Turtles Washington is probably not your first destination to come to mind when discussing turtle variety.
Yet, it should be because there are more turtle species in Washington than in many other areas of the globe.
In this article, we will detail 20 of the most common in the region to give you a general idea of the state’s amazing reptile diversity.
Let’s get right in!
Alligator Snapping Turtle
It’s only natural that we begin today’s list with the most notorious turtle in the world, aside from the Galapagos giant. The alligator snapping turtle inhabits a variety of freshwater ecosystems throughout the Southern US and is primarily found in slow-moving bodies of water.
These include marshes, swamps, lakes, and even rivers, especially downstream. The reptile prefers vegetation-rich setups and thrives among submerged logs and debris-filled waters with a variety of hiding spots and hunting opportunities.
Alligator snapping turtles are exclusively carnivorous, and they feed on numerous types of prey, most of them semi-aquatic. This includes reptiles, fish, frogs, crayfish, and even mammals when given the right opportunity.
You can easily recognize the animal by its unique pyramid-covered shell and short head with a large, beaked mouth. The bone-and-keratin beak can inflict severe damage, as the alligator snapping turtle can deliver 1,000 psi worth of force with one bite.
Behavioral-speaking, these turtles are as aggressive as they can get. They can make for quite interesting pets, but you should always be wary around them because they won’t hesitate to bite, and bites don’t feel good.
It’s not out of the question for the snapping turtle to literally snap your fingers with one clamp of its jaws.
Interesting fact: Snapping turtles have a worm-shaped tongue that aids in hunting. The turtle will remain submerged in the water and keep its mouth open, with the tongue out and wiggling.
The tongue’s movement simulates a worm’s swimming movements, which can attract various aquatic animals in the hope of a fast snack. Only to become snacks themselves.
Vietnamese Pond Turtle
We’re now moving onto a milder species, this time coming from Vietnam. The Vietnamese snapping turtle is tiny, only reaching 8 inches, and it is one of the hardiest species you can get.
These reptiles inhabit a variety of water conditions and ecosystems, including forest streams, marshes, ponds, and slow-moving rivers. The preferred layout includes a lot of vegetation and a sandy or muddy substrate for digging and food foraging.
Vietnamese pond turtles are small and round, usually green or brown, with black and yellow-striped heads. They qualify as omnivores, so they consume a variety of aquatic prey and plant matter.
Their adaptability explains the animal’s resilience in the wild and in captivity. The problem is that Vietnamese pond turtles are now considered endangered and vulnerable in Vietnam and anywhere else where they have been introduced artificially.
This is due to habitat destruction, the pet trade, the introduction of non-native predators, etc.
In captivity, these turtles are docile and harmless and will make great pets with proper care and maintenance. They are also fairly easy to feed and keep in good health, which makes them fit for novice turtle lovers.
Interesting fact: We’ve already learned that the Vietnamese pond turtle is endangered, but we haven’t detailed how severe the situation actually is.
There is no clear understanding of the total number of pond turtles still in the wild, but the overall estimate is that there are only several hundred of them left.
Asian Yellow Pond Turtle
This is another cute, small, and colorful turtle that can only reach 7 inches tops. The turtle is generally dirty yellow but can also come with brown and green variations, depending on the specimen and habitat.
The carapace is flatter than other species and has distinct separations. The turtle also has a small yellow head with an even smaller mouth and bulbous eyes, meant to increase the cute factor tenfold.
This species is highly popular in the pet trade thanks to its adaptability, easygoing temperament, and a healthy appetite.
Yellow pond turtles are omnivores and consume a variety of food items like tadpoles, insects, and plenty of vegetable matter like algae, leaves, and various seeds.
In captivity, they tend to be rather shy and demand a plant-rich habitat to provide them with safe, shaded areas.
You can include a piece of dry land as well, for when the turtle needs to rest and bask for a while, but the animal will spend most of its time submerged anyway.
Interesting fact: Yellow pond turtles are probably the hardiest reptiles in the world. They have been observed to thrive in heavily polluted bodies of water that would generally kill most of the local aquatic life.
They can also consume garbage and other waste material that only they can process. This doesn’t mean you should keep your turtle in awful living conditions, but it’s interesting to notice its natural adaptability and hardiness, greatly outweigh any other species.
This also qualifies the yellow pond turtle as the perfect invader since it can adapt to virtually any ecosystem.
If you thought the several previous turtles were small, meet the bog turtle. This reptile can only grow up to 4.5 inches, although it rarely goes above 4.
It inhabits a variety of wet ecosystems like marshes, bogs, fens, and swamps and prefers slow-moving or even stagnant bodies of water.
This species is native to the Eastern US, and it currently qualifies as endangered due to habitat loss, disease, natural predation, and poaching.
Bog turtles are highly adaptable, though, as they can consume anything they can find in their ecosystem. Insects, plants, and even carrion can all meet the animal’s nutritional requirements just fine.
Part of the animal’s adaptability is the ability to hibernate for up to 9 months to survive even the longest cold season.
These animals are great as pets due to their hardiness and overall adaptability, so long as you provide them with personalized housing conditions.
Due to their shy behavior, you should provide bog turtles with a plant-rich ecosystem and darker-than-usual waters for their peace of mind and comfort.
Interesting fact: The bog turtle has probably the slowest reproductive rate out of all reptiles. The female can only produce up to 2 eggs per year, which don’t have a great survival rate, given the risk of predation and other factors that can destroy them or the hatchlings.
Combine this poor reproductive rate with the turtle’s tendency to hibernate for close to a year, and the endangered status starts to make a bit more sense.
Caspian Pond Turtle
The Caspian pond turtle is slightly larger than previous turtles, growing up to 10 inches at most. This one is generally dark green, dark brown, or even black, with a flat shell and a very long, thin, and striped neck.
Caspian pond turtles mostly inhabit, you guessed it, the Caspian Sea, and they are more prevalent in Turkey, Iran, and other neighboring countries.
The preferred habitat is one with stagnant or slow-moving waters like ponds, marshes, swamps, lakes, and even irrigation ditches and canals.
This omnivorous reptile consumes a variety of food, including plant matter, algae, insects, and a multitude of small aquatic animals.
Interestingly, Caspian pond turtles are known to exhibit social behavior, so it’s not uncommon to find them in larger groups of up to 2 dozen individuals. The tendency to form social groups helps with food gathering and improves survivability for all members.
As with most turtles, this one is also great as a pet, provided you ensure optimal living conditions and personalized housing parameters.
Most importantly, you can have several specimens in the same enclosure if you plan on creating a congregation of turtles.
Interesting fact: Caspian pond turtles practice what’s known as temperature-dependent sex determination. This refers to the female’s ability to select the offspring’s sex by choosing when to mate and lay its eggs.
If environmental temperatures are high, as they tend to be during mid-summer, most of the hatchlings will be females. If the temperatures are lower, most of them will be males.
Common Snapping Turtle
Common snapping turtles are similar to alligator snapping turtles in some aspects and different in others. The appearance is the one point where they diverge drastically from one another.
For instance, alligator snapping turtles can reach 30 inches and up to 230 pounds, while common snapping turtles can only grow up to 14 inches max. Their overall appearance is also vastly different.
Common snapping turtles have a smoother carapace, lacking the trademark pyramid shapes present in alligator turtles.
They also have smaller heads and mouths and lack the dangerous sharp beak that’s visible in the alligator version. Despite these differences, common snapping turtles also have a lot in common with their larger and more vicious counterparts.
One area is overall aggression, as both species are not fond of petting and have no time to play.
The common snapping turtle is a generalist eater instead of a specialized one like the snapping turtle.
This species can consume a variety of foods, including live animals, plants, algae, and carrion, depending on what’s available around them. This makes them easier to satisfy in captivity.
Interesting fact: Common snapping turtles have evolved to breathe through their skin, extracting oxygen straight from the water.
This allows them to remain submerged for extended periods of time in case they want to evade predators.
European Pond Turtle
European pond turtles are among the most handsome species of turtles you can get.
They can grow up to 8 inches, so they’re medium-sized and are almost inadvertently black with tiny white freckles sprinkled everywhere, including the shell. The turtle’s body is typically black with yellow freckles and a short and thick head.
European pond turtles also enjoy slow-moving or stagnant bodies of water like ponds, swamps, marshes, or lakes, preferably rich with vegetation and logs.
These opportunistic scavengers can consume a variety of foods, including fish, aquatic plants, carrion, and a multitude of invertebrates.
European pond turtles are also docile and friendly, but they require precise and personalized housing conditions to thrive.
They can also enter a state of torpor when the climate gets too hot, so they can conserve energy for when the temperature becomes friendlier.
Interesting fact: European pond turtles can produce an awful-smelling liquid that seeps out of their skin. This now only produces a nose-rotting miasma but can also change the turtle’s taste, making it unpalatable for any predators.
The turtle uses this defensive tactic against mammalian land predators since they are more prone to being affected by it.
Florida Softshell Turtle
The Florida softshell turtle is the weirdest-looking reptile on today’s list, thanks to its flat and smooth shell and extremely long neck. The face is also up-to-par, with a long and narrow trumpet-like nose and very thick upper lips.
The eyes are bulbous and located on the top of the head, while the legs are very short and wide, indicative of the turtle’s semi-aquatic nature.
The Florida softshell turtle is an opportunistic eater that inhabits slow-moving waters like marshes, lakes, and ponds. They eat anything they can catch and find in their ecosystem, including small invertebrates, aquatic plants, fish, insects, etc.
Because of the softshell, these turtles tend to be considerably more cautious than other species. This explains their black appearance, allowing them to hide in the murky waters and the tendency to spend very little time on land.
Interestingly, despite their derp look and overall appearance, these turtles are extremely aggressive and defensive. You don’t want to challenge, threaten, or corner one because they won’t think twice about biting.
Fortunately, it’s a turtle we’re talking about, so you’re unlikely to experience any life-or-death injuries.
Interesting fact: The turtle has a long nose that it uses to breathe underwater. The animal simply floats right beneath the water’s surface and keeps its nose slightly above the water to breathe freely.
This makes the reptile very hard to detect, which is bad news for its potential prey.
Green Sea Turtle
Green sea turtles are unique and highly recognizable reptiles, both in appearance and overall behavior and lifestyle. This species is well-known for its striking coloration, as green sea turtles often exhibit rainbow color patterns.
Most specimens have brown shells with an impressive variety of color patterns that include green, blue, red, yellow, and other nuances. The animal’s body is covered by black patches, forming a scale-like structure. These are also visible on the animal’s face.
Green sea turtles are mostly found in tropical and subtropical oceanic waters across the globe, where they feed primarily on seagrass and algae.
Their dietary preference makes them vital for their ecosystem, as sea turtles are responsible for managing the population of seagrass, which, in turn, helps other animal species.
These reptiles are exclusively herbivorous, but this doesn’t make them easy to feed in captivity anyway.
They are generally not recommended as pets because of the specialized living conditions they require. Green Sea Turtles need oceanic water and a lot of space to remain healthy over the years.
They also demand specialized feeding, as they will only consume specific types of seagrass and ignore the rest. It’s only ironic that we have the most beautiful turtle species on today’s list, but you can’t keep it as a pet.
Interesting fact: Green sea turtles exhibit communal breeding behavior, consisting of multiple reptiles laying their eggs in communal nests to ensure the survival of as many as possible.
These turtles also return to their original nesting site each year to lay their eggs. This breeding behavior is one of the reasons why green sea turtles are almost impossible to keep and breed in captivity.
Japanese Pond Turtle
The Japanese pond turtle only grows up to 8 inches, but most individuals won’t get past 6. This freshwater turtle is widespread throughout Japan and other Asian countries, where it inhabits marshes, ponds, streams, and other freshwater ecosystems.
This omnivorous reptile consumes a variety of prey, including insects, snails, algae, and other semi-aquatic invertebrates.
Interestingly, this is among the few turtle species that rely on speed and agility to evade predators. The animal’s physical build speaks volumes in this sense.
The Japanese pond turtle is relatively small, with a disc-like carapace and a small head at the end of a long neck. The reptile’s legs are long and powerful and allow the turtle to lift its entire body off the ground.
This is particularly useful when trying to outrun predators. It also helps that the turtle can swim at impressive speeds, seemingly for the same purpose.
Japanese pond turtles can create social congregations of several dozen individuals, designed to improve their survivability even more. This is good news for turtle lovers who want to create larger turtle communities.
Interesting fact: The Japanese pond turtle is great if you’re looking to breed it in captivity. This turtle produces several clutches of eggs, each containing 2-6 eggs, multiple times during the summer months.
This, combined with the turtle’s predilection for social gatherings, explain the reptile’s proliferation in the wild.
Red-Necked Pond Turtle
This is another interesting Asian species that’s most prevalent in East Asia in countries like China and Taiwan.
As with most semi-aquatic turtles, this species prefers streams, marshes, ponds, and swamps, where it can find cover in the thick vegetation nearby. The turtle is quite colorful with a black or brown carapace and a long red neck, hence the name.
Red-necked turtles are omnivores and can eat pretty much anything, which seems to be a common theme among omnivorous turtles. However, adults tend to consume more plant matter, and they won’t refuse anything, including common household veggies.
This species is also known to form social groups in the wild, which can also transfer to captive-bred specimens. Just be mindful of the available space.
These turtles can get into territorial conflicts if lacking sufficient space.
Interesting fact: Red-necked turtles can survive and even thrive in heavily polluted environments.
They have been discovered to do just fine in habitats poisoned by heavy metals like lead and mercury, which is something that almost no other species can achieve.
Despite their unparalleled adaptability, make sure you provide the turtle with optimal living conditions for a long and healthy life.
Leatherback Sea Turtle
You may know the leatherback sea turtle as one of the heaviest turtles in the world, and for good reasons. This monstrosity can reach 7 feet in length and weigh up to 2,000 pounds, qualifying it as a genuine sea monster.
The leatherback’s body conformation is also unique and vastly different than that of most other turtle species.
For one, the carapace is long rather than round, completely black, and covered by a thin layer of skin. Most specimens also exhibit visible longitudinal bone crests that split the shell into different separate sections.
This animal is obviously meant for an almost exclusive aquatic lifestyle, which is visible by its paddle-like limbs. The front limbs are similar to a shark’s pectoral fins, while the hind ones are similar to a seal’s hind feet.
This body conformation exposes the leatherback as an avid swimmer but a poor land explorer. Which is why you rarely see this one on land.
Leatherback sea turtles are specialized eaters that prefer to consume soft aquatic animals like jellyfish, squids, octopuses, etc. They can also consume fish and crustaceans, for which they go to great depths to catch.
Interesting facts: This species is too amazing and unique to only mention one interesting fact, so I’ll mention 2.
The first is that the leatherback turtle is an astounding explorer, known to traverse thousands of miles in search of food. However, it will always return to its nesting site when the time has come to mate.
The other interesting fact is that leatherback turtles qualify as endotherms. This describes the turtle’s ability to keep its body temperature higher than its surrounding environment.
This allows it to remain active and thrive in the cold oceanic waters even in the coldest months of the year.
Loggerhead Sea Turtle
The loggerhead sea turtle is a peculiar entry because it’s a mix between the green sea turtle and the alligator snapping turtle in terms of appearance.
This species is popular in the Pacific and Mediterranean oceans but can be found in all oceans, depending on food availability.
Loggerheads can grow up to 3 feet, which is more than respectable, and come with an oval-shaped shell and large front, paddle-like feet. This recommends them as great swimmers.
Most individuals have shells with pyramid-like structures, similar to a snapping turtle, except not as protruding. The coloring differs from one individual to another, but most are brown and exhibit scale-like structures that cover the body and head.
Loggerheads consume a variety of live prey and qualify as almost exclusive carnivores. They use their powerful beaks to crush their prey and kill it instantly, which recommends them as great hunters.
Some of their favorite foods include horseshoe crabs, bivalves, mollusks, and a variety of other invertebrates.
They are also among the few animal species to consume jellyfish, the notorious poisonous creature that most predators avoid.
Interesting fact: Loggerheads get their name from their powerful jaw muscles that allow them to inflict bone-crushing bites.
This tends to be a useful feature if you specialize in consuming hard-shelled animals like whelks and conch.
Spanish Pond Turtle
This is another relatively small turtle that can only reach 8 inches in its adult form.
This species is widespread in the Iberian Peninsula and the North African continent, where it prefers freshwater ecosystems filled with aquatic vegetation and various hiding spots.
These include ponds, streams, marshes, and other slow-moving bodies of water.
Spanish turtles are fairly handsome, with shells displaying a honeycomb-like structure and standard brown coloring. They have long necks and even longer legs, which allows them to move with incredible agility on land.
They are also great swimmers, as any respectable turtle should be, allowing them to escape predators with ease while in water.
As omnivorous turtles, they thrive on a varied diet consisting of algae, aquatic plants, insects, and various invertebrates.
Juvenile turtles tend to consume a lot of plant-based matter, significantly more than adults.
Interesting fact: The Spanish pond turtle can survive in extremely different environments, including extreme temperatures and almost no water.
It’s not uncommon to find this species in desertic oases, urban ponds, and mountainous areas.
The issue is that this species requires healthy living conditions, so it cannot adapt to contaminated waters. Which is why it ranks as endangered in many areas.
Western Pond Turtle
The Western pond turtle is a medium-sized reptile, only capable of reaching 9 inches. The turtle is widespread throughout the Western US, covering a large area from British Columbia to Baja California.
The preferred habitats include marshes, streams, ponds, and any other body of slow-moving water.
The turtle is fairly easy to recognize by its round and rather flat shell, the dark-brown coloring, and very long neck. The head is small, with an even smaller mouth and a pointy snout.
An interesting particularity about this species is its limbs. They are very long, especially the hind ones, which suggests a fast-moving animal. Although the Western pond turtle is generally more agile in the water.
This species qualifies as an omnivore, but the turtle prefers live food over aquatic plants. The latter is only on the menu when nothing else is available.
Otherwise, the reptile prefers to eat insects, snails, fish, and even carrion. It won’t refuse anything that has some nutritional value, and it can eat it.
These excellent swimmers are very shy and reclusive, so you’ll have difficulties spotting them in the wild. Especially since they prefer muddy and murky waters as their primary dwelling spot.
That’s because these turtles tend to hibernate during the cold season and they do that by burying themselves in the mud or sand at the bottom of their aquatic habitat.
Interesting fact: The Western pond turtle ranks as a slow grower. The reptile can live up to 50 years in good conditions, and it takes up to 10 years to reach sexual maturity.
This explains why this species has a vulnerable status today due to habitat fragmentation, predation, poaching, disease, and other risk factors.
Chinese Pond Turtle
The Chinese pond turtle is as small as it is amazing. This species can only reach 6 inches in the wild and comes with a rather unusual appearance. One thing that definitely stands out is the carapace shape.
Unlike most other turtles, the Chinese turtle has an almost rectangle-shaped shell, usually dark brown, with a honeycomb-like pattern. Most individuals have a yellow underbelly and long necks with yellow stripes.
Despite the head’s impressive size with a bumpy nape, the turtle’s face is small, with large, bulbous eyes. This species is a Chinese native but can also be seen in Taiwan, Japan, and even the US, even though it’s not endemic to the American continent.
Ponds and slow-moving rivers make up the reptile’s favorite habitats, preferably with a lot of vegetation.
Unlike other turtle species, this one spends a lot of time out of the water, basking on rocks or logs.
Even so, the reptile’s main diet consists of aquatic animals first and foremost, with a dish of plant matter occasionally. Crustaceans and small fish are usually the most important meals.
Interesting fact: The Chinese pond turtle is highly popular in the reptile trade, which has led to a visible decline in the population.
Currently, there are efforts being made in an attempt to preserve and restore the species’ numbers and stability.
Smooth Softshell Turtle
The smooth softshell turtle is a North American specimen that you’ll most likely encounter in sandy and muddy aquatic environments.
This turtle is one of the more bizarre species in terms of looks, as it comes with a wide, round, and flat brown shell and a very long neck. Many individuals have dense black spots covering the entire surface of the shell.
Otherwise, they are all different shades of brown, with little color variation overall.
The turtle also possesses very short but powerful paddle-like legs and a pointy nose that it uses to breathe at the water’s surface.
The nose allows the turtle to remain almost completely submerged for as long as it wants, so long as the nose remains at the water’s surface. This species is generally carnivorous, consuming mostly insects, fish, crayfish, and amphibians.
The turtle can also consume some plant matter, but very rarely and only if that’s their only option at that time.
This species is typically docile, but it prefers to keep its distance. It can also hibernate during wintertime by burying itself in the mud to maintain its body temperature.
Interesting fact: Aside from the nose, the softshell turtle can also breathe in the water while being completely submerged.
This is possible due to its ability to extract oxygen molecules straight from the water column through its skin.
This adaptation allows the animal to remain submerged for hours, and it is particularly useful in low-oxygen habitats.
Spiny Softshell Turtle
The spiny softshell turtle is a slightly larger one, capable of reaching 19 inches in the case of females. Males are typically a lot smaller, only growing up to 10 inches max. The turtle looks exactly as you would expect from a softshell species.
The carapace is brown, flat, and round, with noticeable black dots, sprinkled all over. These are more prevalent among males.
Like any other softshell species, this one also prefers sandy and muddy waters with a soft substrate fit for digging. When it doesn’t rest or bask on a flat rock on the shore, the spiny softshell turtle floats near the water’s surface with its long neck pushing the nose outside of the water.
This is the hunting position, as it allows the reptile to patiently wait for its prey to come by.
Spiny shell turtles are primarily carnivorous and feed almost exclusively on aquatic life. These include crayfish, insects, small fish, small frogs, and whatever else they can catch.
Although plant matter isn’t completely off the menu, they will only eat it when absolutely necessary.
Interesting fact: The turtle’s carapace is covered with a thin skin layer that contains a multitude of small spikes. These have 2 primary roles. The first one is defensive, keeping the reptile safe from several predators.
The second one relates to the animal’s very physiological functioning. The spikes are connected to the epidermal blood vessels, which allows them to cool the reptile’s body by cooling the air they come in contact with.
So, don’t be in a rush to grab the turtle.
The spotted turtle is among the smallest on today’s list but also one of the most beautiful. This 4.5-inch reptile is typically black and is covered with a multitude of yellow dots of various sizes.
The animal’s simplistic but outstanding looks are bound to make a powerful impression. Most individuals also have black and red/orange heads for a plus of coloring.
This cute and tiny turtle is mostly found in North America, typically in marshes and wetlands with shallow water. The primary diet is omnivorous, but the turtle prefers to feed on insects before anything else.
Slugs, spiders, tadpoles, small fish, snails, and worms are not out of the question either.
These diurnal reptiles will spend most of their time in the water but will also bask in the sun occasionally when they need to regulate their body temperature.
They are shy and friendly and are unlikely to display aggression unless threatened or held against their will. This qualifies them as great pets, so long as you provide them with good care.
Interesting fact: The spotted turtle is among the few turtle species in the world that can close its shell completely. It achieves this by retracting its limbs inside the shell and contracting specialized muscles to pull the plastron in the front and up, sealing the entrance.
In layman’s terms, the plastron is the underbelly plating structure, which the turtle can expand to seal the shell’s holes perfectly.
The wood turtle looks exactly like you would expect it to. This reptile comes with a bumpy carapace, an elongated black head, and thick legs with long and powerful claws.
The turtle’s skin is also covered in thick and rough scales, while the coloring is a variation between black, mud-brown, yellow, and orange. The latter is present especially on the skin, covering the plastron, neck, and limbs.
Despite the reptile’s physical conformation that allows it to move across the land with impressive agility, this is still a semi-aquatic species. Its preferred habitats include rivers, streams, and other shallow bodies of water located in forested areas.
The wood turtle is one of the least pretentious species when it comes to food. As an omnivore, it can eat pretty much anything, including land and aquatic creatures and even carrion.
Interesting fact: Wood turtles have amazing navigation capabilities, allowing them to return to their home even after being moved to a distant new location.
Despite this adaptability, the species is still facing problems due to habitat loss and fragmentation, and deforestation.
As you can see, not all of these species are US natives, but many of them have been introduced to the American ecosystems.
This has happened either intentionally, as pest control species, or accidentally via turtle keepers releasing them into the wild.
While not comprehensive, this list is enough to showcase the astounding variation you can find in the world of turtles. And these 20 species are just the tip of the iceberg.