How Do I Tell What Kind of Turtle I Have?

How Do I Tell What Kind of Turtle I Have?

Did you know that turtles have existed ever since the mid-Jurassic period? Well, they have been around for a longer duration than snakes and crocodiles!

Did you know that turtles have existed ever since the mid-Jurassic period? Well, they have been around for a longer duration than snakes and crocodiles!

Turtles are an enormous group of reptiles that includes more than 350 species. And biologists classify turtles according to their habitat or living environment – sea turtles, freshwater turtles, and land-dwelling tortoises.

This enormous group of turtles lives in almost every state of the U.S., And sometimes, the sea turtles also head over to visit the chilly lands of Alaska!

As a pet parent, it’s crucial for you to do some homework on your pets. This will enable you to determine the kind of turtle you have at your home. Since there are a plethora of turtle species, each of them requires different food and overall care.

Thus, as a reptile lover, it’s important for you to examine your pet’s overall anatomy, foot shape, shell, etc. Also, you must consider everything notable about the turtle’s appearance. As you are here today, this article will give you valuable insights into the techniques of identifying the fascinating Testudines.

Let’s check them out!

What are the Most Common Types of Turtles?

While an aquatic turtle requires an aquarium to live, terrestrial turtles can do pretty well in an open space. So, once you have determined the breed of your turtle, it will be easier for you to determine the overall care. And since some turtles have the capability to live for 70-100 years, you need to have a proper plan.

Some of the most common types of turtle include:

Freshwater Turtle

freshwater turtle

Most of the turtles that you will generally come across are freshwater turtles. These turtles usually have a smaller size in comparison to all the other turtles. In fact, they are either aquatic or semi-aquatic, and they tend to spend the majority of their time in aquatic environments.

Leaving aside the box turtles, every other freshwater turtle enjoys spending their time in the water. The box turtles are an exception as they spend significantly lesser time in the water. On the other hand, the Japanese pond turtle is capable of spending months at the bottom of a stream or pond.

Some of the most common examples of freshwater turtles are – cooters, snapping turtles, sliders, softshell turtles, wood turtles, box turtles, map turtles, etc.

Land Tortoise

land tortoise

As the name suggests, land tortoises are exclusively found on land. They usually have high domes, and their shells are typically heavy and a little less streamlined.

When it comes to identifying them, you can easily tell it’s a land tortoise by inspecting their feet. Their elephantine legs are usually short, unlike the other breeds. In fact, when the land tortoises move, they seamlessly walk on their toes.

Some of the most common species of land tortoises include – Indian Star tortoises, Greek tortoises, red-footed tortoises, Russian tortoises, etc.

Sea Turtles

Just opposite the land tortoise, sea turtles can be typically found in the sea. Since they are purely aquatic, they are generally larger in size. As a matter of fact, they come to the shores just to lay eggs!

The most compelling feature of the variant turtle is its flippers. Basically, sea turtles have flippers instead of feet!

Some of the most common examples of sea turtles include – hawksbill sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, Atlantic ridley sea turtles, etc.

What are the Steps for Identifying a Turtle?

If you have turtles as pets, then you need to identify their breed. Here, in this section, we have listed a few techniques for identifying the turtle species:

Determine the Turtle’s Habitat

determine the turtle’s habitat

The first and foremost thing that you need to do is identify whether it is a freshwater, sea, or land turtle. If your turtle’s frontal limbs are flippers, you’ll know it is a sea turtle. But if your turtle’s frontal limbs are toes, it is either a freshwater turtle or a land tortoise.

Please note that sea turtles are usually large and very rare. Since they mostly live in the deep sea, you’ll seldom come across them. In fact, tortoises generally walk on their toes, and turtles walk flat on their feet. Also, turtles possess flat feet, while tortoises have elephant-like clawed feet.

Check the Shape of the Plastron

If your turtle has a plastron covering its underside and a short tail, it isn’t a snapping turtle. Chelydra Serpentina, the most common snapping turtle, has a minute cross-shaped plastron that covers a little portion of the underside.

The size of the plastron is typically half of the shell. Nevertheless, they are quite large, and the length of the carapace is around 8 to 18.5 inches. Besides, they also have an extremely long saw-like tail.

Check the Shell Carefully

check the shell carefully

Next, you need to check the shell of your turtle very carefully. If your turtle has an elongated snout and the carapace or shell is soft and pliable, then it’s a softshell turtle. But if your turtle’s shell is not hard, then it’s probably a different breed.

Inspect the Shell Scutes

You should note that a turtle’s shell is covered with scutes, typically composed of keratin.

Check for Pectoral Scute on the Plastron

Next, you need to find out whether your turtle has pectoral scutes on its plastron. If it does, you need to check whether the scutes are squarish and have visible skin between them. If you find the same, then you’ll know it’s a musk turtle. But if the pectoral scutes are triangular, and have no visible skin between them, then it’s a mud turtle.

Inspect the Feet Carefully

After that, you need to check your turtle’s feet carefully. Remember that the eastern box turtle has elephant-like feet and 12 scutes. Their toes are not webbed, and their plastron is typically hinged. This enables the turtle to remain completely enclosed within its shell. And even though they are pond turtles, they don’t like spending much time in the water.

Check the Keel

check the keel

Next, you need to look out for the keel very closely. Check whether the carapace of your turtle is sculptured or not. Also, check whether the central keel comprises a pyramidal pattern with ridges and grooves. You must also inspect the tail of your turtle and find out whether it’s a hatchling or not.

Glyptemys Insculpta, the wood turtle, has a sculptured yet flat carapace. In fact, its central ridge is composed of pyramidal patterns of ridges and grooves. Also, the color of this turtle’s plastron is typically yellow, with black spots on the corners of the scutes. The black spots can also be found underneath the turtle. Besides, the hatchling’s tail is as long as its carapace.

Inspect the Neck Length

If your turtle’s head and neck can stretch longer than the plastron, then it’s a chicken turtle.

Check the Carapace

If the carapace of your turtle has brown concentric circles and concentric grooves on the scutes, it might be terrapin. Better known as Glyptemys insculpta or diamondback terrapin, it has plenty of black spots and grayish skin on the limbs, neck, and head.

Inspect the Jaws

inspect the jaws: what kind of turtle i have

The upper jaw of the eastern-painted turtle is notched with small cusps on either side. In fact, they also have reddish-orange lines which go across the carapace.

To Conclude

Identifying the kind of turtle you possess is extremely important. And until you’re not aware of what breed you own, it will be quite difficult for you to move about. Also, you won’t even know about what you are trying to do.

You must have a somewhat clear idea regarding the methods of identifying the breed of your turtles. We hope that we were able to provide you with a little help. So the next time you purchase a turtle as your pet, use these identification methods to determine its type.

Until then, happy petting!

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