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Turtles in Idaho

There is only native turtle in Idaho, which is the painted turtle. This turtle is an aquatic reptile that belongs to the pond turtle family (Emydidae).

This taxonomic family includes other American turtles such as sliders, map turtles, and cooters. Apart from the painted turtle, the snapping turtle and the red-eared slider can also be found in Idaho.

Both species are invasive species. This means that both reptiles did not occur naturally in Idaho and were introduced into the wild by humans.

The snapping turtle belongs to the snapping turtle family (Chelydridae) and the red-eared slider belongs to the pond turtle family (Emydidae) just like the painted turtle.

Here is our list of all the turtles you can find in Idaho, both native and non-native species:

Native Species of Turtles in Idaho

1. Painted Turtle

Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta) in vegetated water on rocks near Saint Joe National Forest, Moscow, Idaho, USA
A Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta) in vegetated water on rocks near Saint Joe National Forest, Moscow, Idaho, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Chrysemys picta 
  • Other Names: Western painted turtle
  • Adult Size: 10 inches (25 cm)
  • Lifespan: 25 to 30 years
  • Conservation Status: State Rank S3 (Vulnerable, at moderate risk of extirpation),  Global Rank G5 (Secure with a low risk of elimination or extinction), Least Concern on IUCN Red List
  • Idaho Wildlife Classification: Protected Nongame

In Idaho, the painted turtle has been observed in the following counties – Ada, Boise, Bingham, Benewah,  Fremont, Canyon, Boundary, Bonneville, Bonner, Shoshone, Owyhee, Madison, Lemhi, Latah, Kootenai, Jefferson, and Valley.

In the rest of North America, the turtle can be found from southern Canada to northern Mexico. C. picta is the most common turtle species in North America. This turtle can be found coast to coast (from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean) and from Canada all the way to Mexico. 

The painted turtle native to Idaho is the western painted turtle which is the largest in the species. There are four subspecies of the painted turtle including the western painted turtle.

These include the western painted turtle, southern painted turtle, the midland painted turtle, and the eastern painted turtle. The subspecies’ names are derived from their geographic range.   

Within the species geographic range, the species can be found in slow-moving freshwater bodies with a thick layer of mud.

These turtles are often found in shallow waters or the shallow parts of large water bodies. They can be found in lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, and even swamps and marshes.

The habitat has to provide ample basking opportunities such as logs and branches. Since the turtle is omnivorous, it prefers habitats with a lot of vegetation. 

The western painted turtle grows to a length of  10 inches or 25 cm.

The carapace of this turtle is dark in coloration with colors ranging from black to greenish-brown with bright red and yellow markings. These markings look like they have been painted onto the shell, thus the common name.

The scutes on the carapace form a mesh pattern. You can use this pattern to easily identify the western painted turtle and distinguish it from the other painted turtles. 

C. picta is omnivorous and feeds on plants and any animal that it can fit into the mouth such as insects, crustaceans, and fish. It also eats carrion. While juveniles are more carnivorous, adults are more herbivorous. 

C. picta is classified as a Protected Nongame species by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. This protects the wild populations from collection and/or possession. 

Non-native Species of Turtles in Idaho

There are two nonnative turtle species to be found in Idaho. These turtles are invasive species.

These invasive turtle species include the red-eared slider known for the red marking on their ears and the snapping turtle which is known for its aggressive demeanor and dangerous bites. 

2. Red Eared Slider

Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) climbing out of the water by some tall grass near Mores Creek Park, Boise, Idaho, USA
A Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) climbing out of the water by some tall grass near Mores Creek Park, Boise, Idaho, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Trachemys scripta elegans
  • Average Adult Size: 6 to 12 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 to 40 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The red-eared slider is one of the more popular turtles kept as pets. These reptiles are a subspecies of sliders.

Other sliders include the yellow-bellied slider (T. s. scripta) and Cumberland slider (T. s. troostii). These turtles are American turtles and can be found in North America and Central America.

In Idaho, these turtles are invasive species. As they are nonnative species, they are not protected within the state.

Their numbers are quite limited as well. The red-eared slider is listed as one of the top 100 most invasive species in the list released by the  International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The red-eared turtle earns its name from the red marks on the ears and the fact that they usually quickly slide off basking platforms such as logs into the water the moment they feel threatened. 

The red-eared slider’s geographic range does not include Idaho. They can be found from Alabama and southwards to northern Mexico.

They have been introduced to many other parts of North America including southern Florida, the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Canada, and central Mexico. They can also be found in Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

The turtle can be found in both brackish and freshwater habitats. Like most pond turtles, the red-eared slider prefers shallow slowing water bodies.

Even in large water bodies, the red-eared slider can be found at the shallow ends. These turtles are semiaquatic and can be found in savannas and forested areas. Regardless of where they are found on land, a water body is always close by.  

Although sliders are omnivorous, the age of the individual determines the diet. Hatchlings and juveniles are carnivorous and feed on snails, amphibians, sponges, clams, fish, tadpoles, crayfish, larvae, and other insects.

They also feed on carrion. Adults are more omnivorous and feed on a large amount of plant matter.

This is down to the development of microflora in the digestive tracts that break down the plant matter they ingest. Plant matter they ingest includes seeds, flowers, stems, algae, and leaves. 

In the wild, these turtles can live to be 30 years. In captivity, sliders can live to be 41 years.

The species is listed as a species of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. they don’t hold any special status in the United States.

The concern with this turtle is that they can threaten the wild populations of other species native to places where they become invasive species. They become invasive species through pet releases.

3. Snapping Turtle

Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) found on a road near Boise River, Garden City, Idaho, USA
A Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) found on a road near Boise River, Garden City, Idaho, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Scientific Name: Chelydra serpentina
  • Adult Size: 8 to 18.5 inches
  • Lifespan: 18 to 47 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern on the IUCN Red List

The common snapping turtle is a large freshwater turtle native to North America.

While the species isn’t endemic to Idaho, they can be found here since the species have been introduced as pet releases through the pet trade. The turtle is endemic to the Eastern United States as well as Southeastern Canada.

The snapping turtle can be found in both fresh and brackish water bodies. They prefer water bodies with a lot of vegetation that they can hide in and soft muddy bottoms. They can be found in swamps, marshes, lakes, ponds, streams, and rivers.

The snapping turtle is a large turtle with adults reaching carapace lengths of 18.5 inches. Adult lengths range from 8 inches to 18.5 inches.

They also have a long tail which is usually almost as long as their carapace. The turtle has a rugged tough look and a sharp hooked beak which is capable of breaking fingers and causing serious lacerations.

Despite this, C. serpentina avoids humans and will only attack when threatened.

The chelonian’s carapace color ranges from brown to black. Their necks, limbs, and tails are yellowish, and their heads are dark in coloration. The turtle can be easily identified by the tubercles on their limbs and neck. They also have a tiny plastron that protects just a small portion of their underside.

C. serpentina can live as long as 47 years in captivity and on average, 18 years in captivity. In the wild, the turtle has an average life expectancy of 30 years.

C. serpentina is an ambush predator. When in water, they bury themselves in mud and wait for potential prey. When out of the water, the turtle can be quite aggressive.

They are however docile while in water. C. serpentina is a solitary animal and interactions among snapping turtles are usually aggressive especially between males.

The turtle is omnivorous and feeds on both animal foods and plant foods. They are known to eat leaves, algae, amphibians, small mammals, birds, fish, invertebrates, and even carrion.

While adults have few predators and are actually apex predators in their habitats, the young have several predators. The eggs of the turtle are eaten by a wide variety of animals.

The hatchlings and juveniles are also prey to several animals. Known predators include great blue herons, bullfrogs, largemouth bass, American crows, northern water snakes, red foxes, raccoons, striped skunks, and even other large turtles.

According to the IUCN Red List, the wild populations are not threatened and as such, they are listed as Species of Least Concern. However, in some places such as  Canada, the species is listed as a Species of Special Concern under the Canadian Species at Risk Act (SARA).

Frequently Asked Questions

How many turtle species are native to Idaho?

Only one turtle species is native to Idaho and that is the painted turtle. This turtle is the most widespread turtle species in North America.

The painted turtle is so-called because of the bright red and yellow marking on the shell. These markings look like they have been painted onto the turtle.

In Idaho, the painted turtle can be found in Ada, Boise, Bingham, Benewah,  Fremont, Canyon, Boundary, Bonneville, Bonner, Shoshone, Owyhee, Madison, Lemhi, Latah, Kootenai, Jefferson, and Valley.

Apart from the western painted turtle, the snapping turtle and the red-eared slider can be found in Idaho. These are two invasive species introduced through the pet trade. 

How many turtle species are native to Idaho?

While it is legal to keep a turtle as a pet in Idaho, this is dependent on the species. If the turtle is endangered and threatened then it is most likely illegal to keep that turtle as a pet.

However, common turtle species such as red-eared sliders, box turtles, and tortoises such as the Greek tortoise, and the sulcata tortoise can be kept as pets. 

The only turtle native to Idaho is classified as a Protected Nongame species by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. This protects the wild populations from collection and/or possession.  

To sell turtles, you need a permit. 

Are turtles found in Idaho dangerous?

All turtles carry salmonella. As such, they can transmit the Salmonella bacteria to humans which can lead to salmonella infections.

While symptoms are mild in most individuals, it can lead to serious complications among children, the elderly, and individuals with immune problems. To avoid salmonella infection when it comes to owning a turtle, wash your hands after handling the turtle or objects the turtle comes in contact with and keep the turtle and its things far from foodstuffs and the kitchen.

Another turtle found in Idaho, the common snapping turtle can be quite an aggressive turtle when out of water. This turtle’s bites can lead to lacerations and even broken bones. As such, it is not advisable to approach these turtles in the wild. 

Conclusion

The state of Idaho can be located in the western part of the united states.

This state is landlocked. Idaho is bounded to the north by Montana, to the south by Nevada and Utah, to the east by Wyoming, and the west by Washington and Oregon. It is a singly landlocked state – which means you need to cross at least one state before you can get to the ocean.

The state is home to 22 reptile species, one of which is the painted turtle.

However, the red-eared slider and the common snapping turtle are two invasive species found in Idaho. Both species were introduced as pet releases through the pet trade.

If you have any questions or extra information, kindly leave a comment for us down below.

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