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A look at local (MN) turtles for World Turtle Day.

A turtle with a domed shell and a yellow neck.

A look at local (MN) turtles for World Turtle Da­­­y.

By Jake Richards, IT Specialist Individual Placement / AmeriCorps Member placed at Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Trails

When you imagine the wildlife of Minnesota, what type of animals do you think of? Take a few seconds to think of a few. While there are so many options, due to our high number of water bodies in the state I can almost guarantee at least one person thought of turtles! Turtles are some of most unique animals we have in Minnesota and to celebrate World Turtle Day (which is May 23rd), I’d like to offer some quick facts about each of the nine turtles in Minnesota.

  1. Painted Turtle

Painted turtles, known colloquially “mud turtles” are the most common native turtle in Minnesota. Their yellow striped bodies and orange/red shells make them one of the easiest turtles to spot! Painted turtles are on average 7 in long and have a unique substance within their blood that works like an antifreeze making them more resistant to cold than other species.

  1. Smooth Softshell Turtle

Smooth Softshells are one of two softshell turtles in Minnesota and are an endangered species. These turtles are very sensitive to pollution and can only be found in rivers in the SE part of the state. They have leather-like “shells”, long snouts, and can grow up to 14 inches long.

  1. Blanding’s Turtle

Another endangered species, Blanding’s turtles are best known for their domed shells and bright yellow chins. Whilst being endangered, the turtles are still widespread throughout the East-Central part of the state. These turtles are around 9 inches and can live to almost 70 years old!

A turtle with a domed shell and a yellow neck.
Blanding’s Turtle, Photo by USFWS
  1. Northern Map Turtle

Formerly known as the “Common Map Turtle” Northern Maps live in East-Central MN and are one of the only turtles with a flared, uneven shell. These turtles grow to about 11 inches long, have green/olive skin, and are named for the dark lines that run across their tan shells that mimic maps.

  1. Ouachita Map Turtle

One of the three map turtles, Ouachita’s are very small turtles (only 10 inches max, usually more like 6). These turtles have yellow splotched green bodies, dark green shells, and reside only in the south-eastern tip of Minnesota.

 Wood Turtle

Wood turtles are very aptly named, as they only reside in river systems within forested areas. This means they only reside in the eastern third of the state. These turtles can grow up to 8 inches long and have groves on their shells that are reminiscent of a tree’s growth rings.

  1. Spiny Softshell Turtle

The other softshell turtle found in Minnesota, Spiny’s have a much lighter complexion than their Smooth counterparts, usually being a light olive or tan color. Their spiny namesake comes from edges of their shell having enlarged “spines” giving it some spiky points. These turtles are found in central and southern Minnesota and can be 21 inches long.

A flat soft turtle.
Spiny Softshell Turtle, Photo by USFWS
  1. Snapping Turtle

Growing up to 20 inches long, Snapping turtles are amongst the largest freshwater turtles in the world. These animals are not aggressive but will defend themselves with their ferocious looking snap if threatened. Snapping Turtles are found all over the state of Minnesota and can live over 100 years.

snapping turtle
Common Snapping Turtle Close Up, Photo By Dakota L, (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)
  1. False Map Turtle

The final of the three map turtles, False Maps are brownish green in color with two very distinct knobs on their shells. These turtles live in Mississippi and Minnesota River valleys and are on the smaller side as they only get up to about 5 inches long.


Check out the MNDNR Link in my Sources section to learn more!



Minnesota DNR

Amphibian and Reptile Survey of Minnesota