Connecticut is a diverse state that many animals call home, including reptiles like snakes, lizards, and turtles. If you live in or visit this state, some of these turtles are going to be easier to view and identify than others.
So what types of turtles live in Connecticut?
There are twelve types of turtles native to Connecticut, including four species of sea turtles. Of these turtles, four are species of special concern, two are threatened, and three are endangered. The endangered species include the bog turtle, Atlantic Ridley sea turtle, and leatherback sea turtle.
Below, we’ll check out all twelve types of turtles in Connecticut, as well as how you can identify them and some interesting facts about each species.
Turtles Native To Connecticut
There are eight turtles that live in the ponds, marshes, and other bodies of water found across Connecticut. Of these species, several are species of special concern or threatened. The bog turtle found in Connecticut is endangered.
Bog turtles are one of the rarest turtles in Connecticut and have an endangered status. They are also the smallest, being just 3-3 1/2 inches long. The upper part of the shell, which is called the carapace, has segments called scutes found on the top of the turtle shell. These scutes have red or yellow hues. Bog turtles also have a yellow or orange head patch that may or may not be divided into two parts.
There are also clear differences between male and female turtles. Male bog turtles have a flatter shell and concave shell bottom with long, thick tails. Females have a wider shell with a convex shell bottom and short, thin tails. The shell bottom is called the plastron.
While bog turtles are considered endangered and are not common, you are most likely to see them in the western part of the state, which has optimal habitats. This includes wet meadows and pastures, open sphagnum bogs, and calcium-rich wetlands.
Eastern Painted Turtle
Eastern painted turtles are found throughout Connecticut and there are several other species of painted turtles found throughout North America. While they have a darker shell with olive coloring between the segments, they are most easily identified by the bright markings on their head, limbs, and shell. There are black and red markings along the sides of each part of their shell and these turtles often have yellow markings on their head and limb.
These colorful turtles have a yellowish shell bottom, though they can also be stained red or rust-colored. You are most likely to see them quietly basking on rocks or logs near still bodies of water, though they commonly return to the water when disturbed. These turtles are an average of 4.5-6 inches long.
Common Snapping Turtle
Snapping turtles are good at adapting to different environments and that may have contributed to their population in a wide variety of aquatic environments across the states. They can live in freshwater as well as brackish water, which is areas of water where freshwater and saltwater meet and can be found in swamps, creeks, marshes, rivers, lakes, streams, bogs, and impoundments.
Snapping turtles are very big, with a shell that is 8-12 inches long and they can weigh anywhere from 10-35 pounds. The upper part of the shell is very darkly colored and there are serrations running along the shell. It can be dark green, dark brown, or black.
While their carapace is large, the snapping turtle’s tail is longer and covered in bony plates. They also have a long neck, large head, and hooked upper jaw that they use for tearing into food.
Common Musk Turtle
The common musk turtle is just a little bigger than the bog turtles found in Connecticut, being 3 to 5 inches long. They are sometimes referred to as “stinkpot” turtles and are easily identifiable by their smell. When disturbed or handled, they emit an odor that comes from yellow fluid produced by two glands found underneath their shell.
Musk turtles can be tan, gray, brown, or black on the carapace and may also have dark spots and algae on the shell. Their plastron is similar in color to the upper part of the shell, though they may have an ivory color between the shell segments. Additionally, musk turtles have more skin showing near their leg joints compared to other turtles.
The musk turtle’s most identifiable feature is its head. It is triangular shaped, which is different than all the other species of turtles in the state, plus they have a larger head compared to the size of their body. Their head also has two yellow lines that run down each side, though these lines can become broken or fade with age.
It’s also easy to tell male musk turtles from female musk turtles. Males have larger heads and longer, thicker tails with a spike on the end. Additionally, male musk turtles have a rough patch of scales found on the inner part of the hind legs, which helps them grip the female turtle’s shell during mating.
Wood turtles are a species of special concern, like many other types of wildlife in Connecticut. They grow to just 4.5 inches long and have specialized habitat needs, so while they are found across the state, they don’t have high populations.
Wood turtles get their name from the unique pattern on their carapace. Typically, their upper shell can be described as having a chiseled or carved look with all the ridges found on their shell. They are dark brown or black but may also have yellow colors deep in the chiseled areas and grow to an average of 5-9 inches long.
Their shell bottom is usually a shade of yellow with dark blotches on the outer part of the scutes. Wood turtles also have limbs that are darker in color, though this is contrasted by tones of yellow, red, or orange on the limb undersides and throat. Typically, Connecticut wood turtles are known to have orangish hues.
Spotted turtles are another smaller species of turtle found in Connecticut, being just 4.5-6 inches long. They are a species of special concern and are most commonly found in the Connecticut lowlands, typically in or near slow-moving bodies of water.
Spotted turtles get their name from their colorful spots, which are reddish, orange, or yellow in color. These spots are found on the scutes, which are bluish-black in color. Spotted turtles also have a yellowish-brown plastron that may have markings and they may have reddish-orange or yellow markings on the head with bright orange limbs. Males have a tan chin and a longer tail, while females have a yellow chin.
Eastern Box Turtle
The eastern box turtle is another easily identifiable turtle because of their high-domed carapace and the irregular orange or yellow blotches all over the top of their shell. This is on a brown, black, or brownish-black background, which mimics the way that sunlight looks when it hits the forest floor. Eastern box turtles grow to 4.5-6.5 inches long, though they can get as long as 8 inches.
Their plastron is usually black or gray in color and might have yellow or cream markings. Box turtles also have distinctive head markings, with males having red eyes and females having brown eyes. They get their name from their ability to withdraw completely into their shell, which is something that the other types of turtles in Connecticut cannot do. Eastern box turtles are a species of special concern in Connecticut.
Northern Diamondback Terrapin
The northern diamondback terrapin is a species of special concern in Connecticut. They are the only turtles in North America that live primarily in brackish water, being found in tidal estuaries on the west side of the Connecticut River.
While the color of the upper shell can vary, the northern diamondback terrapin is easily recognizable by the concentric rings or ridges found on its shell. These markings are usually darker and the carapace is gray, light brown, or black. The plastron of these turtles is yellowish or greenish gray, without markings, and they may have spots on their head and limbs.
Unlike some of the other species mentioned so far, male northern diamondback terrapins are smaller than the females. Males are typically 4.5-5.5 inches long, while females may be 6-9 inches long.
Types Of Sea Turtles In Connecticut
There are four types of sea turtles found in Connecticut. Of these, the loggerhead and Atlantic green sea turtle are threatened, while the Atlantic Ridley and leatherback sea turtle are both endangered, both in Connecticut and at a federal level.
Loggerhead Sea Turtle
Loggerhead sea turtles are most often found swimming in open ocean waters and estuaries. They are an average of 150-350 pounds and are 31-45 inches long, though some of the largest members of their species have weighed as much as 1,000 pounds.
Loggerhead sea turtles have broad heads and are reddish brown in color. When they are young, the turtles are usually brown with lighter coloration on the plastron, which is when they are most likely to be mistaken for the smaller Atlantic Ridley sea turtle. You can tell them apart by looking at their claws, as loggerhead sea turtles have two claws on each front flipper and two claws on each rear flipper.
Leatherback Sea Turtle
The leatherback sea turtle is the largest sea turtle that you can see in Connecticut, often being found near the edge of the continental shelf. These turtles weigh an average of 650-1,200 pounds and grow an average of 5-6 feet long, though the biggest turtle found was 9 feet. They also have massive front flippers that can be as long as 9 feet.
Leatherback sea turtles have smoother upper shells with unique scutes that are separated into 7 longitudinal areas running down their back. The carapace may be dark brown or black in color and it is wider at the top and more narrow toward the tail, giving it a triangular shape.
On the underside, leatherback sea turtles are often white. They may have white patches appear anywhere and it is more common for juvenile turtles to have white markings. Additionally, leatherback sea turtles have black limbs and flippers that do not have claws, unlike any of the other sea turtles found in Connecticut.
Atlantic Green Sea Turtle
Sea turtles get much larger than the average turtle found in the ponds and marshes of Connecticut and the Atlantic green sea turtle is no exception with the largest members of the species weighing as much as 600 pounds. While there is no size difference between males and females, males have a long, thick tail and females do not. You are most likely to see this turtle in shallow ocean waters like bays, reefs, and inlets.
Atlantic green sea turtles have a smooth carapace without deep ridging between the scutes. They are found in a variety of colors including bluish-black, light or dark brown, or olive green, and may have brown mottling on the shell. These turtles also have a single claw found at the end of each flipper.
Atlantic Ridley Sea Turtle
The Atlantic Ridley sea turtle is a bit smaller than the other sea turtles mentioned so far and it is easily confused with the loggerhead sea turtle because of the shape of its shell. However, it is a little bit smaller and can also be identified by its wide, gray carapace and yellow plastron. The carapace of this turtle is also heart-shaped with ridged scales.
Atlantic Ridley sea turtles are also known for the shape of their head, which is triangular and has a hooked beak. They have a single claw at the end of their front flippers and two claws at the end of their rear flippers. Typically, they weigh between 80-100 pounds and maybe 2 feet long.
Connecticut is home to many types of animals, including eight species of turtle and four species of sea turtle. Some of these turtles are more common across the state than others, particularly with so many of them being threatened, a species of special concern, or endangered.
Some turtles, like the leatherback sea turtle and Atlantic Ridley sea turtle, are even endangered on a federal level.
While turtles are easily noticeable by their shell, many of these types of turtles in Connecticut also have unique markings that make them easy to identify if you see one when you are exploring outdoors or nearby a body of water. Hopefully, this article makes it easier to know which turtles you have seen!