Arkansas is home to several turtle species, each with their own unique characteristics and behaviors. From the large and impressive alligator snapping turtle to the colorful and distinctively patterned painted turtles, these reptiles play an important role in the state’s aquatic ecosystems. Whether swimming in rivers and streams, basking on rocks and logs, or foraging for food in the water, these animals can be found throughout the state. This article discusses 15 turtles found in Arkansas.
15 Turtles in Arkansas
1. Common Snapping Turtle
Scientific Name: Chelydra serpentina
The Common snapping turtles are one of the largest freshwater turtles in North America. They can grow up to 18 inches in length and weigh up to 35 pounds.
They have a rough, knobby shell and a long, pointed tail. Their powerful jaws and sharp beaks allow them to crush and tear their food, including fish, frogs, snakes, and even small mammals.
In Arkansas, the common snapping turtle can be found in slow-moving rivers, lakes, ponds, and swamps. They are typically found in areas with soft, muddy bottoms where they can bury themselves and lie in wait for prey.
2. Alligator Snapping Turtle
Scientific Name: Macrochelys temminckii
Alligator snapping turtles are large, prehistoric-looking freshwater turtles found throughout much of Arkansas. These large turtles can weigh up to 200 pounds and measure up to 2.5 feet long.
Despite their name, alligator snapping turtles are not related to alligators but are named for their resemblance to the reptile. They have a rough, ridged shell resembling the back of an alligator, a long tail, and a large head with a hooked beak.
3. Southern Painted Turtle
Scientific Name: Chrysemys dorsalis
Southern painted turtles are brightly colored, with red, yellow, or orange on their heads, legs, and shells. They are found throughout the southeastern United States, including Arkansas, and prefer slow-moving or still water with plenty of vegetation.
They also need plenty of places to bask in the sun because they do this to regulate their body temperature. These medium-sized turtles grow to be around 6 inches long, and the females are larger than the males.
4. Western Chicken Turtle
Scientific Name: Deirochelys reticularia miaria
While present in Arkansas, the Western chicken turtle is the least common aquatic turtle in the state. These turtles are often confused with red-eared sliders, but they are easily recognized if you take a closer look. Western chicken turtles have a broad yellow bar across each front leg and vertical yellow stripes under their shell in the back.
5. Northern Map Turtle
Scientific Name: Graptemys geographica
Northern map turtles have flattened oval-shaped shells and bright yellow markings on their head and back legs. Like other map turtles, the Northern map turtle has a shell pattern that resembles markings on a map.
This species can live up to 20 years in the wild and even longer in captivity. They are strong swimmers with long, webbed feet that allow them to move quickly through the water. Their diet includes fish, insects, and other invertebrates.
6. Ouachita Map Turtle
Scientific Name: Graptemys ouachitensis
These freshwater turtles are named after the Ouachita River system, which runs through Arkansas and Louisiana. Ouachita map turtles are relatively small, with males growing up to 5 inches in length and females growing up to 10 inches. Their shells are olive, dark brown, or black with light yellow markings and dark borders.
They have a yellow oval under each eye and a yellow rectangular shape behind each eye. These aquatic turtles are rarely seen on land unless they seek a place to nest or bask in the sun.
7. Mississippi Map Turtle
Scientific Name: Graptemys pseudogeographica kohni
The Mississippi map turtle is named after the Mississippi River, where it was first discovered. They have gray shells with yellow lines that resemble the contour lines on a map.
They have a distinctive row of low spines that run vertically down their shell. These turtles eat fish, insects, larvae, and aquatic plants.
8. Eastern River Cooter
Scientific Name: Pseudemys concinna concinna
Eastern river cooters can grow up to 16.5 inches long and have a dark greenish-brown shell with yellow markings and yellow bellies. They have webbed feet with long claws. They are primarily herbivorous, with their diet consisting mainly of aquatic plants such as duckweed, water lettuce, and algae.
9. Ornate Box Turtle
Scientific Name: Terrapene ornata
Of the 16 species of turtles in Arkansas, the ornate box turtle is one of two that are land turtles rather than aquatic. This specie can be found in the Arkansas River Valley ecoregion, northwestern Arkansas, and the Grand Prairie region of the Delta.
These turtles are named for their ornate, colorful shell markings, which include patterns of yellow, orange, and brown. They are relatively small turtles, with adults typically measuring 4-5 inches in length.
10. Three-Toed Box Turtle
Scientific Name: Terrapene triunguis
As the name suggests, three-toed box turtles have three toes on each hind foot, unlike other box turtle species, which have four toes. They have a domed, brown or black shell marked with yellow or orange lines and spots. This species hibernates during the winter, digging burrows and spending the colder month underground.
11. Red-Eared Slider
Scientific Name: Trachemys scripta elegans
Red-eared sliders are native to Arkansas rather than being introduced like they are in many other states in the US. This species is actually one of the most common turtles in Arkansas and is found in a variety of aquatic habitats, including rivers, lakes, ponds, and marshes. Red-eared sliders are easily identifiable by the red stripe behind each eye and the green, olive, or brown shell with yellow markings.
12. Mississippi Mud Turtle
Scientific Name: Kinosternon subrubrum hippocrepis
Mississippi mud turtles are primarily found in the southeastern United States, including Arkansas. They have dark brown or black shells with yellow or orange markings.
They are relatively small in size, with adults typically measuring 3-5 inches in length. This species prefers slow-moving bodies of water like streams and marshes.
13. Razor-Backed Musk Turtle
Scientific Name: Sternotherus carinatus
The razor-backed musk turtle is named for the sharp keel, or ridge, on its shell, which resembles a razorback. Like other musk turtles, this species releases a unique musky odor, possibly as a defense mechanism.
These small turtles grow between 3 to 4 inches in length and are popular in the pet trade. However, they require specialized care and should only be kept by experienced turtle keepers.
14. Midland Smooth Softshell
Scientific Name: Apalone mutica mutica
The Midland smooth softshell turtle is a relatively large species of turtle, with adults typically measuring between 8-16 inches in length. These turtles have smooth, flat, soft shells that are gray or brown, with a lighter-colored belly.
The Midland smooth softshell turtle has a long, pointed snout and a streamlined body that allows it to move quickly through the water.
15. Spiny Softshell
Scientific Name: Apalone spinifera ssp.
The Spiny softshell turtle gets its name from the spiny projections on the front of its shell. These projections are not found in young turtles and become more pronounced as the turtle gets older.
They have a flat, streamlined shell, which is covered in leathery skin instead of the hard, bony plates found on most turtles. This allows the Spiny softshell turtle to be more agile in the water. These turtles have a long, pointed snout, which they use to probe in the mud and sand for prey.