Arkansas boasts 16 turtle species including terrestrial and aquatic varieties. From April through October, these reptiles feed, bask in the sun, swim and mate. Arkansas turtles range in size from 4 to 20 inches and may live to be 30 years old. Arkansas has no turtle species considered endangered, but state law protects the western chicken turtle, alligator snapping turtle and box turtle from collection.
Two varieties of snapping turtles are found in Arkansas - the common snapping turtle and the alligator snapping turtle. Snapping turtles have a long tail, dark brown, rough shells and range in length from 8 to 18 1/2 inches. Since their large heads cannot fit into their shells, snapping turtles rely on their strong jaws for defense and will bite if provoked. They prefer to live in stagnant ponds, swamps and slow-moving rivers.
Many varieties of water turtles can be found in the state including painted, cooter, map, chicken and slider turtles. Most of them enjoy basking in the sun on rocks, logs or floating in the water. Their diet consists mainly of aquatic vegetation but some also eat insects and crustaceans. The most common, the red-eared slider, has a patche of red behind each eye and moves over the ground between bodies of water.
Two box turtle varieties live in Arkansas' woodlands: the three-toed box turtle and the ornate box turtle. Box turtles have thick feet for walking on land and can pull their heads, necks and legs completely into their shells when threatened. Three-toed turtles have a plain shell that may have yellow and black markings while rarer ornate box turtles have dark brown or black dome-shaped shells with many yellow lines and markings.
Mud and Musk Turtles
The Mississippi mud turtle, the razor-backed musk turtle and the common musk turtle live in soft-bottomed ponds, wetlands and swamps in Arkansas. These small turtles grow to approximately 5 inches in length and emit a foul odor if disturbed. Since they spend all their time underwater, mud and musk turtles are rarely seen.
Two varieties of softshell turtles, the smooth softshell and spiny softshell, can be seen in Arkansas' waterways. These fast-swimming turtles can reach up to 20 inches in length and like to sit in shallow water with their nostrils extending just above the surface. They don't move well on land and aren't found in isolated wetlands or ponds.