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Turtles in Illinois

Turtles in Illinois

There are 17 species of native turtles in Illinois, roaming the prairies, swamps, and waters of the state. Some of these turtles are very common, like the Common Snapping turtle and Painted turtle, which is the state reptile of Illinois.

However, some are unfortunately endangered or vulnerable like the Spotted turtle and River Cooter.

1) Blanding’s Turtle

Group of blandings turtles in illinois
Group of blandings turtles in illinois
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Emydoidea Blandingii
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: Between 5 and 8 inches
  • Lifespan: Up to 80 years
  • Average Price Range: Between $300 and $450

Also known as “the turtle that smiles”, Blanding’s turtles are named after naturalist William Blanding. These beautiful turtles have dark oval shells covered in faint yellow speckles. Their plastrons are yellow with black patches.

Unfortunately Blanding’s turtles are endangered in Illinois. They are mainly concentrated in the northern half of the state, but populations are scattered and hard to find. They prefer marshy habitats, and losing these habitats is driving their decline.

Blanding’s turtles are omnivorous, mainly eating crayfish, earthworms, and water-borne invertebrates. They also occasionally eat plants, and do not rely on water to help them swallow.

2) Eastern Box Turtle

Eastern box turtle in Southern Illinois
Eastern box turtle in Southern Illinois
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Terrapene Carolina Carolina
  • Other Names: Land turtle
  • Adult Size: Between 4 and 7 inches
  • Lifespan: Up to 40 years
  • Average Price Range: Between $120 and $400
  • Recommended Books: Box Turtles: Complete Herp Care (Tess Cook)

Eastern Box turtles have high domed dark brown shells that sport distinctive yellow and orange markings. Their plastrons are also dark brown. Uniquely, Eastern Box turtles can regenerate their shells.

These terrestrial turtles are found in the southern half of Illinois and are fairly common throughout this range. They prefer woodland as well as marshy and grassland areas and live near streams and ponds.

Eastern Box turtles can roam up to 50 meters a day in search of food. They are omnivores will eat fish and invertebrates as well as plants.

3) Ornate Box Turtle

Ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata) in Illinois
Ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata) in forrest
  • Experience Level: Intermediate to Expert
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Terrapene ornata ornata
  • Other Names: Box Tortoise, Western Box Turtle
  • Adult Size: Between 4 and 5 inches
  • Lifespan: Up to 28 years in captivity, up to 40 years in the wild
  • Average Price Range: Between $130 and $450
  • Recommended Books: Box Turtles: Complete Herp Care (Tess Cook)

Ornate Box turtles are a colorful species with distinctive yellow or orange striped patterning on their domed shells. They are scattered across Illinois, preferring open habitats like grasslands or prairies. They are rarely found in central areas and are a threatened species.

These turtles are active during the day and forage for food, especially after rainfall. They have recently faced declines in populations due to habitat loss as well as being captured for sale.

Ornate Box turtles are omnivores and mainly eat earthworms, insects, and occasionally carrion. They will also eat vegetation such as plants.

4) Eastern River Cooter

Eastern river cooter in Illinois
Eastern river cooter basking on rock

Eastern River Cooters are freshwater semi-aquatic turtles. They can sometimes be seen basking on rocks or logs at the edge of the water. In Illinois these turtles are endangered, and are only found in south-western counties. 

These turtles have slightly domed shells varying from brown to olive. Their shells and heads have beautiful yellowish markings, while their plastrons are also yellow.

Eastern River Cooters are mainly herbivores, preferring to eat vegetation and fruits rather than meat such as fish or insects. They are usually found in rivers and streams.

5) Common Map Turtle

Northern Map turtle in Illinois (Graptemys Geographica)
Northern Map turtle basking on rocks next to lake (Graptemys Geographica)

Common Map turtles are an aquatic species that is widespread across Illinois. They are great swimmers and rarely venture far from the water, but they do like to bask.

They have dark brown or olive green shells, and are named for their markings, which resemble the contours of a map and are often yellow in color. Small yellow spots behind the eyes separate the Common Map turtle from other subspecies.

Common Map turtles are mainly carnivorous, feeding on fish and aquatic invertebrates like crayfish, but also occasionally eat plants.

6) False Map Turtle

False map turtle in Illinois (Graptemys pseudogeographica)
False map turtle in Illinois (Graptemys pseudogeographica)

False Map turtles usually inhabit the larger rivers that run across Illinois and are a common species. They rarely travel far from the water, and like to bask on outcrops above the surface of the water.

False Map turtles have dark shells, often brown or black and have contour-like yellow markings. As the turtle ages, this pattern gets fainter. Most adults have a pronounced keel on their backs.

To distinguish themselves from other Map turtles, False turtles lack colored patches and markings on their heads. These turtles are omnivores and eat aquatic insects, crayfish, and aquatic vegetation.

7) Ouachita Map Turtle

Ouachita Map turtle in Illinois (Graptemys Ouachitensis)
Ouachita Map turtle in forrest (Graptemys Ouachitensis)

Ouachita Map turtles are mainly found in the fringe counties of Illinois as well as some of the central northern regions. They are fairly common diurnal turtles, but are easily startled and will quickly jump into the water.

Ouachita Map turtles can be distinguished from other Map turtles by the large lightly colored patches behind their eyes. Males have a prominent keel protruding from their dark green shells.

As with many other Map turtles, Ouachita Map turtles are omnivorous. They mainly eat mollusks, aquatic larvae, and shrimp. They will also occasionally eat vegetation such as algae and aquatic plants.

8) Eastern Mud Turtle

Eastern Mud turtle in Illinois (Kinosternon Subrubrum)
Eastern Mud turtle on rocks (Kinosternon Subrubrum)
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon Subrubrum
  • Other Names: Common Mud turtle
  • Adult Size: Between 3 and 5 inches
  • Lifespan: Up to 50 years
  • Average Price Range: $40 to $100

Common Mud turtles like shallow, slow-moving waters, especially swamps or bogs. In Illinois they are mainly found in southern counties. They move around a lot on land and do not always stay near the water.

These turtles have smooth, oval shaped shells that drop quite sharply at the sides and back. Their shells range between brown and yellow coloration and their faces sport bright yellow stripes.

Common Mud turtles are omnivorous and will mainly eat worms, snails and other mollusks and sometimes fish. They will also eat plants or algae.

9) Yellow Mud Turtle

Yellow mud turtle in Illinois (Kinosternon Flavescens Flavescens)
Yellow mud turtle in grass (Kinosternon Flavescens Flavescens)
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon Flavescens Flavescens
  • Other Names: Yellow-necked Mud turtle
  • Adult Size: Between 3 and 5 inches
  • Lifespan: Between 10 and 40 years
  • Average Price Range: Between $150 and $295
  • Where To Buy: theturtlesource.com

Yellow Mud Turtles mainly inhabit marshes and ponds at the bottom of valleys. They like to burrow  in sandy substrates. Yellow Mud turtles inhabit north eastern counties of Illinois along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.

These small turtles have unmarked shells that are usually olive in color. They have some yellow coloring around their faces and also have yellow plastrons. Unfortunately they are endangered in Illinois due to habitat loss.

Yellow Mud turtles mainly eat crustaceans, aquatic invertebrates, earthworms, and mollusks. They mainly catch their prey in the water, and can consume food either in the water or on land.

10) Common Musk Turtle

Common musk turtle in Illinois (Sternotherus Odoratus)
Common musk turtle in enclosure (Sternotherus Odoratus)
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Scientific Name: Sternotherus Odoratus
  • Other Names: Stinkpot, Eastern Musk turtle
  • Adult Size: Between 4 and 5 inches
  • Lifespan: 50 years and over
  • Average Price Range: Between $20 and $90
  • Where To Buy: theturtlesource.com, undergroundreptiles.com

Common Musk turtles are also known as “Stinkpots” thanks to the strong odor they can excrete from their musk glands. They use this unique feature as a defense mechanism against predators. Common Musk turtles are common across much of Illinois.

Common Musk turtles have dark brown or black unmarked shells. They have fleshy barbels on their chins and necks, and their faces have two yellowish stripes.

These turtles are nocturnal omnivores and will eat mollusks, crustaceans and small amphibians. They prefer slow-moving waters in marshy and boggy habitats.

11) Painted Turtle

Western painted turtle in Illinois
Western painted turtle on bank basking
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Chrysemys Picta
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: Between 4 and 10 inches
  • Lifespan: Between 30 and 50 years
  • Average Price Range: Between $20 and $50
  • Recommended Books: Painted Turtle Pet Owners Guide (Ben Team)

Painted turtles are a common species found all across Illinois and are the state’s official reptile. These medium-sized aquatic turtles are popular as pets and prefer shallow waters such as marshes and ponds.

There are 4 subspecies of painted turtle including the Eastern, Midland, Southern, and Western painted turtles.

Painted turtles Painted turtles have dark shells, often edged in colors ranging from yellow to red. Their faces also have yellow stripes and males have long claws.

These diurnal turtles like to stay near the water, but will roam around on land. They like to bask on logs beside the water. Painted turtles are omnivorous and mainly eat mollusks, frogs, and underwater invertebrates.

12) Red-eared Slider

Red eared sliders basking on log in Illinois
Red eared slider basking on log
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Trachemys Scripta Elegans
  • Other Names: Water Slider turtle, Red-eared Terrapin
  • Adult Size: Between 6 and 8 inches
  • Lifespan: Between 20 and 40 years
  • Average Price Range: Between $15 and $50

One of the most popular species of pet turtle on the market, Red-eared Sliders are common semi-aquatic turtles found statewide across Illinois.  Red-eared Sliders prefer warm, slow-moving waters such as rivers and lakes.

Red Eared Sliders commonly have an olive green shell, with yellowish striped markings on their scales. Their heads are usually a darker color, with yellow band markings and red patches just behind their eyes.

Red-eared Sliders often stack themselves upon each other while basking at the waters edge. Their omnivorous diet consists of small fish, aquatic invertebrates, and underwater vegetation.

13) Alligator Snapping Turtle

Alligator snapping turtle (Macroclemys Temmincki) in aquarium
Alligator snapping turtle (Macroclemys Temmincki) in aquarium
  • Experience Level: Intermediate to Expert
  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Scientific Name: Macroclemys Temmincki
  • Other Names: Loggerhead Snapper
  • Adult Size: Between 15 and 26 inches
  • Lifespan: Between 60 and 70 years
  • Average Price Range: Between $25 and $60

Alligator Snapping turtles are the largest freshwater turtle species in the world. They have thick ridged, spiked shells and incredibly strong, beak-like jaws. They are usually dark brown in color.

These intimidating turtles are endangered in Illinois, and can mainly be found in fringe counties and some central northern regions in deep waters such as lakes and rivers.

Alligator Snapping turtles are carnivores, and will essentially eat anything they can catch, even other turtles. Their strong jaws are capable of crushing their prey, lured in by a movable tendril that acts as bait.

14) Common Snapping Turtle

Common Snapping turtle on beach (Chelydra Serpentina)
Common Snapping turtle on beach (Chelydra Serpentina)
  • Experience Level: Intermediate to Expert
  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Scientific Name: Chelydra Serpentina
  • Other Names: Common Snapper, Eastern Snapping turtle, Snapper
  • Adult Size: Between 8 and 20 inches
  • Lifespan: Between 30 and 50 years
  • Average Price Range: Between $20 and $40
  • Recommended Books: Snapping Turtle Pet Owners Guide (Ben Team)

Common Snapping turtles are a large, freshwater species that are found all across Illinois in larger bodies of permanent water. They can be aggressive if cornered on land, and will often hiss and bite.

Common Snapping turtles are easily identified by their distinctive hooked jaws. They have dark brown or green ridged shells. They also have strong claws and long tails with prominent saw-toothed ridges.

As nocturnal omnivores, Common Snapping turtles mainly eat amphibians, fish and even smaller turtles. They have even been known to eat small waterbirds if they get close enough. They will occasionally eat vegetation.

15) Smooth Softshell Turtle

Smooth Softshell Turtle (Apalone Mutica)
Smooth Softshell Turtle (Apalone Mutica)
  • Experience Level: Intermediate to Expert
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Scientific Name: Apalone Mutica
  • Other Names:
  • Adult Size: 4 ½ to 7 inches for males, 6 ½ to 14 inches for females
  • Lifespan: 25 years and over
  • Average Price Range: Between $40 and $60
  • Where To Buy: theturtlesource.com
  • Recommended Books: Softshell Turtle Owners Guide by Ben Team

Smooth Softshell turtles are a threatened species in Illinois. They are fast swimmers and inhabit rivers across many counties. They are not usually found in north eastern areas. They require sandbars as part of their habitats.

Smooth Softshells resemble leathery pancakes with cream to white plastrons. Their shells are usually brown or gray, and they have distinctive lines running from behind their eyes. Smooth softshells have tapered snouts.

These turtles usually bury themselves in shallow sands and sleep like this at night. They are carnivorous and mainly eat insects, mollusks, and crayfish.

16) Spiny Softshell Turtle

Spiny Soft shell Turtle, Dundee Dam, New_Jersey
Spiny Soft shell Turtle, Dundee Dam, New_Jersey
  • Experience Level: Intermediate to Expert
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Scientific Name: Apalone Spinifera
  • Other Names:
  • Adult Size: 5 to 9 ½ inches for males, 7 to 17 inches for females
  • Lifespan: Between 20 and 50 years
  • Average Price Range: Between $70 and $280
  • Recommended Books: Softshell Turtle Owners Guide by Ben Team

Spiny Softshell turtles can be found in rivers or streams with a fast-moving current. They are fast swimmers and are common across Illinois. Like Smooth Softshells, they require sandbars in their habitats to bury themselves in.

Spiny Softshells have leathery shells shaped like pancakes that feel like sandpaper. Their carapaces have several dark spot-like markings. Their long tapered beaks help them breathe while buried in the sand awaiting their prey.

These turtles are carnivorous and will consume any crustaceans, insects, and mollusks that swim past their hiding place. They then lash out and grab their prey in their mouths.

17) Spotted Turtle

Spotted Turtle being held by man (Clemmys Guttata)
Spotted Turtle being held by man (Clemmys Guttata)

Spotted turtles are a small species that are sadly endangered in Illinois. Their smooth black shells are covered with vibrant bright yellow spots. They have yellow plastrons with large black patches of varying sizes on either side.

Spotted turtles are semi-aquatic and prefer prairies and shallower waters such as bogs or marshes. Spotted turtles like to bask, often perching themselves on logs by the water.

These omnivorous turtles often eat invertebrates, crustaceans, mollusks as well as vegetation. Their small size makes them great pets, but they are now only found in very small populations in north eastern counties of Illinois.

Wrapping up

In this article we’ve looked at the 17 native turtles in Illinois. Some of these turtles are fairly common and widespread across the state, like the Red-eared Slider or Common Map turtle. The Painted turtle is another common species that is Illinois’ state reptile.

However, some of the turtles in Illinois are sadly endangered or threatened. These vulnerable species include Spotted turtles and Blanding’s turtles.

If you enjoyed this list and want to discuss these turtles further or if you’re thinking of buying one of these species as a pet, feel free to comment below!

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