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Turtles in Mississippi

There are a staggering 35 types of native turtles in Mississippi. This group covers a broad range of habitats and locations, from terrestrial species like the Eastern Box turtle to fully aquatic turtles like Musk and Snapping turtles.

Within this lineup we also find one species of tortoise; the Gopher tortoise, and five types of Sea turtles that can be seen from Mississippi’s shorelines. None of these species may be bought, possessed, or taken from the wild.

You can use this comprehensive list as either a field herping guide or a list to use when choosing your next pet turtle. Keep in mind that some of Mississippi’s native turtle species are prohibited from being kept as pets, but we’ll cover that later on.

If you are thinking of choosing a Mississippi species for your next pet, please adopt one from an animal shelter if possible. If not, then you must purchase a captive-bred specimen from a registered breeder. It is illegal to buy wild-caught native turtles in Mississippi. You can take most species from the wild with the right license, but we advise not doing this as it can harm local populations.

Now, without further ado, let’s explore the 35 native turtles of Mississippi.

Turtles in Mississippi

1. Eastern Box Turtle

Eastern Box turtle in park (Terrapene carolina carolina)
Eastern Box turtle in park (Terrapene carolina carolina)
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Terrapene carolina carolina
  • Other Names: Common Box turtle, Land turtle
  • Adult Size: 4 to 7 inches (10 to 18 cm)
  • Lifespan: Up to 40 years
  • Average Price Range: $120 to $400

Eastern Box turtles are one of Mississippi’s three native Box turtles. This terrestrial species inhabits grasslands, marshes, and woodland areas with small ponds and streams. They are classed as Vulnerable but are not a protected species in Mississippi.

These attractive turtles have high domed dark brown shells with vibrant yellow and orange striped markings. Their plastrons are also dark brown. Their skin is orange with dark brown or black flecks.

Eastern Box turtles can roam up to 50 meters a day in search of food. They are omnivores and will eat anything from fish and insects to mollusks and worms. They will also occasionally eat plants. Eastern Box turtles are a popular pet species in the herping hobby.

2. Gulf Coast Box Turtle

Gulf Coast Box Turtle in the woods walking (Terrapene carolina major)
Gulf Coast Box Turtle in the woods walking (Terrapene carolina major)
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Terrapene carolina major
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: 6 to 8.5 inches (15 to 21.5 cm)
  • Lifespan: 30 to 40 years
  • Average Price Range: $230 to $450

Gulf Coast Box turtles are the largest of the Common Box turtle subspecies. These terrestrial turtles are found near brackish waters, estuaries, and swamps around the Gulf of Mexico. They like warm, humid conditions.

These turtles have dark brown or black shells with fluted edges and yellow dot or stripe markings. Their skin is much darker than other species of Box turtle, verging on black or dark brown.

Gulf Coast Box turtles are omnivores and mainly eat amphibians, insects, and mollusks. They will also eat plant matter occasionally for some healthy variety. Like Eastern Box turtles, Gulf Coast Box turtles can make for good pets.

3. Three-toed Box Turtle

Three-toed box turtle (terrapene carolina triunguis) outdoors, against a rock and grass backdrop
Three-toed box turtle (terrapene carolina triunguis) outdoors, against a rock and grass backdrop
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Terrapene carolina triunguis
  • Other Names: Box turtle
  • Adult Size: 5 to 7 inches (12.5 to 18 cm)
  • Lifespan: 50 to 100 years
  • Average Price Range: $250 to $450

Mississippi’s final Box turtle subspecies is the Three-toed Box turtle. These land-dwelling turtles are found in grasslands, meadows, and woodland regions that provide some humidity.

Three-toed Box turtles have brown or olive colored high domed carapaces with lighter scutes towards the dome. They also have three claws on their hind-legs, as their name implies, rather than four. Their plastrons are yellowish in color.

These turtles are omnivores and roam around foraging for food during the day. They will eat insects and mollusks for meat and will also consume plant matter such as fruits, fungi, and vegetation.

4. Chicken Turtles

Western Chicken Turtle (Deirochelys reticularia miaria) on log basking
Western Chicken Turtle (Deirochelys reticularia miaria) on log basking
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Deirochelys reticularia reticularia (Eastern), Deirochelys reticularia miaria (Western)
  • Other Names: American Snake-necked turtles
  • Adult Size: 4 to 10 inches (10 to 25.5 cm)
  • Lifespan: 15 to 30 years
  • Average Price Range: $130 to $200

Chicken turtles are medium-sized semi-aquatic turtles often found in slower-moving waters such as ponds and swamps. There are two subspecies native to Mississippi – Eastern Chicken turtles (Deirochelys reticularia reticularia) and Western Chicken turtles (Deirochelys reticularia miaria).

Chicken turtles have long, striped necks and rough, oval shaped shells which have a flatter shape than the carapaces of other turtles. Coloring ranges from brown to olive and their shells are ringed with yellow. They’re also covered with swirling patterns that resemble a net.

These turtles are omnivores who mainly feed on crustaceans, fish and insects as well as plants. They used to be caught and sold in food markets and are named supposedly for the taste of their flesh.

5. Alabama Red-bellied Cooter

Alabama Red Bellied Cooter (Pseudemys alabamensis) in brush
Alabama Red Bellied Cooter (Pseudemys alabamensis) in brush
  • Experience Level: N/A (Illegal in Mississippi)
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Pseudemys alabamensis
  • Other Names: Alabama Red-bellied turtle, Alabama Redbelly turtle
  • Adult Size: 12 to 15 inches (30.5 to 38 cm)
  • Lifespan: 20 to 40 years
  • Average Price Range: N/A

Alabama Red-bellied Cooters are an endangered species found only in parts of Alabama as well as two of Mississippi’s southeastern counties – Harrison and Jackson County. These turtles like larger river systems, lakes, and streams with sandy substrates.

These Cooters usually have green to dark brown shells with yellow to red vertical stripes on the edges. Their plastrons range from yellow to red and can also have dark-colored markings.

Alabama Red-bellied Cooters are predominantly herbivores, feeding on aquatic vegetation. These turtles can sometimes be spotted while basking on logs at the edge of the water.

6. Eastern River Cooter

Baby Eastern river cooter (Pseudemys concinna concinna) in brush on shoreside about 1 inch in size
  • Experience Level: Beginner to Intermediate
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Pseudemys concinna concinna
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm)
  • Lifespan: 20 to 40 years
  • Average Price Range: $20 to $50

Eastern River Cooters are freshwater semi-aquatic turtles that inhabit faster-flowing waters such as rivers and streams. They can sometimes be seen basking on rocks or logs at the edge of the water, but will slip into the depths at the first sign of your approach.

These turtles have slightly domed shells ranging from brown to olive in color, with swirling yellow markings. Their plastrons range from orange to yellow. Eastern River Cooters can be distinguished from other subspecies by the yellow stripes on their hind legs.

Eastern River Cooters are mainly herbivores, preferring to eat algae, fruits, and aquatic vegetation rather than meat such as fish or insects.

7. Diamondback Terrapins

northern diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin terrapin) crawling over rocks and shells
northern diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin terrapin) crawling over rocks and shells
  • Experience Level: Beginner to Intermediate
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Malaclemys terrapin pileata (Mississippi), Malaclemys terrapin terrapin (Northern)
  • Other Names: Diamond-backed terrapin
  • Adult Size: 4.5 to 9 inches (11.5 to 23 cm)
  • Lifespan: 25 to 40 years
  • Average Price Range: $250 to $300

Diamondback terrapins are aquatic turtles that inhabit tidal marshes and coastal estuaries in brackish waters. Mississippi is home to two subspecies of Diamondback terrapin; the Mississippi Diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin pileata) and the Northern Diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin terrapin).

Diamondback terrapins have wedge-shaped shells that range between brown or gray to yellow and even black. Their scutes are covered with concentric rings and a row of central keels running down the spine of the carapace. They have light gray skin with black speckled markings.

These terrapins feed on crustaceans, insects, and mollusks as well as shellfish such as clams or winkles. They will also occasionally eat aquatic vegetation. They can often be seen swimming in the water with their heads poking out, similar to periscopes.

8. Alabama Map Turtle

Alabama Map Turtle
Alabama Map Turtle
  • Experience Level: N/A
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Graptemys pulchra
  • Other Names: Alabama Sawback
  • Adult Size: 3.5 to 11.5 inches (9 to 30 cm)
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years
  • Average Price Range: N/A

Alabama Map turtles are endemic to the river systems in the Mobile Bay drainage region and is found from Alabama to Mississippi, where they have been spotted in the Pearl River system. These turtles are listed as Near Threatened and it is illegal to capture or possess one in Mississippi.

Alabama Map turtles have dark green to olive shells and can be distinguished from other Map turtles thanks to a black stripe running down the spine of their shells. They also have knobbed keels down their backs and yellow plastrons.

These aquatic turtles are omnivores and seem particularly partial to freshwater mussels. They will also eat insects, mollusks, other shellfish, and plant matter.

9. Black-knobbed Map Turtle

Southern Black-Knob Map Turtle (Graptemys nigrinoda) on white background
Southern Black-Knob Map Turtle (Graptemys nigrinoda) on white background
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Graptemys nigrinoda
  • Other Names: Black-knobbed Sawback
  • Adult Size: 3 to 7.5 inches (7.5 to 19 cm)
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years
  • Average Price Range: $100 to $300

Black-knobbed Map turtles share much of their range in Mississippi with the Alabama Map turtle – found in the Pearl River drainage area. However, Black-knobbed Map turtles tend to be smaller than their neighbors and can be legally kept as pets in the state.

Black-knobbed Map turtles are mainly defined by their prominent black-tipped knob-like protrusions extending from the spine of their shells, which are dark brown to olive. Each of their scutes has yellow to orange rings edged in black inside and out. Their skin is gray with yellow markings.

These small turtles bask regularly but will slip into the water when startled. They are omnivores who consume insects, mollusks, and plants.

10. Mississippi Map Turtle

Four Mississippi Map Turtles basking on log in (graptemys pseudogeographica kohnii)
Four Mississippi Map Turtles basking on log in (graptemys pseudogeographica kohnii)
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Graptemys pseudogeographica kohnii
  • Other Names: Mississippi Sawback
  • Adult Size: 3.5 to 10.5 inches (9 to 25.5 cm)
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years
  • Average Price Range: $15 to $150

Mississippi Map turtles are a subspecies of False Map turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica) that is found throughout the Mississippi River. They are an active and popular pet species, but in the wild they inhabit river areas with plenty of aquatic plant cover.

Mississippi Map turtles have dark brown to black to gray shells with contour-like yellow patterning. Their skin is dark brown to gray with yellow lines and spots.

Mississippi Map turtles are an aquatic species and rarely travel far from the water, preferring to bask on rocks overlooking the water. They are omnivores and eat crustaceans, insects, and aquatic plants.

11. Northern Map Turtle

Northern Map turtle basking on downed tree in lake (Graptemys geographica)
Northern Map turtle basking on downed tree in lake (Graptemys geographica)
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Graptemys geographica
  • Other Names: Common Map turtle
  • Adult Size: 4 to 10.5 inches (10 to 26.5 cm)
  • Lifespan: 15 to 20 years
  • Average Price Range: $20 to $60

Northern Map turtles are the most common Map turtle species in the United States, preferring faster-flowing waters in major rivers and streams. These aquatic turtles love to bask and are good, active swimmers. This makes them a popular pet species.

Northern Map turtles have dark brown or olive green shells with yellow swirling markings that resemble the contours of a map. Small yellow spots behind the eyes separate the Common Map turtle from other types of Map turtles.

These turtles are mainly carnivorous, feeding on fish and aquatic invertebrates like crayfish and insects but they will also occasionally eat plants.

12. Ouachita Map Turtle

Graptemys ouachitensis
Ouachita map turtle on log basking
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Graptemys ouachitensis
  • Other Names: Southern Map turtle
  • Adult Size: 3.5 to 10 inches (9 to 25.5 cm)
  • Lifespan: 15 to 20 years
  • Average Price Range: $40 to $100

Ouachita Map turtles are found in Mississippi’s major river systems, preferring the fast-moving waters. These diurnal aquatic turtles love to bask, but are easily startled and will jump into the water to escape.

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, with the shells of both sexes sporting yellow contour-like markings common to most types of Map turtle.

These turtles are omnivores and mainly eat crustaceans, insects, and mollusks. They will also occasionally eat algae and aquatic plants.

13. Pascagoula Map Turtle

Pascagoula Map turtle (Graptemys gibbonsi) being held up with head out by Matt Welc
Pascagoula Map turtle (Graptemys gibbonsi) being held up with head out by Matt Welc
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Graptemys gibbonsi
  • Other Names: Pascagoula Sawback
  • Adult Size: 5 to 11.5 inches (12.5 to 29.5 cm)
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years
  • Average Price Range: Between $180 and $230

Named after Whit Gibbons, an American herpetologist, Pascagoula Map turtles are endemic only to the Pascagoula River in Mississippi’s southeastern regions. Due to their restricted habitat, these aquatic turtles are classed as Endangered.

Pascagoula Map turtles have brown to olive shells with protruding keels. They have yellow stripe markings around the scutes at the edge of their shell. Their skin and head is olive with yellowish stripes and spots.

Pascagoula Map turtles are omnivorous aquatic turtles and mostly consume crustaceans, insects, and aquatic vegetation.

14. Pearl River Map Turtle

Pearl River Map Turtle (Graptemys pearlensis) on white background
Pearl River Map Turtle (Graptemys pearlensis) on white background
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Graptemys pearlensis
  • Other Names: Pearl River Sawback
  • Adult Size:3 to 10 inches (7.5 to 25.5 cm)
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years
  • Average Price Range: $180 to $230

As their name suggests, Pearl River Map turtles are endemic to the Pearl River that runs through Mississippi, a range which they share with the Ringed Map turtle (Graptemys oculifera). Pearl River Map turtles are classed as Endangered due to the threat of water pollution.

Pearl River Map turtles have olive green shells with fluted edges that have yellow markings. They also have a row of pronounced keels along the ridge of their carapace. They have yellow blotch markings on their heads that look a bit like tridents.

Pearl River Map turtles are omnivorous and mainly eat crustaceans, small fish, and insects as well as aquatic plants.

15. Ringed Map Turtle

Ringed Map Turtle (Graptemys oculifera) on white background
Ringed Map Turtle (Graptemys oculifera) on white background
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Graptemys oculifera
  • Other Names: Ringed Sawback
  • Adult Size: 3 to 10 inches (7.5 to 25.5 cm)
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years
  • Average Price Range: $700 to $1000

Ringed Map turtles are a federally threatened subspecies of Map turtle, and are illegal to keep as pets in many states. They can be found in the Pearl River system that runs through Mississippi, along with the Pearl River Map turtle (Graptemys pearlensis).

These striking aquatic turtles have shells ranging from green to yellow with vibrant pale yellow ring-like markings on their carapaces. A row of sharp keels run down the spine of their shells, and the rear edges of their shells are serrated.

Ringed Map turtles are omnivores and mainly eat crustaceans and mollusks as well as aquatic vegetation. It is illegal to take or possess a Ringed Map turtle in Mississippi.

16. Yellow-blotched Map Turtle

Yellow-blotched map turtle (Graptemys Flavimaculata)
Yellow-blotched map turtle (Graptemys Flavimaculata)
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Graptemys flavimaculata
  • Other Names: Yellow-blotched Sawback
  • Adult Size: 3.5 to 7.5 inches (9 to 19 cm)
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years
  • Average Price Range: $350 to $1000

Yellow-blotched Map turtles are a threatened species in the United States and are only found in Mississippi’s Pascagoula River, along with the Pascagoula Map turtle (Graptemys gibbonsi). It is illegal to capture or possess a Yellow-blotched Map turtle in Mississippi, but they can be owned in some other states.

Yellow-blotched Map turtles have green to olive shells with yellow blotches in the middle of most scutes. A central ridge of protruding keels extend from the spine of the shell, with the central keel being the largest of any Map turtle species.

These aquatic turtles eat an omnivorous diet of crustaceans, insects, small fish, and aquatic vegetation.

17. Eastern Mud Turtle

Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum) on forest floor
Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum) on forest floor
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon subrubrum
  • Other Names: Common Mud turtle
  • Adult Size: 3 to 5 inches (7.5 to 12.5 cm)
  • Lifespan: Up to 50 years
  • Average Price Range: $40 to $100

Eastern Mud turtles prefer boggy habitats such as swamps or tidal marshes. They can be found throughout regions of Mississippi close to the coast and further inland. They don’t always stay near the water and will sometimes roam around on land.

Eastern Mud turtles have smooth, oval-shaped shells ranging from dark brown to tan to yellow in color. Their shells drop quite sharply at the sides and back, whilst their plastrons are also dark brown to yellowish.

These small semi-aquatic turtles are omnivorous and mainly eat mollusks such as snails and worms. They will occasionally eat small fish and plants as well.

18. Mississippi Mud Turtle

Mississippi Mud turtle on ground close up with algae on its shell
Mississippi Mud turtle on ground close up with algae on its shell
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon subrubrum hippocrepis
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: 3 to 5 inches (7.5 to 12.5 cm)
  • Lifespan: Up to 50 years
  • Average Price Range: $40 to $100

Mississippi Mud turtles are a subspecies of the Eastern Mud turtle that also inhabits swampy regions of the state. These semi-aquatic turtles like shallow, slow-moving waters such as bogs or tidal marshes and often move around on land.

Mississippi Mud turtles have smooth, oval-shaped shells that drop quite sharply at the sides and back. Their shells range between brown and yellowish in color, whilst their plastrons are yellowish with brown patches.

Mississippi Mud turtles are omnivorous and mainly eat small fish and mollusks like earthworms and slugs. They will also sometimes eat plant matter.

19. Common Musk Turtle

Common musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) being held in air retracted in its shell
Common musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) being held in air retracted in its shell
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Scientific Name: Sternotherus odoratus
  • Other Names: Eastern Musk turtle, Stinkpot
  • Adult Size: 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12.5 cm)
  • Lifespan: 50+ years
  • Average Price Range: $20 to $90

Also known as “Stinkpots” because of the strong odor they can excrete from their musk glands, Common Musk turtles are a widespread species across Mississippi. These small aquatic turtles prefer boggy and marshy habitats with slow-moving waters.

Common Musk turtles have dark brown or black unmarked shells. Their heads are also dark, with two yellowish stripes as well as fleshy barbels on their chins and necks.

Common Musk turtles are nocturnal omnivores and mainly eat small amphibians, crustaceans, and mollusks such as worms and snails.

20. Loggerhead Musk Turtle

Loggerhead musk turtle swimming in tank (Sternotherus minor)
Loggerhead musk turtle swimming in tank (Sternotherus minor) by Patrick Randall
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Scientific Name: Sternotherus minor
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: 3 to 5 inches (7.5 to 12.5 cm)
  • Lifespan: 20+ years
  • Average Price Range: $20 to $60

Loggerhead Musk turtles have much larger heads than other species of Musk turtle, which has earned them their common name. They prefer to inhabit ponds and rivers with slow-moving currents as well as wetlands.

Loggerhead Musk turtles have brown to tan shells that are marked with dark spots. Their head and skin are usually brown to black, with prominent yellowish stripe or blotch markings running along the head and neck.

Loggerhead Musk turtles are omnivores who mainly feed on crustaceans, insects, mollusks, and sometimes plants.

21. Razor-backed Musk Turtle

Adult female razorback musk turtle (Sternotherus carinatus)
Adult female razorback musk turtle (Sternotherus carinatus)
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Scientific Name: Sternotherus carinatus
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: 5 to 6 inches (12.5 to 15 cm)
  • Lifespan: 25 to 50 years
  • Average Price Range: $60 to $150

Razor-backed Musk turtles are small aquatic turtles that inhabit Mississippi’s slower-moving waters such as ponds. While hunting for prey, they usually hide between aquatic vegetation before pouncing.

Shell coloration varies from black and brown to gray or olive with black stripe markings. Their scutes resemble a series of razor-like humps and are edged in black. Their brown or gray skin is usually covered in black dots.

Razor-backed Musk turtles are carnivorous, and mainly eat meat in the form of invertebrates, shellfish, crustaceans, fish and mollusks.

22. Stripe-necked Musk Turtle

Stripe-necked musk turtle (Sternotherus minor peltifer) swimming in tank
Stripe-necked musk turtle (Sternotherus minor peltifer) swimming in tank
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Scientific Name: Sternotherus minor peltifer
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: 3 to 4.5 inches (7.5 to 11.5 cm)
  • Lifespan: 20+ years
  • Average Price Range: $20 to $60

Stripe-necked Musk turtles are a subspecies of the Loggerhead Musk turtle (Sternotherus minor) that inhabits ponds and rivers in wetland areas. They can be found in areas of Mississippi close to the Louisiana border as well as further inland.

Stripe-necked Musk turtles have larger heads than most other Musk turtles. Their shells range from brown to tan with dark spot markings. They have prominent yellowish stripe markings running along their heads and necks.

Stripe-necked Musk turtles eat an omnivorous diet of crustaceans, insects, mollusks, and occasionally plants. They will regularly walk along the bottom of the riverbed in search of food.

23. Southern Painted Turtle

Southern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta dorsalis) with limbs retracted in shell
Southern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta dorsalis) with limbs retracted in shell
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Chrysemys picta dorsalis
  • Other Names: Sun turtle
  • Adult Size: 5 to 7 inches (12.5 to 18 cm)
  • Lifespan: 20 to 50 years
  • Average Price Range: $70 to $140

Southern Painted turtles are the smallest subspecies of Painted turtle and are common across much of Mississippi. They are mainly seen in slow-moving waters as well as the floodplains surrounding major rivers, often basking above the water’s surface.

Southern Painted turtles have dark brown or black shells with an orange or yellow band running down the spine of the carapace, which distinguishes them from other types of Painted turtles. Their dark skin sports yellow to orange markings. Their plastrons are a plain tan color.

Southern Painted turtles are omnivorous and mainly eat vegetation, although they will also eat small amphibians, insects, and mollusks.

24. Red-eared Slider

Red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) basking on rock with eyes closed
Red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) basking on rock with eyes closed
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Trachemys scripta elegans
  • Other Names: Red-eared Terrapin, Water Slider turtle
  • Adult Size: 6 to 8 inches
  • Lifespan: 20 to 40 years
  • Average Price Range: $15 to $50

Red-eared Sliders are a popular and widespread pet turtle species. However, they are often released unsafely by irresponsible owners and can quickly become an invasive species in new areas. These semi-aquatic turtles are common to warm, slow-moving waters such as rivers and lakes.

Red-eared Sliders have olive green shells with yellowish stripes on their scutes. Their heads are darker, almost brown, with yellow bands across their skin and throats and distinctive red patched just behind their eyes.

These turtles are omnivorous, consuming small fish, insects, and aquatic vegetation. They like to bask at the water’s edge and can often be spotted stacking themselves on top of each other.

25. Yellow-bellied Slider

Yellow belly slider (Trachemys scripta scripta) basking on rocks outside of lake
Yellow belly slider (Trachemys scripta scripta) basking on rocks outside of lake
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Trachemys scripta scripta
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: 5 to 12 inches (12.5 to 30.5 cm)
  • Lifespan: 20 to 40 years
  • Average Price Range: $15 to $50

Yellow-bellied Sliders are mainly found in wetland habitats such as rivers and lakes. They can sometimes be seen on land as they move between suitable habitats or when basking on the shoreline. They are a common pet species but can become invasive if released unsafely from captivity.

As their name implies, Yellow-bellied Sliders have yellowish plastrons on their dark brown to olive shells as well as yellow markings across their skin. They also have prominent yellow stripes behind their eyes.

These medium-sized aquatic turtles are diurnal omnivores, mainly consuming aquatic vegetation as well as small fish, insects, mollusks, and tadpoles.

26. Alligator Snapping Turtle

Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) in large tank with jaw open
Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) in large tank with jaw open
  • Experience Level: Expert
  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Scientific Name: Macrochelys temminckii
  • Other Names: Loggerhead Snapper
  • Adult Size: 15 to 26 inches (40 to 65 cm)
  • Lifespan: 60 to 70 years
  • Average Price Range: $25 to $60

Alligator Snapping turtles are the largest freshwater turtle species in the world. These Jurassic-looking turtles are fully aquatic and inhabit deep bodies of water such as lakes or rivers.

You can own an Alligator Snapping turtle in Mississippi, but are only allowed one specimen that has a shell length of at least 24 inches. These powerful and sometimes aggressive turtles are recommended for experienced keepers only.

Alligator Snappers are instantly recognizable thanks to their incredibly strong, beak-like jaws. They have thick dark brown carapaces with prominent ridges and spikes.

Alligator Snapping turtles are carnivores, and will essentially eat anything they can catch, mainly amphibians, fish, and even other turtle species. Their strong jaws are capable of crushing their prey, which are lured in by a wiggling tendril in the Snapper’s mouth that acts as bait.

27. Common Snapping Turtle

Common snapping turtle waiting for pray in  edge of pond
Common snapping turtle waiting for pray in edge of pond
  • Experience Level: Intermediate to Expert
  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Scientific Name: Chelydra serpentina
  • Other Names: Common Snapper, Eastern Snapping turtle, Snapper
  • Adult Size: 8 to 20 inches (20 to 51 cm)
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years
  • Average Price Range: $20 to $40

Common Snapping turtles are a large, freshwater species that are widespread across most of Mississippi in larger bodies of water such as lakes and reservoirs. They can be aggressive if cornered on land, and will often hiss and attempt to bite their assailants.

Common Snappers are easily identified by their distinctive hooked jaws and dark brown or green ridged shells. They also have strong claws and long tails with saw-toothed spines, almost like a dinosaur.

These large aquatic turtles aren’t picky eaters and will eat amphibians, fish, smaller turtles, and small waterbirds. They will also sometimes eat plants.

It is legal to catch Common Snappers in Mississippi, but you must have a Commercial Fishing License as well as a specific Snapping turtle permit. Specimens may only be taken if their shells are larger than 12 inches.

28. Gulf Coast Smooth Softshells

Gulf Coast Smooth Softshell (Apalone mutica calvata)
Gulf Coast Smooth Softshell (Apalone mutica calvata) – courtesy of Pierson Hill
  • Experience Level: Intermediate to Expert
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Scientific Name: Apalone mutica calvata
  • Other Names: Spineless Softshell
  • Adult Size: 4.5 to 14 inches (11.5 to 35.5 cm)
  • Lifespan: 25+ years
  • Average Price Range: $40 to $60

Gulf Coast Smooth Softshells are a subspecies of the Midland Smooth Softshell (Apalone mutica mutica) that inhabit the drainages of some of Mississippi’s major river systems, such as the Pearl River. They are only found in the Gulf Coast states and require sandbars within their habitats.

Gulf Coast Smooth Softshells have oval-shaped shells that lack a hard carapace, resembling leathery pancakes. They have pale cream or white plastrons and tapered snouts, with stripe markings extending from behind their eyes.

These Softshells usually bury themselves in shallow sands to ambush their prey. They are carnivores and eat crustaceans, insects, and mollusks.

29. Gulf Coast Spiny Softshells

Gulf coast spiny softshell (Apalone Spinifera Aspera)
Gulf coast spiny softshell (Apalone Spinifera Aspera) by Greg Brashear
  • Experience Level: Intermediate to Expert
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Scientific Name: Apalone spinifera aspera
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: 5 to 17 inches (12.5 to 43 cm)
  • Lifespan: 20 to 50 years
  • Average Price Range: $70 to $280

Gulf Coast Spiny Softshells are a subspecies of the Spiny Softshell (Apalone spinifera) that is found in the major river systems of states such as Mississippi that form part of the Gulf of Mexico. These Softshells are fast swimmers and prefer rivers and streams with a moving current.

Gulf Coast Spiny Softshells have a leathery pancake-shaped shell with a series of spines protruding from the front. Gulf Coast Spiny Softshells can be distinguished from other species thanks to the black stripes along the bottom of their shells and ring-like markings across the rest of the carapace.

These Softshells are carnivores and will feed on any crustaceans, insects, and mollusks that swim past their hiding place within sandbars. They then lunge forwards and grab their prey in their mouths.

Mississippi is also home to a single tortoise species – the vulnerable Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). It is illegal to capture, own, or sell a Gopher tortoise in Mississippi.

Tortoises in Mississippi

30. Gopher Tortoise

Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) walking around in the desert
Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) walking around in the desert
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Scientific Name: Gopherus polyphemus
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: 10 to 15 inches (25.5 to 38 cm)
  • Weight: 10 to 20 pounds (4.5 to 9 kg)
  • Lifespan: 40 to 60 years in the wild
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable
  • Habitat: Burrows which they dig in grasslands
  • Clutch Size: Up to 25 eggs
  • Food: Herbivores – plants and fruits and berries
  • Appearance: Large tortoises with dark brown to gray shells and elephant-like hind-legs.

Check out our Gopher Tortoise page for more information.

Mississippi’s coastline also plays host to five species of Sea turtles, and you may be lucky enough to spot these species out in the waters or on the shoreline. It is illegal to possess or sell and types of Sea turtle in Mississippi as most of them are Threatened or Endangered.

Sea Turtles in Mississippi

31. Green Sea Turtle

Green Sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) swimming in the ocean
Green Sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) swimming in the ocean
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Scientific Name: Chelonia mydas
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: 3 to 4 feet (90 to 120 cm)
  • Weight: 300 to 400 lbs (135 to 180 kg)
  • Lifespan: 80 to 100 years
  • Conservation Status: Endangered
  • Habitat: Bays and shores along coastlines and open ocean waters, seen during summer months
  • Clutch Size: Around 110 to 115 eggs, with 2 to 5 clutches per breeding season
  • Food: Mostly herbivores, eating algae, sea grasses and seaweed
  • Appearance: Smooth green to brown shells shaped like hearts, edged in yellow. Cream colored scaly skin with shades of green

Head to our Green Sea turtles page for more information.

32. Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Hawsbill Sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata ) swimming deep in the ocean
Hawsbill Sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata ) swimming deep in the ocean
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Scientific Name: Eretmochelys imbricata
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: 30 to 35 inches (76 to 89 cm)
  • Weight: 100 to 155 lbs (45 to 70 kg)
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years
  • Conservation Status: Critically Endangered
  • Habitat: Shallow coastal areas of rocky or tropical waters, reefs and estuaries
  • Clutch Size: Between 140 to 200 eggs, about 4 clutches per breeding season
  • Food: Omnivores, mainly consuming crustaceans, mollusks, and algae
  • Appearance: Prominent, beak-shaped mouths (like a hawk), oval shells in shades of amber with unique markings. Flippers also have claws at their “elbows”

For more information, check out our Hawksbill Sea turtle page.

33. Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle

Kemp's-Ridley-Sea-Turtle
Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) on shoreside
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Scientific Name: Lepidochelys kempii
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: Around 25 inches (63.5 cm)
  • Weight: 75 to 100 lbs (34 to 45 kg)
  • Lifespan: Around 30 years
  • Conservation Status: Critically Endangered
  • Habitat: Sandy or muddy coastlines with shallow waters
  • Clutch Size: Between 100 and 110 eggs, 2 to 3 clutches per breeding season
  • Food: Crustaceans, shellfish
  • Appearance: Slightly hooked beaks, triangle-shaped heads. Green to gray round shells. Muted cream or yellow plastrons and undersides.

Visit our Ridley sea turtle page for more information.

34. Leatherback Turtle

Leatherback Sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) laying eggs on beach
Leatherback Sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) laying eggs on beach
  • Family: Dermochelyidea
  • Scientific Name: Dermochelys coriacea
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: 6 to 7 feet (182 to 213 cm)
  • Weight: 1200 to 1450 lbs (545 to 658 kg)
  • Lifespan: Around 30 years
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable
  • Habitat: Warm waters, mainly shallow, calm bays or lagoons. Nests common on sandy beaches.
  • Clutch Size: Between 100 and 110 eggs
  • Food: Jellyfish is the staple of their diet, but they will also eat other sea creatures
  • Appearance: Their large carapaces are soft, unique among sea turtles, with prominent ridges all the way down. Colors vary between black and a dark gray.

For more information, see our Leatherback sea turtle page.

35. Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) swimming in ocean
Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) swimming in ocean
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Scientific Name: Caretta caretta
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: 30 to 45 inches (76 to 114 cm)
  • Weight: Approximately 155 pounds (70 kg)
  • Lifespan: 70 to 80 years
  • Conservation Status: Endangered
  • Habitat: Coastal regions, mainly shallow bays. Prefer sub-tropical waters. Sandy ocean beaches for nesting
  • Clutch Size: Between 100 and 125 eggs, 4 to 5 clutches per breeding season
  • Food: Carnivorous, mainly eating shellfish, mollusks, and crustaceans
  • Appearance: Largest hard-shelled turtles with a reddish-brown carapace and large heads. Undersides are cream to yellowish. Long powerful flippers

Check out our Loggerhead sea turtle page for more information.

Frequently Asked Questions about Mississippi turtles

What kind of turtles live in Mississippi?

Mississippi is home to 35 species of turtles – 29 freshwater species, one tortoise, and five types of Sea turtles.

Within Mississippi’s freshwater species there is a diverse range from turtles that like brackish waters like Diamondback terrapins to species that prefer faster streams such as Gulf Coast Smooth and Spiny Softshells. There are also terrestrial species such as the Eastern Box turtle.

Are turtles illegal in Mississippi?

It is not illegal to buy, own, or sell turtles in Mississippi, with some restrictions. You can keep a maximum of four specimens of each individual species, but you cannot possess more than 20 individual reptiles in your collection.

It is illegal to possess any of the following species; Alabama Red-bellied Cooters, Ringed Map turtles, Yellow-blotched Map turtles, Gopher tortoises, and any type of Sea turtle.

All other species can be kept as pets, although it is illegal to buy and sell wild-caught native turtles. You can still collect them for your own personal use, but this is not recommended. You’ll also need a small game fishing or hunting license to collect wild turtles.

Is it illegal to keep a Box turtle in Mississippi?

Mississippi is home to three species of Box turtles; Eastern Box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina), Gulf Coast Box turtles (Terrapene carolina major), and Three-toed Box turtles (Terrapene carolina triunguis).

All three of these species can be legally purchased and kept as pets, although you are only allowed to own up to four specimens of each species.

Are Alligator Snapping turtles protected in Mississippi?

It is legal to possess and catch Alligator Snapping turtles in Mississippi, but the species is protected by tight restrictions governing its possession.

With regards to owning an Alligator Snapping turtle in Mississippi, you may only keep one specimen at once, and this turtle must have a carapace length of at least 24 inches.

When catching Alligator Snapping turtles in the wild, only one specimen may be taken each season between the beginning of July and the end of March the following year. Again, this specimen must have a shell length of at least 24 inches.

You must have a small game hunting or fishing license to capture wild turtles in Mississippi.

Where can you find turtles in Mississippi?

Mississippi’s 35 native turtle species inhabit a diverse range of habitats. Terrestrial turtles like Box turtles can be encountered in grasslands and woodland habitats. Many of Mississippi’s freshwater turtles prefer the larger river systems in the state, such as the Pascagoula, Pearl, or Mississippi Rivers.

Gopher tortoises can be seen in grassland areas, while Snapping turtles are mainly found in larger permanent bodies of water such as lakes or reservoirs. Diamondback terrapins inhabit brackish waters in tidal estuaries near Mississippi’s coasts.

The five species of Sea turtles that visit Mississippi can either be seen in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico or on Mississippi’s coastlines.

Is there a turtle season in Mississippi?

Like many states, Mississippi has laws that govern when it is appropriate to take turtles from the wild, either for collection purposes or as part of game hunting and fishing.

Mississippi defines three species of turtles as game species; Common Snappers, Smooth Softshells, and Spiny Softshells. You’ll need a small game hunting or fishing license to collect wild game turtles. One specimen of each of these turtles can be harvested each day, although there is a hard limit of only being allowed to take four (4) specimens of each species per year.

All other non-protected species of Mississippi’s native turtles can be collected from the wild. However, it is illegal to collect non-game turtles between April 1st and June 30th. Only ten (10) specimens of Mississippi’s non-game turtles can be collected each license year, and you are only permitted to collect a maximum of four specimens per turtle species.

Conclusion

So that’s the end of our list of the 35 native turtles in Mississippi! We’ve covered a huge range of turtles throughout this list, from terrestrial turtles such as Box turtles to fully aquatic species such as Musk turtles and Snapping turtles.

We’ve also touched on Mississippi’s lone species of tortoise, the Gopher tortoise, as well as the five types of Sea turtles that can be spotted in Mississippi’s coastal waters.

Whether you use this list as a herping guide when you’re out in the field or as research material when trying to choose your next pet turtle, we hope you enjoyed it. If you did, feel free to comment down below and discuss Mississippi’s turtles with us!

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