Turtles in Washington

Turtles in Washington – 7 Species That are Found Here

Washington is home to only 2 native turtle species—the western pond turtles and western painted turtles. They also have invasive species like the common snapping turtles and red-eared sliders.

On top of this, the coast of Washington is inhabited by 4 endangered sea turtle species running from Green sea turtles to the Olive ridley sea turtles.

No terrestrial turtles are found in Washington.

This guide outlines all the common turtles of Washington and the key facts you need to know about each of them, including habitat, diet, size, lifespan, and more.

7 Types Of Turtles In Washington


1. Common Snapping Turtle

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

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 Washington 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 in Washington. 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 Washington 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. Western Painted Turtle

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

The Western painted turtle is a subspecies of painted turtle and is also found in Washington 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 Washington are aquatic and their webbed feet help propel them in the waters.

The most common habitats for this turtle in Washington 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 Pond Turtle

 Western Pond Turtle in Washington
  • Scientific name: Actinemys marmorata
  • Common name: Western Pond Turtle, Pacific Pond Turtle
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 6 to 8 inches
  • Lifespan: 50 years
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

The Western Pond Turtle is a small-to-medium-sized turtle native to Washington.

Mind you, it is the only freshwater turtle species native to Washington. It can be found in the State’s creeks, ponds, lakes, and other suitable water bodies.

Carapace coloring for this turtle can be black, brown, or dark green, with some yellowish spots. Patterns of lines or dots also usually radiate from the center of each shell plate of this tortoise.

Also, the limbs of a western pond turtle found in Washington feature prominent scales while its head is webbed or spotted with black.

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Western pond turtle species is omnivorous and its diet includes insects, tadpoles, frogs, and even carrion. For this reason, it prefers living in waterbodies with plenty of aquatic vegetation such as cattails, water lilies, watercress, etc.

The Washington western pond turtle has suffered habitat loss due to development, low reproduction, predators, and invasive aggressive non-native pet turtles being released into their environment.

All these factors make the species population in Washington state greatly endangered.

Also read: Turtles in Oklahoma

4. Green Sea Turtle

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

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

5. Leatherback Turtle

 Leatherback Turtle in Washington
  • 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 Washington 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 Washington 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 Washington 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!

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6. Loggerhead Sea Turtle

 Loggerhead Sea Turtle in Washington
  • 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 Washington.

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 Washington 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 Washington 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.

7. Olive Ridley Sea Turtle

 Olive Ridley Sea Turtle in Washington
  • Scientific name: Lepidochelys olivacea
  • Common name: Pacific ridley sea turtle
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Size: 2.5 feet
  • Lifespan: 50 years
  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

Olive ridley sea turtles are much smaller than other species of sea turtles found in Washington. They reach a maximum of 2.5 feet in length and weigh up to 100 pounds. And they have an average lifespan of up to 50 years.

An olive ridley sea turtle has a heart-shaped carapace with olive to grayish-green in color. The shell features around 5 to 9 scutes. These turtles are generally omnivorous and feed on crustaceans, fish, jellyfish, mollusks, algae, and salps.

These Washington sea turtles can opt to nest in large groups or by themselves. In the event of a mass nesting, the female turtles usually gather in large groups offshore on the nesting beaches.

This is then followed by a vast number of turtles moving ashore to nest (this event is usually referred to as arribada, a Spanish word for arrival).

The arribada is marked by numerous (hundreds of thousands) pregnant females coming ashore to lay eggs. Due to the high density of nesting experienced at the nesting beaches, the females end up digging up clutches of eggs laid by other females as they try to find a place for their eggs.

Olive ridley turtles in Washington are usually found in tropical and subtropical waters all year round. Though they tend to migrate to boreal waters when the climate gets warmer.

Related: Turtles in Maine


There are 7 turtle species in Washington but only two of them are native to the state and include the western painted turtles and western pond turtles.

Other turtles like the common snapping turtles are invasive species. The state is also inhabited by 4 endangered sea turtles including olive ridley, green sea, leatherback, and loggerhead sea turtles.

This guide has provided you with all the basics you need to know about each of the turtles of Washington, whether you’re a herping enthusiast or simply looking for your next pet turtle.

Turtles in Washington

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