Indiana turtles display variety

Let’s talk a bit about the more common turtles in our area, the ones you are more likely to see.

Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentine): This turtle is large, with a long tail, and is short-tempered when on land. It will strike repeatedly if messed with. In the water it seems to be inoffensive and can be stepped on without trouble. This turtle grows to about 8 to 14 inches and 10 to 35 pounds. The record is 19 3/8 inches and about 45 pounds. Its color is black to light brown, and it eats small aquatic invertebrates, fish, reptiles, birds, mammals, carrion and large amounts of vegetation.

Common Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus): Growing to from 2 to 4½ inches, it’s a small drab turtle with a large head. This turtle has two light stripes on its head, barbels (fleshy projections of skin), chin and throat. The carapace varies from light olive brown to almost black. It likes to amble along the bottom of bodies of water searching for food and has been found as deep as 30 feet. If you’re ever floating down the river and a turtle lands in your boat or on your head, it will probably be this one. It has been known to climb 6 feet or more above the water.

Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina): These are the dry-land turtles that can close their shell tightly when danger is around. Normally they are 4½ to 6 inches long. Coloration is extremely variable; both upper and lower shells can be yellow, orange or olive on black or brown. While they prefer dry land, they sometimes soak themselves by the hour in mud or water.

Common Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica): This is a medium-size turtle with a ridge running down its midline. The females get normally 7 to 10¾ inches long, the males about 3½ to 6¼ inches. It prefers large bodies of water, rivers instead of creeks and lakes rather than ponds. A wary but confirmed basker, it is slow to go into hibernation. It has been seen walking around under ice after an early cold snap. It prefers snails and crayfish for food.

Midland Painted Turtle: These turtles grow to 4½ to 5½ inches and live chiefly in shallow water with a soft muddy bottom and plenty of aquatic vegetation along with insects, crayfish and small mollusks. They tend to have pretty patterns of red, yellow and black. There are four subspecies of this turtle, and in cases where their areas overlap, individual turtles may combine the characteristics of the other subspecies.

Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle (Apalone spinifera spinifera): These are not your typical slow turtles; they’re powerful swimmers and can also run with speed and agility on land. All species of the softshell are aquatic and will bask on shore but only when they can dash or slide into the water. They prefer to lie buried in mud or sand with only the eyes and snout exposed. The females grow larger in comparison to the males. The female runs 7 to 17 inches, while the male gets to 5 to 9½ inches. Their color is olive gray to yellowish brown. They are mostly carnivorous, eating mostly crayfish and aquatic insects. They do eat some plants and will eat dead fish. They are known to have a bad disposition and can give you a nasty bite.

Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elgans): This one has a red stripe behind the eye, but it can darken and disappear in some adults and sometimes can be yellow. Sometimes dark pigment develops (melanism) and come in the form of spots, bars, or blotches. This spreads and may in extreme cases produce a black turtle. The legs, head and tail may become dark. The males are more susceptible to this. This turtle grows 5 to 8 inches long, the record being 11 3/8 inches long. It likes slow-flowing rivers, shallow lakes, ponds, swamps and ditches. It likes to bask but at times can be seen floating at the surface. The young are mostly carnivorous, and the adults are omnivorous. Duckweed and emergent aquatic plants are often its choice; it also eats snails, crayfish, tadpoles and fish.

Joe Whitfield is a naturalist and gardener for the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department. Send comments to