Turtles in California [10 Different Species] - All Turtles (2023)

Turtles in California

There are 10 types of turtles in California and they are not a rare occurrence. Aside from the eight species native to the state, there is also a handful of alien turtle species that were introduced to the area by humans.

Most turtles that live in California are sea turtles – five different species. Then there are four more native species, including California’s only native freshwater turtle, and lastly, a number of alien species.

Turtle and tortoise species living in the Golden State include the following:

1. Western Pond Turtle

Turtles in California [10 Different Species] - All Turtles (1)

Quick Facts

  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Actinemys marmorata and Actinemys pallida
  • Average Adult Size: 6-8 inches
  • Lifespan: up to 50 years
  • Diet: omnivorous

The western pond turtle is the only freshwater species native to the state. It lives pretty much everywhere along the west coast where there are ponds, lakes, creeks, or other bodies of water.

More and more experts are starting to divide it into two species – the northwestern (Actinemys marmorata) and the southwestern pond turtle (Actinemys pallida). However, the two are so closely related that this new taxonomy hasn’t fully taken off, and they are still considered by many to be one and the same.

These turtles can live for up to fifty years, but only reach sexual maturity when they’re around ten. They mate in spring (and rarely in fall) when the female picks a well-lit, dry spot for nesting. Between 3 and 13 baby turtles will hatch 90-120 days later.

The western pond turtle has been experiencing a serious decline in population in recent years – some sources say as much as 80% of the population has been lost. The main causes for this include alteration and loss of habitat, low reproduction rates, predators such as birds, and aggressive non-native species (red-eared slider, we’re looking at you!).

2. Mojave Desert Tortoise

Turtles in California [10 Different Species] - All Turtles (2)

Quick Facts

  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Scientific Name: Gopherus agassizii
  • Average Adult Size: 10-14 inches
  • Lifespan: up to 80 years
  • Diet: herbivorous

Aside from California, the desert tortoise is also native to Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and northern Mexico. Based on its exact location, the desert tortoise will be classified into one of the three groups: Sonoran desert tortoise, Mojave desert tortoise, and Sinaloa desert tortoise.

Desert tortoises breed from spring to fall and they have multiple partners throughout their life. Males fight over females by bobbing their heads, ramming into each other, and even trying to flip the other male over – y’know, the whole Discovery Channel spectacle.

A female can lay anywhere between 1 and 14 eggs (although there are usually 3 to 5). Desert tortoises have so-called TSD, or temperature-dependent sex determination, which basically means that the sex of the baby tortoise depends on the weather.


7. Texas Spiny Softshell

Turtles in California [10 Different Species] - All Turtles (3)

Quick Facts

  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Scientific Name: Apalone spinifera emoryi
  • Average Adult Size: 7-19 inches for females, 5-10 inches for males
  • Lifespan: 50
  • Diet: mostly carnivorous

Now we come to the first alien species of turtles in California. The Texas spiny softshell turtle (a subspecies of the spiny softshell turtle) is native to the Rio Grande and Pecos River systems in Texas and New Mexico, but quite a few specimens can be found in the Golden State.

The Texas spiny softshell eats pretty much anything that moves and is small enough to fit in its mouth – fish, snails, frogs, other reptiles, bugs… Whether they have to scavenge, ambush, or hunt, it’s all the same to them.

If you ever stumble upon one of these in the wild, it’s probably best that you mind your own business and leave it alone. Not only are they very fast, even on land, but they won’t refrain from biting you if they feel threatened.

3. Common Snapping Turtle

Turtles in California [10 Different Species] - All Turtles (4)

Quick Facts

  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Scientific Name: Chelydra serpentina
  • Average Adult Size: 8-18 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 years
  • Diet: omnivorous

The common snapping turtle is native to the eastern US, where they inhabit pretty much any body of fresh water they can find. It is difficult to estimate how many of them live in California, as a large percentage were released in the state as unwanted pets.

Common snapping turtles aren’t picky eaters and will gladly snack on anything from insects to fish, and even smaller birds if they catch one. As they grow older, they also grow tired of hunting and more commonly resort to ambushing their prey.

The species has a pretty short temper – when they feel cornered, they bite, and they bite hard. This might be the reason why, despite a decline in population, they are still not considered endangered or even vulnerable.

4. Western Painted Turtle

Turtles in California [10 Different Species] - All Turtles (5)

Quick Facts

  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Chrysemys picta bellii
  • Average Adult Size: 6 inches for males, 10 inches for females
  • Lifespan: 20
  • Diet: omnivorous

The western painted turtle is a subspecies of the painted turtle – the largest one. They are native to central North America and Canada but so scarce in California that some experts question whether they even exist in this state.

Young western painted turtles are mainly carnivorous, and their diet consists of insects, smaller fish, snails, worms, and so on. As they grow older, they tend to eat more vegetation. The specimens that live in colder areas tend to accumulate fat during the winter months (don’t we all?).

What makes western painted turtles special is that they actually look like someone painted abstract art all over them. They have bright, colorful patterns, mostly in red, yellow, and green, on their shells, necks, and legs.

(Video) TOP 19 type Turtles

5. Red-Eared Slider

Turtles in California [10 Different Species] - All Turtles (6)

Quick Facts

  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Trachemys scripta elegans
  • Average Adult Size: 4-15 inches
  • Lifespan: 20 years
  • Diet: primarily carnivorous

The red-eared slider is like the western pond turtle’s aggressive big sister. They are native to southern and south-eastern states. So how were they introduced to California?

In the 1980s, when the international red-eared turtle trade was already pretty prolific, a new comic and cartoon series started winning over the hearts of kids all around the US – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

With the popularity of the franchise rose their popularity as pets, which eventually led to many disillusioned families who realized, a little too late, that turtles are more demanding pets than they had previously thought.

This is a problem because red-eared sliders are efficient invaders, they reproduce way more than your average California turtle, and can get pretty large. All of this, combined with their notorious aggression, have caused other species to struggle to coexist with them.

6. Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Turtles in California [10 Different Species] - All Turtles (7)

Quick Facts

  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Scientific Name: Caretta caretta
  • Average Adult Size: 36 inches
  • Lifespan: 50 or more years
  • Diet: omnivorous, but primarily carnivorous

The loggerhead sea turtle is the largest hard-shelled turtle in the world, with some of its biggest specimens weighing more than 1,000 pounds.

Despite their size, loggerhead sea turtles are classified as vulnerable, as they are currently facing a number of threats.

Firstly, loggerhead sea turtles aren’t really in a hurry to procreate – a female only lays eggs every 2-4 years. Secondly, coastal development makes it harder for them to find a place to nest and for the young hatchlings to find their way to the water. Lastly, they often get accidentally captured by fishermen, which can prove to be fatal.

All of this matters even more because of the fact that loggerhead sea turtles are so-called keystone species, i.e. a number of other species will suffer or die out if the loggerhead goes extinct.

This not only includes predators that feed on the turtle, but also animals that feed on their excrement or live on their shells.

7. Green Sea Turtle

Turtles in California [10 Different Species] - All Turtles (8)
(Video) Shipping An Illegal Turtle Across The Country...

Quick Facts

  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Scientific Name: Chelonia mydas
  • Average Adult Size: 31-47 inches
  • Lifespan: 60-70 years
  • Diet: omnivorous when juvenile, herbivorous as adults

Disappointingly, green sea turtles aren’t too green – greenish at best. They are even sometimes called black sea turtles (they’re not black, either). Actually, the green in the name comes from the color of the fat under their carapace.

As babies, they feed on insects, worms, and other small animals, but switch to a plant-based diet once they grow over 8-10 inches in length. They love sunbathing on beaches (we can relate), and although mainly aquatic, they also nest on land.

A female lays eggs every other year, but multiple times per season, with an average of over 100 eggs every time. Despite this, the number of green sea turtles around the world is dropping rapidly, as they are being (mostly illegally) hunted for food, eggs, or even as souvenirs.

8. Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Turtles in California [10 Different Species] - All Turtles (9)

Quick Facts

  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Scientific Name: Eretmochelys imbricata
  • Average Adult Size: 30-35 inches
  • Lifespan: 30-50 years
  • Diet: omnivorous, but mostly carnivorous

The hawksbill sea turtle is very easily recognizable – it has a beak-like mouth (hence the name) and beautiful patterns on the shell and legs. Unfortunately, this breathtaking beauty has made them a desirable target for the illegal tortoiseshell market.

This species tends to stick close to the coast because that’s where they can find their favorite snack – sponges. However, they’re not picky eaters – when there are no sponges around, they will also eat algae, jellyfish, fish, squid, and shrimp.

The hawksbill sea turtle nests approximately every 2-4 years, but multiple times a season (usually 3-6). Each nest averages at over 150 eggs, which take two months to hatch. Once hatched, baby turtles have to survive the most dangerous trip of their life, braving seagulls, crabs, and other land predators along the way.

9. Olive Ridley Sea Turtle

Turtles in California [10 Different Species] - All Turtles (10)

Quick Facts

  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Scientific Name: Lepidochelys olivacea
  • Average Adult Size: 2-2.5 ft
  • Lifespan: 50 years
  • Diet: omnivorous

Unlike green sea turtles, the olive ridley sea turtle got its name from the color of its skin and carapace. They are the smallest sea turtle species and have a heart-shaped shell.

Olive ridley sea turtles might be small, but they are fighters. Despite having a number of predators (humans included) and limited (and diminishing) nesting areas, they are believed to be the most abundant turtle species in the world.

A unique nesting ritual practiced by these turtles might be the key to their survival. Namely, they practice “arribada” nesting, which includes a large number of females nesting at the same time, which, in turn, leads to most babies hatching at the same time, which, finally, reduces the risk of being caught by a predator.

10. Leatherback Sea Turtle

Turtles in California [10 Different Species] - All Turtles (11)
(Video) Top 12 Best Turtles and Tortoises for Pets

Quick Facts

  • Family: Dermochelyidae
  • Scientific Name: Dermochelys coriacea
  • Average Adult Size: 7 ft
  • Lifespan: 45 years
  • Diet: carnivorous

And now, ladies and gentlemen, reptile royalty: the leatherback sea turtle, the largest turtle species on the planet. These turtles can grow up to 7 ft long – which is more than the height of the average human.

Not only are they the largest, but they are also the most migratory sea turtle species out there, with thousands of miles between their breeding and feeding spots.

They are great swimmers (understandably, they’re sea turtles after all) and can dive deeper than any other sea turtle – 4,000 feet deep, and even stay there for well over an hour.

Leatherbacks seem to have a thing for breaking records. On top of being the largest and most migratory, they also have the widest north and south habitat range of all turtles in the world.


Turtles are not an uncommon occurrence in the State of California. There are about a dozen different species and subspecies, all with their unique characteristics, habits, diets, and habitats.

But what they all have in common is one threat – humans. Deforestation, pollution, and coastal development all put these reptiles in danger of extinction, and the only way of stopping it is if we, humans, take a more active role in preserving them.

Other nearby states

  • Turtles in Arizona
  • Tortoises in California
  • Turtles in Costa Rica
  • Tortoises in the Galapagos Islands
  • Turtles in Hawaii
  • Turtles in Nevada
  • Turtles in Mexico
  • Turtles in Oregon

Click to rate this post!

[Total: 1 Average: 5]

(Video) TOP 5 BEST TORTOISE SPECIES (Hardiest & Easiest)


What kind of turtles live in California? ›

Sea turtles live in Southern California year-round. Green turtles are the most numerous sea turtles in Southern California, but other species are found here as well, including the Loggerhead, Olive Ridley, and Leatherback turtle.

What are all the different types of turtles? ›


How many types of species are turtles? ›

There are approximately 356 species of turtles living on land in all continents except Antarctica and in both salt water and fresh water.

How can I identify my turtle? ›

Many turtles have distinct carapace shapes or markings that can be used to identify them. Some turtles have colouring such as yellow-throats or red lines on their necks. Some turtles are very small and don't grow bigger than your hand such as the stink-pot or slightly bigger is the spotted turtle.

Is there wild turtles in California? ›

The western pond turtle is California's only native freshwater turtle. Unfortunately, this California “species of special concern”, has experienced population reductions of 75 – 80% due to loss of habitat, predation and competition from non-native species, such as red-eared sliders.

What is the cutest turtle? ›

Here is a Summary of the 10 Cutest Turtles in the World
  • Florida Box Turtle.
  • Red-Eared Slider.
  • Northern Red-Bellied Turtle.
  • Yellow Bellied Slider.
  • Eastern Mud Turtle.
  • Eastern Box Turtle.
  • Hawksbill Sea Turtle.
  • Leatherback Sea Turtle.
Nov 23, 2022

What are the 8 sea turtles? ›

Depending on the species, sea turtles feast on anything from seaweed to jellyfish. They consume squid, barnacles, sponges and sea anemones, among other creatures, while green turtles—the herbivores—primarily eat sea grasses and algae.

Do blue turtles exist? ›

The claim that a viral image shows a rare blue turtle living in the Atlantic Ocean is FALSE. The image shows a glass turtle pendant made by an artist. There is no evidence this turtle resembles a real species.

Do purple turtles exist? ›

Young Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles are a uniform purple all over.

Do all turtles have 13? ›

All turtles have a shell. Each shell has a top, called a CARAPACE, and a bottom, called a PLAS- TRON. The shell is made up of large, hard scales called SCUTES. Most turtles have 13 scutes on the top shell.

Is there a dinosaur turtle? ›

Researchers on Thursday described remains discovered in northeastern Spain of a turtle named Leviathanochelys aenigmatica that was about 12 feet (3.7 meters) long, weighed a bit under two tons and lived during the Cretaceous Period - the final chapter in the age of dinosaurs. It is Europe's biggest-known turtle.

What kind of turtle is black? ›

Siebenrockiella crassicollis (commonly known as black marsh turtle, smiling terrapin, and Siamese temple turtle, among others) is a freshwater turtle endemic to Southeast Asia.
Black marsh turtle
Species:S. crassicollis
Binomial name
17 more rows

What is the largest turtle species? ›

The leatherback is the largest living sea turtle.

(NMFS Permit #1557-03). Weighing in at between 550 and 2,000 pounds with lengths of up to six feet, the leatherback is a big turtle! Leatherback sea turtles can be distinguished from other species of sea turtle by its lack of a hard shell or scales.

Does my turtle know his name? ›

Tortoises are very smart and can actually learn their name. Turtles will also recognize their keepers, but mostly because they are excited you're bringing them food.

Can you tell how old a turtle is? ›

After it's death, the age of a turtle can be determined by a technique called “skeletochronology”, whereby the humerus (arm bone) is examined. These bones reveal growth rings that allow the turtle's age to be calculated, much like we can calculate the age of a tree. Green turtle hatchling Claire, only 5 cm long.

How many turtle species are in California? ›

There are 10 types of turtles in California and they are not a rare occurrence. Aside from the eight species native to the state, there is also a handful of alien turtle species that were introduced to the area by humans. Most turtles that live in California are sea turtles – five different species.

Do painted turtles live in California? ›

Painted turtles do not occur naturally in California, and are considered an injurious species in the state. These turtles are fairly cold tolerant, and can even be seen swimming under ice during the spring as temperatures increase!

Are there soft shell turtles in California? ›

Soft-Shelled Turtle (Apalone sp.)

Although observations have not been able to confirm the type of Soft-shelled Turtle, it is likely a Spiny Softshell, a common introduced species in California. Besides its distinctive soft shell, this turtle can also be identified by their long, pointy nose!

Can you kiss a turtle? ›

Don't kiss or snuggle turtles, because this can spread Salmonella germs to your face and mouth and make you sick. Don't let turtles roam freely in areas where food is prepared or stored, such as kitchens.

Is there a Disney turtle? ›

Sea Turtles at Walt Disney World Resort

You can watch these amazing creatures up close as our green and loggerhead sea turtles effortlessly cruise through The Seas with Nemo & Friends at EPCOT.

Can you kiss your pet turtle? ›

Don't kiss or snuggle your turtle. This can spread germs to your mouth and make you sick.

What is the rarest turtle? ›

  • A series of drone images taken by researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and partners may show the world's most endangered turtle, Swinhoe's softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei). ...
  • There are only three known individuals remaining of this giant freshwater turtle, which can weigh over 200 pounds.
Jul 18, 2022

Which turtle is best for money? ›

Crystal Tortoise

The South West and North West are the finest directions for crystal tortoises. According to feng shui, putting them in the southwest will bring you money, while putting them in the northwest will bring you fame. It will also give you a better chance of survival.

What is the rarest pet turtle? ›

The enormous Yangtze giant softshell turtle is the world's rarest turtle, with only three individuals thought to remain in the world. These extraordinary turtles are teetering on the brink of extinction.

Do sea turtles have 3 hearts? ›

Sea turtles, like most reptiles, have three-chambered hearts: two atria and one ventricle with a sinus venosus preceding the atria. Humans also have a sinus venosus, but only in early development – later it's incorporated into the right atrium wall.

What's the oldest sea turtle? ›

According to Guinness World Records, Jonathan is the oldest-ever chelonian – a category that encompasses all turtles, terrapins and tortoises. Thought to have been born around 1832, Jonathan was gifted to Sir William Grey-Wilson – who later became governor – arriving in St.

Can turtles eat squid? ›

They also eat different types of fish and squid. Green sea turtles tend to transition their diets as they grow older.

Can box turtles live outside in California? ›

If kept outside they should have their own enclosure where they are protected from predatory animals and birds. You must provide places for them to hide and a dish of water dish, large enough for them to soak in.

Can you swim with sea turtles in California? ›

Diving or snorkeling with green sea turtles in La Jolla is a year-round activity, but especially enjoyable during the peak months of October and November.

What is a box turtle look like? ›

They are usually brown or black with radiating yellow markings on each scute. The scales on the turtle's body may be yellow, orange, or reddish. Box turtles are called box turtles because they can withdraw their arms and legs, tail, and head into their shell and close up tightly.

Is My turtle A Boy or a girl? ›

Female turtles have a short tail, which generally doesn't extend more than 10 cm (4 inches) past the edge of the carapace. Male sea turtles (except leatherbacks) have elongated, curved claws on their front flippers to help them grasp the female when mating.

Can I keep a turtle I found? ›

You should return the turtle to where it was found and release it as soon as possible. Another problem associated with turtles is that they carry salmonella bacteria, and can infect people who touch them and don't wash their hands afterward.

Can I keep a box turtle I found? ›

Turtles have small home territories and should be left where they are found. Their survival depends on it! Don't keep wild turtles as a pets. If you truly desire a pet reptile and can make all of the commitments necessary to keeping a healthy, happy turtle, please look into adopting.

Is it OK to keep a box turtle as a pet? ›

Box turtles can make great pets if cared for properly. Before bringing any pet – reptile or other - home, be sure to do research to learn about its requirements, so that you can properly care for it. Most box turtles do not get very large (unlike tortoises).

Is it okay to keep a wild box turtle as a pet? ›

Simply put, you should not keep wild turtles as pets, even if they appear to be in need of your help.

Can turtles swim in tap water? ›

Do not use tap water for your tank, as tap water contains chlorine and possibly fluoride which can upset the pH balance of your system. De-chlorinated water needs to be used for the swimming area and filtered water for your turtle to drink.

Is it legal to eat turtle in California? ›

Today green sea turtles, like all other species of sea turtles, are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. If you ate one in the United States, you would be committing a felony. Turtles are one of the most imperiled groups of animals on the planet.

Can you sit on a sea turtle? ›

Do not handle or ride the sea turtle. In addition to being illegal, you may injure the turtle or cause her to leave without finishing nesting.


1. California’s only native freshwater turtle species Western Pond Turtle spotted in Berkeley Hills
(HW's travel)
2. 7 types of sea turtles | Sea Turtle species | Facts about turtle
(Daily Bytes)
3. Alligator Snapping Turtle vs Common Snapping Turtle
(Brave Wilderness)
4. I Found a Sea Turtle... Upside Down #shorts
(Nick Fry)
(Brian Barczyk)
6. Turtle Bay TV - S1E10 - Australia
(Turtle Bay Exploration Park)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Maia Crooks Jr

Last Updated: 03/03/2023

Views: 6553

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (43 voted)

Reviews: 82% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Maia Crooks Jr

Birthday: 1997-09-21

Address: 93119 Joseph Street, Peggyfurt, NC 11582

Phone: +2983088926881

Job: Principal Design Liaison

Hobby: Web surfing, Skiing, role-playing games, Sketching, Polo, Sewing, Genealogy

Introduction: My name is Maia Crooks Jr, I am a homely, joyous, shiny, successful, hilarious, thoughtful, joyous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.