Amphibians and Reptiles of Long Island,
Staten Island and Manhattan


Regional Turtles

20. Snapping Turtle - Chelydra serpentina
Description: 8 - 18 ½" (20-47 cm). Shell and body brown to rust color. Massive head. Carapace has 3 weakly keeled rows. Small plastron, unpatterned. Rear carapace has prominent tooth-like projections. Long tail with small spikes along the upper side.

Similar species in our area: NONE

Lifestyle: This is a very common species which is extremely tolerant of human development.  Snappers are the largest freshwater turtles found throughout our area. It is primarily aquatic living in the mud of most permanent bodies of water, including brackish intertidal canals. Mating occurs from April through November. Nests in late May through June on land. Lays 18-83 1" spherical "ping pong ball" shaped eggs. Hatch September through October at 1". Hatchlings may overwinter in nest and emerge early the following spring. Color black/brown at hatching with white spot at the end of each marginal scute and a very rough carapace (top shell) with three discernible raised longitudinal rows. Long tail. This species is more active at night.  It is sometimes seen basking and crossing roads in early spring and summer.

Snapping turtles are the stuff of legends.  Their ability to damage fingers and broomsticks is greatly exaggerated, but they can deliver a painful bite.  They mostly eat dead plant and animal matter, and only rarely eating unsuspecting ducklings and water birds.  Their impact on fishermen is often greatly exaggerated.
 

21. Eastern Box Turtle - Terrapene carolina carolina
Description: 4 - 7 1/16" (10-18 cm). Variable colors on carapace and plastron. Carapace may have ray-like designs and range in color from yellow to orange to olive to brown. The distinct highly domed shape is a key characteristic along with a hinged plastron that can seal the head of the animal into the shell. Males have red eyes, females have yellow eyes.

Similar species in our area: NONE

Lifestyle: This species is somewhat common throughout our area although populations are threatened by habitat loss and pet collection.  There are many reports of pet box turtles also being released by their owners.  Although this might seem like the right thing to do, releasing pet animals whether native or non-native is a dangerous thing to do and can spread disease to wild populations.  IT IS ALSO ILLEGAL

This turtle is our "land turtle" often found in forests, fields and vegetated areas, although they can be found in and around shallow bodies of water. This species may mate throughout active period. 3-8 elliptical eggs laid from May though late June at about 1 3/8". Young hatch in fall, though they may overwinter in nest. Young hatch at slightly larger than 1" in length with flat carapace which is gray to brown. Yellow spot on each scute. Eggs laid on land in nest. This species is primarily diurnal.  They eat berries and other high-energy plant matter, worms and other invertebrates.
 

22. Spotted Turtle - Clemmys guttata
Description: 3 1/8 - 4 ¾" (8-12 cm). Small turtle with black carapace which is usually spotted with yellow, round spots along with the head, neck and limbs. Sometimes, older individuals spots lacking on shell but still on head, neck and limbs. Orange blotch behind eyes. Plastron yellow with black splotches along edges.

Similar species in our area: Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta) may be confused but has different coloration.

Lifestyle: This species is uncommon and is listed as a "Species of Special Concern" by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.  This species is threatened by habitat loss and pet collection.  There are many reports of these turtles being released by their owners.  Although this might seem like the right thing to do, releasing pet animals whether native or non-native is a dangerous thing to do and can spread disease to wild populations.  IT IS ALSO ILLEGAL  Although uncommon it can be found in isolated wetlands throughout our area. This species prefers calm shallow bodies of water including slow moving streams, bogs, brackish marshes and ponds. Mates early in spring, from March to June. Nests on land May to late June depositing 3-8 elliptical, soft shelled eggs at just over 1" in size. Young hatch after 60-70 day incubation period from August to early October and may overwinter in nest (although this is doubtful). Young look much like adults. Eggs laid on land in nest.  Young look much like the adults.  ANY SIGHTINGS OF THIS SPECIES SHOULD BE REPORTED TO THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION.
 

23a. Painted Turtle - Chrysemys picta ssp.
Description: 4 - 7 7/8" (10-20 cm). Carapace is black to olive colored and smooth. Red and yellow stripes around edge of carapace, head, neck and limbs. Plastron is brightly colored yellow to orange, sometimes with patterns. There are noticeable differences in carapace and plastron patterns between the 4 subspecies found in the U.S.

Similar species in our area: The Eastern Painted Turtle (C. picta picta) is our native subspecies. Other subspecies may have been introduced.

Lifestyle: Our native sub-species is very common while other introduced sub-species are less common. Can be found throughout our area. There are many reports of these turtles being released by their owners.  Although this might seem like the right thing to do, releasing pet animals whether native or non-native is a dangerous thing to do and can spread disease to wild populations.  IT IS ALSO ILLEGAL These turtles can tolerate human pressures fairly well. They live in most freshwater, permanent bodies and are also sometimes found in vernal ponds. Breeds from March to April. Females nest May through July. An average of 8 eggs are laid on land, and are slightly larger than 1". Young hatch in 10-11 weeks and look much like the adults.
 

23b. Eastern Painted Turtle - Chrysemys picta picta
Description: 4 ½ - 5 7/8" (11.5-15 cm). Carapace is black to olive and smooth. Red and yellow stripes around edge of carapace, head, neck and limbs. Plastron is completely orange/yellow with no patterns. C. picta picta has straight rows of the large scutes on the carapace.

Similar species in our area: All other Painted Turtle (C. picta ssp.) species which have been introduced. Scute, carapace and plastron differences in all other subspecies. Yellowbelly Sliders (Trachemys scripta scripta) and spotted turtles (Clemmys guttata) may be confused, but coloration differs.

Lifestyle: This species is very common and can be found throughout our area. There are many reports of these turtles being released by their owners.  Although this might seem like the right thing to do, releasing pet animals whether native or non-native is a dangerous thing to do and can spread disease to wild populations.  IT IS ALSO ILLEGAL These turtles can tolerate human pressures fairly well. They live in most permanent fresh water bodies and are sometimes found in vernal pools. Breeds from March to April. Females nest May through July. An average of 8 eggs are laid on land, and are slightly larger than 1". Young hatch in 10-11 weeks and look much like the adults.
 

24. Eastern Mud Turtle - Kinosternon subrubrum
Description: 2 ¾ - 4 5/16" (7-11 cm). Very small turtle. Entire color is usually light to medium brown. Plastron may be yellow and is double hinged. Carapace is smooth. Head usually spotted or marked.

Similar species in our area: Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) has similar size and body shape but different color and has yellow stripes on head.

Lifestyle: This species is uncommon and is considered "Threatened" by the New York DEC. It can only be found in 5 locations on L.I. and S.I. It is semi-aquatic preferring slow moving muddy bottomed bodies of water. Although common in other parts of it's range, it is probably the rarest freshwater turtle in New York State and certainly in the region covered in this website.  It does travel away from the water at times. This species mates April to May. Nests in June and July laying 1-6 hard shelled eggs at 1" on land. Hatch later in the season. Young have dark, domed carapace with a ridge down back and orange plastron. They are surprisingly terrestrial.  ANY SIGHTINGS OF THIS SPECIES SHOULD BE REPORTED TO THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION.
 

25. Diamondback Terrapin - Malaclemys terrapin
Description: Females: 6 - 9" (15.2 - 23 cm); Males: 4 - 5 ½" (10 - 13.9 cm). Body and shell is gray. Carapace has distinctive circular rings. Head is spotted with black flecks. Plastron long and yellow/greenish. Jaws are pale colored.

Similar species in our area: NONE

Lifestyle: This species can be common in specific localities.  This was the turtle used in "turtle soup", and is still sold for food in exotic food markets.  There are many reports of these turtles being released by their owners.  Unfortunately people who mean well  may be liberating  foreign subspecies into local waters, trying to save them from a dinner plate.  This can lead to genetic mixing as well as well as spreading disease.Although this might seem like a good thing to do, releasing captive animals whether native or non-native is dangerous and can spread disease to wild populations.  IT IS ALSO ILLEGAL  Our native subspecies is the northern diamondback terrapin, Malaclemys terrapin terrapin.  Northern diamondbacks can be identified by their distinctly wedge-shaped shell when observed from above as well as having a wide rear shell then other subspecies.   There are six other subspecies of this turtles found along the Atantic and Gulf coasts, and food markets may be selling any of the seven subspecies.

Terrapins are protected by New York state law and legally may only be taken August 1 to April 30 (possession out of season is illegal). You must have have a license from the NY DEC to catch or possess them at any time, you cannot possess or sell turtles less than four inches or greater than seven inches carapace length, and it is illegal to disturb terrapin nests.

This species inhabits our saltwater marshes, estuaries and inlets. Breeds mostly in May. Nests on land, June and July. 4-18 1¼" soft shelled eggs hatch in 9 to 15 weeks. Young look like adults, but are more detailed in coloration with gray background and black circles.

 

26. Common Musk Turtle - Kinosternon odoratus
Description: 2 3/8 - 4 ¾" (6 - 12 cm). Color of body and carapace is olive to brown, while plastron is a light brown to yellow. This species has two distinct yellowish stripes on each side of head and barbels on chin and throat. Capable of releasing displeasing musk scent when disturbed or attacked.

Similar species: Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum) has similar body shape and size but lacks yellow stripes and barbels.

Lifestyle: Musk Turtles are uncommon, but may be abundant in certain locales on L.I. May only be on L.I. This species prefers slow moving, soft bottomed steams, rivers and canals. Can sometimes be found basking out of water. Breeds April to May. Lays six, 1" long elliptical, hard shelled eggs from May to July on land. Young hatch early fall and are 5/8 - 3/4" in size. Domed shell and body black to brown. Prominent mid-dorsal keel and side keels. Yellow stripes on head and light spot on each marginal scute.
 
 

27. Redbelly Turtle - Pseudemys rubriventris
Description: 9 7/16 - 13 ¾" (24 - 35 cm). Large pond turtle. Carapace dark brown to black. Plastron is reddish to orange/yellow. Color fades with age until uniformly dull brown to black.

Similar species in our area: Red Eared Slider ( Trachemys scripta elegans) has red stripe behind eye and is smaller.

Lifestyle: This species has been introduced into several places on L.I. It is not commonly found and has very limited populations. Redbelly turtles enjoy deep bodies of fresh water. Mates in spring. Nests in early summer. Eggs hatch after 13 weeks. Lay 8-20 eggs elliptical eggs just under 1.5" on land. Hatchlings 1 ¼" with green carapace (top shell). The plastron (bottom shell) is  red.  It is not clear as to whether or not these local populations are reproducing.  The population may be maintained more by continous releases of pet trade animals rather than recuitment through hatchlings
 

28. Red Eared Slider - Trachemys scripta elegans
Description: 5 - 7 7/8" (12.5 - 20 cm). Distinct red stripe behind eye is a feature characteristic. Red fades with age. Plastron is yellow with black striped patterns. Carapace and body is green/brown with yellow stripes. This also dulls with age, becoming brown.

Similar species in our area: Redbelly Turtle (Pseudemys rubriventris) may look similar but has red belly. Yellowbelly Slider (Trachemys scripta scripta) is the same species but has yellow blotch behind eye, not red.

Lifestyle: This species has been introduced into many places within our area. It is not very common in most areas but may be quite abundant in certain locales.  There are many reports of these turtles being released by their owners.  Although this might seem like the right thing to do, releasing pet animals whether native or non-native is a dangerous thing to do and can spread disease to wild populations. IT IS ALSO ILLEGAL It inhabits the same bodies of water as the native Chrysemys picta including lakes, rivers, streams, and freshwater marshes with abundant vegetation. Breeds in late spring. Nests early summer. Clutch size is 5-20 oval eggs, slightly larger than 1". Young hatch around 2 months after being laid at around 1 ¼" with bright green carapace. Plastron bright yellow with concentric black designs. Eggs laid on land in nest.  The population may be maintained more by continous releases of pet trade animals rather than recuitment through hatchlings
 

29. Yellowbelly Slider - Trachemys scripta scripta
Description: 5-8" (12.5-20.3 cm). The most distinguishing characteristic of this species is the yellow blotch behind the eye. Vertical yellow bars on costal scutes. Yellow plastron with dark smudges anteriorly.

Similar species in our area: Red Eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) is the same species, but they have red spots behind their eyes. Old adults may look similar to Yellow Bellies. Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta) may look similar, but have different color patterns.

Lifestyle: This species has reportedly been introduced into a few locations in southern areas of Long Island. It is rare if it has established itself at all. There are many reports of these turtles being released by their owners.  Although this might seem like the right thing to do, releasing pet animals whether native or non-native is a dangerous thing to do and can spread disease to wild populations. IT IS ALSO ILLEGAL  This species probably inhabits shallow ponds, slow rivers and soft bottomed wetlands in our area. Mates April to June. Lay 1-3 clutches (although probably only 1 if nesting in our area) of 5-25 eggs at 13/8" each. Eggs hatch in 2-2.5 months at 1 1/8 - 1 5/16".

Eyespots of front scutes of plastron. Eggs laid on land in nest.  The population may be maintained more by continous releases of pet trade animals rather than recuitment through hatchlings

 

30. Loggerhead Sea Turtle - Caretta caretta

Description: 31-48" (79-122 cm). Paddle-like flippers, large size, oceanic lifestyle and reddish brown coloration help to distinguish this species. Plastron is yellowish cream colored. 5 or more costal scutes, mid-dorsal keel and two pair of prefrontal scales between the eyes.

Similar species in our area: Atlantic Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) is smaller and the Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) has only 2 pair of prefrontal scales between eyes and an unkeeled carapace. Atlantic Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) has only 4 costal plates.

Lifestyle: This species is Listed as "Threatened" by both the Federal Government and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. It is seldom seen in our waters, but does migrate through our area in mid summer when feeding. This species does not mate or breed in our area.  ANY SIGHTINGS OF THIS SPECIES SHOULD BE REPORTED TO THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION.
 

31. Atlantic Ridley Sea Turtle - Lepidochelys kepii

Description: 23-29 1/2" (58-74.9 cm). Paddle-like flippers, large size and an oceanic lifestyle are characteristic of this species. Keel down center of carapace which is wide, heart shaped and gray in younger individuals, to olive/yellow in older ones. Carapace usually has radiating design. 5 costal plates. Plastron is white 2 pair of prefrontal scales between the eyes. Plastron white/yellow.

Similar species in our area: Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) is much larger and the Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) may look similar but only has 1 pair of prefrontal scales between the eyes and an unkeeled carapace. Atlantic Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) has only 4 costal plates.

Lifestyle: This species is listed as "Endangered" by both the Federal Government and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. It is seldom seen in our waters, but does migrate through our area in mid summer when feeding. This species does not mate or breed in our area.  ANY SIGHTINGS OF THIS SPECIES SHOULD BE REPORTED TO THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION.

32. Green Sea Turtle - Chelonia mydas

Description: 28-60" (71-153 cm). Paddle-like flippers, large size and an oceanic lifestyle are characteristic of this species. Oval shaped carapace is unkeeled and brown to slight olive with radiating design. 4 costal plates on each side of carapace. 1 pair of prefrontal plates between eyes. Plastron white/yellow.

Similar species in our Area: Atlantic Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) has 2 pair of prefrontal plates between eyes. The Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) and the Atlantic Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) have 5 costal plates on each side of plastron and 2 pair of prefrontal scales between eyes.

Lifestyle: This species is Listed as "Threatened" by both the Federal Government and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. It is seldom seen in our waters, but does migrate through our area in mid summer when feeding. This species does not mate or breed in our area.  ANY SIGHTINGS OF THIS SPECIES SHOULD BE REPORTED TO THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION.

33. Atlantic Hawksbill Sea Turtle - Eretmochelys imbricata

Description: 30-35" (76-89 cm). Paddle-like flippers, large size and an oceanic lifestyle are characteristics of this species. Shield shaped carapace with overlapping scutes, brown/green, and keel down center. 4 costal scutes. 2 pairs of prefrontal scales between eyes. Snout is shaped like a hawk’s bill.

Similar Species in our Area: Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) has 1 pair of prefrontal plates between eyes. Atlantic Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) and the Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) have 5 costal scutes.

Lifestyle: This species is listed as "Endangered" by both the Federal Government and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. It is seldom seen in our waters, but does migrate through our area in mid summer when feeding. This species does not mate or breed in our area.  ANY SIGHTINGS OF THIS SPECIES SHOULD BE REPORTED TO THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION.

34. Leatherback Sea Turtle - Dermochelys coriacea

Description: 50-84" (127-213 cm). Largest turtle on the planet. Paddle-like flippers, large size and oceanic lifestyle are characteristics of this species. Easily identified by the seven keels on dorsum. Color is blue to gray/black. No scutes. Smooth leathery skin covers dorsum. Plastron white.

Similar Species in our Area: NONE

Lifestyle: This species is listed as "Endangered" by both the Federal Government and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. It is seldom seen in our waters, but does migrate through our area in mid summer when feeding. This species does not mate or breed in our area.  ANY SIGHTINGS OF THIS SPECIES SHOULD BE REPORTED TO THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION.