7 Types of Turtles Found in Washington! (ID Guide)

What kinds of turtles can you find in Washington?”

 

common turtles in washington

 

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

 

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

 


Today, you will learn about the 7 different kinds of turtles in Washington.

 


Freshwater Turtles in Washington:

Freshwater Turtles are strong swimmers and spend most of their lives in or very near water.


#1. Common Snapping Turtle

  • Chelydra serpentina

types of turtles in washington

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 have small, isolated populations in Washington.

 

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. Western Pond Turtle

  • Actinemus marmorata

species of turtles in washington

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 3.5 to 8.5 inches long.
  • Their limbs have prominent scales, and the head is spotted or webbed with black.
  • Carapace coloring is black or dark green to brown with some yellowish spots. Usually, a pattern of dots or lines radiates from the center of each shell plate.

 

These turtles can be found in western Washington in ponds, lakes, rivers, and even irrigation ditches. It prefers habitats that give it access to plenty of aquatic plants like watercress, water lilies, and cattails. Western Pond Turtles are omnivorous, and their diet includes insects, frogs, tadpoles, and even carrion.

Western Pond Turtle Rangemap:

In Washington, the Western Pond Turtle’s population is extremely endangered.

 

Habitat loss due to development and invasive pet turtles that have been released into its environment has contributed to their decline.

 

In addition, over-hunting for food has put additional pressure on them. For example, Western Pond Turtles were once the main food source for hogs that were bred on Hog Island in California! The hogs learned to dive for the turtles in the shallow water of the lake. They got so good at hunting and eating the turtles that, unfortunately, the population there is now extinct.

 


#3. Painted Turtle

  • Chrysemys picta

common turtles in washington

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2.5 to 10 inches long.
  • The carapace is low to the ground and generally dark brown or black.
  • As the name suggests, they have distinctive yellow, green, and red striping on the carapace, head, and limbs.

 

The Painted Turtle is one of the most recognizable turtles in Washington because of its beautiful coloring! Look for the bright reds and yellow-greens on its shell, limbs, and head.

 

Painted Turtles live near water with minimal movement, such as ponds, marshes, small lakes, and slow-moving streams with sandy bottoms. They are attracted to areas with plenty of aquatic plants, which is their primary food source.

Painted Turtle Rangemap:

 

It is almost impossible to accurately assess the population of Painted Turtles in Washington. Many people keep them as pets and then release them into the wild, causing an ever-expanding range and unstable reproduction rates. These released turtles can also put pressure on natural populations.

 

In the wild, Painted Turtles can hold their breath for up to 30 hours in temperate water!

 

They also have the ability to remain dormant in near-freezing water for up to 4 months. This ability is essential when temperatures often go below freezing.

 

 


Sea Turtles in Washington:

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 Washington.


#4. Green Sea Turtle

  • Chelonia mydas

types of turtles in washington

 

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 throughout Washington. 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.

 

A subspecies of the Green Sea Turtle is the Black Sea Turtle. Unlike Green Sea Turtles, they are found only on the Pacific coast. Black Sea Turtles in Washington are similar in most ways to Green Sea Turtles. They face the same threat of extinction, and the only major difference is that they are darker in color and have a very limited habitat.

 

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

species of turtles in washington

 

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 and Black Sea Turtles.

 


#5. 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 Washington, Loggerhead Sea Turtles are rarely seen, mostly 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 Washington 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!

 


#6. 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 in Washington!

 

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!

 


#7. Olive Ridley Sea Turtle

  • Lepidochelys olivacea

 

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Weighs 80 to 100 lbs. and is 20 to 29 inches long.
  • The carapace coloring is uniformly olive green to brown, and looks nearly round from above.
  • The skin is usually grayer in color than the shell.

 

Olive Ridley Sea Turtles are the most numerous sea turtle in the world!

 

They can be found in the protected, calm water of bays and lagoons in Washington. However, they prefer warmer water and generally stay in the open ocean, ranging into the temperate climate of Washington less frequently than other sea turtles.

Olive Ridley Sea Turtle Rangemap:

Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries)

 

Even though Olive Ridley Sea Turtles have the largest worldwide population of any sea turtle, they are still endangered. Their population worldwide has decreased 30-50% since scientists began to track it. Fishing net by-catch, direct harvesting for meat and eggs, and pollution are all threats to the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle.

 

Like Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles, the Olive Ridleys use a strategy called “arribada,” coming to shore by the thousands to nest in groups.

 

One feature that sets the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle apart from other sea turtles is its front and back claws, which extend from its flippers. Males use their claws to hang on to females when mating, and females use their claws when they dig their nests.

 


Do you need additional help identifying turtles?

Try this field guide!

 


Which of these turtles have you seen in Washington?

 

Leave a comment below!

Leave a Reply