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Turtles in Kansas

There are 14 species of turtles in Kansas. The state’s varied climate – from semi-arid climate to the west to the humid continental climate to the east and humid subtropical climate to the south – creates just the right conditions for a number of several snapping, box, mud, sliders, musk, and softshell turtles to call it home.

Let’s take a closer look at each one of them!

Turtles in Kansas

1. Common Snapping Turtle

Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) sitting on asphalt road with tail extended
Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) sitting on asphalt road with tail extended
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Scientific Name: Chelydra serpentina
  • Adult Size: 8-18 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 years
  • Average Price Range: $25-$60
  • Recommended Books: Snapping Turtle Pet Owner’s Guide by Ben Team

The common snapping turtle lives all across Kansas, although it more densely populates the eastern half of the state. They prefer water and doent enjoy basking as much as some other species.

Although common snapping turtles are pretty good swimmers, they also enjoy walking along the bottom.

Females usually lay around 20-35 eggs during the summer. The eggs hatch between 2 and 4 months later, depending on the conditions. Hatchlings that survive into adulthood will have few predators in the wild.

Common snapping turtles have a short fuse. You could even say they’re – snappy (no pun intended). They will even fight other turtles and may lunge towards them.

Their temperament can easily make them a difficult pet to have if they’re not cared for correctly. If you’re thinking of buying a snapping turtle, make sure you have all the right equipment and information.

2. Alligator Snapping Turtle

Light brown spikey Alligator snapping turtle
Light brown spikey Alligator snapping turtle
  • Experience Level: Intermediate to Expert
  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Scientific Name: Macrochelys temminckii
  • Adult Size: 15-27 inches
  • Lifespan: 20-70

The alligator snapping turtle is the common snapping turtle’s bigger, meaner cousin. Although they seem to be pretty shy underwater, they can get pretty aggressive when they are on land (which, luckily, isn’t often – normally only nesting females spend a considerable amount of time outside of water).

They have shells with spikes and beak-like mouths. Even the skin on their head is somewhat thorny.

Because of their status as a threatened species, their tendencies to get pretty big pretty fast, and laws prohibiting their trade, alligator snapping turtles are hard to come by in pet stores.

If you are looking for a pet turtle, this is not one we recommend.

3. Common Musk Turtle

Common Musk Turtle
Common Musk Turtle
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Scientific Name: Sternotherus odoratus
  • Adult Size: 2-4.5 inches
  • Lifespan: 30-50
  • Average Price Range: $60-$100

The common musk turtle, also known as the eastern musk turtle or stinkpot (the name is justified, trust us!) inhabits the Eastern areas of Kansas.

They spend most of their lives in water and feed on pretty much anything, including garbage (go paper straws!).

There are two things that make the common musk turtle unusual. First of all, they are excellent climbers. When basking, they will sometimes climb trees around the body of water where they live.

The second thing that makes the common musk turtle stand out is its defense mechanism.

Although they don’t hold back from biting when feeling threatened, their favorite weapon is their smelly musk. They are basically the skunks of the turtle-world.

4. Yellow Mud Turtle

Yellow Mud Turtle
Yellow Mud Turtle
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon flavescens
  • Adult Size: 4-5 inches
  • Lifespan: 15 years
  • Average Price Range: $90-$300
  • Where to Buy: ReptileCity

Yellow mud turtles can primarily be found in the western half of Kansas. They enjoy still and slow-moving bodies of water, such as lakes, ponds, and ditches, as those usually have more mud.

Although it’s called a yellow mud turtle, only its chin and cheeks are yellow. For the most part, the rest of its body ranges from olive green to brown and tan. Sometimes, the edge of its shell is yellow, too.

The first mating season of the year occurs in spring, and the second one in fall. The average clutch usually has 4 or 5 eggs. The eggs are easy prey for raccoons, snakes, and other animals, as are young hatchlings. Adults have few predators.

5. Painted Turtle

Southern Painted Turtle
Southern Painted Turtle

Painted turtles (4 subspecies) truly look like pieces of art, with yellow, red, green, and brown stripes and spots all over their bodies.

This makes them a very popular choice as a pet, although they’re definitely not the easiest animal to take care of.

Painted turtles usually mate in spring and early summer, and a clutch can have anywhere from 2 to 20 eggs.

These eggs will hatch in late summer, but it is not uncommon for hatchlings to stay underground after that until the next spring. We get it, we don’t like going out in cold weather either.

Painted turtles aren’t picky eaters – young specimens are mainly carnivores, while older turtles prefer a herbivorous diet.

They do have one peculiar eating habit – they eat exclusively in water, as their tongues are not the best at holding and moving food around.

6. Common Map Turtle

Northern Map Turtle
Northern Map Turtle on roadside

The common map turtle (a.k.a. northern map turtle) got its name because its carapace has patterns that resemble a map. Its head and limbs are usually brownish with yellow or green patterns.

Much like painted turtles, common map turtles have to eat in water. Females eat snails, clams, and some fish.

Males, since they are much smaller, have to resort to insects and smaller crustaceans. They both occasionally eat vegetation, too.

Northern map turtles are generally less tolerant of poor living conditions than other species. Water pollution poses a major threat to their survival, although they are still not considered endangered.

7. Ouachita Map Turtle

Ouachita Map Turtle
Ouachita Map Turtle

The Ouachita map turtle looks very similar to its northern cousin. The best way to differentiate between the two is by looking at the yellow spots behind their eyes – they are larger and brighter in Ouachita map turtles.

Much like other map turtles, the Ouachita map turtle is an omnivorous species. However, females tend to generally eat more plants, while males prefer eating smaller animals, even including dead fish.

The Ouachita map turtle loves basking. However, even when relaxing in the sun, they are quite aware of their surroundings and are quick to dive back into their pond if they sense danger. Usually, if even just one turtle in a group runs away, they will all follow.

8. False Map Turtle

False map turtle swimming in tank
False map turtle swimming in tank

As you may have guessed from the name, the false map turtle looks very similar to other map turtles.

However, if you ask us, the name is a little misleading – the false map turtle isn’t a different species that just looks like map turtles – it actually belongs to the map turtle genus, and as such isn’t exactly “false”.

When they’re young, false map turtles live in slower-moving bodies of water and are mostly carnivores. As they grow older, they develop a taste for plants and tend to move to swifter currents.

False map turtles are not aggressive, but they are very easily scared. They run at the first sign of danger, and sometimes they even lose control of their bladder (yes, they pee their pants when scared).

9. River Cooter

River Cooter (Pseudemys concinna)
River Cooter (Pseudemys concinna)

Cooters likely got their unusual name from the word “kuta” in a number of African languages, which means – you guessed it – “turtle”. The river cooter’s shell is usually dark green or brown, while its head has yellowish stripes.

River cooters spend a lot of time underwater, with the exception of basking and laying eggs. Due to this, they have developed a unique skill of breathing through the so-called cloaca bursae. Basically, they can breathe through their butts.

Aside from their unique butt-breathing ability, the river cooter is your typical semiaquatic turtle. It feeds mostly on vegetation, but occasionally eats smaller animals, lays eggs on land, and enjoys basking in the sun.

10. Ornate Box Turtle

Ornate Box Turtle
Ornate Box Turtle
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Terrapene ornata ornata
  • Adult Size: 5-7 inches
  • Lifespan: 40-60 years
  • Average Price Range: $200-$350
  • Recommended Books: Box Turtles (Complete Herp Care) by Tess Cook

Also known as the western box turtle, this species lives pretty much all over Kansas. They prefer prairie lands, scattered bushes, and open plains, but can sometimes be found in forests, too.

Although they do need to drink water, they don’t particularly enjoy spending time in it. There is only one box turtle that is aquatic which is the coahuilan box turtle.

If there was such a thing as a turtle beauty pageant, the ornate box turtle would be a feared contestant. Although not as colorful as painted turtles, ornate box turtles have beautiful black-yellow patterns on their shells.

But the shell is more than just beautiful – they are a shield from predators, as well. Box turtles can retract their heads and feet and close the shell using a special hinge, creating a “box”. Hence the name.

11. Eastern Box Turtle

Eastern Box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina)
Eastern Box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina)
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Terrapene carolina carolina
  • Adult Size: 4.5-6 inches
  • Lifespan: 25-100 years
  • Average Price Range: $120-400
  • Recommended Books: The Box Turtle Manual (Herpetocultual Library) by Philippe De Vosjoli (Author), Roger J. Klingenberg (Author)

The shell of an eastern box turtle is usually brown with irregular yellow to orange patterns. Its skin has spots of a similar color. This unique appearance makes it easy for them to camouflage among fallen leaves.

Although they are a mostly woodland species, eastern box turtles do enjoy swimming, especially on a hot summer day. In fact, even when on land, they are most active right after rainfall.

Eastern box turtles are very homely creatures. They often burrow in the same spot year after year and seem to have an innate ability to find their way back home even when placed in an unfamiliar environment.

12. Pond Sliders

Yellow bellied slider in water (Trachemys scripta scripta)
Yellow bellied slider in water (Trachemys scripta scripta)
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Trachemys scripta
  • Adult Size: 5-8 inches
  • Lifespan: 20-50 years
  • Average Price Range: $25 to $60

The pond slider can be categorized into three subspecies – the red-eared slider, the yellow-bellied slider, and the Cumberland slider.

The red-eared slider is native to Kansas. There is also an artificially-introduced population of yellow-bellied sliders in Wyandotte County.

Pond sliders, and red-eared sliders in particular, are very popular pets when they’re young.

Unfortunately, inexperienced pet owners often don’t realize that they require more care than expected, and end up releasing adult turtles into the wild.

This might seem like a good idea at first. However, red-eared sliders can get pretty aggressive with other species.

What’s more, an adult turtle that was born and raised in captivity has a lower chance of survival upon release.

13. Spiny Softshell Turtle

spiny softshell turtle (apalone spinifera)
spiny softshell turtle (apalone spinifera)
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Scientific Name: Apalone spinifera
  • Adult Size: 5-18 inches
  • Lifespan: up to 50 years
  • Average Price Range: $25-$170
  • Recommended Books: Softshell Turtle Pet Owners Guide by Ben Team

Remember that turtle beauty pageant we mentioned? Yeah, the spiny softshell probably wouldn’t even compete, or maybe it would depending on your taste.

With a flat, brown-ish shell and long, thin noses, they basically look like anteaters in turtle disguise.

They live and mate in water, but they do enjoy basking on land. In Kansas, the spiny softshell turtle lives primarily in and around the Arkansas River.

Although they look somewhat lazy and disinterested, spiny softshells can get aggressive if they feel threatened. They daren’t afraid to bite larger animals or humans for that matter.

14. Smooth Softshell Turtle

Smooth Softshell Turtle
Smooth Softshell Turtle
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Scientific Name: Apalone mutica
  • Adult Size: 5-7 inches for males, 7-14 inches for females
  • Lifespan: up to 50 years
  • Average Price Range: $30-$150
  • Where to Buy: ReptileCity
  • Recommended Books: Softshell Turtle Pet Owners Guide by Ben Team

Smooth softshell turtles look very similar to their spiny cousins, although they don’t have spiny ridges on the front edge of the shell. Females are usually tan to brown, while males tend to be brown to grey. 

Smooth softshells hunt in several ways, both on land and in water. They usually hide and ambush their prey, but they can also suck in smaller prey while swimming by. This process is called pharyngeal gulping.

An adult smooth softshell’s biggest predators are alligators, raccoons, and skunks. Hatchlings and yearlings are also at risk of being eaten by other turtles, fish, snakes, birds, and various mammals.

Summary

The varied climate and numerous bodies of water throughout the State of Kansas create perfect conditions for a number of both terrestrial and semiaquatic turtle species to thrive.

While few of them are currently threatened, the impact of humans on their habitats will most certainly lead to a reduction in turtle numbers in the near future.

Responsible pet ownership and environmental consciousness are the only way to preserve these breathtaking creatures.

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