Alabama is home to a wide array of diverse wildlife, and a long list of turtle species. From the more common pond slider to more elusive alligator snapping turtles, you can find these reptiles in rivers, streams, and other waterways across the state. This article details many of the different turtle species you may be lucky enough to find in the state of Alabama.
22 Turtles in Alabama
In the following list, you’ll find a variety of turtles native to Alabama, encompassing land, water, and even sea turtles. Get to know the distinct characteristics and habitats of these 22 species found throughout the state.
1. Alabama Map Turtle
Scientific Name: Graptemys pulchra
Also called the Sawback, this freshwater turtle is almost exclusively found in the state of Alabama. While it will venture to parts of Mississippi and Georgia, the majority of its population lives in Alabama.
Alabama map turtles get their name from the map-like marking on their shell. The shell is typically brown with some orange or yellow markings.
2. Alabama Red-Bellied Turtle
Scientific Name: Pseudemys alabamensis
As the name suggests, the Alabama red-belled turtle has a red underbelly. This reptile is the official state reptile of Alabama.
These turtles grow to be an average of one foot in length, with females being slightly larger than males. Alabama red-bellied turtles can be found in freshwater streams, rivers, and bays around the state, though they aren’t typically found north of I-65.
3. Alligator Snapping Turtle
Scientific Name: Macrochelys temminckii
The Alligator snapping turtles are the largest freshwater turtles in the world, growing up to 26 inches in length. These strange-looking creatures have large heads, hooked beaks, and extremely strong jaws. If you run into these turtles in Alabama, it’s best to steer clear because their bite can be gnarly.
4. Barbour’s Map Turtle
Scientific Name: Graptemys barbouri
This aquatic turtle has an olive-green to tannish shell with C-shaped or circular markings that are typically yellow. The female Barbour’s map turtles are much larger than the males, with the males weighing an average of 20% of what the female weighs.
5. Black-Knobbed Sawback
Scientific Name: Graptemys nigrinoda
The black-knobbed sawback measures between three and eight inches in length. This species has round, knob-like projections sticking out down the middle and all around the edges of its shell.
They have yellow on their heads, limbs, and tails. This turtle is most common in Alabama in the rivers, streams, and lakes of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta.
6. Common Snapping Turtle
Scientific Name: Chelydra serpentina serpentina
The common snapping turtle is a widespread species found in Alabama’s freshwater habitats, such as ponds, lakes, and rivers. These turtles are known for their aggressive behavior and strong jaws, which they use to capture prey and defend themselves. Adult snapping turtles can weigh up to 50 pounds and grow to be up to 20 inches long.
7. Eastern Box Turtle
Scientifiic Name: Terrapene carolina carolina
The Eastern box turtle is a terrestrial turtle that displays a variety of shell patterns. The females have yellowish-brown eyes, while the males have red eyes. The lower half of its shell is hinged so it can retract into its shell, which “boxes” the turtle in.
8. Eastern Chicken Turtle
Scientific Name: Deirochelys reticularia reticularia
The Eastern chicken turtle is a small freshwater species found in Alabama’s wetlands, marshes, and swamps. They are named for their long, chicken-like legs and the intricate yellow and black net-like pattern on their shell.
Eastern chicken turtles are omnivores, feeding on insects, plants, and small aquatic animals. They are active during the day and spend most of their time in the water.
9. Eastern Mud Turtle
Scientific Name: Kinosternon subrubrum
The eastern mud turtle is a small freshwater turtle species that can be found in Alabama’s rivers, streams, and wetlands. These turtles have distinctive dome-shaped shells and are known for their ability to burrow in mud and sand. Eastern mud turtles eat small aquatic animals, insects, and plants.
10. Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle
Scientific Name: Apalone spinifera spinifera
The eastern spiny softshell is named for its soft, flat, and flexible shell with small spiny projections along the edges. Eastern spiny softshells are carnivorous, feeding on a variety of aquatic animals such as fish, crustaceans, and insects. They are active during the day and can often be seen basking on logs or sandbars.
11. Escambia Map Turtle
Scientific Name: Graptemys ernsti
The Escambia map turtle is endemic to the Escambia River drainage in Alabama. They are named for the intricate map-like pattern on their shell. They can often be seen basking on logs or rocks.
Until recently, this species was lumped in with the Alabama map turtle, but in 1992, it was separated, becoming its own distinct species. Escambia map turtles are considered threatened in Alabama due to habitat loss and degradation, water pollution, and collection for the pet trade.
12. Flattened Musk Turtle
Scientific Name: Sternotherus depressus
This small freshwater turtle rarely gets bigger than 4.3 inches. Flattened musk turtles have a relatively flat shell that is yellowish-brown to dark brown with black spots or streaks.
This species releases a musky odor when it feels threatened. Their populations are restricted to the Black Warrior River system in Alabama.
13. River Cooter
Scientific Name: Pseudemys concinna
River cooters are common throughout Alabama in rivers, lakes, and large streams. These large turtles are usually between 9 and 16 inches long.
They typically have a dark olive or brown shell with yellow or cream markings along the edges. Their belly is usually yellow with dark markings. They may also have some red or orange coloring on their heads and legs.
Scientific Name: Pseudemys floridana
Found in the lower coastal plains of Alabama, the Florida cooter is a large turtle with a dark shell with yellow markings. This species grows to between 9 and 15 inches in length. Florida cooters prefer still, permanent water like ponds, marshes, and wetlands.
15. Gopher Tortoise
Scientific Name: Gopherus polyphemus
The gopher tortoise is a land turtle species found in Alabama’s coastal plain and sandhills. They dig extensive burrows to serve as shelter for themselves and many other species, such as snakes, insects, and small mammals. Gopher tortoises are considered threatened in Alabama and are protected by state and federal laws.
16.Green Sea Turtle
Scientific Name: Chelonia mydas
Green sea turtles are the largest hard-shelled sea turtles and can grow up to 47 inches in length and weigh up to 500 pounds. They can be found in the waters off the coast of Alabama, and in recent years, two nests have been recorded on Alabama’s beaches. These herbivorous turtles primarily feed on seagrass and algae.
17. Gulf Coast Smooth Softshell
Scientific Name: Apalone calvata
The Gulf Coast smooth softshell turtle has a smooth, flat shell and soft, leather-like skin. Females grow up to 14 inches in length, while males only grow to about 10.5 inches. This turtle can be found in the Pearl, Alabama, and Escambia river systems in Alabama.
18. Loggerhead Musk Turtle
Scientific Name: Sternotherus minor
The loggerhead musk turtle is a small and fascinating freshwater turtle species found in streams, ponds, and wetlands in Alabama. The loggerhead musk turtle has a relatively large head and a musky odor, which may serve as a defense mechanism against predators.
These turtles primarily eat insects and mollusks. Loggerhead musk turtles often walk along the bottom of shallow water, looking for food.
19. Gulf Coast Spiny Softshell
Scientific Name: Apalone spinifera aspera
This olive-gray to tan turtle has black spots on the top of its shell. Females can grow up to 18 inches in diameter, and the smaller males can grow up to 10 inches. The Gulf Coast spiny softshell turtle can retract its legs and head into its shell for protection, but since its shell isn’t hard like some turtle species, it doesn’t offer the best protection.
20.Mississippi Diamondback Terrapin
Scientific Name: Malaclemys terrapin pileata
This turtle species can be found in the estuaries, salt marshes, and nearby shallow waters in Alabama. The Mississippi diamondback terrapin is a medium-sized turtle with a dark, oval shell and webbed toes. Adults are usually 5.5 to 9 inches long. These turtles spend the winter hibernating in the mud but will leave the mud on warmer days.
21. Painted Turtle
Scientific Name: Chrysemys picta picta & Chrysemys dorsalis
The painted turtle is one of the most widespread turtle species in North America. Alabama is home to the eastern painted turtle and the southern painted turtle. The former grows between 5 and 7 inches in length and can be found in the east-central part of the state.
The latter grows an average of 5 inches in length and can be found in the western half of the state. Both have olive to black shells with yellow or red borders around the scales of the shell and a red or yellow line going down the middle of the shell.
22. Pond Slider
Scientific Name: Trachemys scripta
Pond Sliders are a freshwater turtle species found in Alabama’s ponds, lakes, and rivers. They are named for their ability to quickly slide off rocks and logs and into the water. Pond Sliders are omnivorous, feeding on a variety of aquatic plants and animals such as insects, fish, and crustaceans.