Florida is home to many turtle species. Sea turtles, snapping turtles, and terrapins get all the glory, but there are also many species of semi-aquatic freshwater turtles in Florida. Like the lizards and snakes found in the state, many of Florida’s turtles are not native, but they still thrive in the warm, humid climate.
Here are some of the most interesting Florida turtle species.
13 Species of Freshwater Turtles in Florida
The 13 species of freshwater turtles in Florida that we’ll be looking at are the Southern Painted Turtle, the Spotted Turtle, the Chicken Turtle, the Barbour’s Map Turtle, the Escambia Map Turtle, the False Map Turtle, the River Cooter, the Florida Cooter, the Florida Redbelly Turtle, the Red Eared Slider, the Yellowbelly Slider, the Striped Mud Turtle, and the Suwannee Cooter.
1. Southern Painted Turtle
Scientific name: Chrysemys picta dorsalis
One of the most widespread turtles in North America, this turtle is actually not native to Florida. It’s been introduced here, though, and it’s now widespread. Most likely they were introduced in Florida when pet owners released their pets into the wild after deciding they could no longer care for them.
These turtles are omnivores, eating both plants and animals. They seem to especially enjoy eating dragonfly larvae and crayfish.
2. Spotted Turtle
Scientific name: Clemmys guttata
Common throughout northern and central Florida, the spotted turtle is a small (less than five inches long) animal with a deep black shell marked by yellow spots.
You’ll find them in swamps, marshes, woodland streams, and even wet pastures. They’re quite active hunters, chasing down worms, slugs, milipedes, spiders, crayfish, salamanders, and more. They also eat aquatic vegetation and fish. They almost always eat their food in the water.
3. Chicken Turtle
Scientific name: Deirochelys reticularia
Named for the taste of their meat, which was once very popular, these turtles are uncommon now as a result of overhunting. Found throughout Florida, they can be easily confused with painted turtles, but their coloration is more yellow than red and the distinct net pattern on their shell makes them identifiable.
Like most turtles, they’re omnivores and will eat pretty much whatever they can catch. They like to live in shallow ponds, lakes, and Cypress swamps.
4. Barbour’s Map Turtle
Scientific name: Graptemys barbouri
These rare turtles are found in the panhandle, and they exhibit some of the most extreme sexual dimorphism of any turtle. Males almost never exceed five inches in length, while females routinely grow to over twelve inches long.
They have yellow markings on blackish green skin, with dark olive green shells.
5. Escambia Map Turtle
Scientific name: Graptemys ernsti
Like the Barbour’s map turtle, the sexual dimorphism in this species is surprising. Females are often twice the size of males, and develop disproportionately large heads. Their coloration is similar to the Barbour’s map turtle, but paler. They’re found further west in the panhandle and their range extends into Alabama.
6. False Map Turtle
Scientific name: Graptemys pseudogeographica
Native to the Midwest, Texas and Louisiana, the False Map Turtle has been introduced to Florida as a result of the pet trade. These turtles are strong swimmers and prefer to live in flowing water; you’ll almost never find them in lakes or ponds.
They have mostly monotone colors in a greenish black, with two yellow patches on the back of the head.
7. Eastern River Cooter
Scientific name: Pseudemys concinna
Found in central-west Florida, the eastern river cooter is a widespread species throughout the southeastern United States. You can spot them basking on logs and rocks near the water during the day.
It has a mottled brown, tan and yellow coloration, darker towards the back and paler on the belly. They swim faster than you’d think a turtle could move, and have a very diverse diet. They’ll eat pretty much anything, alive or dead, that they can get into their mouths.
8. Florida Cooter
Scientific name: Pseudemys concinna floridana
A subspecies of the river cooter that can be found throughout the state, these turtles are common enough that they’re probably what most Floridians think of when they think of turtles.
They prefer to avoid fast flowing water, living mainly in lakes, ponds, swamps, and slow moving rivers.
9. Florida Redbelly Turtle
Scientific name: Pseudemys nelsoni
You could easily confuse this turtle with the red-eared slider. The key differences in appearance are that this turtle doesn’t have a red patch behind the ear, it’s all yellow. Instead, they have red stripes along their back, and their plastron (belly) is red, too.
They are mainly herbivorous, and have often been seen laying their eggs in the same nests as alligators. They can happily live in almost any aquatic habitat.
10. Red-eared Slider
Scientific name: Trachemys scripta elegans
Although it’s undoubtedly the most famous and easily recognizable species of turtle in North America, the Red Eared Slider is actually not native to Florida. It’s scattered in small numbers throughout the state as a result of it’s popularity in the pet trade.
This turtle is the world’s most commonly traded reptile, because they’re cheap and easy to care for. Still, escapes happen and sometimes people grow tired of caring for them (they can live up to 30 years), and simply release them into the wild.
11. Yellowbelly Slider
Scientific name: Trachemys scripta scripta
These turtles look a lot like their close cousin the red-eared slider, but without the red markings behind the ear. These turtles are actually native to Florida,where they’re most common in the northern half of the state.
Slow moving rivers, swamps and marshes are their favorite habitats, where they feed on aquatic plants, fish and insects.
12. Striped Mud Turtle
Scientific name: Kinosternon baurii
The striped mud turtle is a tiny turtle that can be found throughout the state, but as it rarely exceeds four inches, it can be hard to spot. They live in any kind of freshwater environment, but also spend plenty of time on land. Insects, snails, fish and algae make up most of it’s diet. It has a light brown carapace with three light colored stripes running down it’s back.
13. Suwannee Cooter
Scientific name: Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis
A subspecies of the river cooter that lives mainly in the Suwannee River, this species was once hunted extensively for it’s meat, and it’s now illegal to kill one.
It’s a big turtle, with adults commonly reaching 17 inches in length, and it’s almost entirely herbivorous.