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14 Types of Turtles in Texas (With Pictures)

Texas is a state that boasts an impressive diversity of turtle species, ranging from land-dwelling to freshwater and sea turtles. These shelled creatures are a fascinating sight to behold, and studying them can yield valuable insights into their behaviors and ecological importance. 

With their unique adaptations and critical roles in maintaining balance in their respective habitats, turtles in Texas are worth taking a closer look at. So join us as we explore the rich world of some of the turtles in the Lone Star State.

14 Turtles in Texas

1. 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 – 4 inches
  • Weight: 10 – 35 pounds

The Eastern mud turtle is a small but interesting species that lives in Texas from the Pineywoods to the eastern edge of the Hill Country. They live in freshwater habitats like ponds, marshes, and slowly moving streams with shallow waters and soft bottoms. Most of their diet comprises tadpoles, insects, worms, small mollusks, plants, and decaying matter. 

During periods of extreme temperatures, these turtles are known to bury themselves in the mud. Eastern mud turtles can be distinguished by their dark brown or black shells, which have a yellowish or brownish plastron (underside) with dark patterns. 

2. Texas tortoise

Texas tortoise
Texas tortoise | image by Valley Nature Center via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Gopherus berlandieri
  • Length: up to 8.5 inches
  • Weight: 2.5 – 4 pounds

The Texas tortoise is a type of land turtle that you can find in the South-Central regions of Texas. They thrive in dry environments like grasslands, deserts, and scrublands, and their diet consists primarily of plants like cacti, grasses, and flowers. 

These tortoises are typically shy and tend to hide. However, unlike other tortoises, they don’t burrow themselves. Instead, Texas tortoises prefer to tuck themselves into the base of shrubs. The dome-shaped shell of this creature has horned plates that come in shades of yellowish to orange. 

3. 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

Loggerhead sea turtles are a type of sea turtle that live in the Gulf of Mexico, including the waters off the coast of Texas. Although they spend most of their lives in the ocean, female loggerheads occasionally come to sandy beaches to lay their eggs. 

These sea turtles have strong jaws that they use to crush the shells of their prey. They typically feed on invertebrates that live on the ocean floor, but these animals also eat jellyfish, fish, sea worms, and other marine animals.

4. 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 reptile that can be found in Texas, specifically in the coastal waters and bays of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. These creatures live their whole lives in the ocean and eat different types of marine animals, such as crabs, shrimp, and jellyfish. 

These turtles exhibit synchronized nesting behavior, wherein a significant number of females lay their eggs on the same beach simultaneously. In the ocean, you can also observe young Kemp’s ridley sea turtles floating on big mats of sargassum. 

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5. Texas diamondback terrapin

Texas diamondback terrapin
Texas diamondback terrapin | image by William L. Farr via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0
  • Scientific name: Malaclemys terrapin littoralis
  • Length: 4 – 5.5 inches
  • Weight: up to 11 ounces

The Texas diamondback terrapin is a freshwater turtle inhabiting the brackish marshes and estuaries stretching from Louisiana to Corpus Christi Bay in Texas. These species are distinguished by the diamond-shaped pattern on their shells, which can range in color from brown to black. 

They primarily eat small crustaceans, fish, and insects. The diamondback terrapin is unique among turtles as it can thrive in both freshwater and saltwater habitats. 

6. 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 Gulf of Mexico and the coast of Texas are home to green sea turtles, a type of sea turtle that prefers warm waters. These creatures primarily inhabit the ocean and sustain themselves by consuming seagrasses and algae. 

The turtles are recognized for their heart-shaped shell, which usually has a brown hue and different shades of green. The green sea turtle is the only species of sea turtle that‘s primarily a herbivore, and their diet gives them their distinctive coloring.

7. Texas spiny softshell

Texas spiny softshell
Texas spiny softshell | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Apalone spinifera emoryi
  • Length: up to 21 inches
  • Weight: up to 15 kg

The Texas spiny softshell turtle is a type of freshwater turtle that you can find in rivers and streams across western Texas. Their appearance is flat, similar to a pancake with a soft leathery shell. 

Spiny softshell turtles can breathe underwater using their skin as well as their lungs. In addition, you can recognize them by the two noticeable black-bordered, yellow stripes on the sides of their head and neck, as well as their completely webbed and clawed feet. 

8. 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 type of freshwater turtle that can be found in the rivers and streams of Texas, specifically in the Trinity River from Tarrant County and other river systems to the east. They’re characterized by a large and heavy shell as well as a mouth that resembles a beak and is used for capturing prey. 

The turtles primarily eat fish, frogs, and other small aquatic animals but may also consume small mammals and plants. These animals possess a distinctive adaptation in which they use their tongue as bait to attract their prey. 

9. Desert box turtle

Desert box turtle
Desert box turtle | image by Patrick Alexander via Flickr
  • Scientific name: Terrapene ornata luteola 
  • Length: 125–130 mm
  • Weight: 198 to 538 g

The desert box turtle is a type of turtle that lives on land and is typically found in the dry areas of Southern Texas. These reptiles tend to favor dry, open prairies, although they have also been spotted in grasslands with plenty of yucca plants. 

They feed on a variety of plants, insects, and small invertebrates that are present in the arid environments they inhabit. Desert box turtles have bony, box-shaped shells and can tightly seal their plastrons when threatened. 

10. 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 sliders are freshwater turtles that can be found in various natural bodies of water in Texas. They’re also commonly kept as pets.

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These species are the most common type of aquatic turtle in the state, preferring calm or still bodies of water, and are frequently spotted basking on rocks or logs. These reptiles have a dark green color with distinctive red stripes behind their eyes, which gives them their name.

11. Texas map turtle

Texas map turtle
Texas map turtle | image by William L. Farr via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0
  • Scientific name: Graptemys versa 
  • Length: 2.70 – 20.32 cm
  • Weight: 2.3 – 2.6 kg

The Texas map turtle is a type of freshwater turtle found in different rivers and streams in west-central Texas. They like clear, flowing water and muddy rivers with moderate currents. 

It’s common to observe them feeding on different types of insects, such as beetles, dragonflies, butterflies, and true bugs. Texas map turtles are known for the unique pattern on their shell that resembles a map. 

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 – 5 inches
  • Weight: 198 – 538 g

The ornate box turtle is a type of land turtle that can be found in different dry habitats across Texas, such as grasslands. They’re also frequently found living in the burrows of sand dunes. 

Male birds typically have bright red eyes and green heads, whereas female birds usually have brown or black eyes and heads. Ornate box turtles, like other box turtles, have the ability to retract their head, legs, and tail completely inside their shell as a means of protection.

13. Texas river cooter

Texas river cooter
Texas river cooter | image by Larry D. Moore via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0
  • Scientific name: Pseudemys texana 
  • Length: 3.50 – 10.79 inches

The Texas river cooter is a freshwater turtle endemic to Texas’s Brazos, San Bernard, Colorado, Guadalupe, San Antonio, and Nueces rivers and streams. Plants like Carolina fanwort, hydrilla, parrot feather, coontail, and filamentous green algae make up most of these animals’ diets once they reach adulthood. 

They’re green overall, with yellow and black markings that become less noticeable as these creatures age. Males have longer tails and claws and are generally smaller than females.

14. Hawksbill sea turtle

Hawksbill Sea Turtle
Hawksbill sea turtle
  • Scientific name: Eretmochelys imbricata 
  • Length: 2 – 3 ft
  • Weight: 100-150 pounds

One of the saltwater turtles that can be found in the Gulf of Mexico, including the waters off the Texas coast, is the hawksbill sea turtle. These reptiles migrate widely and prefer to live in tropical coral reefs. They can also be found in lagoons and even mangrove swamps in estuaries. 

Hawksbill sea turtles have stunning shells that are composed of a unique blend of brown or amber, orange, red, yellow, and black hues. Additionally, their lower jaw is shaped like a V, which gives them a resemblance to a hawk.