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Turtles in Utah

Turtles in Utah

Despite being the 13th largest US state, there are very few species of native turtles in Utah. In fact, it is probable that Utah’s only truly native species is the Mojave Desert tortoise.

Three other turtle species can be seen in Utah; the Painted turtle, the Common Snapping turtle, and the Spiny Softshell turtle. However, these species are likely not native to Utah.

Regardless, we’ll take a quick look at the different types of turtles in Utah.

1. Mojave Desert Tortoise

Mojave Desert Tortoise (Gopherus Agassizii)
Mojave Desert Tortoise (Gopherus Agassizii)
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Scientific Name: Gopherus Agassizii
  • Other Names: Desert tortoise
  • Adult Size: Between 10 and 15 inches
  • Weight: Between 8 and 15 pounds
  • Lifespan: Between 60 and 80 years
  • Conservation Status: Threatened
  • Clutch Size: Between 4 and 8 eggs, up to three times a year
  • Average Price Range: Between $200 and $300
  • Where To Buy: tortoisetown.com

The Desert tortoise is native to the southwestern regions of Utah. They are threatened due to habitat loss. Desert tortoises have large domed shells which range from brown to green. Their scutes have light patches.

They are relatively inactive for most of the year, digging and sheltering in earth burrows or caves. Desert tortoises can be found in dry grassland or desert areas, especially the Mojave.

They are herbivores and mainly feed on grasses, wildflowers, and cacti and succulents in the summer months. Thanks to their specialized bladders, Desert tortoises can go up to a year without drinking if necessary.

The three remaining species of turtle found in Utah are unlikely to be native, and have possibly been introduced by captive specimens being released into the wild.

2. Western Painted Turtle

chrysemys picta belli (western painted turtle)
chrysemys picta belli (western painted turtle)
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Chrysemys Picta Bellii
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: Between 4 and 10 inches
  • Lifespan: Between 30 and 50 years
  • Average Price Range: Between $20 and $50
  • Where To Buy: Tortoisetown.com
  • Recommended Books: Painted Turtle Pet Owners Guide by Ben Team

Western Painted turtles, the largest subspecies of the Painted turtle, have been spotted in Utah. At the moment, they are mainly confined to Kane County in the south of the state.

A popular species of turtle to keep as a pet, Western Painted turtles have dark shells edged with yellow or orange. To distinguish them from other Painted turtles, Western Painted turtles have darker plastrons.

Mainly an aquatic species, Western Painted turtles prefer slow-moving waters and like to bask. Western Painted turtles are omnivorous and mainly eat mollusks, frogs, and underwater invertebrates. They must swallow food in the water.

3. Common Snapping Turtle

Common Snapping Turtle
Common Snapping Turtle
  • 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
  • Where To Buy: tortoisetown.com
  • Recommended Books: Snapping Turtle Pet Owners Guide by Ben Team

Common Snapping turtles are large, freshwater turtles. They can be aggressive and will often hiss and bite. In Utah, Common Snapping turtles have been spotted in Washington county in the extreme south west, mainly in the Virgin River area.

Identified by their distinctive hooked “beaks”, Common Snappers usually have dark brown or green shells. They also have strong claws and long tails with saw-toothed spines.

As nocturnal omnivores Common Snapping turtles mainly eat fish and other aquatic prey. As they are not native to Utah, their presence could have an adverse affect on native fish.

4. Texas Spiny Softshell Turtle

Texas Spiny Softshell turtle (Apalone Spinifera Emoryi)
Texas Spiny Softshell turtle (Apalone Spinifera Emoryi)
  • Experience Level: Intermediate to Expert
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Scientific Name: Apalone Spinifera Emoryi
  • Other Names: N/A
  • 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
  • Where To Buy: Tortoisetown.com
  • Recommended Books: Softshell Turtle Pet Owners Guide by Ben Team

Texas Spiny Softshell turtles are a subspecies of the Spiny Softshell turtle, but are not native to Utah. They are currently found in the Virgin River region of extreme southwestern counties.

Texas Spiny Softshells are fast swimmers. They are carnivores and will feed on crustaceans, insects, and mollusks. They bury themselves in the sand to ambush prey.

Texas Spiny Softshells have a leathery pancake-like shells which feel like sandpaper. They have pale rims around their shells, which distinguishes them from other subspecies. They have long, tapered beaks which they use to breathe while buried in the sand.

Conclusion

In this list we’ve covered the four species of turtles found in Utah. Only one species is native – the threatened Mojave Desert tortoise.

The other species are non-native, and have possibly been introduced by collectors releasing specimens into the wild. These species were the Western Painted turtle, Common Snapping turtle, and Texas Spiny Softshell turtle.

Did you enjoy this list? Feel free to comment below and discuss these turtles with fellow herpetology enthusiasts!

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