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13 Species of Turtles You Can Find in Iowa

Iowa is a beautiful state that is home to various creatures, both on the land and in the water. If you’re looking for turtles, then this state may just be the place for you. There are 13 different species of turtles in Iowa. Many of them are well-known and common in other states, but there are a few that are listed as either endangered or threatened. 

13 Turtles In Iowa

Both the Mississippi River and the Missouri River run through Iowa, which means there is no shortage of aquatic areas for turtles to enjoy. Even the species that spend most of their time on land still call Iowa their home. 

1. 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

The Blanding’s turtle is a semi-aquatic species that has a lifespan of up to 80 years and can reach lengths between 5 and 8 inches long. It has a dark green shell with yellow-colored specks and it is often referred to as the turtle that smiles thanks to its friendly face.

They are found in marshy habitats throughout the state. Unfortunately, the Blanding’s turtle is listed as threatened in Iowa.

2. Common Map Turtle

Northern map turtle
Northern map turtle | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Graptemys geographica

Also known as the Northern map turtle, this turtle species is between 4 and 10 inches long and has a map-like pattern on its shell. They are found at the edge of the Mississippi in the eastern portion of Iowa.

Map turtles are mostly aquatic animals that do not venture very far from their water source. They do, however, like to bask in the sun, and their diet consists of fish, crayfish, and even some aquatic plants.

3. Common Musk Turtle

Common Musk Turtle 
Common musk turtle (similar species) | image: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region

Scientific Name: Sternotherus odoratus

Common musk turtles are small animals that can produce an unpleasant odor, thanks to their musk glands. Because of this odor, these turtles are often called stinkpots.

In Iowa, you can find musk turtles near the Mississippi River in the eastern portions of the state. Their diet mainly consists of small fish, crayfish, tadpoles, and mollusks. This species of musk turtle is listed as threatened.

4. False Map Turtle

False map turtle
False map turtle | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Graptemys pseudogeographica

False map turtles can be found near the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, and do not travel very far from them. They prefer to bask on vegetation, logs, and rocks floating on the surface of the water.

Unlike other map turtles, the false map turtle does not have a map-like marking on its shell. False map turtles can grow between 3 and 10 inches long and consume various aquatic plants, invertebrates, and even crayfish.

5. 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

Ornate box turtles are terrestrial species that have attractive patterns on their shells. They are most commonly seen in the eastern portions of the state, but can sometimes be spotted in other areas throughout Iowa. Ornate box turtles prefer open, sandy areas and are most active during the day, which is when they forage for food.

6. Ouachita Map Turtle

Ouachita map turtle
Ouachita map turtle | image by smashtonlee05 via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Graptemys ouachitensis

The Ouachita map turtle is typically found in Iowa near the Mississippi River. They can be seen basking in the sun during the day, but will usually jump back into the water if they are startled.

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Their diet consists of aquatic plants, larvae, and mollusks. Unlike other map turtles, the Ouachita map turtle has large yellowish spots on each side of its head.

7. Painted Turtle

painted turtle basing on log
Painted turtle on log | image by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region via Flickr

Scientific Name: Chrysemys picta

The painted turtle is a rather common pet species that is native to Iowa. They are mostly aquatic species that stay close to water.

A fun fact about this species is that they have to swallow their food while they are in water because of the way their tongues are fixed to their bodies. Their diet consists of underwater invertebrates, frogs, and mollusks.

8. Red-Eared Slider

Red-eared slider turtle
Red-eared slider turtle | Image by Abdullah Al Mamun from Pixabay

Scientific Name: Trachemys scripta elegans

The red-eared slider is one of the most common pet turtles available on the market. It is a semi-aquatic creature that is considered invasive in many states. Their diet consists of aquatic invertebrates, small fish, and even underwater vegetation.

9. Smooth Softshell Turtle

Smooth softshell turtle
Smooth softshell turtle | image by Don F Becker via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

Scientific Name: Apalone mutica

The smooth softshell turtle is found in rivers throughout the state of Iowa. They lack the hard shell that most people think of when they picture a turtle and instead have a flat, pancake-like shell with a leathery appearance. Softshell turtles also have a beak that is long and resembles a snorkel.

10. Snapping Turtle

Common snapping turtle
Common snapping turtle | image by NPGallery via Wikimedia Commons

Scientific Name: Chelydra serpentina

The common snapping turtle is the largest turtle native to Iowa. They can reach up to 20 inches long and can be found in various bodies of water throughout the state. Snapping turtles can be aggressive and it is not uncommon for them to hiss or bite if they feel threatened.

11. Spiny Softshell Turtle

Spiny softshell juvenile turtles
Spiny softshell juvenile turtles | image by Bernard DUPONT via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Apalone spinifera

The spiny softshell turtle is more common than the smooth species, but still has the same flat and leathery shell. The spiny softshell turtle will bite and scratch when caught or if you try to handle them.

They are found in rivers all across the state of Iowa, but they do need a sandy area to burrow and lay their eggs. Spiny softshell turtles feed on just about any invertebrate, mollusk, or crustaceans they find, and will even consume aquatic plants.

12. Wood Turtle

Woodturtle on the ground
Woodturtle on the ground | image by Ltshears via Wikimedia Commons

Scientific Name: Glyptemys insculpta

Wood turtles are named so thanks to their shell that can resemble a piece of wood. They are found in the northeastern part of Iowa in the Cedar River area.

They thrive in ponds and woodlands and spend their days roaming for food. Wood turtles eat various plants, berries, earthworms, and mollusks, and have even been observed rocking themselves to create vibrations to trick worms into coming to the surface.

13. Yellow Mud Turtle

Yellow mud turtle
Yellow mud turtle | image by Nick Varvel via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Kinosternon flavescens

Wood turtles are named so thanks to their shell that can resemble a piece of wood. They are found in the northeastern part of Iowa in the Cedar River area.

They thrive in ponds and woodlands and spend their days roaming for food. Wood turtles eat various plants, berries, earthworms, and mollusks, and have even been observed rocking themselves to create vibrations to trick worms into coming to the surface.