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Top 10 Rarest Turtles

The rarest turtles on the planet are obviously hard to come by and many times kept by zoos, while other organizations are breeding these turtles in captivity.

Some of the species that are bred are being reintroduced to the wild in an effor to repopulate their species. Others are being bred to be sold as pets like the Albino sliders at the end of this article.

Turtles are among the most recognizable animals on the planet. Their shells make them easy to identify. These creatures are often depicted as peaceful creatures and are known for their longevity.

Many turtle species also make excellent pets as they are non-threatening and interesting creatures to house. Unlike other pets, the turtle can live long with some species outliving their owners.

Rarest Turtles

1. Flattened Musk Turtle

Flattened Musk Turtle
Flattened Musk Turtle swimming underwater
  • Scientific Name: Sternotherus depressus
  • Average Adult Size:  3 – 4 inches
  • Average Price Range: N/A
  • Conservation Status: Critically Endangered

Quick Care Requirements

  • Diet: Commercial diet and animal foods such as fish, prawns, crayfish, mussels, and insects
  • Water Temperature: 78°H/72°L
  • Basking Spot Temperature: 90°F

While all other musk turtles aren’t threatened or endangered, the flattened musk turtle is critically endangered and is on the verge of extinction. In captivity, they are very difficult to find.

In fact, it’s near impossible to find a flattened musk turtle. Their rarity in captivity is due to the difficult nature of their breeding process.

Captive breeding may be key to the survival of this species once their habitats have been restored. Their decline is mainly down to pollution (siltation) caused by coal mining, and agricultural activities.

This turtle can only survive in pure waters, and even the slightest change in water quality causes a decline in their populations. Their carapace is lower and flatter than that of other musk turtles, thus their common name.

2. Painted River Terrapin

Painted River Terraping (Batagur borneoensis)
Painted River Terraping (Batagur borneoensis)
  • Scientific Name: Batagur borneoensis
  • Common Names: Painted terrapin, painted batagur, & saw-jawed turtle
  • Average Adult Size:  12 – 28 inches
  • Average Price: $395
  • Conservation Status: Critically Endangered

Quick Care Requirements

  • Diet: Commercial diet, animal foods & plant matter (leafy greens,  vegetables & foliage)
  • Water Temperature: 78°H/72°L
  • Basking Spot Temperature: 90°F

The painted terrapin is considered one of the most endangered turtles in the world. In fact, it is widely considered to be among the top 25 endangered freshwater turtles and tortoises.

It is even listed in  CITES Appendix II and as such the commercial trade of wild painted terrapin is strictly forbidden. Only captive-bred painted terrapin can be traded.

Because of their rare nature, the painted terrapin is quite expensive and can go for over $400. Morph Market is a place where you can find captive breeders of this species.

The painted terrapin can grow to lengths of 28 inches. Males grow to lengths of 12 to 16 inches (300 to 400 mm) and females grow to lengths of 20 to 28 inches (500 to 700 mm).

3. Yellow-Headed Box Turtle

Yellow headed box turtle (Cuora aurocapitata)
Yellow headed box turtle (Cuora aurocapitata)
  • Scientific Name: Cuora aurocapitata
  • Common Names: Golden-headed box turtle
  • Adult size: 4.72 to 7.48 in (120 to 190 mm)
  • Conservation Status: Critically Endangered

The yellow-headed box turtle is a critically endangered turtle and little is known of the species. These turtles can’t be found in the pet trade.

The carapace of this turtle is greenish-brown and its head and limbs are yellowish in color, thus their common names.

The yellow-headed box turtle is highly aquatic and can be found in China specifically in the Nanling, Yi, Guangde, and Jing Counties of the Anhui province.

4. Yellow Blotched Map Turtle

Yellow blotched map turtle on black background
  • Scientific Name: Graptemys flavimaculata
  • Common Names: Yellow-blotched sawback
  • Average Adult Size:  9 – 18 cm (2 – 7 inches)
  • Average Price: $400
  • Conservation Status: Endangered

Quick Care Requirements

  • Diet: Commercial diet, fish, insects, seafood, and worms
  • Water Temperature: 75°H/72°L
  • Basking Spot Temperature: 90°F

The yellow-blotched sawback is one of the rarest map turtles in the world, if not the rarest. This turtle is endemic to North America just like other map turtles. It is limited to just the Pascagoula River of Mississippi.

This turtle gets its name from the yellow markings (blotches) on its back. Adult males are generally 3 to 4 inches in size and adult females are generally 6 to 7 inches in size.

Only acquire this turtle from a reputable breeder. A good place to find breeders include the Turtle Source.

5. Pig-nosed Turtle

Pig-nosed turtle (Carettochelys insculpta)
Pig-nosed turtle (Carettochelys insculpta)
  • Scientific Name: Carettochelys insculpta
  • Common Names: Pitted-Shelled Turtle, Warrajan, Fly River turtle
  • Average Adult Size: 70 cm (28 in)
  • Price Range: $400 – $3000
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable

Quick Care Requirements

  • Diet: Commercial tortoise or box turtle food, fruits, and foliage
  • Water Temperature: 79°H/86°L
  • Basking Spot Temperature: N/A

The fly river turtle has flippers instead of webbed digits. This is very rare for freshwater turtles. This unique appearance makes it a highly sought-after turtle.

The carapace is dark in color and has a leathery texture. However, it isn’t a soft-shelled turtle. Unlike soft-shelled turtles, the fly river turtle has a bony domed carapace under the leathery skin.

In the United States and other European countries, expect to pay a lot for a fully grown adult fly river turtle as it is difficult to come by.

6. Spiny Softshell Turtle

Adult Female Western Spiny Softshell (Apalone spinifera hartwegi)
Adult Female Western Spiny Softshell (Apalone spinifera hartwegi)
  • Scientific Name: Apalone spinifera
  • Average Adult Size:  5 – 11 inches
  • Average Price Range: $50 – $150
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Quick Care Requirements

  • Diet: Commercial diet and animal foods such as fish, prawns, crayfish, mussels, and insects
  • Water Temperature: 85°H/55°L
  • Basking Spot Temperature: 90°F

Although not as rare as the other turtles in this list, the spiny softshell is an uncommon turtle to find in the pet trade. As soft-shelled turtles, they don’t have a hard shell.

They are also very sensitive to poor water quality, unlike hard-shelled turtles. There are several subspecies of the spiny softshell with the eastern spiny softshell being the most common subspecies kept as pets.

The subspecies are eastern spiny softshell (A. s. spinifera), Black spiny softshell turtle or Cuatro Cienegas softshell turtle (A. s. atra), Guadalupe spiny softshell turtle (A. s. guadalupensis), Gulf Coast spiny softshell turtle (A. s. aspera), Pallid spiny softshell turtle (A. s. pallida), and Texas spiny softshell turtle (A. s. emoryi).


Albino red eared slider
Albino red eared slider

Morphs of common species are generally rare and difficult to find. Unlike snakes and other reptiles, turtle morphs are extremely rare. If you do stumble upon them, they are generally very expensive.

Caring for morphs is just the same as caring for the turtle’s species. Morphs are simply individuals of a species with unique coloration not commonly found in the general population of that species. Some known morphs include

  • Red Eared Slider Turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans)
    • Snow Red Eared Slider Turtle  
    • Pastel Red Eared Slider Turtle  
    • Lubino Red Eared Slider Turtle  
    • Hybino Red Eared Slider Turtle  
    • Clown Red Eared Slider Turtle  
    • Chinese Melanistic Red Eared Slider Turtle  
    • Charcoal Red Eared Slider Turtle  
    • Caramel Pink Red Eared Slider Turtle  
    • Blizzard Red Eared Slider Turtle  
    • Albino Red Eared Slider Turtle
  • Albino Yellow Belly Slider Turtle (Trachemys scripta scripta) 
  • Albino Southern Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta dorsalis)  
  • Albino Hieroglyphic River Cooter Turtle (Pseudemys concinna)  
  • Albino Florida Softshell Turtle (Apalone ferox) 
  • Albino Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)  

Rare Turtles that can’t be kept as pets

Some turtles are so rare that they just can’t be found in captivity except in reserves and zoos. Such turtles can’t and shouldn’t be kept as pets.

7. Yangtze softshell turtle

Yangtze Giant Softshell
Yangtze Giant Softshells on beach
  • Scientific Name: Rafetus swinhoei
  • Common Names: Swinhoe’s softshell turtle, speckled softshell turtle, Shanghai softshell turtle, Red River giant softshell turtle
  • Average Adult Size: 100 cm (39 inches)
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable

The Yangtze softshell turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in the world and one of the rarest turtles. This turtle used to inhabit the Yangtze River and Lake Tai in China.

It’s believed that only four specimens exist in the entire world with specimens emerging in 1999, 2000, and 2005. The last known female died in 2019. As such, unless a wild female emerges, the Yangtze softshell turtle functionally extinct.

8. Philippine Forest Turtle

Philippine forest turtle sitting in grass
Philippine forest turtle sitting in grass
  • Scientific Name: Siebenrockiella leytensis
  • Common Names: Philippine forest turtle, the Philippine pond turtle, the Palawan turtle, or the Leyte pond turtle
  • Average Adult Size: 8.3 in (21 cm)
  • Conservation Status: Critically Endangered

The Philippine forest turtle is a critically endangered species, found only in northern Palawan and its surrounding islands.

It is estimated that the Philippine forest turtle has a geographical range of less than 100 sq-km.

Little is known about this enigmatic species with the only known captive community being housed in the Malabon Zoo in Manila.

In fact, this species was thought to be extinct and was only rediscovered in 2001. As such, very little is known of the turtle and its life cycle. They are, however, believed to be omnivorous.

9. Roti Island Snake-Necked Turtle

Roti Island snake-necked turtle
Roti Island snake-necked turtle swimming
  • Scientific Name: Chelodina mccordi
  • Common Names: McCord’s snake necked turtle
  • Average Adult Size: 7.1–9.4 in (18–24 cm)
  • Conservation Status: Critically Endangered

The Roti Island snake-necked turtle is a rare freshwater turtle endemic to the Rote Island of Indonesia. As you may have already guessed, this turtle species is named after their geographic range and its long neck.

The carapace of this species is greyish brown. The plastron if the turtle is pale buff white. The neck of this turtle is almost as long as its shell.

This critically endangered turtle is one of the most desired turtles in the international pet trade. However, it is illegal to trade wild Roti Island snake-necked turtles due to the species rarity.

10. Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle

Cantors giant softshell turtle (Pelochelys cantorii) laying on beach in sand
Cantors giant softshell turtle (Pelochelys cantorii) laying on beach in sand
  • Scientific Name: Pelochelys cantorii
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Common Names: Asian giant softshell turtle, frog-faced softshell turtle
  • Average Adult Size: 23 to 40 inches (600 to 1000 mm)
  • Conservation Status: Endangered

The Asian giant softshell is one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world.

While there have been reports that they can grow to lengths of 180 cm or 5.9 ft, the largest specimen recorded has a carapace length of 129 cm or 51 inches (4.25 ft).

On average, expect the Asian giant softshell to grow to lengths of 23 to 40 inches (600 to 1000 mm). The carapace of this turtle is olive in color and smooth in texture.

As a softshell turtle, the Asian giant softshell lacks a bony hard shell, instead, this great turtle has a tough and leathery carapace. 

The Asian giant softshell used to be endemic throughout Asia and used to be found in eastern and southern India, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, eastern and southern China, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Luzon, and Mindanao in the Philippines, and Kalimantan, Java, and Sumatra in Indonesia.

However recently,it has been spotted only in the Mekong River in Cambodia where it can be found in abundance and in Philipine where a single specimen was captured by a fisherman.


Not all turtles that are rare are unavailable to the public. There are also many rare yet unendangered turtles that can be kept as pets. Even many endangered species can be kept as pets as far as they are captive bred.

Most of these rare turtles, which have already been mentioned such as the spiny softshell turtle, flattened musk turtle, and turtle morphs are expensive and difficult to acquire.

However, even the rarest turtles deserve love and care. When acquiring a rare turtle make sure all the paperwork is in order if it is an endangered species. Illegally acquiring turtles is bad for the wild populations.

If you have any questions or suggestions, kindly leave a comment.

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