10 Sea Turtle Species of Florida
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The Sunshine State is home to a variety of fascinating reptiles, and the turtle population is especially diverse and breathtaking! There are about 30 different types of sea turtles in Florida, but we'll cover 10 of the most unique and interesting below that you should know about.
From tiny soft-shell turtles to gigantic 500-pound sea turtles and fearsome snapping turtles, let's take a closer look!
1. Florida Softshell Turtle ( Apalone ferox )
The Florida softshell turtle has many unique features, the most unusual being its long, snorkel-like snout and smooth cartilaginous shell. As its name suggests, its dark brown shell has no distinct ridges or scutellums, making it flat and soft to the touch. The Florida Softshell Turtle is actually one of the largest softshell turtle species, ranging from 6 inches to 25 inches in length from nose to tail tip!
This odd tortoise is almost exclusively aquatic, preferring muddy shallow bodies of water like ponds and slow-flowing streams. Its elongated snout helps it breathe while remaining partially submerged to find prey (or hide from predators). Its dark brown-gray body color helps it camouflage itself in muddy substrate and leaf litter. Meanwhile, the tortoise's webbed feet and claw-like toes make it well suited for a predominantly aquatic lifestyle.
The native range of this species extends through most of Florida and parts of southern Georgia. It is an opportunistic omnivore, usually feeding on small aquatic insects, fish and amphibians.
2. Loggerhead turtle ( Caretta caretta )
The first thing you're likely to notice about a loggerhead turtle is that it's absolutely huge! Its carapace alone is 20 to 35 inches long and often weighs over 500 pounds. Some even weighed over 1,000 pounds!
Because it is almost entirely aquatic, the loggerhead sea turtle has long, sturdy flippers rather than clawed feet. Its skin is usually light beige with dark brown spots on the head, legs and flippers. The shell is brown to reddish brown with large, broad scutellums. Males generally have thicker tails and shorter plastrons (belly shells) than females.
Their jaws and beaks are strong and sharp, giving them many options when hunting for food. However, they mainly eat small aquatic invertebrates.
The geographic range of this species covers most of the warm regions of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. It can also be found in the Mediterranean. Most commonly, it inhabits fairly shallow estuaries. However, they can dive deeper in search of food and are very agile swimmers.
Amazingly, this giant reptile can live for over 65 years! However, the species is currently endangered due to human disturbance and increased coastal land development.
3. Snapping turtle ( Chelydra serpentina )
The common snapping turtle is so named because it is the most widespread species of snapping turtle in the United States! The geographic range of this hardy sea turtle covers most of the Midwestern and Eastern United States. It grows throughout Florida, but does best in central and northern Florida, especially near the Panhandle.
In addition to being the most widespread snapping turtle species, it is also one of the largest and heaviest freshwater turtles in the world. They usually weigh around 10 to 30 pounds, but it's not uncommon for them to be over 40 pounds as adults! The species also has an impressive lifespan, estimated at over 100 years.
Common snapping turtles are easily identified by their large size, rugged, textured carapace, and sharp, protruding beak. The carapace scutellum is raised and pronounced, giving the shell an uneven, mountainous appearance. Males are usually larger and heavier than females.
As ambush predators and omnivores, the common snapping turtle will chew anything it can get into its huge mouth. It cleverly camouflages itself beneath the surface of murky waters and attacks any fish, amphibians, rodents, lizards, insects, or even birds that happen to pass by it.
While they are not particularly aggressive, snapping turtles of all species can be very painful bites. If you come across one, please admire it from a safe distance!
4. Florida mud turtle ( Kinosternon steindachneri )
Florida seems to have a lot of sea turtles named after themselves, which will become more and more apparent as this article continues. The Florida mud turtle, native to much of central and southern Florida, is an important example.
Originally, the Florida mud turtle was a subspecies of the eastern mud turtle Kinosternon subrubrum . However, when researchers examined this particular turtle more closely in 2013, they determined it was unique enough to be its own distinct species. Its taxonomic name is a tribute to the Austrian herpetologist Franz Steindacher.
At first glance, the Florida mud turtle looks like a typical small semi-aquatic mud or musk turtle. It is small, usually only 3 to 5 inches long. Its long, round, dark brown shell has an orange-brown underside. Its webbed feet and clawed toes help it navigate shallow, muddy waters like ponds and swamps.
5. Leatherback sea turtle ( Dermochelys coriacea )
Of course, this list wouldn't be complete without the incredible leatherback sea turtle. The largest sea turtle species in the world (and the largest non-crocodile reptile!), it typically weighs over 700 pounds and averages 6 to 7 feet in length. Some particularly large individuals can even reach 1,500 lbs!
In addition to their large size, the leatherback's overall appearance is quite striking. Its skin and shell are dark gray to black with small irregular white and beige spots all over the body. Its carapace has 7 long, parallel ridges that run along its length. Like most other sea turtles, it has long, strong, flat flippers instead of clawed toes.
As sea turtles, leatherbacks are essentially entirely aquatic, only briefly surfacing to breathe and lay eggs. It can swim at speeds in excess of 20 miles per hour and can dive to depths of 4,000 feet. What's more, leatherback sea turtles can hold their breath for more than 30 minutes at a time. Although they have many food options, they mainly feed on soft, gelatinous invertebrates such as jellyfish.
The leatherback turtle has a very wide geographic range, extending over most of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Sadly, this range is shrinking, as the species has been critically endangered since the 1970s. This is mainly due to coastal land development, pollution and general human activities.
6. Florida Chicken Turtle ( Deirochelys reticularia chrysea )
Another of Florida's titular turtles is the oddly named Florida chicken turtle. The common name is actually a double reference to the turtle's long, bird-like neck and the fact that its meat is said to taste like chicken.
This particular turtle is actually one of three general subspecies of the chicken turtle. The Florida variety is the most colorful of the bunch! It has a bright reddish-orange plastron to distinguish it from other subspecies.
On average, it is about 6 to 10 inches long and has the webbed claws typical of most semi-aquatic turtles. Females are usually larger than males. Its carapace is dark brown with thin, yellowish webbing. Its skin is usually greenish-brown with thin yellow streaks.
Also, like most other semiaquatic turtle species, Florida chicken turtles prefer shallow, muddy waters such as swamps and slow-moving streams. It is very hardy and great for moving around in water and on land. Strangely though, its lifespan is rather short compared to other similar turtle species, only around 20 to 25 years.
7. Florida box turtle ( Terrapene carolina bauri )
The Florida Box Turtle is similar to the aforementioned Florida Chicken Turtle in that it is actually a subspecies of a more widespread species. In this case, the Florida box turtle is one of six subspecies of the common box turtle. It lives in the southernmost of all six subspecies and is native to much of Florida and southern Georgia.
Florida box turtles are about 4 to 6 inches long, which is pretty average for their size. On average, males are slightly larger than females. Its carapace is tall and dome-shaped. The shell is mostly dark brown with bright yellow streaks irregularly throughout. The turtle's skin is also a dark brownish gray with random yellow spots.
As a semi-aquatic species, it prefers shallow, swampy habitats with plenty of moist soil and foliage substrate for burrowing. It is very hardy, with a sharp beak and webbed feet with clawed toes, allowing it to move easily across land and water when required. Florida box turtles are opportunistic omnivores that feed on a variety of invertebrates, small fish, and amphibians.
Notably, the subspecies' Latin name is a tribute to German herpetologist Georg Baur.
8. Snapping turtle ( Macrochelys temminckii )
Somehow, the snapping turtle is fiercer and more edgy than its snapping turtle relatives. This is largely due to its extremely sharp, rugged, rough-textured carapace, large, bulky head, and incredibly sharp, powerful beak. While the common snapping turtle we mentioned earlier is more common, this species is mostly restricted to the Florida Panhandle.
One of the largest freshwater turtles in the world, snapping turtles can weigh over 150 pounds! Its size varies widely, ranging from 30 pounds to over 170 pounds. Individuals can grow up to 29 inches long, but 20 to 25 inches is a more typical range.
Although it looks sluggish, it is actually surprisingly fast in water and on land as an ambush predator. It is mostly dark brown to olive green in color with a yellow pattern around the head and eyes.
The snapping turtle is a ferocious predator that lures unsuspecting fish and amphibians with its worm-like tongue and spongy mouth. It is almost exclusively carnivorous, and like all snapping turtles, its bite can be quite painful.
9. Loggerhead turtle ( Sternotherus minor )
Not to be confused with the loggerhead sea turtle, this species is much smaller and barely aquatic in nature. In this case, the name "loggerhead" refers to the turtle's broad, bulky head. Native to northern and central Florida, it prefers shallow bodies of water such as ponds and slow-flowing streams.
The loggerhead turtle's large, bulky head makes it easy to distinguish from most other musk turtles. When fully grown, it averages about 3 to 5 inches in length. Its skin color ranges from light brown to tan, with small dark brown spots all over its head and body. The carapace is dark brown and somewhat flattened.
A semi-aquatic species, this turtle has webbed feet with claws on the end of each toe. It mainly feeds on small aquatic upside-down animals such as clams and snails.
10. Florida red-bellied turtle ( Pseudemys nelsoni )
As its name suggests, this turtle is native to much of Florida and southern Georgia and has a bright reddish-orange belly. The rest of its shell is dark brown, with a reddish rim where the carapace (top) meets the plastron (bottom shell). It averages about 8 to 15 inches long, with females usually being slightly larger than males.
In addition to its bright red belly, the Florida red-bellied coot turtle is visually stunning with its thin yellowish-brown stripes on its taupe skin. Its webbed feet and clawed toes help it navigate its semi-aquatic, swampy habitat.
Interestingly, although it is a freshwater species, it is very hardy and tolerates brackish water very well. Another unique trait is its herbivorous diet. While other similar turtles feed primarily on aquatic invertebrates, the Florida red-bellied turtle feeds primarily on aquatic plants such as duckweed and algae. It thrives in a variety of aquatic habitats and will spend a lot of time basking on partially submerged logs and rocks.
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about the author
Hailey Pruett is a non-binary content writer, editor, and lifelong animal lover living in East Tennessee. They grew up on a hobby farm and owned and cared for a variety of animals, from the mundane (dogs, cats) to the more exotic and unusual (lizards, frogs, goats, llamas, chickens, and more!). When they're not busy writing about how awesome reptiles and amphibians are, they're usually playing arcane indie video games, collecting Squishmallows, or hanging out with their cat, Hugo. Their favorite animals are bearded dragons, salamanders and marine iguanas.
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