Oklahoma is home to a multitude of reptiles, including snakes, lizards, and turtles. Today, we will focus on the latter and expand on the 10 most common turtle species in the area.
If you have ‘camping in Oklahoma’ on your 2023’s to-do list, this article is for you.
1. Alligator Snapping Turtle
Yes, we’re starting this list in full force. The alligator snapping turtle is probably the most recognizable animal in the southeastern US. The famous snapping turtle is no reptile you want to play with.
This monster can reach 32 inches in length and weigh up to 180 pounds, although there are cases of even bigger specimens that measure up to 280 pounds.
The alligator snapping turtle’s most recognizable features include the spiky shell with pyramid-shaped growths and the sharp head with an ominous beak.
This is a dangerous and aggressive animal that doesn’t appreciate holding, petting, or even staring at it for too long.
This turtle is semi-aquatic, as it prefers to hunt in the water, where it feeds on fish and various invertebrates that it crushes with its powerful bite.
The keratin beak can deliver devastating bites due to the turtle’s neck and jaw muscles that transform the mouth into a deadly and sharp piston.
Unfortunately, snapping turtles are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, especially due to their slow growth rate. It can take well over a decade for the turtle to reach sexual maturity.
Interesting fact – Snapping turtles use their tongue as bait when hunting underwater. The turtle keeps its mouth open and displays its tongue, which possesses a worm-like red lure at the end of it.
The turtle will move the bait in the water gently, attracting fish and other aquatic animals that want to take advantage of the fast meal.
2. Common Snapping Turtle
The common snapping turtle is slightly different than the alligator version, both in appearance and diet. And that’s about it because both species exhibit extreme aggression and a no-nonsense attitude.
This turtle is widespread across North America and inhabits a multitude of semi-aquatic environments, primarily rivers, lakes, and swamps.
You can recognize this species by its trademark ‘snapping’ beak with the upper and lower teeth-like structures. The shell is completely different than that of the alligator snapping turtle, as this species has it smooth and lacks the specific pyramid shapes.
Otherwise, both species of snapping turtles are highly aggressive and prefer to bite rather than flee the scene. Especially since fleeing isn’t one of the turtles’ strengths.
The common snapping turtle is also omnivorous, compared to the alligator version, consuming semi-aquatic vegetation and animals with the same ease.
This varied diet allows the snapping turtle easier access to food compared to the alligator snapping turtle, which is almost exclusively carnivorous.
Interesting fact – Common snapping turtles are renowned for their ability to vocalize their intentions. These reptiles exhibit a variety of sounds, like hissing, grunting, and growling, depending on the situation.
Snapping turtles typically use their vocal cords to warn intruders of their territorial violations, threaten any potential attacker, and express their intentions to mate.
3. Eastern River Cooter
The eastern river Cooter is a freshwater turtle that is more prevalent in North America, populating different habitats like rivers, marshes, and swamps. You can easily recognize this turtle by its round and relatively flat carapace, as well as the yellow plastron (the underbelly).
Most turtles are black with very few other colors, although many specimens also come with variations of brown and yellow.
This species can grow to 15 inches and measure up to 10 pounds, but some can weigh double that, depending on the specimen, environmental factors, and available food.
Males are always larger, as they are the ones engaging in territorial fights and mating competitions.
The turtle is herbivorous, so it sticks to consuming primarily aquatic plants like pondweeds and water lilies. Their diet is relatively poor in calories, so they need to eat more often than carnivorous or omnivorous turtle species.
The river Cooter is a gentle turtle that prefers to mind its business for the most part. It won’t attack humans and will only come to shore to bask and mate, after which it swiftly returns to its aquatic home.
Interesting fact – The river Cooter is among the few animals on Mother Earth that can actually hibernate underwater. Many tortoise species hibernate during the cold season, which they achieve by lowering their heart rate, which, consequently, lowers their metabolism dramatically.
But the interesting part is the turtle remains submerged for up to 2 months or more, depending on how long the hibernation journey lasts.
The turtle doesn’t need to go to the surface to breathe because it takes in oxygen directly from the water through its cloaca. So, the turtle breathes through its anus until the hibernation period is over.
4. Mississippi Map Turtle
This is also a north American freshwater turtle that comes with a very distinct look. The turtle has a small carapace, only growing up to 10 inches in length, that comes with a longitudinal crest traversing it from end to end. The crest is considerably taller and more visible in males.
These turtles are generally brown with a brown and yellow body and a striped pattern. The eyes are very clear and distinct, showcasing a bright yellow color with a black retina in the middle. This makes them pop out, imbuing the turtle with a funny appearance and a lot of personality.
You can find the Mississippi map turtle in aquatic ecosystems with a lot of vegetation. These animals prefer darker waters where they can hide from predators and enjoy their favorite foods.
This species is exclusively herbivorous, which is somewhat unusual because most turtle specie, although herbivorous on paper, also consume animal matter in situations of need.
Interesting facts – This species is also capable of vocalizing its intentions and state of mind. Whether the animal is frightened, nervous, excited, or threatening, it has a sound for anything.
When attacked by predators, the turtle may release a hissing sound similar to that of a snake.
This can deter predators that either don’t feed on snakes or are not in the mood to deal with a snake at that point.
5. Mississippi Mud Turtle
As the name suggests, this species shares the map turtle’s habitat. That doesn’t mean that they are similar in all aspects.
For one, the mud turtle grows significantly larger than the map turtle, almost twice the size. This species can reach 19 inches in size and weigh between 10 and 35 pounds, depending on the specimen.
The 2 species are also different in appearance. Mud turtles have a thick and ‘inflated’ carapace, making the reptiles look like MacDonald’s hamburgers. They even have the same coloring, with different shades of brown and yellow, depending on the individual.
Dietary speaking, the mud turtle is omnivorous, so it will consume more animal and plant matter.
They feed on the aquatic vegetation decorating their habitat and only come out of the water to warm up occasionally.
Interesting fact – These turtles can breathe through their cloaca whenever necessary, allowing them to remain submerged for extended periods of time. We’ve already discussed this trait in the river Cooter.
The difference is that the Cooter uses this anatomical adaptation to hibernate, whereas the mud turtle can use it at will whenever necessary.
6. Ornate Box Turtle
Ornate box turtles look pretty close to how their name makes them sound. These are small turtles, only growing up to 6 inches, although many specimens won’t go past 4 inches.
They are typically brown with yellow markings covering their shell and body. The shell is almost rectangle-shaped, although it lacks the well-defined corners of a rectangle.
The turtle is prevalent across the Midwest and south US and inhabits a variety of ecosystems, primarily grasslands, woodlands, and prairies.
The turtle has an omnivorous diet and prefers to consume fruits, plants, and insects, as well as anything else that comes with some nutritional value.
This species is moderately aggressive when threatened, as it may prefer to stand its ground and attack rather than flee.
Interesting fact – The box turtle faces significant habitat destruction and fragmentation and also deals with high mortality risks due to road kills.
They are also heavily collected for trophies and the pet trade. This has led the government to ban the trading of box turtles in many states where the species isn’t doing so well.
7. Red-Eared Slider
The red-eared slider is a common turtle both in the wild and in the pet trading market. This docile and adaptable reptile is a semi-aquatic species with a predilection for swamps, rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water. The turtle’s appearance speaks for itself.
The red-eared slider gets its trademark name from the oval-shaped spots on each side of the head. The turtle is generally brown with a lot of yellow on the underbelly and the shell, depending on the specimen.
The red-eared slider is primarily an omnivorous reptile, but the turtle consumes a lot of animal nutrients, including carrion, when necessary. This adaptability also carries on to the animal’s overall endurance.
Red-eared sliders can withstand a wide range of temperatures and humidity values, which is another reason why they’re so beloved as pets.
Beware, though, the red-eared slider isn’t quite the friendly turtle you think it is. This reptile is known for its aggressive demeanor and tendency to bite when threatened, scared, or annoyed.
Interesting fact – Red-eared sliders can control their offspring’s gender by choosing to lay their eggs in different months.
The young’s gender is determined by the environmental temperatures; warmer climates produce more females, while colder one produces more males.
8. Softshell Turtles (Spiny and Smooth)
The softshell turtle is probably the weirdest entry on this list. This species can grow close to 20 inches, so it’s fairly large overall. Males are significantly smaller, only 10 inches max.
The turtle’s appearance is almost alien. You get a brown, flat, and spotted carapace with black spots sprinkled all over its surface. The turtle has short and stocky limbs and a very long neck with a bizarre face.
The nose is long and thin, and the eyes are bulbous and amphibian-like. The tip of the nose has 2 round nostrils, similar to those of a pig.
The carapace is also very smooth and slippery, unlike the typical rugged shells of other species. The shell may also project spiny growths that act as defenses against potential predators.
Softshell turtles are mostly carnivorous, as their primary foods include fish, crustaceans, insects, and amphibians. But they can also consume plant matter and carrion if necessary, turning the reptile into more of an opportunistic eater.
Interesting fact – The softshell turtle can bury itself in the mud near their preferred aquatic habitat to protect themselves from predators.
They can submerge their bodies completely into the mud in a matter of seconds, thanks to their flat shells. This is what explains the need for the long and awkward nose; the turtles use it as a straw to breathe when buried.
The stinkpot is a common north American turtle that inhabits a variety of semi-aquatic ecosystems. These turtles are notorious for 2 reasons: their appearance and the strong odor that they produce in times of need.
The turtle is small, only growing up to 5.5 inches and weighing a little over half a pound. They generally come in bland colors like brown and dirty green and have oversized heads compared to their overall size.
Stinkpots are carnivorous and feed on a variety of prey, including fish, crayfish, worms, various insects, and whatever their environment can produce for them. These turtles prefer to live solitary lives but can be seen in larger groups during the mating season.
Interesting fact – Most turtles go on land when the time has come to lay their eggs. Not the stinkpot, though. This small reptile is among the few turtle species that lays its eggs underwater.
The female attaches the eggs to various aquatic plants, which is also why they hatch. The resulting young are almost exact replicas of the adults, except tiny.
10. Three-Toed Box Turtle
Three-toed box turtles are a unique entry on today’s list because they are the only terrestrial turtles so far. This species can grow to a size of 5-7 inches tops, which qualifies the animal as small.
The overall appearance is quite unique with the round and full carapace and a long neck with a red face. Not all turtles have the specific redneck and head. Yellow, brown, and green are also common colors.
The turtle also possesses three toes at its hind legs, which is where its name comes from. This species may be terrestrial, but it still prefers to live and hunt near different bodies of water for easy hydration. As an omnivorous reptile, this turtle feeds on insects, semi-aquatic and land animals, and plants, depending on its nutritional needs and food availability.
Interesting fact – Three-toed box turtles can live long and prosperous lives in the wild, up to 50 years. But they can live even more in captivity when given proper care, a personalized diet, and a lot of love.
This, combined with the animal’s natural resilience, recommends it as a favorite among turtle keepers.
If you’re into turtles, Oklahoma is the way to go. These 10 examples make for but a sample of what the US ecosystems can provide you with.