Turtles in Oklahoma

Turtles in Oklahoma – 17 Species That are Found Here

Oklahoma is home to 17 species of turtles. These range from aquatic and semi-aquatic species like snapping turtles, mud and musk turtles, map turtles, chicken turtle, etc., to terrestrial species like ornate box turtles and three-toed box turtles.

The semi-aquatic and fully aquatic turtles in Oklahoma can be found in major rover systems as well as larger water bodies. Some of them also prefer living in slow-moving waters such as ponds and swamps.

As for the terrestrial species, they can be spotted in woodlands, prairies, and even grasslands of the Sooner State.

Discover below the full list of turtle species that inhabit the state of Oklahoma and key info about each of them like physical appearance, habitat, size, diet, lifespan, and more.

17 Types Of Turtles In Oklahoma


1. Alligator Snapping Turtle

 Alligator Snapping Turtle in Oklahoma
  • 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 Oklahoma. 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 Oklahoma.

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 Oklahoma
  • 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 Oklahoma. An average adult is pretty large and has a shell length of 18½ inches long. It is, no doubt, the biggest guy in Oklahoma!

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 Oklahoma 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 Oklahoma 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. Painted Turtle

 Painted Turtle in Oklahoma
  • Scientific name: Chrysemys picta
  • Common name: Painted Turtle
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 4 to 10 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

Two subspecies of painted turtles inhabit Oklahoma, namely the western painted turtle and southern painted turtle.

Both are medium-sized aquatic turtles that are spotted much anywhere across the Sooner State in marshes, ponds, and other shallow water bodies.

Painted turtles generally have black or dark brown shells with edges featuring red to yellow coloring. Yellow stripes are present on their faces.

Western painted turtles are larger than southern subspecies and have no stripes on their carapace. Their plastrons usually feature marbled patterns of green, red, or other colors.

Southern painted turtles, on the other hand, are identified by an orange or red line that runs down the carapace. They also have yellow or tan plastrons.

Note that both species are diurnal and like basking on logs and stumps behind water bodies in Oklahoma.

The southern species is primarily herbivorous and its diet mainly consists of aquatic vegetation. The western species are largely omnivorous and their diet involves a mixture of plants and insects.

4. Midland Smooth Softshell Turtle

 Midland Smooth Softshell Turtle in Oklahoma
  • Scientific name: Apalone mutica 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 Oklahoma!

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.

Note that Gulf Coast smooth turtle (Apalone calvata) is the closes relative of this Midland smooth softshell turtle.

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

Smooth softshell turtles of Oklahoma 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.

5. Spiny Softshell Turtle

 Spiny Softshell Turtle in Oklahoma
  • Scientific name: Apalone 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 Spiny softshell turtle is a medium-to-large freshwater species that live in Oklahoma’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 Oklahoma 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.

6. Western Chicken Turtle

Western Chicken Turtle in Oklahoma
  • 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

Western chicken turtle is another subspecies of chicken turtle species inhabiting Oklahoma state.

This species of turtle is regarded as the most social turtle species you’ll find in Oklahoma! They’re known to bask or swim in groups and rarely live or travel alone.

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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.

Wester chicken turtles in Oklahoma prefer living in still water areas such as ponds, marshes, and ditches in Oklahoma. 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!

7. Eastern River Cooter

 Eastern River Cooter in Oklahoma
  • 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 Oklahoma. 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 Oklahoma. 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.

8. Common Map Turtle

 Common Map Turtle in Oklahoma
  • 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 Oklahoma. To be more specie, this freshwater turtle resides in the rivers and lakes of Oklahoma.

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 Oklahoma 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 Oklahoma. Although active during the day, these turtles are quite shy and will quickly retreat to the waters at the slightest disturbance.

9. Mississippi Map Turtle

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

The Mississippi map turtle is another turtle species found in Oklahoma. This turtle’s preferred habitat in Oklahoma includes rivers, streams, and oxbow lakes of Oklahoma 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 Oklahoma 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 Oklahoma, 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.

Also read: Turtle in Connecticut

10. Ouachita Map Turtle

 Ouachita Map Turtle in Oklahoma
  • 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 also lives in Oklahoma. 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 Oklahoma 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 Oklahoma.

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. Mississippi Mud Turtle

 Mississippi Mud Turtle in Oklahoma
  • 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 Mississippi Mud turtle in Oklahoma 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 Oklahoma.

Since the Oklahoma 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).

12. Yellow Mud Turtle

 Yellow Mud Turtle in Oklahoma
  • Scientific name: Kinosternon arizonense
  • Common name: Yellow Mud Turtle, Mud Turtle
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Size: 4-5 inches
  • Lifespan: 40 years
  • Conservation status: Least concern
See also  Types of Box Turtles

The Yellow mud turtle is a species native to Oklahoma and prefers living in any waterbody you can come across in Oklahoma 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 a flattened upper shell 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 Oklahoma 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.

13. Common Musk Turtle

 Common Musk Turtle in Oklahoma
  • 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 Oklahoma’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 Oklahoma 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 Oklahoma 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.

14. Razor-backed Musk Turtle

 Razor-backed Musk Turtle in Oklahoma
  • Scientific name: Sternotherus carinatus
  • Common name: Musk turtle, stinkpot
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Size: 5 to 6 inches
  • Lifespan: 40 to 50 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The Oklahoma razor-backed must turtle is identified by the keels on its back. In other words, its carapace is shaped like a tent that comes to a point along its spine and then slopes down on its sides.

Just like the other must turtles, this species is also pretty small and the average adult hits 5-6 inches in length. Their shell color ranges from light grey to olive, brown, and black. Skin color can be olive or dark brown, though the exact color differs from individual to individual.

These Oklahoma turtles usually have long necks and large heads which usually have bright colors and turn gray with dark spots as they age.

This razor-back musk turtle prefers living in water almost entirely and will only leave the waters to bask or when it’s time to lay eggs. The species live in deep waters of oxbow lakes and river swamps. They also prefer living in slow-current large streams.

Diet-wise, the Oklahoma razor-back musk turtle is mainly carnivorous and is fond of mollusks, snails, and fish.

15. Red-eared Slider

 Red-eared Slider in Oklahoma
  • 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 Oklahoma. 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 Oklahoma are pretty large and the adults reach 7-12 in length (though females are generally larger than males).

These Oklahoma 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 Oklahoma
  • Scientific name: Terrapine 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 western counties of Oklahoma 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 a green color.

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

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

The Oklahoma 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 eat 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.

17. Three-toed Box Turtle

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

Related: Turtles in Washington


Oklahoma’s list of turtle species is pretty diverse and includes semi-aquatic, fully aquatic, and even terrestrial turtles.

Most of the species found in this state are pretty common and include snapping turtles, mud turtles, musk turtles, map turtles, chicken turtles, painted turtles, and Cooters.

The only two terrestrial turtles found in Oklahoma include the ornate box turtle and the three-toes box turtle.

Keep in mind that the state authorities have restrictions regarding buying or selling native turtles. They also have clear guidelines on which turtles you can keep as pets and which ones are illegal.

Turtles in Oklahoma