Turtles & Tortoises

How to Identify a Turtle

How To Identify a Turtle Or Tortoise 

Turtles are one of the most popular pets around the world. There are many different species, from sea turtles up to freshwater turtles. Finally there are land turtles or tortoises. How to Identify a Turtle Baby Turtle

Turtles are a diverse group of animals with a wide range of requirements. Turtles require different environmental conditions and turtles eat many different foods.

It is important to know how to identify one turtle from another if you plan on caring for it. You can care for your turtle better if you know how to identify it. If you’re still not sure, you can consult a herp veterinarian.

Turtles come in many different types.

Let’s first look at the different types of turtles that we have.

Freshwater Turtle

How to Identify a Turtle or sea turtle. The majority of turtles that you will encounter are freshwater turtles. Freshwater turtles tend to be smaller than other turtles. These turtles spend the majority of their lives in water environments.

All freshwater turtles, except for box Turtles which spends less time in water, spend the majority of their time swimming. The Japanese pond turtle, for example, can spend many months in a pond.

Snapping turtles are examples, as well as cooters and softshell turtles. Other turtles include box turtles (wood turtles), wood turtles (map turtles), sliders and softshell turtles.

Sea Turtles How to Identify a Sea Turtle

You can find them in the ocean. These are usually large turtles that are purely aquatic. The turtles do lay their eggs on the shore. Flippers are the most distinguishing feature of this turtle type. Sea turtles do not have feet. They have flippers.

Leatherback sea turtles are examples, as well as hawksbill and Atlantic ridley turtles.

Land Tortoise

How to Identify a Turtle on land. They are only found on the land. Their shells tend to be heavier and more streamlined, with high domes. You can identify a tortoise if you look at its feet. Their legs are short and elephantine. Land tortoises walk on their toes when they move.

Some examples include Greek tortoises and Russian tortoises.

Follow these steps to identify a turtle

Knowing how to identify turtles is essential if you own turtles as pets. Follow the steps to identify the species of turtle.

1. You can identify if the turtle is a freshwater turtle, a tortoise or a sea Turtle.

  • The front limbs of a sea-turtle are the flippers. The sea turtle is large and hard to find as it spends most of its life in the ocean. (Move on to section 15 which contains information about identifying sea turtles.
  • If the front legs are not flippers, but toes instead (webbed or not), the turtle is either freshwater or saltwater tortoise. Continue to the next section.
  • Turtles have flat feet, while tortoises have clawed feet. Turtles walk on their toes, while tortoises use claws like elephants.

2. Check the Plastron Shape

  • The turtle is not a snapping one if it has a tail that is short and does not have a saw-like appearance. Then move on to the following section to identify it better.
  • A small, cross-shaped platstron covers a very small part of the underside. The plastron covers about half the shell. Snapping turtles are large turtles, with carapace sizes ranging from 8 to 18.5″. The long, saw-like tail of the snapping turtle is another feature.

3. Check The Shell

  • Softshell Turtles have a soft shell / carapace and a long snout.
  • The shell must be hard to identify a softshell. Continue to the next section.

4. Check the Scutes on the Shell

The turtle’s shell is covered with scutes. Keratin is the main component.

  • Continue to section 6 if the turtle has twelve scutes.
  • Continue to section 5 if the turtle has eleven scutes.

5. Examine the Pectoral Scute on the Plastron

  • The pectoral scute should be squarish and if there is skin visible between the scutes then it’s a Musk Turtle.
  • The pectoral scute should be triangular and there must not be any visible skin between scutes. This is a Mud Turtle.

6. Check Your Feet

  • Refer to the following section if the toes have webbed toes and the plastron has not been hinged.
  • The eastern box turtle is characterized by 12 scutes, and its feet resemble elephants. The turtle’s toes do not have webs and the plastron can be hinged to allow it to be fully enclosed within its shell. The scientific name for the eastern box turtle, Terrapene caolina carolina, is correct. They are pond turtles but don’t spend nearly as much time in the water as other freshwater turtles.

7. Check the Keel

  • Refer to the following section if the turtle’s carapace is not sculpted with a central keel that has a pyramidal design of grooves and lines. If the turtle is a hatchling, also inspect its tail. If the tail of the turtle is shorter than its carapace then you should move to the next part.
  • The carapace of the wood turtle, Glyptemys Insculpta, is flat and sculptured. Its central ridge is made up of a pyramidal design of grooves and lines. This turtle’s platstron has a yellow coloration with black spots at the corners of its scutes. The hatchling’s tail is the same length as its carapace.

8. Check the length of the neck.

  • The chicken turtle is a Deirochelys (Deirochelys Reticularia) if the head and neck are as long or longer than the platstron.
  • If the head and neck are stretched out less than the length on the plastron then it is not a turtle chicken.

9. Check the Carapace

  • The carapace may have concentric grooves on the scutes as well as brown circles. This is a terrapin. The soft grayish skin on the head, legs, and neck also has several black spots.
  • b. If you do not have the features of the carapace mentioned in (a), and your kegs lack marks or are stripped, please refer to the following section.

10. Check the Carapace Once More

  • The map turtle is a carapace with a saw-like vertebral core and a serrated edge. Serrated edges are also found on the red-eared slider. Continue reading section 13 for more information.
  • If the carapace has a smooth surface rather than serrated, it could be an Eastern Painted Turtle. Continue to section 11.

11. Jaws: An Inspective Look

  • If you do not see the jaw features and instead the carapace is covered with spots, please refer to section 12.
  • The upper jaw of the eastern painted turtle is notched and has small cusps either side. You will also notice that the carapace is covered in reddish orange lines.

12. Check the Carapace Again

  • The spotted turtle is a turtle without a keel. It has an orange patch under the eye and a black shell with white or yellow spots.
  • The carapace may have a keel, and be brown with no markings. This turtle is likely a bog tortoise. The bog turtle has a reddish orange spot on the head and neck.

13. Check The Neck And Head

  • If there are less than 16 stripes on the neck, it could be a cooter or slider. The Cumberland Slider, Yellow-bellied Slider and Red-eared Slider are all sliders. You can narrow down your cooter type or slider by moving to the next section.
  • Map turtles have stripes on their neck and head (over 15), as well as a yellow patch just behind their eyes. Map turtles also have contour-like lines on their carapace.

Sliders and Cooters: How to Identify Them

The marginal scuts on the back of the sliders are rounded at the midpoint.


Cumberland Sliders

The Cumberland Slider is olive green to brownish with yellow markings.

Yellow Bellied Sliders

The slider with a yellow-bellied has a yellow solid plastron. The name yellow-bellied is derived from this.

Red-eared Sliders

Red eared sliders are marked by a red patch. This looks like an ear.


The head and neck of cooters are striped with yellowish white, and the marginal scutes on the back of the animal do not have a midpoint notch.

Northern Red-Bellied Cooter

The reddish orange plastron of the northern red-bellied Cooter (Pseudemys Rubriventris), is red. Plastron edges are often redder, forming a border around the plastron. The carapace can be brown or black, with yellow and orange traversal stripes.

Eastern River Cooter

The eastern cooter has a brownish-green color with a “c” mark on the back. The head and neck also have 11 or more stripes. The plastron is a reddish-orange or yellow color with dark lines that fade over time between the scutes.

Coastal Plain Cooter

The head and neck of the coastal plain cooter, Pseudemys cinna flordana, have 10 stripes or less. This species’ plastron is yellow with no patterns.

African Sideneck Turtle

African Sideneck Turtles have a gray underbelly with black accents, and shells that are brown or dark green.

Identification of Sea Turtles

Below is an identification chart for sea turtles. It summarizes what to look out for. There are also pictures below the chart to help you understand.

Type Description
Green The head is rounded and the coloration is greenish-black.
Smooth domed carapace in teardrop shape
Hawksbill The beak and head are narrow, with a yellowish brown color.
A mottled body with overlapping scutes
Leatherback The Blunt Head is accompanied by a pineal gland visible.
Pink spots are a grayish-black color with white patches. They have a
Leathery carapace with seven ridges
Loggerhead The head is broad with yellow cheeks, and the body is reddish brown.
Heart-shaped Carapace
Olive Ridley They have a triangular-shaped head, just like the Kemp’s Ridley. The cheeks of the Kemp’s Ridley are light grayish-olive, with a round carapace.
Kemp’s Ridley The beak is slightly hooked and triangular in shape. Both sides of the baby turtle will be darkly coloured.
Flatback The flatback sea turtle has a distinctive appearance, with flippers that are olive or greenish in color and a pale underside.

Leatherback Sea Turtle

The sea turtle is called a Leatherback Sea Turtle if it has no scutes.

Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle

The Atlantic Ridley Sea Turtle is the sea turtle with five pleurals, a squarish bridge scute and four or five inframarginals.

Green Sea Turtle

The endangered Black/Green Sea Turtle is characterized by four pleural scales, a triangular scute on the first vertebral segment and one pair of prefrontal scutes on the head.

Hawksbill Sea Turtle

The critically endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle is a sea turtle with four pleural scales, a triangular scute on the first vertebral column and two pairs of prefrontal scalae on the head.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle

The sea turtle is a (Caretta caretta) if it has five pleurals scutes, a squarish scute on the first vertebral column, a large, ovoid plate at its dorsum and four or three scutes inframarginals on its bridge.

Land Tortoises – How to Identify Them

Land tortoises, unlike their aquatic cousins turtles, prefer to live on land. Tortoises, unlike aquatic turtles are not adapted to live in water. They have thicker shells and are bad swimmers.

Their feet are also short and solid, not webbed as most turtles in freshwater. These characteristics make them more suited to land.

In the world, there are many tortoise types. There are currently 50 different species of tortoise. We hope that the number of tortoises will not decrease in the next decades or even centuries. We can’t include all the tortoises because there are so many. We will cover the most popular species.

How To Identify A Spurred Tortoise and A Greek Tortoise

The carapaces of these tortoises are covered with scutes. These scutes look like spurs. The shells are brownish and they measure about 3 feet long. You can see that spurred tortoises have a large size. They are found in Sub Saharan Africa.

Greek turtles also have pointed scutes along their carapaces. The Greek tortoises are smaller than spurred turtles and grow to a maximum of 7 inches. The shell of the Greek tortoise is olive-green, not brown.

How To Identify A Russian Tortoise

The Russian tortoises measure about 8 inches. The tortoises have brownish-black scutes on their round shells. Yellow lines run between their scutes. The black contrasts nicely with the yellow. When identifying the Russian tortoise, look for the contrast between black and yellow coloration.

How To Identify A Indian Star Tortoise

Indian Tortoises are characterized by a star-shaped pattern on their carapace. The scutes of Indian tortoises are pointed, with yellow / white lines connecting the edges to the center. The scutes are about 8 inches in length.

How To Identify A Red-Footed Turtle

The Red-footed Tortoise is marked with red spots on its feet. Red spots are also found on the head. The carapace has a black color with yellow coloring. The native of South America, they are now found as pets all over the globe. They can be anywhere from 11 to 14 inches in length.

Hermann’s Tortoise Identification

It is easy to recognize the Hermann’s tortoise by its brown and yellow coloring. The size of the tortoise is between 5 and 7 inches. The shell of the turtle is dark brown with yellow lines between scutes. Yellow spots cover their brownish skin.

The conclusion of the article is:

Identification of turtles is crucial. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it can be difficult. We are not able to identify the 300 turtles that live today, but we can provide identification methods for some of the most popular turtles.

Before we depart, we’d like to remind everyone that sea tortoises are limbless, while freshwater turtles possess flat feet and land tortoises possess clawed elephantine foot.

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