Turtles of South Carolina

The multitude of aquatic and terrestrial habitats in the Southeastern United States supplies one of the greatest assortments and diversity of turtles on the planet. South Carolina is home to about 19 different species of turtles. This includes the large ocean dwelling Sea Turtles. The burrow constructing Gopher Tortoises. The out of this world looking Softshell Turtles. And much more. Scroll down to find a quick description of these turtles and select a species from the list to pull up a more detailed species account.   

Chelonidae - Sea Turtles


Loggerhead Sea Turtle
(Caretta caretta)

Loggerhead Sea Turtles were awarded their name because of the impressive head. The head is typically orange to reddish-brown in coloration and used for crushing the shells of different bottom-dwelling invertebrates. Their carapace (top of shell) is reddish-brown in coloration and creates a soft heart shape with scutes that do not overlap.

SC Distribution: Coastal Zone


Green Sea Turtle
(Chelonia mydas)

These large sea turtles typically have a gorgeous olive or brown carapace with wavy markings and can reach lengths of up to 50 inches – making them the second largest sea turtle in the world. The carapace has four pleural scute and the first pair does not touch the cervical scute.

SC Distribution: Coastal Zone


Hawksbill Sea Turtle
(Eretmochelys imbricata)

SC Distribution: Coastal Zone


Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle
(Lepidochelys kempii)

SC Distribution: Coastal Zone


Chelydridae - Snapping Turtles

Common Snapping Turtle
(Chelydra serpentina)

This very large turtle is very peculiar in form compared to other freshwater turtles. They can reach sizes of 8 to 19 inches (20-48 cm) and weigh up to 35 pounds (16 kg). They have a very large head and long neck. Their shell varies in color from tan, brown, black, green, or even reddish, and it has three keels extending from the front to the back of the carapace.

SC Distribution: Coastal Zone, Coastal Plains, Sandhills, Piedmont, Blue Ridge 

Dermochelyidae - Leatherback Sea Turltes

Leatherback Sea Turtle
(Dermochelys coriacea)

The Leatherback Sea Turtle is the largest turtle in the world and can exceed lengths of 70 inches (178 cm) and weigh well over 1000 pounds. As their name suggests their carapace lacks scutes and is smooth and leathery in texture. There are seven ridges going down the length of the carapace and five ridges on the plastron.

SC Distribution: Coastal Zone

Emydidae - Basking Turtles

Painted Turtle
(Chrysemys picta)

The Painted Turtle is a small to medium sized colorful turtle. The average carapace length is 5-10 inches (10-25 cm). Their shells are long and smooth along the edges. They are dark green to black above, with faint yellow or orange colored seams between the scutes.

SC Distribution: Piedmont, Blue Ridge

Spotted Turtle
(Clemmys guttata)

The Spotted Turtle is small (3-5 inches, 8-12 cm) with a black shell sprinkled with yellow spots. The number of yellow spots can vary based on region and age. Younger turtles tend to have a single yellow spot on each carapace scute, while older turtles may have many, few or no spots at all. The plastron (or bottom of the shell) is unhinged and yellow to orange in color with dark blotches. The head and legs also may be spotted and tend to have a red to orange highlight.

SC Distribution: Coastal Plains

Chicken Turtle
(Deirochelys reticularia)

This medium sized turtle (6-9 in, 15-23 cm) has a greenish-brown egg-shaped shell with yellowish net-like patterning. The pattern may be faint, especially on older individuals. The plastron is unhinged, yellow, and mostly unmarked excepted for the edges and the marginal scutes. Chicken Turtles have long necks with yellow strips from the head to the base of the neck. The legs have have yellow striping and the front legs have one notably larger thick yellow strip extending from the base of the leg to the toes.

SC Distribution: Coastal Zone, Coastal Plains

Diamond-backed Terrapin
(Malaclemys terrapin)

This is one of the most variable, but uniquely patterned turtles in the United States. Females can have a shell size of up to 10 inches (26 cm) and have wide heads, while males only achieve lengths of up to 6 inches (14 cm) and have a notably thinner head. Both males and females generally have white or gray skin peppered variable sized black dots. 

SC Distribution: Coastal Zone

River Cooter
(Pseudemys concinna)

The River Cooter is a fairly large aquatic turtle with an average carapace length of 9 – 12 inches (23 – 30.6 cm). The carapace is olive green to brown in color with a slight flare towards the posterior portion of the turtle. Concentric yellow to orange-ish circles pattern the carapace. The underside of the turtle (the plastron) is heavily marked

SC Distribution: Coastal Zone, Coastal Plains, Sandhills, Piedmont

Eastern Box Turtle
(Terrapene carolina)

A medium sized turtle with a rounded, high domed shell. Adults shells range in size from 4-8 inches (10-20cm) and can be extremely variable in pattern and appearance. The carapace is usually dark brown or olive in color with yellow or orange markings. The plastron is hinged allowing the turtle to be completely enclosed in its shell.

SC Distribution: Coastal Zone, Coastal Plains, Sandhills, Piedmont, Blue Ridge

Pond Slider
(Trachemys scripta)

Most commonly these medium sized pond turtles have dark greenish carapace (top of the shell) with light yellow patterning. The plastron (or underside) is yellow with two dark blotches on the scutes closest to the head — some may have more blotches on the plastron. The head is dark and striped with a broad yellow stripe is located just behind the eye.

SC Distribution: Coastal Zone, Coastal Plains, Sandhills, Piedmont

Kinosternidae - Mud and Musk Turtles

Striped Mud Turtle
(Kinosternon baurii)

This ovular, fist sized turtle is generally 3-4 inches (7.5-10 cm) long and has a dark brown to black carapace (top of shell) and light brown to yellow plastron (underside). Some individuals have three faint stripes going down the length of their shell. The plastron is has two hinges that allow the turtle to fully cover its head and legs. The skin is dark and their face has two yellow head stripes that extend from the nostrils, over the eye, to the back of the head.

SC Distribution: Coastal Zone, Coastal Plains

Eastern Mud Turtle
(Kinosternon subrubrum)

This relatively small turtle has a smooth olive, brown or even black carapace (top of shell) with a light brown or yellowish plastron (underside). The adult turtles average in size around 4-5 inches (10-13 cm), while hatchlings are less than an inch and have vibrant blotches of orange to yellow on their plastron. This turtle has a large plastron with two hinges that allow the turtle to enclose its body inside its shell when threatened.

SC Distribution: Coastal Zone, Coastal Plains, Sandhills, Piedmont

Eastern Musk Turtle
(Sternontherus odoratus)

Also known as a Stinkpot, this small turtle has a brown to dark brown high domed shell with a small, light brown to yellowish plastron (underside). The plastron has a single hinge. The head is relatively large, typically striped and has barbels on chin and neck.

SC Distribution: Coastal Zone, Coastal Plains, Sandhills, Piedmont, Blue Ridge

Testudinidae - Tortoises

Gopher Tortoise
(Gopherus polyphemus)

This large tortoise has an average adult carapace length of 9-15 inches (24-38 cm) and is well equipped for terrestrial life. It is the only native tortoise found in the Southeastern United States. It has a high-domed shell that is uniformly tan or brown above, and yellowish on the underside. Legs, head and tail are un-patterned and the legs are decorated with thick scales.

SC Distribution: Coastal Plains

Trionychidae - Softshell Turtles

Florida Softshell
(Apalone ferox)

The Florida Softshelled Turtle is the largest of all North American Softshell turtles with males growing to 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) and females double in size at 11-24 inches (28-61 cm). Adults are usually dark gray or brown with faint mottling above, and a pale cream color below. The shell is notably longer than it is wide.

SC Distribution: Coastal Plains

Spiny Softshell
(Apalone spinifera)

The carapace (top of the shell) is brown or olive in color and has spines along the edges and can reach up to 18 inches. Males tend to be smaller and have more spines on their shells than females. The plastron (underside of the shell) is pale yellow or white in coloration. The head is equipped with pointed tubular nostrils and two pale lines extending from the front of the head, through the eyes, and down to the neck.

SC Distribution: Coastal Zone, Coastal Plains, Sandhills, Piedmont, Blue Ridge