History and Life First turtles appeared about 200 million years ago, considerably before dinosaurs

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History and Life

  • First turtles appeared about 200 million years ago, considerably before dinosaurs

  • Have undergone little evolutionary change

  • There are about 100 aquatic turtles that live in the United States, only about 16 live in Kentucky

  • Can live for more than 50 years, average is about 35 in wild

  • Live in almost every type of habitat

Kentucky Turtles

  • Alligator Snapper

  • Common Snapper

  • Mississippi Map

  • False Map

  • Ouachita Map

  • Common Map

  • Midland Painted

  • Southern Painted

  • Red-eared Slider


  • Kingdom: Animalia

  • Phylum: Chordata

  • Subphylum: Vertebrata

  • Class: Reptilia

  • Subclass: Anapsida Order: Chelia or Testudines

      • Family: Chelydridae Snapping turtles
      • Family: Kinosternidae Mud and Musk turtles
      • Family: Emydidae Sliders and Cooters
      • Family: Trionychidae Soft-shelled

Types of Turtles

  • Tortoises: terrestrial

  • Terrapins: freshwater

  • Turtles: used to refer to marine, used commonly for all members

Turtle Anatomy

Turtle Anatomy

  • No teeth, sharp strong jaws and beak

  • Scutes of tough keratin cover the surface of the bones

  • Turtles have about 50 bones

  • Shell has hinge between plastron and carapace to protect turtle inside


  • 2 Turtles:

  • Alligator Snapper Macroclemys temminckii

  • Common Snapper Chelydra serpentina

Common Snapper

Common Snapper

  • Carapace tan to dark brown

  • Massive head and powerful jaws

  • 3 rows of keels

  • Tail as long as carapace

  • Up to 45 lbs. in wild, can exceed 75 lbs. in captivity

Common Snapper Breeding

  • Mates April to November

  • Lays as many as 83 spherical eggs, usually 20-30

  • Eggs laid in muskrat lodge

  • Females can retain sperm

  • Incubation depending on weather 9-18 weeks

Common Snapper Distribution

Alligator Snapper

Alligator Snapping Turtle

  • Largest freshwater turtle, record 316 lbs.

  • Massive head with strongly hooked beak

  • Long tail

  • Carapace brown or gray

  • 3 prominent keels and extra row of scutes

Alligator Snapper Breeding

  • Lays one clutch between April and June

  • 10-52 spherical eggs buried in mud or sand

  • Incubation 11 ½ -16+ weeks

  • Only females leave water to lay eggs

Alligator Snapper

Alligator Snapper Distribution


  • Common Musk Sternotherus odoratus

  • Eastern Mud Kinosternon subrubrum subrubrum

  • Mississippi Mud Kinosternon subrubrum

  • hippocrepis

Common Musk Turtle

Common Musk ID

  • Smooth, high domed carapace, olive brown to dark gray with layer of algae

  • 2 light stripes on head

  • Females short tail, small head

  • Males large, long tail ending in a blunt spine, enlarged head, anus posterior to edge of carapace

Common Musk Breeding

  • Mates February to June

  • Females lay several clutches annually

  • 1-9 elliptical eggs

  • Deposited in tunnels dug by muskrats or in nests of alligators, under tree stumps

  • Incubation about 9 to 12 weeks

Common Musk Turtles

  • Musky odor released by two glands under the edge of carapace, musk turtles smell worse than mud turtles

  • Nicknames:

    • “Stinking Jim”
    • “Stinkpot”

Musk Turtle Distribution

Eastern Mud Turtle

Eastern Mud

  • Carapace olive to dark brown, patternless, smooth

  • Dives swiftly at the least sign of danger

  • Fresh or brackish water - shallow, slow-moving, soft bottom, plenty of vegetation

  • Diet: prey caught off bottom and aquatic vegetation

Eastern Mud Breeding

  • Mates March to May

  • Several clutches laid annually

  • 1-6 elliptical eggs

  • Incubation about 100 days

  • Deposited in tunnels dug by muskrats or in nests of alligators

Mud Turtle Distribution


  • Mississippi Map Graptemys pseudogeographica kohni

  • False Map Graptemys pseudogeographica pseudogeographica

  • Ouachita Map Graptemys pseudogeographica ouachitensis

  • Common Map Graptemys geographica

  • Midland Painted Chrysemys picta picta

  • Southern Painted Chrysemys picta dorsalis

Family EMYDIDAE (con’t)

  • Red-eared Slider Trachemys scripta elegans

  • Hieroglyphic River Pseudemys concinna Cooter heiroglyphica

  • Eastern River Pseudemys concinna

  • Cooter concinna

Common Map Turtle

Common Map

  • Yellow and olive-brown colored carapace

  • Yellow oddly shaped circle behind eyes

  • Females are larger, males half their size

  • Large ponds, swamps, quiet streams with muddy bottoms, abundant aquatic vegetation

Common Map Breeding

  • 2-3 clutches per season

  • 3-20 eggs laid early summer

  • Males stroke face and neck of females with claws

Common Map Distribution

Red-eared Slider





Red-eared Slider

  • Prominent red stripe behind eyes

  • Carapace olive to brown with yellow bars and stripesCarnivorous young, herbivorous as adults

  • Enjoy basking on logs

  • Hibernate in colder weather

  • Live more than 30 years

Slider Breeding

  • Females larger than males

  • Males stroke face and neck of female with claws

  • Mates March to June

  • 1-3 clutches, 2-23 oval eggs

  • Incubation: 2-2 ½ months

  • Males mature 2-5 years

Slider Distribution


  • Midland Smooth Trionyx mutica mutica Soft-shell

  • Eastern Spiny Apalone spinifera Soft-shell spinifera

Spiny Soft-shell

Spiny Soft-shell

  • Yellowish-greenish carapace

  • Entire shell feels like sandpaper

  • Several large spines or conelike projections

  • Nose resembles a snorkle

  • Rivers, streams, and large lakes with sandy or muddy bottoms

  • Diet: crayfish, food, aquatic insects

Spiny Soft-shell Distribution

Midland Smooth Soft-shell

Midland Smooth Soft-shell

  • Feet of softshells have extensive webbing

  • Found in rivers, large streams, and rarely large lakes with sandy or muddy bottoms

  • Diet: insects, worms, snails, clams, frogs, fish, young birds, small mammals, algae, and seed

  • Length: 14 inches or more, males half that

  • Status: Common/risk

Smooth Soft-shell Distribution

Spiny and Smooth Soft-shell Breeding

  • Breed in May and they lay their eggs in June or July

  • Young hatch in August or September

  • Lay the 12 to 30 eggs, ping-pong ball shaped

  • Nests are on sandbars

  • Eggs often dug up by carnivorous mammals, drown, some fish


  • Most turtles are declining in numbers due to:

    • Pet Trade
    • Organs sold for medicinal purposes worldwide
    • Food
    • Habitat Loss
    • Overabundance of predators such as raccoons


  • In the pet trade, it is now illegal to sell a turtle if the carapace is less than 4 inches in length

  • Some turtles are being put on threatened lists and being labeled as “vulnerable” so they can be more protected under laws and policies

  • Of 270 or more known species, more than 100 are considered rare or threatened with extinction

Problems in Kentucky

  • Snapping turtles are a danger to young waterfowl.

  • To remove turtles, bait heavy lines with chicken gizzards and place baited lines in the shallow water areas around the pond. Captured turtles can be eaten or relocated.

  • Smaller, hard-shell, or slider turtles can be captured with a trap. Make a trap place placing a box or barrel in your pond. Put a board across the top. Turtles will climb onto the board to bask in the sun, then fall into the box or barrel.


  • Most research done on Sea turtles, not freshwater

  • “Temperature and Sex Determination in Reptiles with Reference to Chelonians” David Madge, University of London (2000)

  • Several places have included turtles in research but only in terms of species inventory of a specific piece of land

  • “An Inventory of the Amphibian and Reptile Fauna of Ichauway” Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center at Ichauway in Georgia (2001)

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