Turtles of North Carolina

There are four distinct species of turtle here, and two more in the pond itself. At least. Could be more. They’re sneaky.

North Carolina is a state full of turtles. Damn turtles everywhere. The combination of being old (parts of the Appalachians are older than plants), never having been flooded properly (parts of the Appalachians have NEVER been underwater or iced over since before plants) and having a crazy number of environmental niches (particularly muddy ponds), lets critters speciate all willy-nilly. So, there’s a lotta different kinds of turtles in the Piedmont. 19 are listed in Reptiles of North Carolina. 5 of those are sea turtles (Leatherbacks/Dermochelys coriace, Loggerheads/Caretta caretta, Atlantic Hawksbill/Eretmochelys imbricata imbricata, Green/Chelonia mydas and Atlantic Ridley /Lepidochelys kempii) so can be ignored as not being relevant to the Piedmont. But at least they are mentioned here.

A white loggerhead turtle
Nimbus, an albino loggerhead held at the Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium

Turtles are distinct. Four legs with a shell (mostly hard, rarely leathery), and most people figure out what a turtle is as toddlers, about the same time they figure out what an orange is. And in this case, the morphology works: turtles look like turtles and things which look like turtles are turtles and there’s really nothing tricky going on. Turtle/tortoise/terrapin is another matter, but the only thing you’re likely to confuse with the group is a rock. If confused, check for a head. Or movement. However, if things other than the turtle/rock are moving, you may be experiencing an earthquake.

So, for completion, here’s the list of the turtles found on land, particularly in the Piedmont of North Carolina:

  • Chrysemys picta picta, Eastern Painted Turtle
  • Clemmys buttata, Spotted Turtle
  • Clemmys muhlenbergii, Bog Turtle (only in the Appalachians, and endangered)
  • Deirochelys reticularia reticularia, Eastern Chicken Turtle (down in the Sandhills)
  • Malaclemys terrapin, Diamondback Terrapin (Coastal only, also endangered)
  • Pseudemys concinna concinna, Eastern River Cooter
  • Pseudemys floridana floridana, Florida Cooter (more sandhilly)
  • Pseudemys rubriventris, Redbelly Turtle (only around the Pamlico Sound area on the coast)
  • Terrapin caroline caroline, Eastern Box Turtle
  • Trachemys scripta scripta, Yellowbelly Slider
  • Kinosternon baurii, Striped Mud Turtle (more coastal, and rare)
  • Kinosternon subrubrum, Eastern Mud Turtle
  • Sternotherus minor pelter, Stripeneck Musk Turtle
  • Sternotherus odoratus, Common Musk Turtle
  • Apalone spinifera spinifera, Eastern Spiny Softshell

Next week, basics of turtles, including some notes on what the dang names mean. And then on to some species descriptions.