Turtles in Florida

Turtles in Florida – 29 Species That are Found Here

Florida, the sunshine state, is home to 29 turtle species. This high number is expected given that this peninsular state is about 20% covered by water—enabling it to offer the perfect living conditions for so many turtle species.

The state is also ranked as one of the most diverse turtle states in the US. Out of the many turtle inhabitants, a large number of them are freshwater species (probably due to the ample freshwater areas), while the rest are semi-aquatic, sea, and dryland species.

Below, we’re going to give you a quick rundown of all the turtles of Florida. For each species of turtle, we’ll cover basics such as physical appearance, average adult size, what they eat, where they live, lifespan, and conservation status.

29 Types Of Turtles in Florida

Contents

1. Chicken Turtle

 Chicken Turtle in Florida
  • Scientific name: Deiochelus reticularia
  • Common name: Chicken Turtle
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 4 to 6 inches
  • Lifespan: 15 to 30 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The chicken turtle is, without a doubt, the most social turtle species you’ll find in Florida! They’re known to bask or swim in groups and rarely live or travel alone.

The easiest way to observe them is when they’re basking, since most of their activities, including reproduction and feeding, happen underwater.

Chicken turtle shells are egg-shaped compared to other turtles and are black or dark brown in color. They also feature subtle yellow patterns. The lower side of the shell is usually yellow and the skin is dark and covered with yellow stripes.

Chicken turtles of Florida prefer living in still water areas such as ponds, marshes, and ditches in Florida. However, it is also easy to spot them on land when they’re foraging for food or basking in the sun.

For the diet part, chicken turtles are omnivorous and like eating meat, fish, snails, insects, aquatic vegetation, and land plant matter such as fruits and veggies.

An interesting fact: Chicken turtles are so named because of their meat taste, which was a popular delicacy back in the 1970s!

2. Eastern River Cooter

 Eastern River Cooter in Florida
  • Scientific name: Pseudemys concinna
  • Common name: River Cooter
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 8 to 12 inches
  • Lifespan: 20 to 40 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

River Cooter turtles are also inhabitants of Florida. They’re known to be solitary creatures and often like basking alone in the sun. However, they can be sometimes observed sharing habitat with painted turtles and red-eared sliders.

They’re distinguishable by their brown to olive or dark-green outer shell and lighter c-shaped, concentric markings in their scutes. Their skin can be olive or olive-brown in color, with numerous yellow lines.

Most of these turtle adults are around 8 to 12 inches in size, though it’s not rare to come across females with a bigger size—up to 15 inches.

These turtles are pretty fast both on land and in water. They’re found in various freshwater bodies including lakes, ponds, and rivers in Florida. They’re also found in brackish water.

Their diet is primarily herbivorous and mainly consists of various forms of aquatic vegetation and land plant matter, including fruits and vegetables. They’re however known to occasionally feed on insects and snails.

3. Florida Red-bellied Cooter

 Florida Red-bellied Cooter in Florida
  • Scientific name: Pseudemys nelsoni
  • Common name: Florida red-bellied turtle, Red-belly, Slider, Cooter
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 8 to 12 inches
  • Lifespan: 40 to 60 years
  • Conservation status: Not Threatened

Florida red-bellied Cooter lives in the Okefenokee Swamp region which spans from Southern Georgia all the way to Florida. These turtles are average-sized compared to most species and can reach between 8 and 12 inches in length.

The redbelly Cooter usually has a dark brown shell color, with some orange or red coloring on its edges. The lower side of the shell is usually red or orange. The turtle’s skin is usually black or dark brown and is covered by orange or yellow stripes.

Young Florida red-bellied turtles have more intense and bright coloring, but it fades as they age.

The turtles are, mainly herbivorous and fed on aquatic plants, algae, and land vegetation (they feed on this when basking or nesting). Mind you, this turtle is much easier to find when it’s foraging.

Florida redbelly turtles are quite nervous and like basking on logs in the sun. And they quickly retreat back into the water if they feel threatened or disturbed.

4. Peninsula Cooter

 Peninsula Cooter in Florida
  • Scientific name: Pseudemys peninsularis
  • Common name: Peninsula Cooter
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 9 to 13 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The Peninsula Cooter is a freshwater turtle species endemic to Florida state. It is a medium-sized species featuring a dark-colored upper shell with yellow or orange patterns.

It has a lighter plastron compared to the Florida red-bellied Cooter above.

Its preferred habitat is in the canals and lakes in Florida, and can sometimes be spotted in the Everglades.

This native Florida Cooter is a close relative to the coastal plain Cooter and some scientists even consider it a sub-species.

Remember that telling apart this Cooter from other Cooter species may be challenging due to how similar it is in physical appearance.

The thin, light lines on the head and top shell (also known as hairpins), are a good clue that you are looking at the Peninsula Cooter!

5. Diamondback Terrapin

 Diamondback Terrapin in Florida
  • Scientific name: Malaclemys terrapin
  • Common name: Diamondback Terrapin
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 4 to 6 inches (males), 5 to 8 inches (females)
  • Lifespan: 25 to 35 years
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

The diamondback terrapin is the only freshwater species in Florida that can adapt to saltwater as well. Their shells have a raised diamond shape, hence the name diamondback. The term “terrapin” simply means little turtle.

A typical diamondback terrapin in Florida has a black or brown carapace and yellow lower shell that may sometimes feature dark-colored patterns. The turtle’s skin is usually grey-white with multiple small black spots.

Female diamondback terrapins are usually bigger than their male counterparts.

These turtles are highly timid and can easily get stressed when in captivity. They’re pretty docile and can be handled. However, they’re known to bite as a way of defending themselves if they feel threatened.

Diamondback terrapins can be found along the coast in tidal flats, salt marshes, barrier beaches, and brackish streams in Florida. They can also stay in full-strength saltwater for longer periods.

The terrapins are largely carnivorous and feed on crustaceans, fish, crabs, shrimps, marine snails, marine worms, mollusks, mussels, clams, and barnacles. However, they also tend to occasionally ingest small amounts of plant matter.

6. Barbour’s Map Turtle

 Barbour’s Map Turtle in Florida
  • Scientific name: Graptemys barbouri
  • Common name: Barbour Map Turtle, Barbour’s Sawback Turtle
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 3 to 5 inches (males), 8 to 10 inches (females)
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The Barbour’s map turtle species is confined to a few river systems in Northwest Florida. The best chance of seeing this turtle is when it is backing on a long near river bank.

Since they’re highly nervous, you’re cautioned against handling or approaching them if you see them in the wild. When started, they quickly burrow into the bottom of a waterbody or mud.

Barbour’s map turtle of Florida has dark brown or black skin covered with yellow to green markings. And on the upper part of their shell lays the spines—their most distinct feature. Though these spines may vary in size from one turtle to another, they all have got dark tips.

Females are usually larger than females. The females’ heads are way larger compared to those of their male counterparts.

The Barbour’s map turtle in Florida prefers living in slow-moving or stagnant lakes, ponds, or streams with a lot of aquatic vegetation. They’re omnivorous and feed on meat, insects, vegetables, fruits, aquatic vegetation, etc.

7. Eastern Mud Turtle

 Eastern Mud Turtle in Florida
  • Scientific name: Kinosternon subrubrum
  • Common name: Eastern Mud Turtle, Mud Turtle
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Size: 3 to 5 inches
  • Lifespan: 50 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The Eastern Mud turtle in Florida is found in shallow waters including ditches, marshes, wet meadows, and swamps.

This smaller aquatic turtle species is characterized by a smooth and unmarked shell. Yes, it has an incredible plain look, with its upper shell lacking any patterns. The carapace color ranges from dark yellow to black.

The lower side of the shell is also pretty plain, though it usually appears lighter on the upper part. The key distinction of this mud turtle is the stripes on its head which can be white or yellow in color.

One particular feature that sets this turtle apart from others and makes it easily identifiable is the hinges on its lower shell which form a “K” shape when viewed from the sides.

Just as its name suggests, this turtle lives in water bodies with a soft muddy, or sandy bottom. Thus, they can be found in marshes, swamps, and rivers in Florida.

Since the Florida eastern mud turtle is omnivorous, it eats meat, fish, snails, insects, and aquatic vegetation as well as plant matter on land.

Unlike other turtles, eastern mud turtles do not hibernate in the cold winter months. Instead, it does the opposite—it becomes dormant in the hot months of summer (this is known as aestivation).

8. Florida Mud Turtle

 Florida Mud Turtle in Florida
  • Scientific name: Kinosternon steindachneri
  • Common name: Florida Mud Turtle, Cow Dung Cooter
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Size: 2.5 to 5 inches
  • Lifespan: 20plus years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

This is another mud turtle species that inhabit the state of Florida. It is ONLY found in the Florida peninsula and is considered a close relative of the eastern mud turtle.

In fact, it was considered an eastern mud turtle subspecies and was only classified in 2003 as its own species.

It is typically identified by a dark unmarked oval shell, with bright stripes that extend back from its eyes. Note that adults don’t have keels on their shells.

Unlike other turtle species, the male Florida mud turtle is usually larger than the female.

This Florida mud turtle is omnivorous and feeds on various food types including crustaceans, mollusks, insects, worms, and plants.

The native Florida Peninsula turtle is found in the state’s slow-moving freshwater bodies such as swamps and rivers.

9. Striped Mud Turtle

 Striped Mud Turtle in Florida
  • Scientific name: Kinosternon baurii
  • Common name: Striped Mud Turtle, Three-Striped Mud turtle
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Size: 4 to 5 inches
  • Lifespan: 15 to 20 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The striped mud turtle is widespread throughout the sunshine state in the shallow and smaller waterbodies. You’ll most likely see them in the cypress swamps, ditches, and drainage canals in Florida.

Striped mud turtles usually have dark-brown oval-shaped shells, with 3 yellowish vertical stripes (hence their name).

The turtle species are quite easy to spot in Florida than other mud turtles as they spend more time on land than in water. They are unlike other mud turtles in that they sun themselves, forage for insects, and like resting out of the waters.

Florida striped mud turtle is omnivorous and eats snails, insects, fish, algae, carrion, and even plants. The turtle has also been observed eating dried krill.

Note that this turtle species of Florida is considered an imperiled species. Nonetheless, this small aquatic species is no longer considered under the status of Federal Endangered Status.

10. Common Musk Turtle

 Common Musk Turtle in Florida
  • Scientific name: Sternotherus odoratus
  • Common name: Eastern Musk Turtle, Common Musk Turtle, Musk Turtle, Stinkpot
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Size: 2 to 4.5 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The Eastern Musk Turtle is another aquatic turtle found in Florida’s slow-moving and sluggish streams as well as still water bodies. The turtle usually prefers areas with dark crevices, where it can easily hide. It also prefers lots of plant matter to burrow in and hide.

An average adult eastern musk turtle is quite small (2 to 4.5 inches long). It has a pretty plain appearance with highly consistent colors. Both the shell and skin usually share the same color and can range from dark brown to black.

The turtle shell has one unique feature—a ridge traversing its entire shell length. Besides, it has another distinctive feature: two light-colored stripes on its head.

Common musk turtles of Florida are herbivorous and will eat small aquatic or semi-aquatic animals, carrion, and aquatic vegetation. They will also feed on any other vegetation on land.

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When it feels threatened, this turtle species emits a foul odor (a musky odor, hence its name). This scent can be detected in water or on land. It can also easily waft through the air to its predators.

Also, these Florida turtles are good at climbing trees! This great capability enables them to go high up tree branches to find a safe resting place and avoid predators.

11. Red-eared Slider

 Red-eared Slider in Florida
  • Scientific name: Trachemys scripta
  • Common name: Red-eared Slider, Red-eared Terrapin
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 7 to 11 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 to 40 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The red-eared slider is a sub-species of pond sliders and a native species of Florida. It is a semi-aquatic turtle and prefers living in marshes, ponds, lakes, and creeks.

A red-eared slider gets its name from the small red stripe surrounding its ears (or behind the eye), and its ability to quickly slide off logs and rocks into the water.

Generally, the skin and shell coloration of this slider can be brown or black, with yellow stripes covering the skin.

The red-eared sliders of Florida are pretty large and the adults reach 7-12 in length (though females are generally larger than males).

These Florida pond sliders are omnivorous and like eating fish, snails, insects, and aquatic vegetation. they also eat land vegetation, including fruits and vegetables.

12. Yellow-bellied Slider

 Yellow-bellied Slider in Florida
  • Scientific name: Trachemys scripta scripta
  • Common name: Yellow-bellied slider
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 8 to 13 inches (females), 5 to 9 inches (males)
  • Lifespan: 30 to 40 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The yellow-bellied slider turtle is a sub-species of pond sliders native to the Southern region of the United States, including Florida.

It is a semi-aquatic turtle that lives in water as well as land. And it can be found in a variety of habitats including floodplain swamps slow-moving rivers, seasonal wetlands, marshes, and even permanent ponds.

As the name suggests, this turtle features a yellowish plastron. Plus, it bears yellowish markings on its skin, not to forget prominent yellow stripes behind its eyes. The upper shell color ranges from dark brown to olive.

These Florida sliders are omnivorous and like eating fish, snails, insects, and aquatic vegetation. they also eat land vegetation, including fruits and vegetables.

It is also worth noting that Florida Yellow-bellied sliders are a popular choice of pet turtles for most folks. They don’t require a lot of special care, which makes them a favorite for many folks.

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13. Escambia Map Turtle

 Escambia Map Turtle in Florida
  • Scientific name: Graptemys ernsti
  • Common name: Map Turtle
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 3 to 5 inches (males), 8 to 10 inches (females)
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The Escambia Map Turtle inhabits large rivers with sandy bottoms in Southern Florida. It gets its name from the fact that it is only found in rivers that drain into Escambia Bay.

This map turtle subspecies has a brown-colored shell with a black pronounced vertebral keel. The skin is usually black and comes covered with white-yellow or white lines. And big white spots can easily be spotted between and behind their eyes.

Like other map turtle sub-species, these Florida turtles also live in slow-moving or stagnant lakes, ponds, or streams with a lot of aquatic vegetation.

They’re omnivorous in nature; males prefer insects and their larvae while females are fond of clams and mussels.

It is also interesting to note that these turtles are closely related to the Florida Barbour’s Map Turtle species. The two species even cross-breed where they have their ranges overlapping.

14. Alligator Snapping Turtle

 Alligator Snapping Turtle in Florida
  • Scientific name: Macroclemys temminckii
  • Common name: Alligator snapping turtle, Snapping turtle
  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Size: 15 to 26 inches
  • Lifespan: 80 to 120 years
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

The alligator snapping turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in Florida. This species is large than the common snapping turtle. An adult alligator snapping turtle weighs 15 to 20 inches long.

An alligator turtle is characterized by a long, tough shell with trigonal ridges that resemble the back of an alligator (hence the name alligator turtle).

Shell coloring can be black, olive, or brown. Though some people believe that the green tips on the shell ridges are natural, they’re simply algae.

These alligator turtles also prefer living in deeper waters of rivers, canals, lakes, and swamps in Florida.

As omnivorous species, they hunt their prey (but not actively). They have a unique way of hunting where they lie at the bottom of the water body and open their mouth to show their pink work-like appendage to lure their prey. And when the prey gets close enough, the turtle ambushes it!

Another interesting fact about this turtle is its powerful jaws which can bite with a force of up to 1000lbs! This makes them extremely dangerous turtles and should NEVER be handled in the wild!

Mind you, they have injured even the most experienced herpetologists with their bites.

15. Common Snapping Turtle

 Common Snapping Turtle in Florida
  • Scientific name: Chelydra serpentina
  • Common name: Snapping Turtle
  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Size: 8 to 18 1/2 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years or more
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

Common snapping turtles are widespread throughout Florida. An average adult is pretty large and has a shell length of 18½ inches long.

This species has a chunky head, a long tail, and large webbed feet. The shell color is black or olive and has no distinct pattern. These Florida snapping turtles are known for their powerful jaws—they’re so strong that these turtles eat other turtles!

You’ll find them in waterbodies with muddy bottoms. Examples include marshes, ponds, lakes, rivers, and even shallow streams. They generally prefer waters with aquatic vegetation in plenty and foods such as fish, frogs, birds, etc.

These Florida turtles generally show docile behavior but can get quite aggressive if taken out of water. The best way to calm it is to take it back to the waters, where it feels safe.

16. Florida Softshell Turtle

 Florida Softshell Turtle in Florida
  • Scientific name: Apalone ferox
  • Common name: Florida Softshell Turtle, Softshell Turtle
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Size: 11 to 24 inches (females), 6 to 12 inches (males)
  • Lifespan: 50+ years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

Florida softshell turtle is the largest softshell species resizing in Northern America! It is also the ONLY softshell native to regions of Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida!

This softshell species is marked by a dark brown to olive green upper shell with a leathery texture and pancake appearance. The plastron is usually white or gray.

Florida softshell turtles are mainly carnivorous and will feed on insects, worms, mollusks, and fish strips.

The turtle is almost fully aquatic and prefers residing in shallow and muddy water bodies like slow-moving streams and ponds. Its thin snout enables it to breathe while still being submerged in the water as it hides from predators or hunts for food.

Note that this Florida softshell turtle is fast both on land and in the waters!

They don’t like being handled and will often try resisting by biting or scratching with their teeth or sharp claws. They can also be kept as a pet turtles, and are ideal for more advanced pet owners.

17. Gulf Coast Smooth Softshell

 Gulf Coast Smooth Softshell in Florida
  • Scientific name: Apalone calvata
  • Common name: Gulf Coast Smooth Shell
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Size: 6.5 to 14 inches (females), 4.5 to 10.5 inches (males)
  • Lifespan: 25+ years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

This turtle is a sub-species of smooth softshell turtle and is found in the Florida Panhandle area. The turtle is fully aquatic and inhabits major river systems in this region as well as parts of Louisiana.

Though most people believe these turtles are slow-moving, they’re the fastest in Florida! This enables them to outrun their predators given that their soft shells don’t offer much protection.

Shell color of this turtle ranges from olive to dark brown. The upper part of its shell features dark markings (with female markings appearing in a blotchier pattern than the males’)

The shell of these turtles also appears rounder and flatter, just like other softshell species.

Note that Midland Smooth Shell (Apalone mutica) is the closes relative of this Gulf Coast smooth softshell turtle. However, the Gulf coast species has no lines on its face while the midland smooth softshell turtle does.

These turtles like inhabiting waterbodies like rivers and streams in Florida that provide an abundance of mud or sand at the bottom. They can also be found in stagnant waterbodies.

Midland smooth softshell turtles are omnivorous and their diet revolves around aquatic vegetation and insects. However, they prefer meat more than plant matter and will mainly eat snails, insects, and fish.

18. Gulf Coast Spiny Softshell

 Gulf Coast Spiny Softshell in Florida
  • Scientific name: Apalone spinifera aspera
  • Common name: Spiny softshell turtle
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Size: 7 to 19 inches (females), 5 to 9.5 inches (males)
  • Lifespan: 20 to 50 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The Gulf Coast Spiny Softshell is a subspecies of the spiny softshell turtle and is found in small pockets across the state of Florida.

It is characterized by a leathery pancake-like shell marked with small spines. It has a series of black bars that run around the rim of its shells, with ring-like markings resting on its upper shell.

The upper shell color for this Florida spiny softshell turtle ranges from brown to tan. Just like other softshell turtles, this species also has a snorkel-like snout.

Female spiny softshell turtles are usually larger than males. The young ones feature well-defined round spots that are easily visible on the shell (though these spots become invisible as they transition to adulthood).

Spiny softshell turtles in Florida tend to eat anything they find in the waters including crayfish, insects, small fish, and so on. They hunt by burying themselves in the mud or sand while keeping their head uncovered to grab food as it swims by.

These turtles are also able to breathe underwater by taking in oxygen through their throat skin. This is a useful adaptation given that they don’t spend a lot of time out of water.

Other adaptations of these turtles include webbed feed, long claws, and extremely flat shells that enable them to quickly swim away from predators and burry in the muddy bottom of the waters they reside in.

19. Spotted Turtle

 Spotted Turtle in Florida
  • Scientific name: Clemmys guttata
  • Common name: Spotted Turtle
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 4 to 5 inches
  • Lifespan: 25 to 50 years
  • Conservation status: Endangered

The Spotted turtles in Florida reside in shallow marshes, swamps, and bogs. They’re semi-aquatic and are comfortable on land just as they are in the waters.

An adult spotted turtle has a smooth upper shell that ranges from olive to dark brown in color, with some light yellow spots. The neck and head feature irregular orange or yellow spots and streaks. Their tails are fairly long.

The turtles are omnivorous and their diet involves crustaceans, mollusks, insects, and plant matter (occasionally). Note that these turtles are aggressive hunters and will actively seek their prey.

Unfortunately, the population of spotted turtles in Florida is on the decline due to human interference and habitat loss. Their unique shell patterns make them a favorite species of a pet turtle for many people.

For this reason, they’re listed as endangered and protected by many governing bodies, including Florida authorities.

Above all, the spotted turtles of Florida are incredibly smart. Studies carried on them using a maze even indicate that they have the same brain capacity as the mouse!

20. Loggerhead Musk Turtle

 Loggerhead Musk Turtle in Florida
  • Scientific name: Sternotherus minor
  • Common name: Stripe head or loggerhead turtle
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Size: 3 to 4 inches
  • Lifespan: 20 to 40 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The loggerhead musk turtle is the most recognizable of all the musk turtles in Florida. It has a large head and a beak-like mouth that easily set it apart from many other species of turtles.

This turtle is one of the smallest of the species in the US, with the adult hitting a maximum length of 3 to 4 inches.

Also, the Florida loggerhead turtle features quite pronounced scutes in the middle of its shell which become less and less visible as it ages.

Their carapace is usually light brown with a small streak of black. And their lower shell side is light brown or yellow. The skin color is black, with light brown lines.

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As for the habitat, these Florida turtles prefer streams and springs with muddy bottoms, where they can comfortably and safely rest or lay eggs.

Loggerhead musk turtles are mainly carnivorous and their diet consists of fish, snails, and mollusks. When approached by predators, these turtles will also produce a foul smell.

21. Green Sea Turtle

 Green Sea Turtle in Florida
  • Scientific name: Chelonia mydas
  • Common name: Green turtle, Pacific green turtle, Black sea turtle
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Size: 2 to 5 feet
  • Lifespan: 60 to 70 years
  • Conservation status: Endangered

The green sea turtle species is classified among the largest hard-shelled sea turtles in Florida. It can reach up to 4 feet in length and weighs up to 400lbs.

This species is characterized by scutes that run down the middle; they’re 4 on each side. The shell color can be gray, dark brown, or olive with a yellow-to-white bottom shell or plastron.

It also features a serrated beak on its lower jaw and two large scales resign between the eyes.

Males are generally larger than females and have longer tails. The females lay their eggs on the beach and use their paddle-shaped flippers to easily burrow in the sand when laying eggs. A single green turtle can lay up to 200 eggs!

This Florida sea turtle species gets its name from its primary diet which consists of age and seagrasses (mind you, this diet is responsible for tinting its cartilage green).

Green turtles in Florida are usually found in tropical as well as subtropical waters throughout the years. They also tend to migrate to cooler temperatures and even boreal waters when the weather gets warmer.

22. Hawksbill Sea Turtle

 Hawksbill Sea Turtle in Florida
  • Scientific name: Eretmochelys imbricata
  • Common name: hawksbill turtle
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Size: 2.5 to 3 feet
  • Lifespan: 50 to 60 years
  • Conservation status: Critically endangered

Hawksbill sea turtles have been found in Florida’s cost and open oceans.

The adult has an average size of 3 feet and weighs around 180 pounds. The shell of this turtle features an amber upper shell with irregular light and dark streaks. They also feature predominant black and molten-brown easily radiating to the sides.

The shell tends to change color depending on the water temperatures.

This colored and patterned shell makes this turtle highly valuable and is commonly sold as “tortoiseshell” in the markets.

The hawkbill turtle is so named due to its narrow, pointed beak. It also has a distinctive pattern of overlapping scales on its shells which form a serrated look on the edges.

These turtles mainly feed on the sponge which they easily extract from reef crevices with the help of their narrow, pointed beaks. They also feed on jellyfish.

Hawkbill turtles are generally found in tropical oceans throughout the world. While they live in the open ocean, they tend to spend more time in coral reefs and shallow lagoons in Florida.

During nesting, a female hawkbill turtle will look for small coves, “pocket” beaches, or inlets surrounded by rocks. They tend to travel high up the beach to lay eggs in shelters formed by the plants.

23. Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle

 Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle in Florida
  • Scientific name: Lepidochelys kempi
  • Common name: Atlantic ridley sea turtle,
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Size: 2+ feet
  • Lifespan: 30+ years
  • Conservation status: Critically endangered

Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is the smallest species of all the sea turtles in Florida. The average adult size is about 2 feet and weighs approx. 110 lbs. They have adapted flippers (front limbs) and a beak.

This turtle is the rarest sea turtle species and is one of the world’s most endangered species.

The species is called Kemp’s ridley because Richard Moore Kemp of Key West was the first to send its specimen to Samuel Garman at Harvard university. However, the origin of the name ridley is still unclear.

Note that these turtles tend to change their color as they age. Baby turtles feature dark purple color along the sides which turns into yellow-green as they mature.

Kemp Ridley is also the only sea turtle that nests during the day.

These Florida turtles also practice Arribada nesting, which involves all the females nesting together in a tight group. This helps them protect themselves better from predators as well as help their hatchlings easily make it to the open ocean.

24. Leatherback Turtle

 Leatherback Turtle in Florida
  • Scientific name: Dermochelys coriacea
  • Common name: leathery turtle, trunk turtle, Lute turtle, luth
  • Family: Dermochelyidae
  • Size: 5 to 6 feet
  • Lifespan: 50+ years
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

The leatherback sea turtles are found in Florida state and are known to grow to mammoth sizes (up to 6 feet!). An average adult can also weigh as heavy as 540lbs!

Leatherback turtles usually have black shells. And they differ from other species of turtles with their smooth leathery carapace and skin. Their upper shell is made up of a flexible layer of dermal bones covered by tough and oily connective tissue and smooth skin.

The body of this turtle is barrel-shaped and then tapered to the rear. They have a total of 7 longitudinal dorsal ridges and their whole body is almost completely black, with some variable spotting.

Leatherback turtles in Florida have tooth-like cusps that work closely with their sharp-edged jaws to enable them to easily feed on jellyfish, salps, and other gelatinous zooplankton.

As for the habitat, these turtles of Florida are fond of tropical and subtropical waters all year round. But they tend to migrate to cooler, temperate, and boreal waters during warm weather.

Note that this species is highly migratory and can swim as many as 10,000 miles in a year between foraging and nesting grounds. They’re also excellent divers—with the deepest diving record standing at whopping 4,000 feet!

25. Loggerhead Sea Turtle

 Loggerhead Sea Turtle in Florida
  • Scientific name: Caretta caretta
  • Common name: Loggerhead, Loggerhead Sea-Turtle
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Size: 3.5 feet
  • Lifespan: 70+ years
  • Conservation status: Endangered

Loggerhead sea turtles boast their place as the most abundant sea turtle species in the United States and are found in many states, including Florida.

These turtles are pretty big and can reach up to 3.5ft in length. They weigh up to 350 pounds and can live for a whopping 70 years or more.

A loggerhead is distinguished by a slightly heart-shaped carapace that’s reddish brown in color, with pale yellow plastron. Some species also feature yellow-bordered scutes.

This turtle species of Florida gets its name from its large head. It has powerful jaws that enable it to feed on a variety of foods including conch, whelks, insects, jellyfish, gastropods, and algae.

The loggerhead turtles in Florida are usually found in temperate, tropical, and subtropical waters all year round. However, they also tend to migrate to cold boreal waters on rare occasions, for instance, during El Nino weather.

26. Eastern Box Turtle

 Eastern Box Turtle in Florida
  • Scientific name: Terrapene carolina
  • Common name: Eastern Box Turtle, Land turtle, Box Turtle
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 4.5 and 7 inches
  • Lifespan: 50 to 100 years
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

The eastern box turtles of Florida are found in dense thickets and woodland areas. They prefer these areas due to abundant access to sunlight and food sources nearby.

An adult turtle of this species is about 4.5 to 7 inches and weighs just 2lbs. It has a high, domed shell shape with a ridge running from head to toe. The shell of this turtle has varying colors of olive, brown, and tan.

The variation in markings on the shells of these turtles is so variable that you can’t easily recognize one by looking at the shell alone.

These eastern box turtles of Florida are omnivorous and feed on a variety of foods including insects, meat, fruits, vegetables, and various types of vegetation.

Note that eastern box turtles are taken from the Florida wild for pet trade, leading to a decline in their population. For this reason, many states have illegalized capturing and selling of this species.

And those in captivity end up dying due to poor conditions or being abandoned or released back into the wild because they’re too demanding to maintain.

27. Florida Box Turtle

 Florida Box Turtle in Florida
  • Scientific name: Terrapene bauri
  • Common name: N/A
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 4.5 to 6.5 inches
  • Lifespan: 25 to 30 years
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

The Florida box turtle is native to the state of Florida and the extreme southeastern part of Georgia. Its distribution is widespread throughout Florida’s mainland, though it has also been observed in the Florida Keys.

As one of the 4 common box turtle subspecies, this box turtle’s natural habitat involves the swamps, marshes, and forests in the Florida Keys region. The turtle likes lying in water but it doesn’t swim as often.

The box turtle of Florida has a dark (almost black shell) with impressive orange markings along with yellow stripes on its head.

Being omnivorous in nature, this Florida turtle will eat snails, insects, earthworms, slugs, mushrooms, strawberries, and green-leafed vegetation. They have also been spotted eating quail eggs.

Florida box turtle is fairly small and tolerant to handling, making it a good pet choice. However, the law forbids owning more than two of these turtle species without a permit.

28. Three-toed Box Turtle

 Three-toed Box Turtle in Florida
  • Scientific name: Terrapene triunguis
  • Common name: N/A
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 4.5 to 5 inches
  • Lifespan: 50 and 100 years
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

The three-toed box turtles inhabit the thickets, prairies, and woodlands of Southwest Florida. They’re easily identifiable by the 3 toes on their hind limbs, unlike the usual 4 toes on other box turtle species.

They have a uniform olive to brown shell color, sometimes with light spots or streaks. Bright yellow or orange spots are also occasionally spotted on the turtle species’ head and leg.

A mature three-toed box turtle has an average size of 4.5 to 5 inches.

They are unlike other box turtles in that they’re the only species that will remain healthy if you have them in indoor enclosures.

Being omnivorous in nature, these Florida turtles are known to eat snails, insects, earthworms, slugs, mushrooms, strawberries, and green-leafed vegetation. They have also been spotted eating quail eggs.

29. Gopher Tortoise

 Gopher Tortoise in Florida
  • Scientific name: Gopherus polyphemus
  • Common name: Gopher
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Size: 6 to 9.5 inches
  • Lifespan: 40 to 60 years
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

Gopher is a fairly large tortoise and the ONLY tortoise inhabitant of Florida land. An adult has a size of 6 to 9.5 inches. They have brown or tan shell color and grayish-brown skin with yellow or orange botches.

The terrestrial reptile has its forefeet well adapted for burrowing. The front legs are scaly and shovel-like to allow for easy digging.

Mind you, this turtle gets its name from its ability to dig deep burrows—just like a gopher the rodent! Even more interesting is that these burrows provide shelter to 360 other animals in Florida, including frogs, owls, engendered indigo snakes, etc.—making the tortoise a keystone species.

They mainly feed on vegetation such as mushrooms, grass, flowers, apples, and berries. Since they’re omnivorous in nature, they also feed on dead crabs or insects they come across.

Gopher tortoises tend to be more active during warmer weather. Their burrows can maintain more constant temperatures, making them safe havens for them.

It is illegal to domesticate a gopher tortoise as a pet in Florida. They also face the threat of a declining population mainly caused by human interference.

Florida authorities limit land development in areas with these tortoises or their burrows. It is also illegal to relocate these species without permission from Fish and Wildlife Services.

Related: Turtles in Nevada

Conclusion

That’s all for the 29 turtle species in the US state of Florida. As you have seen, this is a diverse list that includes freshwater, semi-aquatic, sea, and land turtles.

The fact that the Sunshine State is covered by 20% water enables it to offer the perfect living conditions for all these species of turtles.

Having read this guide, you now know the different species inhabiting the sunshine state, the unique traits that set them apart, and which ones you can keep as a pet.

Turtles in Florida