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17 Unique Species of Turtles in Illinois (Photos)

There’s no shortage of turtle species in the Prairie State! As a matter of fact, there are 17 types of turtles in Illinois. The state is home to turtles from several different families, including softshell turtles and box turtles. Keep reading to learn more about the turtle species found in this Midwestern state. 

17 Turtles in Illinois

In Illinois, turtles can be found thriving in various habitats such as ponds, rivers, marshes, and even forests. With a wide array of sizes, colors, and unique features, these fascinating reptiles contribute significantly to the biodiversity and ecological balance of the region.

1. Common Snapping Turtle 

Common snapping turtle
Common snapping turtle | image by NPGallery via Wikimedia Commons
  • Scientific Name: Chelydra serpentina
  • Length: 8 to 14 in
  • Weight: 10 to 35 lbs

These aquatic turtles are frequently seen throughout the state of Illinois! Although they spend the bulk of their time in the water, they’ll often wander onto shore to move from one body of water to the next. It’s fairly calm when it’s in the water, but on land, it’s known for aggressive behavior and will sometimes bite humans!

2. Alligator Snapping Turtle 

Alligator Snapping Turtle
Alligator Snapping Turtle | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Macrochelys temminckii
  • Length: 15 to 26 in
  • Weight: 35 to 150

This unusual-looking turtle is the largest turtle that lives in Illinois. It has an extremely large head, and its mouth is shaped like a hooked beak.

Due to the size of its head, it’s not able to fully retreat inside its shell. It’s classified as an endangered species in the state and can only be found in its western and southern regions.

3. False Map Turtle 

False map turtle
False map turtle | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Graptemys pseudogeographica
  • Length: 3.5 to 7.75 in for males, 5 to 11 in for females
  • Weight: 4.9 to 13 oz for males, 2.5 to 4 lbs for females

Located throughout Illinois, this turtle prefers to live in large rivers and lakes. During the winter, it usually buries itself beneath the mud in order to stay warm.

It’s an omnivore that enjoys a wide range of foods, such as snails, insects, and mollusks. The turtle’s shell can be olive, tan, or brown, and it has yellow markings on its head and feet. 

4. Northern Map Turtle 

Northern map turtle
Northern map turtle | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Graptemys geographica
  • Length: 3.5 to 6.25 in for males, 7 to 10.75 in for females
  • Weight: 5.3 to 14.1 oz for males, 1.5–5.5 lbs for females

The Northern map turtle prefers to live in shallow, muddy waters where it has easy access to aquatic plants. It’s found statewide and is most active during the breeding season, which spans from March to May. Although it does hibernate during the winter, it waits to become dormant and is still active in November. 

5. Ouachita Map Turtle

Ouachita map turtle
Ouachita map turtle | image by smashtonlee05 via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Graptemys ouachitensis
  • Length: 3.5 to 5.75 in for males, 5 to 10.75 in for females
  • Weight: 5 to 13.5 oz for males, 1 to 5 lbs for females

This turtle has bold yellow markings on its neck, head, and tail, so it’s easy to tell it apart from other map turtles in the state. The largest populations are in Western and Southern Illinois. It enjoys basking on logs during warmer months and buries its body in mud when temperatures start to drop. 

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6. Spotted Turtle 

Spotted turtle 
Spotted turtle  | image by Bernard DUPONT via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Clemmys guttata
  • Length: 3” to 4”
  • Weight: 0.5 to 1 lbs

Found in Northeastern Illinois, this small turtle has a dark shell with bright yellow spots that appear to be painted on. These spots can also be seen on the turtle’s head, neck, and feet. It’s an aquatic turtle that prefers to live in clear bodies of water, including streams and ponds. 

7. Painted Turtle 

Painted turtle on ground
Painted turtle on ground | Image by Diane Olivier from Pixabay
  • Scientific Name: Chrysemys picta
  • Length: 4 to 10 in
  • Weight: 11 to 18 oz

The painted turtle is one of the most common turtles in Illinois, and it even has the honor of being the official state reptile! It’s found all over the state and lives in many habitats, ranging from marshes and ditches to rivers and streams. Even though it’s an aquatic turtle, it spends lots of time on land and builds its nest along bodies of water. 

8. Blanding’s Turtle 

Blanding’s turtle basking
Blanding’s turtle basking | image by Andrew Cannizzaro via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Emydoidea blandingii
  • Length: 7 to 10 in
  • Weight: 1.75 to 3 lbs

While this turtle usually has a black or dark brown shell, it has bold yellow markings along its throat. It can be found in slow-moving waters across Northern Illinois, including shallow lakes and marshes. While it does eat some plant matter, it mostly sticks to a carnivorous diet, feeding on small dish and aquatic insects. 

9. River Cooter

River cooter turtle
River cooter turtle | image by David Hill via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Pseudemys concinna
  • Length: 9 to 13 in
  • Weight: 8 to 11 lbs

This aquatic turtle is found near major rivers, but it prefers to make its home in oxbows and sloughs. It typically has a flat shell, with stripe-like markings along its head.

Females lay eggs between May and June, and eggs hatch from August to September. In Illinois, it’s endangered at a state level, and it’s rarely spotted outside of bodies of water in the Southwest.

10. Pond Slider 

Pond slider
Pond slider | image by Melissa McMasters via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Trachemys scripta
  • Length: 5 to 8 in
  • Weight: 6 to 9 oz

Although this turtle lives all across Illinois, it’s not easy to spot. It spends nearly all of its time in the water, but it does come to land to dig nests and lay eggs between May and July.

Young turtles usually stick to a carnivorous diet, but as turtles grow older, they eat a wider range of foods, including algae and aquatic plants. 

11. Woodland Box Turtle

Eastern box turtle
Woodland box turtle | Image by JamesDeMers from Pixabay
  • Scientific NameTerrapene carolina carolina
  • Length:  4.5” to 6” inches
  • Weight: 1 to 2 lbs

The woodland box turtle is a terrestrial species that prefers to live in wooded areas, but it can also be spotted in urban areas. In Illinois, populations are most concentrated in the southern half of the state.

During the summer, it may spend some time in water in order to keep cool. It eats a variety of foods, including fruits, fungi, and invertebrates.

12. Ornate Box Turtle 

Ornate box turtle on grass
Ornate box turtle on grass | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Terrapene ornata
  • Length: 4 to 5 in
  • Weight: 2 to 6 in

This terrestrial turtle lives in prairie habitats and can be found in both Northern and Southern Illinois. Whether it’s trying to beat the summer heat or retain warmth during the winter, it frequently burrows beneath the ground. It tends to change its diet based on the types of foods it has access to and is known to eat berries, earthworms, and bird eggs. 

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13. Smooth Softshell 

Smooth softshell turtle
Smooth softshell turtle | image by Don F Becker via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0
  • Scientific Name: Apalone mutica
  • Length: 4.5 to 14 in
  • Weight: 2 to 8 lbs

From a distance, this turtle could easily be mistaken for a pancake! It has a smooth, scale-free shell, along with a small head and a pointed nose.

It prefers to live in and along rivers with sandbars and is most common in Western Illinois. While it likes to bury itself in sand, it leaves its head above the ground so that it’s able to breathe. 

14. Spiny Softshell 

Spiny softshell juvenile turtles
Spiny softshell juvenile turtles | image by Bernard DUPONT via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Apalone spinifera
  • Length: 5 to 19 in 
  • Weight: 0.3 to 1 lb for males, 26.5 to 33 lbs for females

Although this turtle doesn’t have any scales, its shell does have small bumps. Some turtles have spot-like markings on their feet, while others have stripes or streaks.

It’s found statewide in Illinois and prefers to live in still rivers. These turtles mostly eat other aquatic animals, like tadpoles and crayfish. 

15. Eastern Musk Turtle 

the eastern musk turtle
The eastern musk turtle| image by Laurent Lebois via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Sternotherus odoratus
  • Length: 2.0 to 4.5 in
  • Weight: 1 to 2 lbs

Frequently referred to as “The Stinkpot,” this turtle is known for releasing a smelly musk when it’s under threat. It has whisker-like barbels along its chin and stripes on both sides of its head.

Even though it’s an aquatic turtle, it sometimes climbs trees near the edge of the water. It’s a crepuscular animal and is active between sunrise to morning and from dusk to dark. 

16. Eastern Mud Turtle 

Eastern mud turtle 
Eastern mud turtle | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon subrubrum
  • Length: 3 to 4 in
  • Weight: 3 to 9.3 oz

These small turtles have dark shells with brown markings and yellow markings on their necks and heads. They’re mostly found in Southern Illinois and prefer to live in shallow waters. Some eastern mud turtles migrate seasonally, so they may be less common in Illinois during the coldest months of the year. 

17. Yellow Mud Turtle

Yellow mud turtle
Yellow mud turtle | image by Nick Varvel via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon flavescens
  • Length: 4 to 5 in
  • Weight: 9 to 14 oz

The yellow mud turtle primarily lives in the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. It’s drawn to sloughs and ponds and prefers shallow waters so that it can eat while walking along the bottom of the water.

The turtle’s diet includes mussels, crayfish, snails, and aquatic plants. While most of its shell is dark, the edge of the shell has a yellow hue, which is where it gets its name.