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14 Turtles Found in Kentucky

Nicole Cosgrove

Have you ever seen a turtle on the banks of a pond or on the side of the road and wondered what species it is? Did you know that there are actually over 350 species of turtles in existence? 14 of those species can be found in the state of Kentucky. In this article, we will discuss all 14 species in greater detail.divider-turtle

14 Turtles Found in Kentucky:

1. Eastern Box Turtle

Eastern Box Turtle
Image Credit: Lisa Holder, Shutterstock
Species: Terrapene carolina
Longevity: Up to 20 years
Good to own as a pet?: Yes
Legal to own?: Yes
Adult size: 5-7 inches
Diet: Opportunistic omnivores

The eastern box turtle’s natural habitats include meadows, ponds, and wooded areas throughout the eastern United States. Although they were previously common in Kentucky, they are becoming less so. In some states, they are actually considered to be a species of special concern. Box turtles are very popular pets, and because they have a long life expectancy, they can be enjoyed for many years. The eastern box turtle is an opportunistic omnivore, which means it will eat any plants, insects, or worms that are available. In the wild, its primary predators include raccoons, dogs, snakes, skunks, and coyotes.


2. Red-Eared Slider

red-eared slider on a log
Image Credit: Abdullah Al Mamun, Pixabay
Species: Trachemys scripta elegans
Longevity: 20 years
Good to own as a pet?: Yes
Legal to own?: Yes
Adult size: 12 inches
Diet: Omnivores

The red-eared slider is a common aquatic turtle whose native habitat ranges all the way from West Virginia to New Mexico. They can be up to a foot long and eat both plant and animal matter, including leafy greens, worms, crickets, and aquatic plants. While these turtles are indigenous to a large area of the United States, including Kentucky, they are considered to be invasive in some states such as California, Oregon, and Washington. The red-eared slider is a hardy species that will often compete with native turtles for food and habitat. If you purchase one of these turtles, you need to make sure you will be able to care for it for its entire life or otherwise provide it with a good home. You should never release a domestic turtle into the wild.


3. Eastern River Cooter

Eastern River Cooter side view_Pantherius_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Pantherius, Shutterstock
Species: Pseudemys concinna concinna
Longevity: 40 years
Good to own as a pet?: Yes, if you have the space
Legal to own?: Yes
Adult size: 15 inches
Diet: Omnivores

The eastern river cooter is a fairly large turtle with a greenish-brown shell that features yellowish markings. It is often confused with another turtle species, the northern red-bellied cooter. The eastern river cooter is often found in habitats where freshwater is available, such as rivers, ponds, and lakes. These animals are docile and easy to care for, but they tend to outgrow the typical home aquarium. If you have space, they can make wonderful pets that could be with you for up to 40 years.


4. False Map Turtle

False Map Turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica)
False Map Turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica) (Image Credit: Peter Paplanus, Flickr CC 2.0 Generic)
Species: Graptemys pseudogeographica
Longevity: 35 years
Good to own as a pet?: Yes
Legal to own?: Yes
Adult size: 6-12 inches; females are larger than males
Diet: Omnivores

The false map turtle is so-called due to a series of faint yellow lines on its shell that resemble a map. These creatures are common in the American South, but they can also be found in the midwestern states of Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. They are primarily found in the streams of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. False map turtles eat a variety of plants and animals, including algae, fish, mollusks, and insects.


5. Mississippi Mud Turtle

Species: Kinosternon subrubrum hippocrepis
Longevity: Up to 40 years
Good to own as a pet?: Yes
Legal to own?: Yes
Adult size: 3-4 inches
Diet: Omnivores

Mississippi mud turtles usually have dark brown or black shells. They tend to have yellow stripes on both sides of the head and neck, distinguishing them from other mud turtle breeds. Since Mississippi mud turtles prefer shallow, still water to flowing water, they are usually found in swamps, canals, sloughs, and ponds. They are omnivores and can eat a variety of foods, but they most commonly eat fish, snails, worms, and other proteins and vegetation that can be found in a pond.


6. Ouachita Map Turtle

Ouachita map turtle (Graptemys ouachitensis)
Ouachita map turtle (Graptemys ouachitensis) (Image Credit: smashtonlee05, Flickr CC 2.0 Generic)
Species: Graptemys ouachitensis
Longevity: 30-50 years
Good to own as a pet?: Yes
Legal to own?: Yes
Adult size: 3.5-10 inches; females are larger than males
Diet: Omnivores

The Ouachita map turtle shares its name with a mountain range in western Arkansas. Like the mountains, the Ouachita map turtle is endemic to the states in the central United States: Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Alabama, Missouri, Kansas, Ohio, West Virginia, Tennessee, and of course Kentucky. In the wild, they are most often found in rivers such as the Mississippi. These turtles like to be near a moving body of water, so if you plan to keep one as a pet, you will need to purchase equipment to provide moving water in its enclosure. Like other turtles, the Ouachita map turtle is an omnivore that will eat just about anything, such as insects, worms, krill, and aquatic plants.


7. Common Map Turtle

Common Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica)
Common Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica) (Image Credit: Peter Paplanus, Flickr CC 2.0 Generic)
Species: Graptemys geographica
Longevity: 20-30 years
Good to own as a pet?: No
Legal to own?: Yes
Adult size: 7-10.5 inches
Diet: Omnivores

The common map turtle, like other map turtles, tends to live in rivers, lakes, and ponds. During the winter, they will burrow into the mud at the bottom of a river or lake and lay dormant until the spring. Because of this behavior, they can survive in fairly cold areas such as Quebec, Vermont, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, in addition to the Appalachian region. Their shells are brown or olive green with orange or yellow lines that resemble a map. Both males and females are omnivores, but females are capable of eating larger prey than their male counterparts thanks to their larger size. They will often eat mollusks and crustaceans such as clams, crayfish, and snails, whereas males tend to eat insects and smaller crustaceans. While it is legal to keep a common map turtle, they are not very popular pets because they can be difficult to maintain.


8. Midland Painted Turtle

Midland Painted Turtle on the rock_Brian Lasenby_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Brian Lasenby, Shutterstock
Species: Chrysemys picta marginata
Longevity: 25-30 years old
Good to own as a pet?: Yes
Legal to own?: Yes
Adult size: 7 inches
Diet: Omnivores

Midland painted turtles are medium-sized turtles with green shells that feature characteristic yellow and red markings. Their necks, legs, tails, and heads are usually dark green or black and also feature red or yellow stripes. These turtles are most commonly found in habitats with shallow, slow-moving water such as ponds, streams, and marshes. They require a water source because they actually cannot swallow without it. As omnivores, they eat a variety of plants and fish, crustaceans, and insects. They are most often hunted by foxes, otters, raccoons, and minks.


9. Eastern Mud Turtle

Eastern Mud Turtle
Image Credit: Frode Jacobsen, Shutterstock
Species: Kinosternon subrubrum
Longevity: 20 years
Good to own as a pet?: Yes
Legal to own?: Yes
Adult size: 3-4 inches
Diet: Primarily carnivores

While eastern mud turtles are technically omnivores, they eat primarily animal matter such as crustaceans, mollusks, tadpoles, worms, and insects. They are endemic to fresh and brackish water sources throughout the southeastern United States. Unlike other turtles on this list, they do not have much of a pattern on their shells, making them fairly nondescript. They are usually dark green, black, or brown. Herons, alligators, and raccoons prey on these common turtles.


10. Common Musk Turtle

Common Musk Turtle on the ground
Image Credit: Frode Jacobsen, Shutterstock
Species: Sternotherus odoratus
Longevity: 40-60 years
Good to own as a pet?: Yes
Legal to own?: Yes
Adult size: 2-5 inches
Diet: Omnivores

The common musk turtle is a very small brown or gray turtle that can be found in freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams throughout the eastern half of the United States. They are popular pets because they are so small and relatively easy to care for. As omnivores, they will eat just about anything, especially insects, algae, tadpoles, seeds, and snails.


11. Alligator Snapping Turtle

Alligator snapping turtle on the road
Image Credit: Sista Vongjintanaruks, Shutterstock
Species: Macrochelys temminckii
Longevity: 100 years
Good to own as a pet?: No
Legal to own?: No
Adult size: 25 inches
Diet: Primarily carnivores

The alligator snapping turtle can only be found in the United States, with a habitat ranging from Florida to Texas. They prefer freshwater but can also be found in brackish rivers and lakes. These turtles have a large head with a hooked beak and a spiky shell. They are the largest freshwater turtle, measuring over 2 feet long and weighing up to 175 pounds. These animals have extremely powerful jaws that are capable of snapping bones. Because of their size and the danger they pose, they do not make particularly good pets.


12. Common Snapping Turtle

common snapping turtle
Image Credit: Bernell MacDonald, Pixabay
Species: Chelydra serpentina
Longevity: 50-75 years
Good to own as a pet?: No
Legal to own?: Yes
Adult size: 8-14 inches
Diet: Omnivores

The common snapping turtle, while smaller than the alligator snapping turtle, is still fairly large at around a foot long. They are fairly common throughout the eastern United States and can be found in just about any body of freshwater. While they do not usually attack unprovoked, they are fairly aggressive and will lash out if handled. Even though it is legal to own one of these turtles in the state of Kentucky, they may not be the most enjoyable pets for someone hoping to be able to pick up their pet turtle.


13. Smooth Softshell

Midland Smooth Softshell Turtle (Apalone mutica mutica)
Midland Smooth Softshell Turtle (Apalone mutica mutica) (Image Credit: Peter Paplanus, Flickr CC 2.0 Generic)
Species: Apalone mutica
Longevity: 50 years
Good to own as a pet?: No
Legal to own?: Yes
Adult size: Up to 7-14 inches; females are larger than males
Diet: Primarily carnivores

As its name suggests, the smooth softshell turtle has a flexible carapace instead of the hard shell seen on most turtle species. They are mostly carnivorous and prefer to eat fish, amphibians, insects, and crayfish. However, they do sometimes also eat vegetation. The smooth softshell can grow to be up to 2 feet long and are known for being aggressive, which means they may not be the best pets.


14. Spiny Softshell

Spiny Softshell Turtle on the rock_Damann_shutterstock
Image Credit: Damann, Shutterstock
Species: Apalone spinifera
Longevity: 50 years
Good to own as a pet?: No
Legal to own?: Yes
Adult size: 5-19 inches; females are larger than males
Diet: Primarily carnivores

Last but not least, the spiny softshell is similar to the smooth softshell in size and appearance except for—you guessed it—the spines along the edges of its carapace. The spiny softshell turtle will eat just about anything, but it tends to nosh mostly on animals such as fish, aquatic insects, and crayfish. Like the smooth softshell, the spiny softshell is likely to bite if handled. In the wild, they tend to burrow in the sand to avoid predators like herons, skunks, raccoons, foxes, and large predatory fish.divider-turtle

Conclusion

As you can see, there is quite a bit of diversity among turtle species in the state of Kentucky. Most of the turtles on the list are legal to keep as pets, but you should consider other factors such as longevity, size, and aggression before committing to one of these reptiles.


Featured Image Credit: Jay Ondreicka, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.