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10 Turtles Found in Missouri (with Pictures)

Jordin Horn

Are you a turtle enthusiast? Do you live in Missouri? Well, it turns out you can find quite a few turtles in the wild in this state. Check anywhere with water and you are likely to spot one of these species of turtle. Just be sure to leave them be—while it’s legal to have these turtles as pets, you cannot capture them in the state of Missouri. You can, however, buy them at a pet store or online. If you’re into hunting turtles, it’s okay to hunt the softshell and snapping versions.

Let’s find out about a handful of turtles you can find in Missouri!

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10 Turtles Found in Missouri

1. Eastern River Cooter

Eastern River Cooter side view_Pantherius_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Pantherius, Shutterstock
Species: Pseudemys concinna concinna
Longevity: 20 – 40 years
Good to own as a pet?: Yes
Legal to own?: Yes
Adult size: 8 – 12 inches
Diet: Herbivore

You can find eastern river cooters in the southern parts of Missouri, in or out of moving water such as streams and rivers. They are spotted by their domed shells, which come in brown, olive, and any color in-between, and by the yellow markings on their heads. These little guys are quick, so don’t expect to easily hold one if you have one as a pet. They love to sun themselves on rocks and logs, but they also can breathe underwater.


2. 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: 15 – 20 years
Good to own as a pet?: Yes
Legal to own?: Yes
Adult size: 4 – 10 inches
Diet: Carnivorous

Map turtles get their name from the map design on their backs. You can find this turtle mainly in the central region of Missouri, usually near the water. They have dark brown shells with yellow markings. Though they like to bask in the sun, they are superb swimmers and do not venture far from it. They like to eat fish, crayfish, and sometimes plants.


3. Blanding’s Turtle

Blanding's turtle (Emydoidea blandingii)
Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) (Image Credit: Andrew Cannizzaro, Flickr CC 2.0 Generic)
Species: Emydoidea blandingii
Longevity: Up to 80 years
Good to own as a pet?: Yes
Legal to own?: Yes
Adult size: 5 – 8 inches
Diet: Omnivorous

Blanding’s turtle, also known as the turtle that smiles, was named after William Blanding, the naturalist that discovered the turtle. You can find these dark-shelled turtles in the northernmost parts of Missouri. They are tough to spot, however, because they are an endangered turtle species. Plus, they are timid and will jump into the water at any sign of disturbance.

They eat crayfish, worms, and other water-born invertebrates without the help of water to swallow them down. They also occasionally eat plants.


4. 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: 15 – 20 years
Good to own as a pet?: Yes
Legal to own?: Yes
Adult size: 3.5 – 10 inches
Diet: Omnivorous

Ouachita map turtles, like the common map turtle, live in central Missouri. They prefer the rivers leading to Lake Ozark. They do not stick around long; if they sense something close by, they will jump into the water to get away. Ouachita map turtles differ from other map turtles by the yellow spots on the sides of their heads. When it comes to food, this turtle prefers aquatic larvae, mollusks, and plants.


5. Common Musk Turtle

Common Musk Turtle on the ground
Image Credit: Frode Jacobsen, Shutterstock
Species: Sternotherus odoratus
Longevity: 50 years
Good to own as a pet?: Yes
Legal to own?: Yes
Adult size: 4-5 inches
Diet: Omnivorous

This turtle gets its name from the powerful smell it can eject from its musk glands, giving it the alternative and endearing name, “stinkpot.” As Missouri’s smallest native turtle, you will be able to spot it by its dark shell with no markings in the southwestern part of the state. These turtles don’t swim very fast in their marshy habitats and prefer to eat crayfish, small fish, mollusks, and tadpoles.


6. Common Snapping Turtle

common snapping turtle
Image Credit: Bernell MacDonald, Pixabay
Species: Chelydra serpentina
Longevity: 30 – 50 years
Good to own as a pet?: Maybe
Legal to own?: Everywhere but California
Adult size: 18 – 20 inches
Diet: Omnivorous

Snapping turtles are found in all regions of Missouri, preferring large bodies of water. You will not see them out of the water often, as they mostly stick to staying in the water. They can be large, reaching almost 2 feet in length. You will know that you spotted one if you see its sharp “beak” on its mouth, dark shell, claws, and a long tail that has spines. This turtle has a pretty normal diet with this exception: it can catch waterfowl if given the right opportunity.


7. Ornate Box Turtle

Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata) (48070252612)
Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata) (48070252612) (Image Credit: Peter Paplanus, Wikimedia Commons CC 2.0 Generic)
Species: Terrapine ornata
Longevity: 28 years in captivity, 40 years in the wild
Good to own as a pet?: Yes
Legal to own?: Yes
Adult size: 4 – 5 inches
Diet: Carnivorous

Ornate box turtles are common in Missouri but are especially common in the northern and western parts of the state. Much like their name suggests, these turtles have brilliantly patterned shells and skin that dazzle. These turtles are most active during the day in open and grassy plains, looking for food. Their preferred diet is earthworms and insects, but they sometimes eat cactus and other plants.


8. Midland Smooth Softshell Turtle

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 mutica
Longevity: 25+ years
Good to own as a pet?: No
Legal to own?: Yes
Adult size: 7 – 8 cm
Diet: Carnivorous

Midland smooth softshell turtles can be found on the sandy banks of many Missouri rivers. Unlike most turtles, the smooth softshell does not have a hard shell to protect itself. Rather, it buries itself in the sands along the riverside to hide from predators. You can see them active during the day, but at night they bury themselves to go to sleep. This turtle likes to eat insects, crayfish, and mollusks.


9. Red-Eared Slider

red-eared slider turtle
Image Credit: matos11, Pixabay
Species: Trachemys scripta elegans
Longevity: 20 – 40 years
Good to own as a pet?: Yes
Legal to own?: Yes
Adult size: 6 – 8 inches
Diet: Omnivorous

The red-eared slider is one of the most common turtles kept as pets. They can be recognized by the red markings on the sides of their heads. Another peculiar trait they have is stacking themselves on top of each other while they bask in the sun. You can find these turtles next to slow-moving water that is warm and in all regions of Missouri. Red-eared sliders love to eat small fish, underwater vegetation, and invertebrates like crayfish.


10. Western Chicken Turtle

Chicken Turtle
Image Credit: J.Rangubphai, Shutterstock
Species: Deirochelys reticularia miaria
Longevity: 15 – 30 years
Good to own as a pet?: Yes
Legal to own?: Yes
Adult size: 4 – 10 inches
Diet: Omnivorous

The western chicken turtle is one of three subspecies of chicken turtles. They get their name from the taste of their meat, which apparently tastes like chicken meat. They are characterized by their long necks and oval shells that are brown or olive with a net-like yellow pattern. You can find them in slow-moving water, with swamps being their preference. They are an endangered species in Missouri since swamps are slowly disappearing there.

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Conclusion

Now you know many of the turtle species that live in Missouri. As you can see, there are many common turtles, like the common map turtle, and some rare ones, like the western chicken turtle. Remember that it’s illegal to capture any turtles to keep as pets in Missouri, however, you can hunt snapping turtles and softshell turtles with a fishing license.


Featured Image Credit: Sergii Votit, Shutterstock

Jordin Horn

Jordin Horn is a freelance writer who has covered many topics, including home improvement, gardening, pets, CBD, and parenting. Over the years, she has moved around so much that there's been no time to settle down and own a pet. However, as an animal lover, she dotes on and cuddles any pet she happens upon! She grew up with and dearly loved an American Eskimo Spitz named Maggie and a Pomeranian/Beagle mix named Gabby. She calls Colorado home, but has also recently resided in China, Iowa, and Puerto Rico Jordin does not like to settle for the "easy answer" when it comes to living life with your pet. She loves to research the best methods and products out there and cut through the jargon so you can see plainly what something is or how something is done.