 

Snapping Turtles are widespread throughout most of Texas.

 

Look for them living in marshes, lakes, ponds, rivers, and slow streams. They prefer areas with plenty of aquatic vegetation to hide in, and insects, fish, frogs, and birds to eat.

Snapping Turtle Rangemap:

Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society

 

Snapping Turtles are best known for their powerful jaws. While there aren’t any recorded incidents of one of their bites causing amputation to a person, it can cause infections serious enough to require an amputation. In fact, their jaws are so strong that snapping turtles commonly eat other turtles!

 

These turtles are usually docile but will become very aggressive if removed from the water. One of the best ways to calm an aggressive individual is to place it back into the water, where it can feel safe. I know I have personally picked them up with a large snow shovel to get them off the road and back to safety!

 


#2. Alligator Snapping Turtle

  • Macrochelys temminckii

species of turtles in texas

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Weighs 35 to 115 lbs. and is 15 to 20 inches long.
  • Alligator Snapping Turtles have long, tough shells with triangular ridges resembling an alligator’s back.
  • The carapace coloring is black, brown, or olive. The green tips of the carapace are not natural coloring, but algae!

 

Alligator Snapping Turtles are larger than Common Snapping Turtles but don’t bite as often. They prefer living in the deeper water of canals, rivers, swamps, and lakes.

Alligator Snapping Turtle Rangemap:

 

This species is the largest freshwater turtle found in Texas!

 

These massive reptiles can grow up to 115 pounds in weight and grow to be two feet in length.

 

Alligator Snapping Turtles have an interesting way of finding food. Instead of hunting, they often lie on the bottom of a body of water and lure fish with a pink worm-like appendage in their mouth! Once their prey gets close enough, they ambush their meal.

 

The Alligator Snapping Turtle’s powerful jaws can bite with 1,000 lbs of force!

 

So let’s put this in perspective. If you were bitten by one of these large turtles, it would have the same force as having a small car dropped on you! As you can imagine, they are extremely dangerous and should never be handled in the wild. Even professionals and very experienced herpetologists have been severely injured by their bite!

 


#3. Ouachita Map Turtle

  • Graptemys ouachitensis

common turtles in texas

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Females are up to 9.5 inches long. Males are much smaller, only 2.75 to 5.5 inches long.
  • Thin yellowish lines form a web on the carapace, similar to a contour elevation map. This is how map turtles get their name.
  • Coloring is usually brown to olive, with a light spot under each eye.

 

The easiest way to tell an Ouachita Map Turtle apart from other map turtles is to look at the dots on its face. Ouachita Map Turtles have three prominent spots – one behind the eye, one under the eye, and one under the jawline.

 

These turtles live on the eastern border of Texas in the swift rivers and streams that form the Mississippi River and its tributaries. It prefers sandy or silt-bottomed water as opposed to rocky or muddy.

Ouachita Map Turtle Rangemap:

 

The Ouachita Map Turtle is named after the river where it was discovered, and it is pronounced WAH-chi-tah, sort of like Wichita!

 


#4. Sabine Map Turtle

  • Graptemys sabinensis

 

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Females are up to 9.5 inches long. Males are much smaller, only 2.75 to 5.5 inches long.
  • The carapace is olive or brown, with rounded lumps that form a ridge on the center of the back.
  • In the eyes, black horizontal lines through white irises are common.

 

The Sabine Map Turtle is a very close relative of the Ouachita Map Turtle. 

In fact, it was considered a subspecies of the Ouachita Map Turtle until very recently! It is almost identical in looks and behavior but has a much smaller range. It only lives in a few river systems in Texas and Louisiana.

 


#5. False Map Turtle

  • Graptemys pseudogeographica

types of turtles in texas

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Females are 6 to 10 inches long. Males are 3.5 to 6 inches long.
  • Thin yellowish lines form a web on the carapace of adults, similar to a contour elevation map. This is how map turtles get their name.
  • Coloring is usually olive to dark brown on the carapace, with light lines on limbs. A line behind the eye forms a backward “L” shape.

 

The False Map Turtle is also commonly called the Sawback Turtle. It gets this name from the prominent, serrated ridge running along the middle of its back.

 

The habitat for these turtles in eastern Texas includes rivers, oxbow lakes, and streams of the Mississippi and Missouri river systems. It is a powerful swimmer and prefers a moderate current and deep water.

False Map Turtle Rangemap:

Like other map turtles in Texas, they spend many of their waking hours basking in the sun!

 

They forage for food in short bursts, returning to rocks, floating logs, or river banks to warm themselves for long stretches.

 


#6. Cagle’s Map Turtle

  • Graptemys caglei

 

species of turtles in texas

 

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Females are 4 to 8.5 inches long. Males are 2.75 to 5 inches long.
  • The carapace is dark green, sometimes with lighter lines along the sides.
  • A light-colored, bold “V” shaped marking is usually present on the top of the head.

 

The Cagle’s Map Turtle has a very small population and its range is limited to the Guadalupe River System in southern Texas.

Cagle’s Map Turtle Rangemap:

By Cougar Hunta Map: Lokal Profil – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

 

It is an endangered species and protected under Texas regulations, but many Cagle’s Map Turtles are still sold as pets. This is because of the species’ small size, ease of care, and green coloring which is unique among map turtles.

 


#7. Texas Map Turtle

  • Graptemys versa

By Markthewhark – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 

 

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Females are 4 to 8.5 inches long. Males are 2.75 to 4.5 inches long.
  • The carapace is olive with concentric lighter lines. Scutes are rounded.
  • J-shaped yellow-orange lines on the head, starting at the eye and moving back toward the shell.

 

The Texas Map Turtle can ONLY be found in Texas.

It lives in the Colorado River System, from central-southern Texas nearly to the Gulf of Mexico. The Texas Map Turtle’s diet is made up mostly of mollusks like slugs and snails, insects, and carrion.

Texas Map Turtle Rangemap

By Cougar Hunta Map: Lokal Profil – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Texas Map Turtles are similar in many ways to their close cousins, Cagle’s Map Turtles. They are small turtles with a limited range. However, unlike Cagle’s Map Turtles, Texas Map Turtles are abundant in their habitat and are not endangered or threatened, so you have a much better chance of finding one in the wild!

 


#8. Diamond-Backed Terrapin

  • Malaclemys terrapin

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Females are 6 to 9.25 inches; males are 4 to 5.5 inches.
  • Concentric rings are formed in each carapace section, either as grooves and ridges or as alternating light and dark lines.
  • Skin is gray with black flecks and spots over the limbs and head.

Diamond-Backed Terrapins are the ONLY freshwater turtle in Texas adapted to live in salty water!

 

They are found along the coast in salt marshes, tidal flats, brackish streams, and barrier beaches. Incredibly, they can also live in full-strength saltwater for extended amounts of time.

Diamond-Backed Terrapin Rangemap:

 

Diamond-Backed Terrapins have evolved to be extremely well-adapted to life in saltier coastal waters, even though they look similar to their freshwater cousins. For example, here are a few unique ways they obtain fresh drinking water.

  • They will drink the top layer of freshwater that forms on brackish or saltwater when it rains.

  • They tip their heads up with open mouths to catch raindrops as they fall!

 

There are SEVEN different subspecies of Diamond-Backed Terrapins. They are separated by their location along the east coast, ranging from New England all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. The only subspecies of Diamond-Backed Terrapin found in Texas is the Texas Diamond-Backed Terrapin (M. t. littoralis). Its skin is greenish-gray, darker than other subspecies but still with black spots.

 

In the video below, you can see examples of many sub-species of Diamond-Backed Terrapins!

 


#9. River Cooter

  • Pseudemys concinna

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 9 to 13 inches long.
  • The carapace is brown to olive or dark green, with lighter c-shaped and concentric markings in the scutes (sections).
  • Five lighter-colored stripes between the eyes.

 

River Cooters are highly omnivorous and will eat almost anything they can swallow! 

 

This includes aquatic vegetation, land plant matter, and animals both alive and dead! They are enthusiastic hunters and will go to land to catch insects or worms, then return to the water to eat them.

Eastern River Cooter Rangemap:

Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society

Despite their large appetites and aggressive hunting style, these turtles share their habitat in Texas with many other turtle species. In fact, they are often seen basking in groups with Painted Turtles and sliders. River Cooters are even seen stacked on top of one another!

 

When it comes to breeding, the female River Cooter is very selective! Males have a sort of “dance” they do when trying to mate with a female, vibrating its long nails and waving its arms in the female’s face. Often, she will ignore potential mates who try to court her until one meets her approval! You can see an example of this behavior below.

 


#10. Texas River Cooter

  • Pseudemys texana

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 7 to 10 inches long.
  • The carapace is green, with yellow and black markings. The markings fade with age and the shell becomes mottled green all over.
  • Males have longer tails and claws, but females are generally slightly larger overall.

 

The Texas Cooter lives in rivers, cattle water tanks, and ditches from central Texas to the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Texas River Cooters are often mistaken for the Red-Eared Slider, but if you look closely you can tell them apart by their coloring. Texas Cooters do not have any red patches on their head. 

 


#11. Rio Grande Cooter

  • Pseudemys gorguzi

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 8 to 12 inches long.
  • Light yellow oval spots behind eyes.
  • The carapace is green to olive, and the plastron is a light tan with dark lines that fade with age.

 

The Rio Grande Cooter has a very small range and population.

It is only found along the Rio Grande River in Texas and New Mexico. Its population continues to drop because of pollution and water diversion projects, and it is currently a near-threatened species.

 

If you find a Rio Grande Cooter in the wild, the easiest way to tell what you have found is to look at its neck. It has a large, bold, Y-shaped mark on the chin. 

 


#12. Pond Slider

  • Trachemys scripta

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 5 to 8 inches long.
  • The carapace is usually patterned with concentric rings, with red, olive to green, black, and brown sections.
  • Yellow to orange markings on the belly and sides are almost always present.

 

The native habitat of the Pond Slider is lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams. It prefers water with plenty of logs, branches, or vegetation to bask on and often can be seen in large groups.

Pond Slider Rangemap:

The Pond Slider, specifically the subspecies Red-Eared Slider, is the most widely introduced turtle in the world.

 

This species is commonly purchased as a pet and then released into the wild when it gets too large or difficult to take care of. Unfortunately, they can cause damage and put pressure on natural ecosystems.

 

The Red-Eared Slider is also commonly mistaken for the Painted Turtle because of its red marking at the jawline and brightly colored stripes. However, the carapaces of sliders are much more rounded and helmet-like, and they commonly get larger than Painted Turtles in captivity.

 


#13. Spiny Softshell Turtle

  • Apalone spinifera

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Females are 7 to 21.25 inches long; males are 5 to 12.25 inches long.
  • The carapace is flexible with a rough sandpaper texture, with a single row of spines or cones along the middle of the back. There is also a row of pointed tooth-like appendages on the edge of the carapace.
  • Coloring is olive, gray, or brown with black spots on some individuals.

 

Look for these turtles in Texas in lakes, rivers, and streams with sandy or muddy bottoms and little or no vegetation. I often see them sunning themselves on the banks while kayaking down slow-moving rivers.

Spiny Softshell Turtle Rangemap:

 

Spiny Softshell Turtles will eat anything in the water they can swallow, including insects, crayfish, and even small fish! To catch a meal, this species buries itself in mud or sand with only its head uncovered and grabs its food as it swims by.

 

Spiny Softshell Turtles can “breathe” underwater by absorbing oxygen through the skin of their throats. This is a useful adaptation because they spend very little time out of the water, even sunning themselves in shallows or floating on the surface.

 

Along with the ability to absorb oxygen through its skin, the Spiny Softshell Turtle has some other unique adaptations that make it perfectly suited for its environment. Its leathery shell is extremely flat, and it has webbed feet and long claws, which allow it to swim quickly away from predators and bury itself in the muddy bottom.

 

Its most unique feature is its nose, which is long and snout-like! It can poke its nostrils out of the water and stay completely submerged to protect itself from hungry predators!

 


#14. Smooth Softshell Turtle

  • Apalone mutica

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Females are 6.5 to 14 inches long; males are 4.5 to 10.5 inches long.
  • The coloring of the carapace is gray to olive. Females have dark gray to brown or olive mottling.
  • The carapace is rubbery and smooth, with no spines or projections on the back.

 

Smooth Softshell Turtles prefer larger, fast-running rivers, but they can also be found in lakes and large ponds. They are particularly susceptible to damage caused by polluted water and face habitat threats because of this.

Smooth Softshell Turtle Rangemap:

On land, they are the fastest turtle in Texas!

 

Though most people assume all turtles are slow-moving, the Smooth Softshell Turtle must be quick to outrun predators since its soft shell doesn’t provide much protection. Seriously, you need to look at this video to see just how fast they can run!

 

It is also a very strong swimmer and can move through the water at up to 12 miles per hour!

 


#15. Eastern Mud Turtle

  • Kinsternon subrubrum

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2.75 to 4.75 inches long.
  • The carapace is smooth, with black or olive coloring. The belly is yellowish-brown, sometimes with black or dark brown markings.
  • Hatchlings have a rough carapace with more coloring that fades as the turtle grows.

 

Eastern Mud Turtles live in eastern Texas in shallow water, such as ditches, wet meadows, marshes, and swamps. As their name suggests, they prefer muddy, silty-bottomed water over sandy or gravelly.

Eastern Mud Turtle Rangemap:

 

Because the Eastern Mud Turtle is small and nondescript, with no unique markings, it can be hard to identify. One feature that sets it apart from other species is the hinges on its lower shell, called a plastron, and forms two “K” shapes when viewed from the side. To see what I’m talking about, take a look at the video below!

 

Unlike most other turtles, the Eastern Mud Turtle does not hibernate during cold winter months. In fact, it does the opposite! Instead, these turtles become dormant during the hottest part of the year! This is called estivation.

 


#16. Yellow Mud Turtle

  • Kinsternon flavescens

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 4 to 5 inches long.
  • The carapace is flat or sometimes even indented in the center, with brown to olive coloring.
  • The chin and throat are yellow to buff in color.

 

The Yellow Mud Turtle will live in almost any body of water it can find in Texas!

The list of habitats it will live in includes muddy pools, irrigation ditches, cattle tanks, cisterns, and sewer drains. It will even spend time on land migrating to a new water source. It’s definitely not picky about where it calls home!

 

Just like its habitat, the Yellow Mud Turtle is omnivorous and will eat just about anything it can swallow. Their varied diet is made up of aquatic animals like fairy shrimp, leeches, tadpoles, crayfish, and fish, and also frogs, snails, and slugs. They will even eat decaying plant and animal matter!

 


#17. Rough-Footed Mud Turtle

  • Kinsternon hirtipes

By JohnnyFizzel – Photo of my trutle, CC BY-SA 3.0,

 

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 3.75 to 7 inches long.
  • The carapace coloring is nearly black or olive brown, and more oval than other mud turtles.
  • The plastron is yellow in color with a dark brown or black border.

 

The Rough-Footed Mud Turtle is ONLY found in a small part of southwestern Texas.

Rough-Footed Mud Turtle Range MapCredit: United States Geological Survey (USGS)

It prefers habitats of permanent water, and particularly spring-fed cattle tanks.

 


#18. Eastern Musk Turtle

  • Sternotherus odoratus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2 to 4.5 inches long.
  • The head features two light stripes set on very dark brown or black skin.
  • The carapace can range from light olive to almost black, with irregular black markings.

 

The habitat for these turtles in eastern Texas is slow-moving, sluggish streams and still bodies of water. It prefers areas with dark crevices where it can hide, and lots of plant matter to burrow in.

Eastern Musk Turtle Rangemap:

 

If you happen to disturb an Eastern Musk Turtle, it probably won’t take you long to identify it. As its name suggests, when threatened, they emit a foul, musky odor. This scent can be detected on land, in water, and even waft through the air to ward off predators.

 

In fact, in other areas, they are even known by another name – Stinkpot!

 

Another unique feature of the Eastern Musk Turtle is that it can climb trees!  Individuals have been observed fairly high up in the branches. They climb to avoid predators and find a safe place to rest.

 


#19. Razor-Backed Musk Turtle

  • Sternotherus carinatus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 4 to 5 inches long.
  • The carapace is shaped like a tent, coming to a point along the spine and sloping downward on the sides.
  • The coloring is light to dark brown, with darker down streaks.

 

The Razor-Backed Musk Turtle’s habitat is almost entirely in water – the only time they leave the water is to lay their eggs!

They prefer the deeper water of oxbow lakes, river swamps, and large streams with slow currents.

 

You can easily recognize a Razor-Backed Musk Turtle in Texas by looking at its shell, which is high and pointed. It looks very similar to the roof of a tent!

 


Box Turtles in Texas:

As you’ll read below, a couple of species on this list are not box turtles. Because they’re also land dwellers, I have included them here. Hopefully, you will find them as interesting as I do!


#20. Western Box Turtle

  • Terrapene ornata

 

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 4 to 5.75 inches long.
  • The carapace is high and rounded, resembling a helmet.
  • Coloring is often dark brown or black background with radiating lines or dots.

 

Western Box Turtles live in open prairies and woodland areas in Texas. They prefer loose soil that is easy to burrow into and seek shelter under boards, porches, or other man-made objects.

Western Box Turtle Rangemap:

Western Box Turtles will eat almost anything they can fit in their mouths!

 

The list of food they consume includes insects, earthworms, crayfish, other reptiles, including small snakes, birds’ eggs, carrion, berries, melon, and leaves. They have even been known to search through cow droppings in search of beetles!

 

Female Western Box Turtles have a unique ability when it comes to reproduction. They can mate once with a male turtle and keep the fertilized eggs safe in their bodies for over two years! Then, when the climate and season are most suitable, they lay the eggs.

 


#21. Three-Toed Box Turtle

  • Terrapene triunguis

 

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 4.5 to 5 inches long.
  • Three toes on the hind limbs, instead of the usual four seen on other box turtles.
  • The coloring of the domed carapace is uniform olive to brown, sometimes with light streaks or spots.
  • Occasionally, a Three-Toed Box Turtle will also have bright orange or yellow spots on its legs and head.

 

Three-Toed Box Turtles live in woodlands, prairies, and thickets in eastern Texas. They are highly adaptable and thrive in most environments. In fact, they are the only species of box turtle that remains in good health in indoor enclosures as pets.

Three-Toed Box Turtle Rangemap:

There have been reports of people being sickened from eating “poisonous” Three-Toed Box Turtles.

 

While the turtles are not actually poisonous, it’s been theorized that the Three-Toed Box Turtle can eat poisonous mushrooms. The mushrooms don’t affect the turtles’ health, but the toxins from the mushrooms can stay in the turtles’ system and make predators sick!

 


#22. Texas Tortoise

  • Gopherus berlandieri

 

 

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 5.5 to 8 inches long.
  • The carapace is tan to dark brown, with lighter middle sections in the scutes.
  • The legs are long and wide, ending in stumpy claws, similar to an elephant’s legs.

 

As its name suggests, you can ONLY find the Texas Tortoise in Texas! 

It lives in arid regions of southern Texas and prefers scrubland with lots of access to succulent plants, which are its main food source. In fact, its favorite food is the fruit of the prickly pear cactus!

Texas Tortoise Rangemap:

Credit: United States Geological Survey (USGS)

 

The Texas Tortoise is different from its tortoise cousins because it is not good at burrowing for shelter. Instead, this species will create a “pallet”, or a shallow hole next to a cactus plant, which gradually grows deeper as it’s used more.

 

 


Sea Turtles in Texas:

Because of their migratory nature and ability to range far into the ocean, sea turtles are not truly “native” to one part of the world. The sea turtle species below can be seen on the coast of Texas.


#23. Green Sea Turtle

  • Chelonia mydas

 

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Weighs 150-420 lbs. and is 30 to 60+ inches long. However, some individuals have been recorded much larger, more than 600 lbs!
  • The carapace is smooth, with 4 sections on each side.
  • Coloring is olive, brown, or gray. Its name refers to a layer of green body fat found under its shell.

 

Green Sea Turtles live in coastal lagoons and bays in Texas. Incredibly, they rarely come to shore except to lay their eggs, preferring to spend most of their time in the water. They are actually tough animals to see because they are extremely fast swimmers and prone to hiding or fleeing with any signs of danger.

Green Sea Turtle Rangemap:

Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries)

 

Did you know Green Sea Turtles use the Earth’s electromagnetic waves?

 

In a process known as Natal Homing, these incredible turtles use magnetic crystals in their brains to read the magnetic waves coming from the Earth. They use this information to find the specific beach where they were hatched to lay their own eggs! Though it sounds like science fiction, it’s a common mechanism in many sea turtles.

 

One of the most concerning threats to Green Sea Turtle populations is climate change.

 

The warming of seawater is changing the migration & nesting pattern of the turtles. Interestingly, the sand temperature changes resulting from climate change also affect the ratio of male to female turtles, which can cause changes in breeding patterns and decreased hatch populations. Poaching, bycatch, nesting site loss, and disease are the other top threats to Green Sea Turtles.

 


#24. Loggerhead Sea Turtle

  • Caretta caretta

 

Identifying Characteristics:

  • The average weight is 300 lbs. and 35 inches long. Record Loggerhead Sea Turtles have reached over 1,000 lbs!
  • The carapace coloring is red to orange-brown, edged in yellow. The belly is cream to dusky beige.
  • The Loggerhead’s carapace sections are much more pronounced than any other sea turtle.

 

The Loggerhead Sea Turtle gets its name from its large, blunt head!

 

It uses its powerful jaws to feed on much harder prey than other sea turtles, such as whelks, conch, and other hard-shelled invertebrates.

 

In Texas, Loggerhead Sea Turtles are rarely seen, because they live where most people typically never visit. They love open oceans and can swim great distances between breeding seasons.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle Rangemap:

Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries)

The largest nesting population of Loggerhead Sea Turtles is right here in the USA! Unfortunately, most other nesting populations, such as ones in the Caribbean and Japan, have seen a recent steep decline – up to 90% of the total nesting population has declined in these regions. Part of the reason for the steep decline is that Loggerhead Sea Turtles don’t reach reproductive maturity until age 35!

 

The most concerning threat to Loggerhead Sea Turtles in Texas is bycatch. This happens when they are unintentionally caught in a net or trap meant for fish or shrimp, which can cause the turtles to drown or be severely injured when they try to free themselves.

 

Loggerhead Sea Turtles have an interesting way of keeping their shells healthy. They allow fish to “clean” them by eating the barnacles and other parasites that live in their shells!

 


#25. Leatherback Sea Turtle

  • Dermochelys coriacea

 

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Weighs 600 to 6,000 lbs and is 48 to 96 inches long.
  • The carapace is made of flexible, leathery skin, and the coloring is black to slate gray.
  • The sections of the carapace are diamond-shaped, stretching the length of the body.

The Leatherback Sea Turtle is the largest sea turtle, not only in Texas, but in the world!

 

It ranges all over the world into every ocean but prefers temperate to cooler water during most of its life. Leatherback Sea Turtles are highly migratory and will travel up to 10,000 miles per year between foraging and nesting grounds! Its hatching grounds in the USA range along the western coastline.

Leatherback Sea Turtle Rangemap:

Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries)

 

Like most sea turtles, Leatherback Sea Turtles face severe population decline and are listed as endangered in most countries. One of the primary threats to Leatherback Sea Turtles is the collection of their eggs for human consumption. Even though they are a protected species in most countries, poaching and illegal collection are still common.

 

One of the most interesting features of the Leatherback Sea Turtle is its speed; even though it is the largest living sea turtle, it’s also the fastest. Swimming speeds of nearly 22 miles per hour have been recorded! It uses this speed to travel great distances, often traveling over 3,600 miles between nesting and foraging grounds. Considering their size, they’re pretty fast on land too!

 


#26. Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle

  • Lepidochelys kempii

 

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Weighs 80 to 100 lbs and is 23 to 28 inches long.
  • The carapace is nearly circular when seen from above, and usually a uniform olive green. The belly is yellowish.
  • Young Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles are a uniform purple all over.

 

Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles live in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean and can be found along the Texas coastline. They prefer shallow water with a sandy or muddy bottom.

Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Rangemap:

Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries)

This species is the smallest sea turtle in Texas!

 

Their size may be one reason they have a unique nesting strategy called arribada, where many nesting females gather offshore and come out of the water together, nesting in a tight group. Arribada nesting can help the nesting mothers protect each other from predators, and also helps more hatchlings make it to the open ocean.

 

Due to habitat loss, pollution, and injuries from fishing nets, Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles are the most critically endangered sea turtle species. Currently, their estimated nesting female population is less than 250 individuals. Intensive conservation efforts are underway, but populations have not increased since about 2010.

 

These sea turtles are particularly susceptible to casualties from oil spills. For example, almost all of the 156 sea turtles that died and 456 that were rescued from the Deepwater Horizon disaster were Kemp’s Ridleys.

 


#27. Hawksbill Sea Turtle

  • Eretmochelys imbricata

 

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Weighs 95 to 165 lbs and is 30 to 35 inches long.
  • The carapace coloring is amber with irregular light and dark streaks. The coloring changes slightly with water temperature.
  • Hawk-like, hooked beak.

 

Hawksbill Sea Turtles get their name from their hooked beak, which they use to reach into small crevices and pull out their prey. They primarily eat sea sponges but also prey on small fish, jellyfish, mollusks, and crustaceans.

 

The Hawksbill Sea Turtle lives in lagoons and coral reefs in the oceans around the world, preferring tropical and subtropical climates. It spends part of its life in the open sea but frequently returns to shallower water. In coastal Texas, Hawksbill Sea Turtles spend much of their time foraging in coral reefs.

 

Hawksbill Sea Turtle Rangemap:

Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries)

 

Hawksbill Sea Turtles are critically endangered due mostly to exploitation and consumption by humans. Commonly, “tortoiseshell” accessories and items are made from the shell of the Hawksbill, and while killing them is now illegal in most countries, poaching is still a serious threat. The threat of poaching is made worse because they only nest once every 1-5 years, much less than most other sea turtles.

They are the only sea turtle that prefers to nest on rocky beaches instead of the sand!

 

Hawksbills search for “pocket” beaches, small coves, or inlets surrounded by rocks when nesting. Then, they travel high up the beach and lay their eggs in the shelter created by plants.

 


Do you need additional help identifying turtles?

Try this field guide!

 


Which of these turtles have you seen in Texas?

 

Leave a comment below!

2 responses to “27 Types of Turtles Found in Texas! (ID Guide)”

  1. Megan Lowery says:

    Is this statement correct “The Rough-Footed Mud Turtle is ONLY found in a small part of southeastern Texas.” Or is the map below it correct?

    • Lindsey Dahle says:

      Hey Megan, thanks for catching that! The map is correct, and I’ve updated the article to say southwestern instead of southeastern =)

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