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18 Species of Turtles in South Carolina (Photos)

From the elusive loggerhead sea turtle that nests along the state’s beaches to the small and colorful painted turtle found in freshwater ponds and streams, South Carolina is home to various turtle species. This article discusses 18 turtles you might be lucky to see in South Carolina.

18 Turtles in South Carolina

The rich and varied habitats, ranging from coastal dunes to freshwater ponds, contribute to the high diversity of turtle species found in South Carolina. This abundance of suitable environments sets this state apart from others, making it a prime location for turtle enthusiasts to observe these fascinating reptiles.

1. Common Snapping Turtle 

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

Scientific Name: Chelydra serpentina

These large turtles can measure anywhere from 8 to 14 inches in length; however, some members of this species have been recorded reaching up to 19.3 inches. On average, common snapping turtles weigh between 10 and 35 pounds but can grow bigger.

The biggest common snapping turtle on record weighed a whopping 75 pounds. Their coloration can vary from tan to dark brown and almost black in some individuals.

They have rough shells with three rows along the With long tails and necks, common snapping turtles possess rugged shells with three rows of carapace keels, which are raised, vertical ridges along the turtle’s shell.

2. Painted Turtle 

Painted turtle on ground
Painted turtle on ground | Image by Diane Olivier from Pixabay

Scientific Name: Chrysemys picta

Painted turtles grow 5-7 inches long, with females growing larger than males. They can be found further inland in South Carolina in slow-moving rivers, freshwater marshes, and other aquatic habitats with a lot of vegetation.

These vibrant turtles have dark shells and yellow stripes on their legs, with spots on their heads. The edges of their shells are smooth rather than serrated like some other turtle species.

The bottom of their shells is yellow or orangeish. Their legs are dark in color with red stripes. 

3. Spotted Turtle 

Spotted turtle 
Spotted turtle  | image by Bernard DUPONT via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Clemmys guttata

As the name suggests, these small turtles are black with small yellow dots or spots on their shells. The spotted turtle can be found throughout coastal regions of South Carolina.

They prefer shallow waters like ditches, bays, bogs, and cypress swamps. Spotted turtles only grow between 3.5 and 4.5 inches.

While not a common site in the state, your chances of seeing one are higher in the spring when they can be seen basking on logs to regulate their body temperature.

4. Chicken Turtle

Chicken turtle
Chicken Turtle | image by BS Thurner Hof via Wikimedia Commons

Scientific Name: Deirochelys reticularia

The name may sound funny, but this turtle is named for its extremely long neck resembling a chicken’s long neck. The chicken turtle is a medium-sized species that grows between 6 and 9 inches from one end of the shell to the other.

The shell has a pale yellow pattern that looks a little like a net, and its long neck has vertical yellow stripes. In South Carolina, this turtle can be found in the coastal regions, preferring shallow, still waters like seasonal wetlands. 

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5. Bog Turtle 

Bog turtle sunning
Bog turtle sunning | image by R. G. Tucker, Jr./USFWS via Wikimedia Commons

Scientific Name: Glyptemys muhlenbergii

This little turtle is the smallest turtle species in North America. The bog turtle rarely grows more than 4 inches in length.

These small turtles have orange or yellow patches on both sides of their heads, near the base of the jaw. This species is not found statewide, but if you search in the northwestern tip of South Carolina, you may be lucky enough to see one of these creatures foraging for food in cool clear waters. 

6. Diamondback Terrapin 

A diamondback terrapin underwater
A diamondback terrapin underwater | image by Jeffrey Shultz via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Malaclemys terrapin

Like many turtles, the diamondback terrapin is sexually dimorphic, meaning there are observable differences between the males and females. In this case, the males are much smaller than the females, reaching only 5 to 6 inches, while the females can grow up to 10 inches.

The diamondback terrapin has a brown shell with distinct diamond-shaped rings on each scute (the bony plates that make up the turtle’s shell). This species has gray skin with black spots. 

7. River Cooter 

River cooter turtle
River cooter turtle | image by David Hill via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Pseudemys concinna

The river cooter can be found basking along banks and rivers throughout the majority of the state. These large reptiles can grow up to 12 inches in length.

They have an olive green or black shell that may have lighter-colored markings that fade over time. Their heads are decorated with thin yellow stripes. 

8. Florida Cooter 

Florida cooter
Florida cooter | image by gailhampshire via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Pseudemys floridana

This close relative of the river cooter grows 9 and 13 inches long and looks very similar to its cousin. The Florida cooters shell is slightly flatter than the river cooter.

The markings on the Florida cooter’s shell tend to be more vibrant. This species can be found throughout the Coastal Plain and prefers habitats with lots of plants and sandy bottoms like ponds, rivers, and marshes. 

9. Eastern Box Turtle 

Eastern box turtle
Eastern box turtle | Image by JamesDeMers from Pixabay

Scientific Name: Terrapene carolina

Box turtles are medium-sized land turtles that measure between 4.5 to 6 inches. They have a distinctive, high, and rounded shell that is dark with yellow or orange spots.

As the box turtle ages, the pattern on its shell starts to fade. The turtle has four toes on each hind foot. Male box turtles can be distinguished by their concave plastron (bottom of the shell) and often have red eyes.

One unique feature of box turtles is that their plastron is hinged, which allows them to completely close their shell for protection, “boxing” them in (get the name?).

10. Slider Turtle 

Pond slider
Pond slider | image by Melissa McMasters via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Trachemys scripta

Slider turtles are very common in the Southeast. They are found in wetlands and often bask in the sun. You might even see them on land as they move between aquatic habitats.

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Their shell is olive to dark brown with some light patterns, and they have black dots or blotches on the bottom of their shells. Male slider turtles have elongated foreclaws and long, thick tails.

11. Striped Mud Turtle 

Striped mud turtle 
Striped mud turtle  | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Kinosternon baurii

This small turtle is only 3 to 4 inches long, and the bottom of its shell is double-hinged, allowing them to close their shells for protection. Oddly enough, in Florida, striped mud turtles have yellow stripes on their heads and light vertical stripes on their shells, but the members of this species in South Carolina do not have these markings. Instead, they have a single stripe between the eye and the nose. 

12. Eastern Mud Turtle 

Eastern mud turtle 
Eastern mud turtle | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Kinosternon subrubrum

The eastern mud turtle is similar to the striped mud turtle but doesn’t have prominent stripes on its head. Female eastern mud turtles may nest two or three times a year during the spring and summer. Baby turtles hatch in late summer but stay underground until spring.

These turtles bury themselves on land in the fall and return to a wetland in the spring. They are common in still-water habitats throughout the Southeast.

13. Common Musk Turtle 

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

Scientific Name: Sternotherus odoratus

The common musk turtle is a small species that only grows between 2 and 5 inches. They have dark-colored shells that often have algae built up on them. They have two stripes along the side of the head and are characterized by an extremely small shell covering their belly. 

14. Gopher Tortoise 

Gopher Tortoise
A gopher Tortoise moving out

Scientific Name: Gopherus polyphemus

The only tortoise in the Southeast calls small parts of South Carolina home. This is also the only other land turtle in the state. Gopher tortoises measure 9 to 15 inches in length and stumpy feet.

Since they are land turtles, their feet are not webbed. Their shells are tan or brown, and their bellies are yellowish. 

15. Florida Softshell 

Florida Softshell Turtle
Florida Softshell Turtle

Scientific Name: Apalone ferox

The Florida softshells have skin covering their shells. The females can grow between 11 and 24 inches, while the males grow 6 to 12 inches. This dark brown or brownish-gray softshell species can be found in southeastern South Carolina lakes, streams, and canals. 

16. 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

Spiny softshell turtles have unique, flat, leathery shells that look like pancakes. They can grow up to 18 inches in females and 9 inches in males.

Adult males have many spines on their shells, while females have only a few. Their feet have extra webbing for swimming. They have a snorkel-like nose with 2 yellowish lines on the sides of the head.

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17. Loggerhead Sea Turtle 

Loggerhead sea turtle
Loggerhead sea turtle | image by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region via Flickr

Scientific Name: Caretta caretta

Loggerheads are large sea turtles that nest along the beaches of South Carolina. They have large heads, are reddish brown in color, and have two claws on each of their four flippers. Like many other turtles, the males are smaller than the females.

18. Green Sea Turtle 

Green sea turtle underwater
Green sea turtle underwater

Scientific Name: Chelonia mydas

Green sea turtles grow between 34 and 49 inches and are the largest hard-shelled sea turtle species. They are light to dark olive brown in color and have only one claw on each flipper. Like the loggerhead, this turtle nests along the South Carolina coast.