Types of Water Turtles


Turtles are cold-blooded reptiles that have the protection of a shell that covers the back and belly. Some turtles stay mostly on land, but a majority of turtles are at home in the water, feeding on aquatic plants and animals. In the United States, there are several types of these water turtles.

Snapping Turtles

  • The snapping turtle is one of the most common water turtles, living in lakes, ponds, rivers and other wetlands across much of North America. Snapping turtles acquired their name from their powerful jaws, which they use to catch creatures such as crayfish, mollusks, and insects. The snapping turtle is more of a scavenger type of animal, often finding and feeding on dead fish. The typical snapper has a foot long carapace (dorsal shell) and weighs between 15 to 35 pounds. One species, the alligator snapping turtle, is the largest form of freshwater turtle in the world, with the biggest ones reaching weights as heavy as 200 pounds.

Map Turtles

  • The map turtle takes its name from the pattern on its dorsal shell that looks like a road map, with a series of yellow lines on the serrated surface. Map turtles inhabit rivers and sloughs and like to bask on logs protruding from the water. Snails, insects and crayfish are its preferred food and the map turtle ranges from southern Canada into the Northeast and Great Lakes areas.

Musk Turtles

  • Musk turtles, also referred to as stinkpots, are smallish turtles, with most are between three and five inches long. This species has the ability to release a terrible odor from scent glands in the back of its shell when threatened or alarmed. Stinkpots live from the eastern half of the nation west to the Mississippi River. This bottom feeder likes slow moving water and is at home in the backwaters of rivers, in streams, ponds, canals and swamps.

Painted Turtles

  • Various subspecies of painted turtles are common throughout the country. The skin of this turtle has yellow and red markings in the form of stripes on its neck, head and tail. This type of water turtle has the widest range in the United States and is familiar to most people because they will frequently sit in the sun. Painted turtles live in every kind of body of freshwater and are omnivorous, eating a wide array of vegetation and creatures such as tadpoles, mussels and slugs.

Spotted Turtles

  • The small yellowish dots that spotted turtles possess on their dorsal shell are also present on their heads, tails and legs. An eastern species, the spotted turtle is a resident of bogs, marshes, swamps and other shallow wetland regions. It eats both plants and animals. When a hot spell dries up its habitat, it will often simply bury itself in the mud and go into a state that resembles hibernation.


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