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Wild About Illinois Turtles! - Family Emydidae

Photos © photographer named. No photographs included within this information may be used on the internet, publications or any other form of media without the photographer's express permission. All rights reserved.
 

painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) Photo © Dr. E. O. Moll
An average-sized painted turtle is five to seven inches long. Its smooth shell has a red, yellow and black color pattern. The female is larger than the male. An adult male has very long claws on its front feet. This turtle has yellow stripes on its head and dark coloring on the plastron (lower shell). The carapace (top shell) of the hatchling is keeled (has a ridge).
 
The painted turtle is found statewide in those shallow water bodies with many aquatic plants and a muddy bottom. Typical locations include ponds, marshes, ditches, lakes, streams and river pools. Although aquatic, the painted turtle is frequently found on land. It is often seen sunning on a log at the water's edge. It is active during the day. The mating season lasts from April to June. The male courts the female in a ritual involving stroking her head with the back of the long claws on his front feet. The female in turn strokes his front legs with her claws. After mating, the female digs a nest in soil a few feet from the edge of the water. Four to 10 eggs are deposited in the nest during the middle of the day. Hatchlings may be found after two to two and one-half months. If the eggs were laid late in summer, hatchlings may not emerge until spring. The painted turtle eats plants, insects, crayfish, mollusks (snails, slugs and others), fishes and amphibians.
 
 

spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata)** Photo © Dr. E. O. Moll
The spotted turtle averages three and one-half to four and one-half inches in length. It has yellow spots on a black shell. The spots often appear to be "painted" on. The shell has a large, immovable plastron (lower shell) which is dark in color. The turtle's head has scattered yellow spots on the upper side.
 
The spotted turtle is found in sedge meadows associated with prairies and marshes. It prefers clear, shallow water with many aquatic plants. The spotted turtle is aquatic, but it is often found on land near ponds or streams. The female deposits one to four eggs in June in a nest she digs in a sunny area. The eggs hatch in late September. This turtle eats primarily animals but may ingest plants, too. This species is currently only present in Will County in Illinois.
 
 

Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii)** Photo © Scott R. Ballard
Blanding's turtles average five to seven and one-half inches in length. A hinge on the plastron (lower shell) allows the shell to be partially closed. The bright yellow chin and throat are distinctive. The carapace (upper shell) is helmet-shaped and covered with pale yellow spots. The plastron is yellow with black blotches.
 
Blanding's turtle is found in marshes, bogs, lakes and streams in the northern one-half of the state. It prefers aquatic habitats with much vegetation and a mud bottom. This turtle is aquatic but is often found on land not far from water. It spends the winter buried in mud at the bottom of its body of water. Courtship and mating occur from April through June. The female deposits about six to 15 eggs in a nest in the soil during June or July. The eggs hatch in August or September. Blanding's turtle eats crayfish, insects, frogs, snails, berries and plants.
 
 

northern map turtle (Graptemys geographica) Photo © William Wengelewski
The northern map turtle is seven to nearly 11 inches in length. Its shell is slightly flattened and has a keel (ridge) in the center of the carapace (top of shell). The carapace is green, olive or brown with a dim pattern of lines. The plastron (bottom shell) is yellow with no markings. This animal has a yellow spot behind its eye and yellow lines on the head, neck and tail. The back edge of the carapace has projections like the teeth of a saw.
 
The northern map turtle is found in rivers and lakes, particularly where the bottom is muddy and plants are present. This turtle is aquatic, coming to land only to lay eggs or to bask in the sun on logs or other objects along the water's edge. It feeds in the early morning and late evening. It is slow to hibernate and may be seen walking around on the bottom of a water body even when ice covers the water. Courtship and mating occur from March until May. The female digs a nest in soil some distance from the water where she deposits 10 to 16 eggs that hatch in late summer to early fall or as late as the following spring. The northern map turtle eats mollusks (snails, slugs and others), crayfish and insects. In Illinois, this species is found in the northern one-half of the state and in the Mississippi, Wabash and Ohio rivers.
 
 

Ouachita map turtle (Graptemys ouachitensis) Photo © Dr. E. O. Moll
A female Ouachita map turtle averages five to 10.75 inches long while the male is about three and one-half to five and three-fourths inches long. This turtle has a square or rectangular yellow spot behind each eye and two more below each eye. Its brown carapace (upper shell) has a keel (ridge) in the center with small knobs. The back edge of the carapace has projections like the teeth of a saw. The male's front feet have very long toenails. The head, neck and tail of the Ouachita map turtle have yellow stripes.
 
The Ouachita map turtle lives in rivers, sloughs and lakes, particularly where the bottom is muddy and plants are present. This turtle basks in the sun on logs or other objects at the water's edge. It may remain active in the winter months but normally will bury itself in the mud for the duration of the coldest weather. Mating occurs in spring. The female digs a nest in soil some distance from the water. Ten to 16 eggs are deposited, which hatch in mid- to late-July. This turtle eats mollusks (snails, slugs and others), crayfish, worms, plants and insects. This species can be found throughout much of Illinois but is more common in the large rivers, especially the Wabash.
 
 

false map turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica) Photo © Dr. E. O. Moll
The female false map turtle averages five to 10.75 inches in length while the male is about three and one-half to seven and three-fourth inches long. Yellow boomerang-shaped or L-shaped markings just behind the eyes and yellow lines on the head, neck, legs and tail are present. The brown, olive or tan carapace (upper shell) appears oval when seen from above. The keel (ridge) in the center of the carapace has spikes, and the back of the carapace has projections like the teeth of a saw. This turtle has webbed toes. The male has very long toenails on the front feet.
 
The false map turtle lives in large rivers and lakes throughout the state. This turtle basks in the sun on logs or other objects at the water's edge. It may remain active in the winter months but normally will bury itself in mud for the duration of the coldest weather. Mating occurs in spring. The female digs a nest in soil some distance from the water, depositing 10 to 16 eggs. Eggs hatch in mid- to late-July. This turtle eats mollusks (snails, slugs and others), crayfish, worms, plants and insects.
 
 

river cooter (Pseudemys concinna)** Photo © Dr. E. O. Moll
The river cooter is about nine to 13 inches long. It has a "C" marking on certain scutes (plates) of the dark carapace (upper shell) along with yellow circular markings throughout the upper shell. The carapace is usually flattened. The male has long claws on the front feet. The head is striped.
 
The river cooter lives in sloughs and oxbows along the Ohio and Wabash rivers, especially where aquatic plants are abundant. This turtle is aquatic but will leave the water to bask on logs. It feeds in the early morning and late afternoon. During May or June the female deposits about 20 eggs in a nest she digs in soil. Hatching occurs in August or September. This turtle eats vegetation, crustaceans, mollusks (snails, slug and others) and insects.
 
 

woodland box turtle (Terrapene carolina) Photo © Scott R. Ballard
The woodland box turtle averages four and one-half to six inches in length. Its high, dome-like carapace (upper shell) has a varied color pattern of yellow, orange or olive on a dark background. The female's eyes are brown while the male's eyes are red, making it easy to tell the sexes apart. This turtle has four toes on each hind foot, a short tail and a hinged plastron (lower shell) which allows the animal to completely enclose itself in the shell.
 
The woodland box turtle lives in woodlands, fields and mud holes in the southern one-half of the state. It has been introduced to cities in much of the rest of Illinois. This turtle is mainly terrestrial but may spend time in water or buried in mud during the summer. It buries itself in the soil in winter. Mating may occur in the spring or fall. The female deposits three to eight eggs in a nest in soil during June or July, often at the edge of a woodland. Hatching occurs by September. This turtle eats fungi, fruits and invertebrates.
 
 

ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata)* Photo © Scott R. Ballard
The ornate box turtle averages about four to five inches in length. It has a high, dome-like carapace (upper shell). The hinged plastron (lower shell) allows the animal to completely enclose itself in the shell. The shell is dark with markings on the carapace and plastron. Light lines radiate downward on each side of the carapace.
 
The ornate box turtle lives in sand prairies in the northern part of Illinois and prairies in the southern part of the state. This turtle is terrestrial. It feeds early in the morning and again late in the day. It burrows in the ground to escape heat in summer and cold and lack of food in winter. It may also find shelter in grasses or in the burrows of other animals. This turtle may live for 30 years. Mating may occur in the spring or fall. The female deposits three to eight eggs in a nest in soil during June or July, often at the edge of a woodland. Hatching occurs by September. The ornate box turtle eats insects, berries and other plant materials.
 
 

pond slider (Trachemys scripta) Photo © Dr. E. O. Moll
The pond slider averages five to eight inches in length. It has a red stripe behind each eye. The carapace (upper shell) appears oval when viewed from above, and the rear margin of the shell is saw-toothed. The toes are webbed. The carapace is brown or olive, and the legs, head and tail have yellow stripes. Some older adults become uniformly dark.
 
The pond slider lives in quiet water which has a muddy bottom and much vegetation. This turtle is aquatic, rarely coming to land except to lay eggs or to bask in the sun on logs or other objects along the water's edge. It feeds in early morning and late evening. The mating season lasts from March to June. The female digs a nest on land in late spring and deposits from five to 22 eggs, the number depending on her size and age. Hatching may occur in late summer or early fall but some turtles will overwinter in the egg and hatch the next spring. The slider eats plants, fishes, amphibians, crustaceans, mollusks (snails, slugs and others) and insects. It is found statewide in Illinois.
 
* = threatened in Illinois
** = endangered in Illinois