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11 Types of Turtles in Missouri (With Pictures)

Missouri is a state with an abundance of freshwater ecosystems that provide a perfect home for a diverse range of aquatic turtle species. With its stunning landscapes and unique ecosystems, Missouri is home to some of the most interesting turtles in the country.

These turtles are an important part of the state’s environment, and their behaviors and adaptations make them fun to watch in the wild. In this article, we will explore some of the turtles in Missouri, their unique environments, lifestyles, and characteristics. 

11 Turtles in Missouri

1. 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 the largest freshwater turtle found in southern, southeastern, and eastern Missouri’s large rivers and lakes. These animals have a dark, rugged carapace that looks like alligator skin and a powerful beak-like jaw. 

In addition, they have worm-like tongues in their mouths that they use to attract prey. These turtles are actually formidable predators due to their sedentary, ambush-hunting behavior and cryptic appearance.

2. Spiny softshell

Eastern spiny softshell
Eastern spiny softshell | image by Peter Paplanus via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Apalone spinifera spinifera
  • Length: up to 21 inches
  • Weight: up to 25 pounds

The spiny softshell turtle, a species of aquatic turtle that’s common throughout Missouri, is one of the state’s game species. These interesting reptiles can be distinguished from other turtles by the small spiny projections on the front edge of their flat, leathery carapace. 

Their coloring ranges from olive to brown with various dark markings, and their long snouts are used like a snorkel. They live in bodies of water with muddy or sandy bottoms, such as rivers, lakes, and ponds. 

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 – 10.75 inches
  • Weight: 2.5 – 4 pounds

The false map turtle is a species of turtle found in freshwater and lives in the central, northeastern, northwest, and southeastern parts of the state of Missouri. Their dark olive-green carapace is covered in intricate yellow patterns that evoke the contour lines of a map. 

Their bright yellow eyes stand out, and their pupils are perfectly round and black. You can find them lounging on logs and rocks in large rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. 

4. Southern painted turtle

Southern painted turtle
Southern painted turtle | image: USFWS Midwest Region | Flickr | CC 2.0
  • Scientific name: Chrysemys dorsalis
  • Length: 4 – 6 inches
  • Weight: 2 – 4 pounds

One of the turtle species you may see in Missouri is the Southern Painted Turtle. It’s a small, vibrantly colored aquatic creature that lives only in the southwestern part of the state.

They have yellow or orange markings on their head, neck, and limbs and a dark carapace with a red or orange stripe down the middle. These stunning species are found in calm, shallow bodies of water like lakes, marshes, and rivers. 

5. Eastern musk turtle

Eastern musk turtle
Eastern musk turtle | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Sternotherus odoratus
  • Length: 2 – 4.5 inches
  • Weight: 1 – 2 pounds

The Eastern Musk Turtle, or Stinkpot as it’s more commonly known, is the smallest of the freshwater turtle species and can be found across Missouri except for the northwest corner. These animals have a dark, plain, and highly domed carapace, and their ability to emit a foul-smelling musk when threatened distinguishes them. 

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They live in water bodies with lots of vegetation and places to hide, such as ponds, lakes, marshes, and slow-moving rivers. 

6. Snapping turtle

Snapping turtle resting
Snapping turtle resting
  • Scientific name: Chelydra serpentina
  • Length: 8 – 18 inches
  • Weight: 10 – 35 pounds

The Snapping Turtle is a common sight in Missouri and throughout the eastern half of the United States. They’re large, aggressive freshwater turtles with a dark, rugged carapace, a long tail, and a powerful beak-like jaw. 

Their mighty snapping ability sets them apart from other turtles, and these amazing species can be found in a variety of muddy-bottomed aquatic environments like lakes, rivers, ponds, and marshes

7. Eastern River Cooter

Eastern river cooter
Eastern river cooter | image by smashtonlee05 via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Pseudemys concinna concinna
  • Length: 9 – 12 inches
  • Weight: 8 – 11 pounds

The Eastern River Cooter is a large, brightly colored turtle living in rivers and streams across the state’s southern half. They’re easily distinguished from other turtles due to their smooth, olive- to dark-brown carapace, which is often marked with bright yellow spots, and their yellow-striped head and neck. 

You can find them lounging on logs and rocks in river, stream, and lake environments. Eastern River Cooters are primarily herbivores that feed on aquatic vegetation, but may sometimes feed on other aquatic animals. 

8. 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 – 10.25 inches
  • Weight: no specific numbers, but males are much smaller than females

If you’re around the Ozark region, you might spot some Ouachita map turtles in its rivers and streams. This reptile is moderate in size, and it can be identified by the intricate map-like patterns that cover its dark brown to olive green carapace along its white borders. 

There are large, yellow-orange markings just behind each eye, which can be used as a unique identifier. Insects, worms, crayfish, snails, naiads, dead fish, and aquatic plants make up the bulk of their diet, and they can be found in rivers and large streams with slow currents.

9. Red-eared slider

Red-eared slider
Red-eared slider | image by hedera.baltica via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Scientific name: Trachemys scripta elegans 
  • Length: 15 – 30 cm
  • Weight: up to 240 g

The Red-eared Slider is a reptile found practically everywhere in the state, aside from a few counties in the far north. They are easily distinguished by their dark green carapace, which is marked with black and yellow lines, and by the distinctive red marking found behind each eye.

These turtles are omnivores and can be found in ponds, lakes, and rivers with plenty of vegetation. They feast on aquatic plants, insects, and small fish. This species is also famous for rapidly diving or sliding into the water whenever they sense danger, which is where their name comes from.

10. 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 – 5 inches 
  • Weight: up to 391 g

The Yellow Mud Turtle is a rare, small, semi-aquatic turtle that lives in a small area southwest of Missouri and around Kansas City. They have a flattened, geometrically-shaped carapace that is olive brown, dull yellow, or sometimes dark brown.

It is common to find them in rivers, sloughs, ponds, water-filled ditches, marshes, and flooded fields. However, they prefer bodies of water with muddy or sandy bottoms.

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11. 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 – 5 inches
  • Weight: 198 – 538 g

The Ornate Box Turtle is among the terrestrial turtles that can be seen in the grasslands and prairies of Missouri. Except for the southeastern corner, you’ll find them throughout the state. Their distinct dark brown carapace with bright yellow or orange patterns gives these species a distinct appearance from other turtles. 

Their plastron is hinged, so they can close their shell completely to fend off predators. These turtles are most active during the day, feeding on insects, fruits, and vegetation.