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How To Tell The Gender Of A Turtle

One of the most common questions we get at All Turtles is How can you tell if your turtle is a male or female. This guide is aimed at helping you solve that issue. There’s plenty of picture of both Turtles and Tortoises so you can make that distinction yourself.

Be sure to watch the video too! It’s super helpful and thorough giving you plenty of visual examples and tips too!

Table of Contents

1. Checking a Water Turtles Gender
1.1 Turtles-Claws
1.2 Turtle Tail
1.3 Turtles Size
2. Checking a Tortoises Gender
2.1 Gular Scutes
2.2 Tortoises Shell
2.3 Tortoise Tail
3. Video on how to tell whether a turtle or tortoise is male or female

1. Checking a Water Turtles Gender

You can tell the difference of a male and female water turtle thanks to some key features. Water turtles are dimorphic which is why the females will be significantly larger than the males.

1.1 Turtles Claws


Male Water Turtle Claw Close Up
Male pond turtle claws


Claws of female red eared slider
female red eared slider claws

First of look at the front legs and the size of their nails. On males the nails are quite long which surprisingly are also used to tickle the necks of the females when they are courting.

This unfortunately is not a universal trait for all water turtles, but if you use this in combination with the other things below it will give you a pretty good answer.

1.2 Turtles Tail


Male Water Turtle Tail Close up with Cloaca
Male pond turtle tail showing the cloaca which is out towards the end of the tail


Female water turtle tail
Female water turtle tail showing the opening near the base

Moving on to the other side of the turtle you can check the tail. Along with their nails the tails are also going to be longer than females. One additional thing to note on the tails is that the vent (cloaca) will be located near the tip of the tail.

1.3 Turtles Size

Water Turtles Female and male comparison
Female red bellied slider on the left and male pond turtle on the right

Females on the other hand are considerable larger once they have reached maturity. In order to use this trait they should have reached a size larger than 6 inches.

Females front claws will also be much shorter in comparison to the males and if you move back to the tail you can again see a difference.

Females tails will be much shorter and the opening or the cloaca will be much closer to the base rather than towards the end of the tail.

The best way to ensure you are giving a positive identification is to have two turtles there to be able to compare.

Knowing that that isn’t always possible you will just have to do your best to use the 3 traits, size, claws, and tails to give you the answer.

2. Checking a Tortoises Gender

2.1 Gular Scutes


Male Tortoise Gular Scute
Male Sulcata Tortoise Gular Scutes (more pronounced than females)


Female Tortoise Gular Scutes (less pronounced)

First off if you pick the tortoise up and turn it over gently take a look at the plastron. Look up by the head at the gooler scutes. They are considerably smaller than the males.

2.2 Tortoises Shell


Male Tortoise with concave plastron
Concave male tortoise plastron


Female Tortoise shell
Female tortoise plastron

Looking at the bottom of the tortoise’s shell you will immediately be able to tell the difference between a male and female given that on males it will be concave (meaning it goes inward). This trait is also present on the box turtles and some semi aquatic water turtles.

For tortoises this trait goes across the board though.

The reason for this trait is because it allows the males to fit on top of the females shell when they are mating.

2.3 Tortoises Tail


male tortoise anal scute
Male tortoise anal scute


Female Tortoise Anal Scute
Female tortoise anal scute

Here you can go back to check where the tail comes out and look at the size of the anal scutes where the tail comes out. The size difference is quite dramatic between males and females. Males openings will be much larger and wider in comparison to females smaller egg shaped openings.

Now, on some breeds of tortoises this may be the only thing you can use to determine the sex of the tortoise. The male’s tail will be longer and that is the key to look for.

3. How do you tell whether a turtle or tortoise is male or female

I hope you learned a lot above, this video gives a great walkthrough with the subtle nuances of determining the sex of both turtles and tortoises. Check it out to really become an expert!


That pretty much does it for this guide on sexing turtles and tortoises. What did you think of the guide? Did it help you? Do you have any other tips on how to check the gender of a turtle or tortoise?

Let us know below in the comments!

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Monday 10th of August 2020

I am looking to get my 9 year old daughter a turtle. I have read a little bit about them but curious, i am hoping to get a turtle that wont grow very big. I saw that the mud turtle does not grow more then about 4 inches. Is this a turtle that won't bite or be aggressive? Is there any other turtles you would recommend?

Brock Yates

Tuesday 11th of August 2020

Hey there,

Water turtles like the mud turtle are more of a display pet, than one to handle, they may or may not bite but can be docile in nature. A better option may be a tortoise. You can have a look here to see the different types. Greek Tortoises or Hermann's tortoises stay relatively small. Don't forget about their setups, they will need an enclosure with UVB light as well. You can check the individual care sheets for more information on that here