Turtles in Montana

Turtles in Montana – 3 Species That are Found Here

Montana is home to only 3 native species of turtles, namely the common snapping turtle, western painted turtle, and western spiny softshell.

Despite being one of the largest states in the US, Montana state is one of the colder northwestern states. And this makes it an unsuitable habitat for most turtle species.

That said, these native species are legal to keep as pets in Montana and you don’t need a permit to own one.

Before you think of keeping any of these 3 turtles in Montana, find more details about each of them below.

We have discussed info about each of the species such as looks, diet, habitat, average adult size, lifespan, and conservation status.

3 Types Of Turtles in Montana


1. Common Snapping Turtle

 Common Snapping Turtle in Montana
  • 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 Montana. 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 Montana 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 Montana 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.

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Also read: Turtles in South Carolina

2. Western Painted Turtle

Western Painted Turtle in Montana
  • Scientific name: Chrysemys picta belli
  • Common name: Westland Painted Turtle
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 4 to 10 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 to 40 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The Western painted turtle is a subspecies of painted turtle and is also found in Montana waterbodies.

This turtle is identified by an oval-shaped carapace that lacks a ridge in the middle. The carapace is usually dark olive or black in color.

The lower side of the shell is usually red, with multiple dark markings in the center. And the skin itself is covered with yellow stripes.

Westland painted turtles of Montana are aquatic and their webbed feet help propel them in the waters.

The most common habitats for this turtle in Montana include slow-moving rivers, shallow streams, and lakes. They choose these areas because they can easily find food.

Given that they’re omnivorous, they feed on aquatic vegetation as well as meat from insects, snails, shrimps, tadpoles, and earthworms.

Their hatchlings are more carnivorous to help take in more proteins for building muscle.

3. Western Spiny Softshell

Western Spiny Softshell in Montana
  • Scientific name: Alpalone spinifera hartwegi
  • 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 Western Spiny softshell turtle is a medium-to-large freshwater species that live in Montana’ 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.

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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 Montana 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.

Related: Turtles in California


That’s our list for the 3 native turtle species of Montana. The reason this state has a limited number of turtles is that it is one of the colder Northwestern states in the US. Thus, it has unsuitable living conditions for most pet turtles.

The good thing is these native turtles are legal to keep as pets in Montana. You also don’t need a permit to own the turtles as pets.

We hope the information we have shared about each of these species will help you decide which one to keep as a pet.

Turtles in Montana

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