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Turtles in Oklahoma

There are 17 native species of turtle in Oklahoma. The Sooner State is home to several different types of turtle, from terrestrial specimens like the Ornate Box turtle to fully aquatic species such as the Common Musk turtle. Some types have more than one subspecies present in Oklahoma.

In this list we’ll explore the full range of Oklahoma’s native turtles. You can use this list as both a herping guide for identifying wild turtles and a starting point for choosing your next pet turtle.

However, if you’re planning on keeping one of these turtles, bear in mind that it is illegal to buy or sell any turtles in Oklahoma. If possible, always try and adopt a turtle from an animal sanctuary. If this isn’t practical, then you are allowed to capture most of Oklahoma’s native turtles from the wild, but check to see if any species are off limits.

To help you figure out which of Oklahoma’s turtles is right for you, click on the name or image of a species to jump to a dedicated and comprehensive care guide.

Now, without further ado, let’s dive in and explore the 17 native turtles of Oklahoma.

Turtles in Oklahoma

1. Ornate Box Turtle

Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapine ornata) on gravel road
Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapine ornata) on gravel road
  • Experience Level: Intermediate to Expert
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Terrapine ornata
  • Other Names: Box Tortoise, Western Box Turtle
  • Adult Size: 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12.5 cm)
  • Lifespan: 30 to 40 years
  • Average Price Range: $130 to $450

Ornate Box turtles are a terrestrial species that inhabits open regions such as grasslands, prairies, and woodland areas. Although considered to be endangered in some states, Ornate Box turtles are relatively common in Oklahoma. They can be found across the state but are most often encountered in western counties.

Ornate Box turtles have beautiful orange to yellow stripeds across their domed dark brown or black shells, with plain rims on the carapace. Males have red eyes, while females have yellow or brown eyes. These diurnal turtles are more active after rainfall, but can be in danger from collisions with cars.

Ornate Box turtles are omnivorous, mainly eating insects, mollusks, and occasionally carrion. They will also eat vegetation such as berries or plants. This species is a popular choice of pet.

2. 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

Three-toed Box turtles are a subspecies of the Eastern Box turtle (Terrapene carolina) and are mainly found in Oklahoma’s eastern half. The main habitats for these turtles are woodlands and other grassland areas such as meadows.

Three-toed Box turtles have high domed black, brown, or olive carapaces with reddish-orange chins and patches on their limbs. 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 mainly terrestrial and roam around on land in search of food. Three-toed Box turtles are omnivores will eat fish, insects, and mollusks as well as plants.

3. Western Chicken Turtle

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 miaria
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: 4 to 10 inches (10 to 25.5 cm)
  • Lifespan: 15 to 30 years
  • Average Price Range: $130 to $200

Western Chicken turtles are a semi-aquatic species found in Oklahoma, but are in danger of losing their preferred habitats. They inhabit still, slow-moving waters such as ponds and swamps and are rarely spotted in the state.

Western Chicken turtles have long, striped necks and rough, oval-shaped olive or dark brown to black shells. They usually have a flatter shape than other Chicken turtle subspecies. Their shells have yellow swirling patterns that resemble a fishing net.

These turtles are omnivores who mainly feed on crustaceans, fish, insects, and mollusks as well as plants. They have been hunted for their meat in the past, which is where they get their common name.

4. Eastern River Cooter

Eastern river cooter in Illinois
Eastern river cooter basking on rock in pond
  • 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 native to central and eastern regions of Oklahoma. They prefer faster-moving river systems such as the Missouri and can sometimes be seen basking on rocks or logs at the edge of the water. 

These turtles have slightly domed shells ranging from brown to olive. Their shells and heads have beautiful yellowish markings, while their plastrons are also yellow. Eastern River Cooters are some of Oklahoma’s largest turtles, with some exceptional specimens reaching 15 inches (40 cm).

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

5. Common Map Turtle

Common Map turtle (Graptemys geographica) also known as northern map turtle basking in the sun
Common Map turtle (Graptemys geographica) also known as northern map turtle basking in the sun
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Graptemys geographica
  • Other Names: Northern 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

Common Map turtles are relatively widespread in Oklahoma and are an aquatic species who prefer larger river systems. They are great swimmers and rarely venture far from the water, preferring to bask often.

Common Map turtles have dark brown or olive green shells which sport their eponymous 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 types of Map turtle.

These turtles are mainly carnivorous, feeding on crustaceans, small fish, and insects. They will also eat plants occasionally.

6. Mississippi Map Turtle

Mississippi Map Turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica kohnii)
Mississippi Map Turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica kohnii)
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Graptemys pseudogeographica kohnii
  • Other Names: N/A
  • 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 the False Map turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica) that is found in the larger, faster river systems and lakes of Oklahoma’s eastern regions, particularly along the Mississippi River. They can sometimes be seen basking by the water’s edge in the summer.

Mississippi Map turtles have dark brown or black shells with similar contour-like yellow markings to other Map turtles. Most adults have a series of sharp black-tipped keels running the length of their shells. The scutes at the rear end of their shells are serrated.

These turtles are an aquatic species and rarely travel far from the water. They are omnivores and eat crustaceans, insects, and underwater vegetation.

7. Ouachita Map Turtle

Ouachita Map Turtle (Graptemys ouachitensis) head close up by Josh More
Ouachita Map Turtle (Graptemys ouachitensis) head close up by Josh More
  • 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 the third species of Map turtle found in Oklahoma. They prefer larger rivers with faster-moving waters. These diurnal turtles can be spotted while basking, but are easily startled and will 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 or brown shells. They also have the familiar map-like markings common to most species of Map turtle.

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

8. Mississippi Mud Turtle

Mississippi mud turtle being held with mouth open
Mississippi mud turtle being held with mouth open
  • 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 relatively common across Oklahoma’s eastern regions. They like shallow, slow-moving waters such as bogs, marshes, and swamps. This mainly aquatic species hunt in the depths of the water, preferring areas with dense vegetation.

These turtles have smooth, oval shaped carapaces that range from brown to yellowish in color. Their shells drop quite sharply at the sides and back, whilst their plastrons are yellowish with brown patches. They also have a yellow stripe running down from their eyes.

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

9. Yellow Mud Turtle

Yellow mud turtle in Illinois (Kinosternon Flavescens Flavescens)
Yellow mud turtle (Kinosternon flavescens flavescens) near shore exploring
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon flavescens flavescens
  • Other Names: Yellow-necked Mud turtle
  • Adult Size: 3 to 5 inches (7.5 to 12.5 cm)
  • Lifespan: 10 to 40 years
  • Average Price Range: $150 to $295

Yellow Mud Turtles are a small species found in Oklahoma. They mainly inhabit marshes and ponds at the bottom of valleys and like to burrow into sandy substrates. Yellow Mud turtles can make interesting pets, but are a bit rarer than other Mud turtles.

These small turtles have unmarked olive or tan shells with some yellow coloration around their faces. Yellow Mud turtles also have yellow plastrons.

Yellow Mud turtles mainly eat crustaceans, insects, and mollusks such as earthworms. They roam around both on land and in the water, usually catching small shrimp from shallow ponds.

10. 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

These aquatic turtles are also known as “Stinkpots” thanks to the strong odor they can excrete from their musk glands as a defense mechanism. Common Musk turtles can be seen in northeastern and southeastern counties of Oklahoma.

Common Musk turtles have dark brown or black unmarked shells. Their heads are also dark, with two yellowish stripes stretching from their nostrils down to their necks. These turtles also have fleshy barbels on their chins and throats.

Common Musk turtles are nocturnal omnivores and mainly eat mollusks, crustaceans and small amphibians. They prefer marshy and boggy habitats with slow-moving waters.

11. Razor-backed Musk Turtle

Razor-backed musk (Sternotherus carinatus) turtle swimming in tank
Razor-backed musk (Sternotherus carinatus) turtle swimming in tank
  • 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 an aquatic species and are some of Oklahoma’s most secretive turtles. They mainly inhabit slower-moving waters such as ponds and usually hide between aquatic vegetation.

Shell coloration can vary from black and brown to gray or olive. The scutes look like a series of razor-like humps, and are edged in black. Razor-backed Musk turtles have brown or gray skin that is usually covered in black dots with black lines stretching across the shell.

Razor-backed Musk turtles are carnivorous, and mainly eat crustaceans, small fish, insects, and mollusks.

12. Painted Turtles

Baby Southern Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta dorsalis) on fingernail
Baby Southern Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta dorsalis) on fingernail
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Chrysemys picta dorsalis (Southern), Chrysemys picta bellii (Western)
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: 4 to 10 inches (10 to 25.5 cm)
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years
  • Average Price Range: $20 to $50

Oklahoma is home to two subspecies of Painted turtle; the Southern Painted (Chrysemys picta dorsalis) and the larger Western Painted (Chrysemys picta bellii). These medium-sized aquatic turtles can be found across much of the state in shallow waters such as marshes and ponds.

Painted turtles have dark brown to black shells that are edged in colors ranging from yellow to red. Their faces also have yellow stripes. Southern Painted turtles can be identified by a red or orange line running down their carapace and have tan or yellow plastrons.

Western Painted turtles are the largest subspecies of Painted turtle. They lack a stripe on their shell and sport plastrons with marbled patterns of red, green, other colors.

These diurnal turtles like to bask on logs beside the water. Painted turtles are omnivorous, with Southern Painted turtles preferring a largely herbivorous diet of aquatic vegetation and Western Painted turtles eating a mix of insects and plants.

13. Red-eared Slider

Red eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)  basking on log
Red eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) basking on log
  • 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 widespread across most of Oklahoma, except for some of the western counties of the Panhandle. These semi-aquatic turtles are one of the most popular species of pet turtle on the market.

Unfortunately, because they are often sold in normal pet stores, they can end up being released unsafely and become an invasive species in new regions.

Red-eared Sliders prefer warm, slow-moving waters such as rivers and lakes. Their omnivorous diet consists of small fish, insects, and underwater vegetation.

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.

14. Alligator Snapping Turtle

Alligator snapping turtle in Wyoming
Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) in grass hissing
  • Experience Level: Intermediate to 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 imposing turtles are aquatic and live in deeper waters like lakes or rivers. In Oklahoma, they can be encountered in eastern counties but are listed as a species of Special Concern.

Alligator Snapping turtles are instantly recognizable. They have thick carapaces with a battery of ridged spikes and incredibly strong, beak-like jaws. They are usually dark brown in color, and their tails are festooned with saw-like spines.

These behemoths are carnivores and will essentially eat anything they can catch. They mostly eat amphibians, fish, insects, and smaller turtles and other reptiles. Their strong jaws are capable of crushing their prey, lured in by a movable tendril that acts as bait.

15. Common Snapping Turtle

Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) basking on barge
Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) basking on barge
  • 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 found in most regions of Oklahoma, where they inhabit larger bodies of water such as lakes and reservoirs. These muscular turtles can react aggressively if cornered on land, hissing and biting at interlopers.

Common Snapping turtles are easily identified by their distinctive hooked jaws, strong claws, and long tails bearing saw-toothed spines. They usually have dark brown or green shells that have three prominent ridges in the center.

These large aquatic turtles mainly eat amphibians, fish and waterfowl. Occasionally they will also eat plants and will sometimes prey on smaller turtles.

16. Midland Smooth Softshells

Midland Smooth Softshell Turtle (Apalone mutica mutica)
Midland Smooth Softshell Turtle (Apalone mutica mutica)
  • Experience Level: Intermediate to Expert
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Other Names: Spineless Softshell
  • Scientific Name: Apalone mutica mutica
  • Adult Size: 4.5 to 14 inches (11.5 to 35.5 cm)
  • Lifespan: 25+ years
  • Average Price Range: $40 to $60

Midland Smooth Softshells are a subspecies of the Smooth Softshell (Apalone mutica). They mainly inhabit larger river systems that flow through Oklahoma, like the Canadian or Mississippi rivers. They require sandbars in their habitats for nesting.

Midland Smooth Softshells look like leathery pancakes and lack hard shells to protects themselves. They are usually brown or gray, with cream-colored lines edged in black running from behind their eyes and long, tapered snouts.

These aquatic turtles are active during the day and bury themselves in sand in the shallows to hunt crustaceans, insects, and mollusks.

17. Spiny Softshell Turtles

spiny softshell turtle (apalone spinifera)
spiny softshell turtle (apalone spinifera)
  • Experience Level: Intermediate to Expert
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Scientific Name: Apalone spinifera
  • 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

There are two subspecies of Spiny Softshells native to Oklahoma; the Eastern Spiny Softshell (Apalone spinifera spinifera) and the Pallid Spiny Softshell (Apalone spinifera pallida). These turtles are fast swimmers, preferring rivers or streams with moving currents.

Spiny Softshells have brown to yellowish leathery shells shaped like a pancake, which feel a bit like sandpaper to the touch. They have long, tapered beaks and a series of spines protruding from the fronts of their shells.

Eastern Spiny Softshells have black spots with large borders on their shells, while Pallid Spiny Softshells only have markings towards the rear of their shells – a series of plain white spots in females and white spots inside black rings for males.

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

Frequently Asked Questions about Oklahoma Turtles

What kind of turtles live in Oklahoma?

Oklahoma is home to 17 different species of turtles, ranging from terrestrial specimens like the Ornate and Three-toed Box turtles to fully aquatic turtles like Map and Snapping turtles. Many of Oklahoma’s native turtles are relatively common.

Are turtles illegal in Oklahoma?

It is legal to keep turtles in Oklahoma. However, there are a number of restrictions in place. Terrestrial turtles cannot be sold within the state, whether native or not. For aquatic turtles, any buyer or seller must have a commercial turtle license to possess them.

There are three species that are prohibited from being owned in Oklahoma; Western Chicken turtles (Deirochelys reticularia miaria), Common Map turtles (Graptemys geographica), and Alligator Snapping turtles (Macrochelys temminckii).

There is a possession limit in place regarding turtles owned in Oklahoma. It is legal to keep up to six specimens of each unprotected species.

Is it illegal to keep a Box turtle in Oklahoma?

Although no type of terrestrial turtle can be sold in Oklahoma, you are allowed to capture wild Box turtles to keep as pets. Oklahoma is home to two species of Box turtle; Ornate Box turtles (Terrapine ornata) and Three-toed Box turtles (Terrapene carolina triunguis).

Are Alligator Snapping turtles protected in Oklahoma?

Alligator Snapping turtles are one of Oklahoma’s three protected species, along with Common Map turtles and Western Chicken turtles. Alligator Snappers are considered to be a species of Special Concern in Oklahoma and may not be possessed or taken from the wild under any circumstances.

Where can you find turtles in Oklahoma?

With Oklahoma’s varied range of native turtles, you can find different species in various regions and habitats. Oklahoma is home to two terrestrial Box turtles which can be found in grasslands, prairies, and forests.

Many of Oklahoma’s turtles are aquatic or semi-aquatic, such as Map turtles, Painted turtles, and Snapping turtles. The majority of these species can be seen in major river systems or large bodies of water, but some prefer slower-moving waters in marshes or swamps.

Conclusion

We’ve reached the end of our list of the 17 native turtles in Oklahoma. We’ve examined several interesting species, such as the terrestrial Box turtles, aquatic Map turtles, and protected Alligator Snapping turtles.

Whether you use this list as a herping identification guide out in the field or a springboard to choose one of Oklahoma’s native species as a pet, we hope you enjoyed it!

Please bear in mind the restrictions against buying and selling turtles as well as limits on which turtles can be captured from the wild.

If you enjoyed this list, please feel free to comment down below and discuss Oklahoma’s turtles with us and other herping enthusiasts!

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Western Box Turtle on aspalt hiding partially in shell
Western Box Turtle
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