Turtles in Missouri

Turtles in Missouri – 17 Species That are Found Here

Missouri is home to 17 turtle species that range from freshwater to box turtles. These include the snapping turtles, softshell turtles, river Cooters, map turtles, mud and musk turtles, red-eared slider, and box turtles.

The state is also home to the rare western chicken turtle.

Unfortunately, some Missouri turtles are endangered or threatened. These include the Western chicken turtle and the Blanding’s turtle.

Note that it’s illegal to capture wild turtles for keeping as pets in Missouri. But you’re allowed to hunt the softshell turtles and snapping turtles with just a fishing license.

In this article, we’ll look at each of these species of turtles in Missouri. For each species, we’ll look at basics such as physical appearance, average adult size, what they eat, where they live, lifespan, and more.

17 Types Of Turtles In Missouri

Contents

1. Alligator Snapping Turtle

 Alligator Snapping Turtle in Missouri
  • 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 Missouri. 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 Missouri.

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.

2. Common Snapping Turtle

 Common Snapping Turtle in Missouri
  • 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 Missouri. 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 Missouri 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 Missouri 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.

3. Smooth Softshell Turtle

 Smooth Softshell Turtle in Missouri
  • Scientific name: Apalone mutica
  • Common name: Midland Smooth Shell
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Size: 6 to 13 inches
  • Lifespan: 40 to 60 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The smooth softshell turtle boasts its position as the fastest turtle on land in Missouri! Though most people believe these turtles are slow-moving, they must be quick to enable them to outrun their predators given that their soft shells don’t offer much protection.

Shell color of this turtle species 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.

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

Smooth softshell turtles of Missouri are omnivorous and their diet revolves around aquatic vegetation and insects. However, they have been observed to like meat more than plant matter and will mainly eat snails, insects, and fish.

4. Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle

 Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle in Missouri
  • Scientific name: Apalone spinifera Spinifera
  • Common name: Spiny Softshell Turtle
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Size: 5 to 9 inches (males), 12 to 20 inches (females)
  • Lifespan: 30 to 70 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The Eastern Spiny softshell turtle is a medium-to-large freshwater species that lives in Missouri’s lakes, streams, and rivers with muddy or sandy bottoms and little or no vegetation.

Female spiny softshell turtles are usually larger than males. And unlike other turtles, this species has a flexible, leather-like carapace that’s extremely rounded and flattened.

The shell color can be olive grey or yellow-brown. Just like other softshell turtles, this species also has a snorkel-like snout.

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 Missouri 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.

5. Blanding’s Turtle

 Blanding’s Turtle in Missouri
  • Scientific name: Emydoidea blandingii
  • Common name: Blanding’s Turtle
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 5 to 8 inches
  • Lifespan: up to 80 years (or more!)
  • Conservation status: Endangered

Blanding’s Turtle is also known as the “turtle that smiles” and is named in honor of William Blanding, the American naturalist.

The species is semi-aquatic and is categorized under endured species in Missouri. It is mainly concentrated in the northern half of this state, but its population is quite scattered—making it hard to find.

Blanding’s turtle has a dark oval shell covered with faint yellow speckles. The lower side of its shell is usually yellow with black patches.

Blanding’s turtle in Missouri prefers living in marshy habitats. And the fact that it’s losing these favorite habitats is one of the reasons causing its population to decline fast.

Because this turtle species is omnivorous, it feeds on leatherworks, crayfish, and aquatic invertebrates. It also occasionally feeds on plants and doesn’t rely on water to help it sallow its food as it’s the case with most turtle species.

6. Eastern River Cooter

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

Eastern River Cooter turtles are also inhabitants of Missouri. 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.

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

7. Western Chicken Turtle

 Western Chicken Turtle in Missouri
  • Scientific name: Deirochelys reticularia miaria
  • Common name: Western Chicken Turtle
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 5 to 10 inches
  • Lifespan: 15 to 30 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The western chicken turtle is another subspecies of chicken turtle species, native to Missouri state.

This species of turtle is regarded as the most social turtle species you’ll find in Missouri! 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 (oval) 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 in Missouri prefer living in still water areas such as ponds, marshes, and ditches in Missouri. 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!

8. Common Map Turtle

 Common Map Turtle in Missouri
  • Scientific name: Graptemys geographica
  • Common name: Common Map Turtle
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 3 to 10 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The common map turtle is one of the map species that inhabit Missouri. To be more specie, this freshwater turtle resides in the rivers and lakes of Missouri.

It prefers large waterbodies with debris. These offer the perfect spots for basking while the water bodies enable the aquatic animal to spend its hibernation periods in winter completely submerged.

Like other map turtles, this common map turtle gets its name from the map-like pattern on its shell. Its shell is typically darker in color and ranges from brown to black. The map pattern has a lighter coloration.

The common map turtle of Missouri is mainly carnivorous and feeds on mollusks such as clams and snails. It will also eat crayfish and insects. And when animal matter gets scarce, it will turn to plant matter.

Note that it may be difficult to spot a common map turtle in the wild in Missouri. Although active during the day, these turtles are quite shy and will quickly retreat to the waters at the slightest disturbance.

Also read: Turtles in Colorado

9. False Map Turtle

 False Map Turtle in Missouri
  • Scientific name: Graptemys pseudogeographica
  • Common name: False Map Turtle, Sawback Turtle
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 6 to 10 inches (females), 3.5 to 6 inches (males)
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The False map turtle is another turtle species found in Missouri. This turtle’s preferred habitat in Missouri includes rivers, streams, and oxbow lakes of the Missouri and Mississippi river systems.

It is an excellent swimmer and prefers moderate currents and deep waters.

Its upper shell coloring ranges from olive to dark brown, with light-colored lines on its limbs. It also features a line behind its eye that forms a backward “L” shape. The map pattern on its carapace tends to fade as the turtle ages.

Since this map turtle of Missouri is omnivorous, it feeds on aquatic insects and animals as well as vegetation. It is fond of river snails and crustaceans. Don’t forget it has strong jaws and can give a nasty bite!

Like most of the other aquatic turtles of Missouri, this map turtle spends most of its waking hours sunning.

The false map turtle is quite shy and quietly and swiftly slides into the water at the slightest signs of disturbance. It likes spending most of its time in water and is most active in climate conditions of over 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

10. Ouachita Map Turtle

 Ouachita Map Turtle in Missouri
  • Scientific name: Graptemys ouachitensis
  • Common name: Ouachita Map Turtle, 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 Ouachita map turtle lives in the northern part of Missouri and is regarded as one of the less popular map turtle species. The turtle makes an excellent choice of pet for many people since it’s easy to care for.

As for its name, this species is named after the river where it was discovered—Ouachita!

Ouachita turtle is medium to large in terms of size. The average adult female is 3-5 inches long while the male is 8 to 10 inches long. It features thin, yellowing lines that form a web on the turtle’s shell (similar to a contour elevation map).

Moreover, the turtle has brown to olive coloring, with a light spot under both eyes.

The easiest way to identify this Missouri turtle from other map turtle subspecies is by checking the dots on its face. They usually have 3 prominent spots—under the jawline, under the eye, and behind the eye.

Note that this turtle prefers living in stagnant or slow-moving waters, including ponds, lakes, and streams. of Missouri It also prefers waters with plenty of vegetation. This species is omnivorous and eats meat, insects, vegetables, fruits, and aquatic vegetation, to name but a few.

11. Missouri Map Turtle

Missouri Map Turtle
  • Scientific name: Graptemys pseudogeographica kohni
  • Common name: Missouri Map Turtle, False Map Turtle
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 3 to 10 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The False map turtle is another turtle species found in Missouri. This turtle’s preferred habitat in Missouri includes rivers, streams, and oxbow lakes of the Missouri and Missouri river systems.

It is an excellent swimmer and prefers moderate currents and deep waters.

Its upper shell coloring ranges from olive to dark brown, with light-colored lines on its limbs. It also features a line behind its eye that forms a backward “L” shape. The map pattern on its carapace tends to fade as the turtle ages.

Since this map turtle of Missouri is omnivorous, it feeds on aquatic insects and animals as well as vegetation. It is fond of river snails and crustaceans. Don’t forget it has strong jaws and can give a nasty bite!

Like most of the other aquatic turtles of Missouri, this map turtle spends most of its waking hours sunning.

The map turtle is quite shy and quietly and swiftly slides into the water at the slightest signs of disturbance. It likes spending most of its time in water and is most active in climate conditions of over 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

12. Missouri Mud Turtle

Missouri Mud Turtle
  • 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 Missouri 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.

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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 Missouri.

Since the Missouri 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).

13. Yellow Mud Turtle

 Yellow Mud Turtle in Missouri
  • Scientific name: Kinosternon arizonense
  • Common name: Yellow Mud Turtle, Mud Turtle
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Size: 4-5 inches
  • Lifespan: 40 years
  • Conservation status: Least concern

The Yellow mud turtle is a species native to Missouri and prefers living in any waterbody in Missouri state.

Possible places you can find it includes muddy pools, cattle tanks, irrigation ditches, sewer drains, and even cisterns!

This turtle will spend more time on land migrating to new water sources and is never picky about where it can stay.

It has its upper shell part flattened with colors varying from brown to black or olive. It also features dark brown edges around its scutes. The skin color is usually olive. Males have a sharp or horny end as a distinctive feature.

This Missouri yellow mud turtle is omnivorous like any other mud turtle. its diet is made up of a variety of foods including tadpoles, leeches, crayfish, fairy shrimp, and fish.

It will also eat frogs, slugs, and snails. And as an opportunistic feeder, it will also eat decaying animal and plant matter.

14. Common Musk Turtle

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

The Common Musk Turtle is another aquatic turtle found in Missouri’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 Missouri 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.

When it feels threatened, this musk 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 Missouri 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.

15. Red-eared Slider

 Red-eared Slider in Missouri
  • 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 subspecies of pond sliders and a native species of Missouri. 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 Missouri are pretty large and the adults reach 7-12 in length (though females are generally larger than males).

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

16. Ornate Box Turtle

 Ornate Box Turtle in Missouri
  • Scientific name: Terrapene ornata
  • Common name: Ornate Box Turtle
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 5 to 7 inches
  • Lifespan: 40 to 60 years
  • Conservation status: Near Threatened

Ornate box turtles are present in Missouri and are recognized by the beautiful pattern on their carapace. This eye-pleasing pattern is sometimes referred to as a starburst pattern.

Their skin is grey and may feature yellow or white spots. Male heads occasionally feature green color.

Though there exists a little distinction between the males and females of these Missouri box turtles, males are generally smaller than females.

During hot weather, this turtle requires water to help regulate its body temperature.

The Missouri species of turtle are known to hibernate in burrows during cold weather. They’re also capable of surviving in frozen soils for several days.

Being omnivorous in nature, and opportunistic feeders, these turtles will gladly feed anything available to them in their habitat or what’s abundant in a given season. They have been observed eating fruits, vegetables, grasshoppers, and various other insects.

Also, keep in mind that these box turtles in Missouri are pretty shy and don’t like being handled excessively. As such, you may want to avoid approaching them suddenly while in the wild in Missouri.

17. Three-toed Box Turtle

 Three-toed Box Turtle in Missouri
  • 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 Missouri. 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 Missouri turtles are known to eat snails, insects, earthworms, slugs, mushrooms, strawberries, and green-leafed vegetation. They have also been spotted eating quail eggs.

Related: Turtle Of Alaska

Conclusion

This guide has just covered all the basics you need to know about the turtles of Missouri.

In summary, the state is home to 17 turtle species including the snapping turtles, softshell turtles, river Cooters, map turtles, mud and musk turtles, red-eared slider, box turtles, and the rare western turtle chicken.

Don’t forget that Missouri authorities prohibit capturing wild turtles for keeping as pets except for the snapping turtles and softshell turtles.

Hopefully, the information you have gained in this guide will help you decide which of these turtles to keep as a pet. This information will also act as your herping guide in the field.

Turtles in Missouri