Turtles in Virginia

Turtles in Virginia – 25 Species That are Found Here

Virginia is home to 25 species of turtles. 20 of these turtles are native to the state while the remaining 5 are sea turtles.

Most of these native species are freshwater/aquatic turtles and include snapping turtles, map turtles, mud turtles, musk turtles, chicken turtles, pond sliders diamondback terrapins, Cooter turtles, and others.

All 5 sea turtles of Virginia are considered endangered species and range from green sea turtles to hawksbill sea turtles, and kemp ridley sea turtles, among others.

The Eastern box turtle is the only turtle in Virginal that’s terrestrial.

That said, Virginia has strict turtle laws that prohibit purchasing or selling all their native or naturalized turtles.

Discover more details about the turtles of Virginia below. We have provided the basic information you need to know about each species, including physical appearance, habitat, diet, size, lifespan, and more.

25 Types Of Turtles in Virginia


1. Common Snapping Turtle

 Common Snapping Turtle in Virginia
  • 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 Virginia. 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 Virginia 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 Virginia 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.

2. Eastern Painted Turtle

 Eastern Painted Turtle in Virginia
  • Scientific name: Chrysemys picta picta
  • Common name: Painted Turtle
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 4 to 6 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The Eastern painted turtle is one of the most recognizable turtle species in Virginia, thanks to its beautiful and unique coloring.

The bright reds and yellow-green markings on its shell, head, and limbs are no doubt a beauty to behold!

This painted turtle sub-species in Virginia has been observed to live near water bodies with minimal movements. Examples include marshes, ponds, slow-moving streams with sandy/muddy bottoms, small lakes, etc.

They also prefer areas with aquatic plants in plenty as they make their primary food source in the wild.

One interesting fact about these Virginia turtles is their ability to hold their breath for up to 30 hours when inside temperate water. Moreover, they’re capable of standing dominant in freezing cold waters for up to 4 months.

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to establish the population of these turtles in Virginia. This is because most people who pet them end up releasing them back into the wild.

This contributes to an ever-expanding range plus unstable reproduction rates for these turtles.

3. Northern Map Turtle

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

The common map turtle has also been observed in Virginia. To be more specie, this freshwater turtle resides in the rivers and lakes of Virginia.

They prefer living in large waterbodies with debris. These offer the perfect spots for basking while the water bodies enable them to spend their 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 and ranges from brown to black. The map pattern has a lighter coloration.

The common map turtle of Virginia 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 feed on plant matter.

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

4. Diamond-Backed Terrapin

 Diamond-Backed Terrapin in Virginia
  • Scientific name: Malaclemys terrapin terrapin
  • Common name: Diamond-backed Terrapin
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 4 to 6 inches (males), 5 to 8 inches (females)
  • Lifespan: 25 to 40 years
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

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

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

These 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.

5. Eastern River Cooter

 Eastern River Cooter in Virginia
  • 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 the eastern half area of Virginia state. 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 Virginia. 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.

6. Coastal Plain Cooter

 Coastal Plain Cooter in Virginia
  • Scientific name: Pseudemys floridana
  • Common name: Coastal Plain Cooter, Florida Cooter
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 8 to 12 inches
  • Lifespan: 20 to 40 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The Coastal Plain Cooter is another pond turtle found within the borders of Virginia. It is one of the largest Cooter turtle species in the state and is mainly found across the state’s North Eastern half.

This turtle is recognized for its relatively flat shape compared to other Cooter turtles. It has a dark green shell with swirling orange pattern. Though Florida Cooter may look similar to the eastern river Cooter above, it (Florida Cooter) lacks C-shaped markings on its carapace.

Also referred to as a coastal plain Cooter, this turtle is semi-aquatic and prefers living in coastal plains, swamps, or rivers with sandy bottoms in Virginia.

Florida Cooters are sometimes observed basking in social groups on logs above the waters.

It is primarily herbivorous but will also eat insects if they’re in abundance and easy to catch.

Unfortunately, the population of this Cooter is on the decline in Virginia. This is due to excessive hunting for pet trade or for meat (human consumption).

7. Northern Red-Bellied Cooter

 Northern Red-Bellied Cooter in Virginia
  • Scientific name: Pseudemys rubriventris
  • Common name: Northern Red-Bellied Turtle,American red-bellied turtle
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 10 to 12 inches
  • Lifespan: 40 to 60 years
  • Conservation status: Not Threatened

The Northern red-bellied Cooters are the largest of North America’s pond turtles native to Virginia. They’ve been sighted in some of Virginia’s extreme east counties.

As you can tell from its name, this species features a completely red (vibrant) plastron, sometimes covered with green spots. The turtle is known to live in freshwater streams, ponds, and lakes in Virginia.

And when the conditions allow, the turtle will venture into brackish streams near the Virginia coast.

A redbelly Cooter differs from other turtles with its head pattern which has lighter markings forming a distinct arrow shape, pointing toward the snout. The upper shell ranges form from dark brown to black.

Since the Northern redbelly turtles of Virginia are mainly herbivorous, they mostly feed on aquatic plants.

Note that this turtle species in Virginia face many threats including wetland loss, habitat loss, pollution, and collection for selling as pets.

At some point, this turtle was even sold for consumption (some countries still consume it even today!)

8. Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle

 Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle in Virginia
  • 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 Eastern Spiny softshell turtle is a medium-to-large freshwater species that lives in the southwestern regions of Virginia. To be more precise, Virginia is home to two subspecies of spiny softshell namely the eastern spiny softshell and gulf coast spiny softshell.

This turtle prefers lakes, streams, and rivers with muddy or sandy bottoms and little or no vegetation.

Spiny softshells generally have leathery, pancake-like shells. Both turtle subspecies have shell colors ranging from tan to brown.

The gulf coast has a series of black bars that run around the rim of its shell and ring markings on the upper shell. And this distinguishes it from the eastern spiny shell.

Eastern Spiny softshell turtles of Virginia are mainly carnivorous and like eating 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.

9. Eastern Mud Turtle

 Eastern Mud Turtle in Virginia
  • 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
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The Eastern Mud turtle in Virginia 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 Virginia.

Since the Virginia 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).

10. Striped Mud Turtle

 Striped Mud Turtle in Virginia
  • 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 Virginia state in the shallow and smaller waterbodies. You’ll most likely see them in the cypress swamps, ditches, and drainage canals in Virginia.

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 Virginia 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.

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

11. Eastern Musk Turtle

 Eastern Musk Turtle in Virginia
  • 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 Eastern Musk Turtle is another aquatic turtle found in Virginia’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 Virginia 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 Virginia 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.

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12. Stripe-necked Musk Turtle

 Stripe-necked Musk Turtle in Virginia
  • Scientific name: Sternotherus minor peltifer
  • Common name: Stripe-necked Musk Turtle
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Size: 3 to 4.5 inches
  • Lifespan: 20 to 50 years
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

The Striped-necked musk turtle is a subspecies of loggerhead musk turtle that lives in Virginia. This small aquatic turtle has a larger head compared to other musk turtles.

This turtle is highly aquatic and likes living in streams as well as rivers in the mountains. Mind you, this turtle has only been spotted in two counties of Virginia.

The most distinguishable feature of this musk turtle is the numerous dark stripes that line its neck and head. its carapace is keeled and is gray or brown in color.

The carapace may sometimes feature dark spots or streaks. Its plastron is yellow and unspotted.

In terms of diet, this turtle species of Virginia is omnivorous but mainly likes eating aquatic insects and small snails. it is diurnal and tends to conduct its foraging in the morning hours.

13. Red-eared Slider

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

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

14. Yellow-bellied Slider

 Yellow-bellied Slider in Virginia
  • 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 and another non-native species of Virginia. The turtle is mostly found in the eastern half part of the state.

Yellow-bellied turtle is semi-aquatic and 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 Virginia 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 Virginia 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.

15. Cumberland slider

 Cumberland slider in Virginia
  • Scientific name: Trachemys scripta troostii
  • Common name: Cumberland turtle, Troost’s turtle
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 7 to 11 ½ inches
  • Lifespan: 40 to 50 years
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

The Cumberland is a subspecies of pond sliders, making it a close relative of yellow-bellied sliders and red-eared sliders. The turtles are native to Southeastern United States.

And in Virginia state, they live in the extreme southwestern corner of the state.

These medium-sized semi-aquatic turtles’ upper shells range from olive green to brown and feature yellow markings. They also feature yellow stripes behind their eyes.

The lower side of the shell is usually yellow with several black spots. Skin color is usually olive, green, or black, and has multiple yellow stripes.

Cumberland sliders of Virginia live are omnivorous and feed on insects, mollusks, worms, dark leafy land vegetation, and aquatic vegetation.

16. Spotted Turtle

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

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

A 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 Virginia 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 in Virginia.

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

17. Eastern Chicken Turtle

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

The Eastern chicken turtle is a sub-species of chicken turtle and resides in Virginia’s eastern and southeastern counties.

It has an oval-shaped shell that’s dark brown or black in color. On top of this, its shell bears a relatively subtle pattern usually yellow in color.

The lower side of its shell is yellowish and the skin is dark colored and covered with yellow stripes.

Eastern chicken turtles in Virginia can be found in canals, marshes, cypress, ponds, and other waterbodies that are still or sluggish. It is also frequently found in sand hills.

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!

18. Bog Turtle

 Bog Turtle in Virginia
  • Scientific name: Glyptemys muhlenbergii
  • Common name: Bog Turtle, Muhlenberg’s turtle
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 3.5 to 5 inches
  • Lifespan: up to 40 years
  • Conservation status: Critically Endangered

The Bog turtle is the smallest aquatic turtle you’ll find in Virginia and in North America.

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The species is critically endangered and is one of the rarest turtles in the state; it is only seen in the western counties of Virginia.

Mind you; selling or owning a bog turtle in Virginia is illegal!

An adult bog turtle’s carapace coloration ranges from black to olive or dark brown and features a central keel ridge. Some of the scutes making up their upper shell may also bear red or yellow-star markings. And their heads have distinctive orange or yellow patches.

The bog turtle is known to inhabit wetland areas such as marshes or bogs populated with grass cover.

The turtle species are diurnal omnivores and like eating insects, mollusks, and occasional vegetation. They’re most active during warm parts of the day.

19. Wood Turtle

 Wood Turtle in Virginia
  • Scientific name: Glyptemys insculpta
  • Common name: Wood turtle, Sculptured Tortoise, Redleg, Red-legged Tortoise
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 5.5 to 8 inches
  • Lifespan: 40 to 60 years
  • Conservation status: Endangered

Wood turtle species also inhabit the various woodland habitats across Virginia state. However, they also tend to stay near the water and will frequently venture into it.

During winter, they tend to hibernate at the bottom of deep rivers and pools.

The turtles get their name from their sculpted-like looks. Their upper shells are dark brown and have sport patterns resembling wood grain and growth rings.

Their scutes may sometimes appear like they’re pyramiding, further enhancing their sculpted shape.

Wood turtles of Virginia are diurnal omnivores and their diet mainly consists of berries, plants, insects, and mollusks.

They forage for their food widely and have even been observed stomping their feet on the ground as a way of tricking the earthworms into surfacing.

20. Eastern Box Turtle

 Eastern Box Turtle in Virginia
  • 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 Virginia 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 Virginia 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 Virginia wild for the 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.

21. Green Sea Turtle

 Green Sea Turtle in Virginia
  • 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 Virginia. 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 Virginia 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 Virginia are usually found in tropical as well as subtropical waters throughout the years. They live in coastal lagoons and bays in Virginia.

They also tend to migrate to cooler temperatures and even boreal waters when the weather gets warmer.

22. Loggerhead Sea Turtle

 Loggerhead Sea Turtle in Virginia
  • 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 Virginia.

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 Virginia 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 Virginia are usually found in coastal regions, especially in shallow bays. They prefer living in temperate, tropical, and subtropical waters all year round. However, they also tend to migrate to sandy ocean beaches during nesting time.

23. Leatherback Sea Turtle

 Leatherback Sea Turtle in Virginia
  • 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 Virginia state and are known to grow to mammoth sizes (up to 6 feet!). An average adult can also weigh as heavy as 540lbs (or heavier!).

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 Virginia 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 Virginia 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!

24. Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle

 Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle in Virginia
  • 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 Virginia. They’re found on muddy or sandy coastlines with shallow waters.

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

The average adult size is about 2 feet and weighs approx. 110 lbs. They have adapted flippers (front limbs) and a beak.

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 Virginia 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.

25. Hawksbill Sea Turtle

 Hawksbill Sea Turtle in Virginia
  • 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

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

The adult has an average size of 3 feet and weighs around 180 pounds.

The shell of this turtle has an amber upper shell color 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.

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.

Related: Turtles in Illinois


There’s no doubt that Virginia is one of the top states that enjoy a diverse list of turtle species.

The state boasts up to 20 native species, the majority of which are freshwater and semi-aquatic species.

These species include common snapping turtles, map turtles, mud turtles, musk turtles, Cooters, red-eared sliders, yellow-bellied sliders, spiny softshells, spotted turtles, wood turtles, and bog turtles, among others.

Also, the state is home to 5 endangered sea turtles and one box turtle, the eastern box turtle.

Remember that Virginia prohibits selling or buying any of the native or naturalized turtles in the state.

Turtles in Virginia