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14 Species of Turtles in Mississippi (Pictures)

We say it about many states, but Mississippi is truly known for its diverse wildlife, which radiates from the majestic Mississippi River to the sprawling forests and wetlands. This state also has some of the most interesting turtle species. Turtles in Mississippi are frequently overlooked, but they play an important role in the ecosystem and have some pretty amazing adaptations. 

14 Turtles in Mississippi

From the the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle to the red-eared slider to the alligator snapping turtle, there’s no shortage of diversity when it comes to the turtles that call Mississippi home.

1. Kemp’s ridley sea turtle

Kemp’s ridley sea turtle
Kemp’s ridley sea turtle | image by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Lepidochelys kempii
  • Length: 27 – 32 inches
  • Weight: 75 – 100 pounds

The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is a type of marine turtle that you can sometimes spot along the Mississippi coastline. Their carapace is circular and grayish-green in color, and they have a pale yellow plastron, which is quite distinct. 

Kemp’s ridleys are the smallest and rarest sea turtle species, with a maximum size of only 32 inches. These creatures live in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, but they sometimes come to the coast to search for food and build their nests. 

2. Pearl River Map Turtle

Pearl river map turtle
Pearl river map turtle | image by Bobby McCabe via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Graptemys pearlensis
  • Length: 10-12 inches

The Pearl River Map Turtle is a freshwater turtle endemic to the Pearl River system in Mississippi. They have a dark olive to brown carapace with yellow map-like lines and a distinct keel.

The species exhibits sexual dimorphism, with females being larger and heavier, and can be recognized by the large bluish, green, or yellow blotch between their eyes. 

3. Gopher tortoise

Gopher Tortoise
A gopher tortoise moving out
  • Scientific name: Gopherus polyphemus
  • Length: up to 15 inches  
  • Weight: up to 5.5 kg 

The Gopher tortoise is a terrestrial turtle native to the southeastern United States, including east of Mississippi. They’re the only tortoise found in the state, and can be recognized by their flattened, shovel-like forelimbs and elephantine, stumpy hind feet. 

Gopher tortoises are exceptional burrowers, unlike any other tortoise in North America. These creatures can dig burrows up to 5 feet long and 6.5 feet deep in sandy and well-drained soils.

4. Loggerhead sea turtle

Loggerhead Turtle
image: Loggerhead Sea Turtle | Pixabay.com
  • Scientific name: Caretta caretta
  • Length: 29.3 – 43.7 inches
  • Weight: 170 – 500 lbs

The Loggerhead sea turtle is a type of marine turtle that can sometimes be found in the Mississippi Gulf coast area. They have a large, reddish-brown carapace, big head, and powerful jaws, which sets them apart from other sea turtles. 

Loggerhead turtles can be found in open oceans, as well as in coastal waters and estuaries. Their main diet consists of crustaceans, mollusks, and jellyfish, which they crush with their strong jaws. 

5. Alabama Red-bellied Turtle

Alabama red-bellied turtle
Alabama red-bellied turtle | image by Josh Roswell/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia Commons
  • Scientific name: Pseudemys alabamensis 
  • Length: 8-12 inches 

The Alabama Red-bellied Turtle is a type of freshwater turtle that’s found in the Mobile Bay drainage area of Alabama and in some parts of southeastern Mississippi. Their carapace is dark in color, and they have a reddish-orange plastron. Adults usually grow up to 12 inches long and live in freshwater or brackish water that has a lot of vegetation. 

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6. Razor-backed Musk Turtle

Razor-backed musk turtle
Razor-backed musk turtle | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Sternotherus carinatus 
  • Length: up to 5.9 inches

The Musk Turtle is a type of freshwater turtle that can be found in the southern regions of Mississippi, specifically in the Pearl and Pascagoula River areas. These creatures have a unique brown shell with a noticeable ridge that looks like a razor’s edge. 

They also have spots on their heads and necks, which is a distinctive feature. These musk turtles like to live in shallow ponds, streams, and swamps that have lots of vegetation and slow-moving water. 

7. Green sea turtle

Green sea turtle underwater
Green sea turtle underwater
  • Scientific name: Chelonia mydas
  • Length: up to 55 inches
  • Weight: up to 850 pounds

The Green sea turtle is one of the sea turtles that are occasionally seen along the Mississippi coast. Their carapace is smooth and oval-shaped, and it can range in color from dark brown to gray. 

Additionally, they have a cream-colored plastron. Green sea turtles are the only sea turtle species that eat mostly plant matter like seagrass and algae, hence the name. They can also be found in warm coastal waters and lagoons. 

8. Eastern box turtle

Eastern box turtle
Eastern box turtle | Image by JamesDeMers from Pixabay
  • Scientific name: Terrapene carolina
  • Length: 4.5 – 6 inches
  • Weight: usually less than one pound

One of the many terrestrial turtles that are found all over Mississippi is the Eastern box turtle. They have a high-domed, dark brown to black carapace adorned with yellow to orange patterns. These animals have a special defense mechanism that allows them to completely close their shell thanks to their plastron’s hinge. 

In the wild, eastern box turtles can be found foraging for a wide variety of slugs, worms, insects, and larvae in grasslands, woodlands, and meadows.  

9. Pond slider

Pond slider
Pond slider | image by Melissa McMasters via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Trachemys scripta
  • Length: 5 – 11.5 inches
  • Weight: up to 7 pounds

The Pond slider is a type of freshwater turtle that can be found in many areas of Mississippi, especially in the Mississippi Valley region stretching from Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico. They have an olive to brown shell with yellow and red stripes, and a noticeable red or orange patch behind their eye. 

Pond sliders are highly adaptable to changes in their habitat and can even thrive in urban environments. This has led to them being one of the most invasive reptile species worldwide.

10. Striped-necked musk turtle

Striped-necked musk turtle
Striped-necked musk turtle | image by squiresk via iNaturalist | CC BY 4.0
  • Scientific name: Sternotherus minor
  • Length: 3 – 4 inches
  • Weight: 1 – 2 pounds

The Striped-necked Musk Turtle is a small freshwater turtle inhabiting the northern parts of Mississippi’s Pearl and Pascagoula drainages. They can also be found in springs and streams in eastern Mississippi. 

These turtles can be recognized by their light carapace that’s sometimes speckled and their yellowish head with black stripes, which distinguishes them from other turtles. They’re a species that lives in streams, so you can find them in places like ponds, springs, and creeks

11. 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 – 26 inches
  • Weight: 155 – 175 pounds

The Alligator Snapping Turtle is a large reptile that inhabits freshwater areas in the southeastern United States and along the Gulf Coast. Their carapace is dark and rough, featuring three elevated ridges, and they have a strong, beak-like jaw. 

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Their worm-like tongue in their mouth is also known to attract prey. They’re the biggest freshwater turtle species in North America, and their behavior of waiting for prey and ability to blend in with their surroundings make them interesting and powerful hunters.

12. Black-knobbed Map Turtle

Black-knobbed map turtle
Black-knobbed map turtle | image by OpenCage via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 2.5
  • Scientific name: Graptemys nigrinoda
  • Length: 6 – 8 inches

The Black-knobbed Map Turtles are one of the types of reptiles that you can find in the Cahaba River drainages located in eastern Mississippi. They‘re also known as Black-knobbed Sawbacks due to the fact that they have a slightly oval-shaped carapace with a prominent ridge of dark dorsal spines. 

These highly aquatic turtles frequently bask on branches, logs, and other vegetation at an angle of 45 degrees. 

13. Leatherback sea turtle

Leatherback sea turtle
Leatherback sea turtle | image by Bernard DUPONT via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Scientific name: Dermochelys coriacea 
  • Length: 1.8 – 2.2 m
  • Weight: 250 – 700 kg

The Leatherback sea turtle can reach up to 6 feet in length and weigh as much as 2,000 pounds, making it the largest turtle species in the world. These big creatures are often spotted near the coast of Mississippi as they search for food or build their nests. 

These reptiles can be identified by their distinct leathery carapace and black rubbery skin. Leatherbacks, being the biggest sea turtles, are famous for their capability to dive to remarkable depths of around 4,000 feet. 

14. Yellow-blotched Map Turtle

Yellow-blotched map turtle
Yellow-blotched map turtle | image by Ryan Poplin via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Scientific name: Graptemys flavimaculata   
  • Length: 4 – 8 inches 
  • Weight: up to 1.1 kg

The Yellow-blotched Map, also known as the Yellow-blotched Sawback, can be found in drainages that are connected to the Pascagoula River. Male individuals of this species have longer front claws and thicker tails compared to females. 

These creatures possess a dark shell decorated with vibrant yellow markings, including a distinctive spotted design, hence their name. Most of their diet consists of sponges, but they also eat invertebrates, plants, and algae.