Turtles

Turtles are aquatic or terrestrial reptiles that have horny toothless jaws and a bony or leathery shell into which the head, limbs, and tail can be withdrawn in most species.  They have dry scaly skin and enjoy basking in the sun.  All species of turtles lay eggs. 

Sea Turtles - Family Cheloniidae

Loggerhead Sea Turtle Caretta caretta. Rare and endangered along Gulf Coast. Most frequently encountered sea turtle in Alabama’s waters, and only one that regularly nests on Alabama beaches. Mainly carnivorous, but some vegetation is consumed. Listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. HIGHEST CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Green Sea Turtle Chelonia mydas. Rare and endangered along Gulf Coast. Nesting in Alabama is rare. Small numbers of this herbivorous species, most often subadults, occur in state waters, but feeding areas of submerged grass beds are limited in Alabama. Listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. HIGHEST CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle Lepidochelys kempii. Rare and endangered along Gulf Coast. Although virtually entire population nests in Mexico and southern Texas, at least two nests have been documented in Alabama. An occasional visitor to Alabama waters, where it is sometimes caught in shrimp nets. Mostly carnivorous. Listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. HIGHEST CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Snapping Turtles - Family Chelydridae Outdoor Alabama Magazine Article

Common Snapping Turtle Chelydra serpentina serpentina. Common statewide. A large aquatic turtle of a wide variety of permanently aquatic habitats. Lowest Conservation Concern.

Alligator Snapping Turtle Macrochelys temminckii. Uncommon to rare in streams south of Tennessee River, and very rare in Tennessee River system. Most numerous in Coastal Plain. Inhabits rivers, oxbows, and sloughs, and occasionally occurs in medium-sized creeks. A very large turtle that is recovering from historic commercial harvest for food. HIGH CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Leatherback Sea Turtles - Family Dermochelyidae

Leatherback Sea Turtle Dermochelys coriacea. Rare and endangered along Gulf Coast. An occasional visitor to Alabama waters, but not known to nest in state. Largest of sea turtles, feeding primarily on jellyfish. Listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. HIGHEST CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Emydid Turtles - Family Emydidae

Painted Turtle Chrysemys picta ssp. Common to fairly common in Tennessee, Chattahoochee, and Mobile Bay drainages except portions of Black Warrior and Cahaba rivers. Includes three intergrading subspecies, C. p. picta (eastern painted turtle), C. p. dorsalis (southern painted turtle), and C. p. marginata (midland painted turtle). Lowest Conservation Concern.

Eastern Chicken Turtle Deirochelys reticularia reticularia. Uncommon to locally common. Occurs throughout Coastal Plain and a portion of Ridge and Valley, where it is less frequently encountered. A turtle of semi-permanent shallow ponds, swamps, and borrow pits. Often moves on land, where it aestivates and sometimes overwinters under leaves. Low Conservation Concern. (Fig. 106, p. 116)

Barbour’s Map Turtle Graptemys barbouri. Uncommon to fairly common in large streams of southeastern Alabama, where restricted to Chattahoochee and Choctawhatchee river systems. The ChoctawhatcheeRiver population only recently was discovered (1997). Greatest numbers occur along stream stretches with exposed limestone and abundant snags for basking. HIGH CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Escambia Map Turtle Graptemys ernsti. Fairly common to common, but limited to Escambia (Conecuh), Yellow, and Choctawhatchee river drainages. Relatively recently (1992) separated as species distinct from similar Alabama map turtle, G. pulchra. Occurs both in main channels of larger streams and in smaller tributaries. MODERATE CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Northern Map Turtle Graptemys geographica. Uncommon to locally common in Interior Plateau, Appalachian Plateau, and Ridge and Valley. Absent from Coastal Plain, but occurs in Tennessee River system as well as upper Mobile Bay drainage (Black Warrior, Cahaba, and Coosa River systems). Inhabits rivers as well as smaller creeks. Low Conservation Concern.

Black-knobbed Sawback Graptemys nigrinoda ssp. Fairly common in Coastal Plain reaches of Alabama, Tombigbee, Black Warrior, Cahaba, Coosa, and Tallapoosa rivers, but not as common as in past. Endemic to Alabama, except for a small portion of distribution in Mississippi. Includes subspecies G. n. nigrinoda (northern black-knobbed sawback) and G. n. delticola (southern black-knobbed sawback). MODERATE CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Ouachita Map Turtle Graptemys ouachitensis. Fairly common in Tennessee River reservoirs of northern Alabama. A large turtle of low-gradient streams and impoundments. Often seen basking in large numbers during spring. Lowest Conservation Concern.

Alabama Map Turtle Graptemys pulchra. Fairly common throughout Mobile Bay drainage. Mostly confined to Alabama, but ranges into Mississippi along Tombigbee River and into Georgia along Coosa River. Occurs both in main channels of larger streams and smaller tributariesModerate Conservation Concern.

Mississippi Diamondback Terrapin Malaclemys terrapin pileata. Rare and possibly endangered in coastal marshes of Mobile and Baldwin counties. Formerly much more common, but declining due to variety of factors, including habitat degradation and mortality in crab traps. HIGHEST CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Alabama Red-bellied Turtle Pseudemys alabamensis. Endangered. Restricted to extreme lower portion of Mobile Bay drainage in Mobile and Baldwin counties. Primarily a freshwater species, but may occur in moderately brackish water with abundant vegetation. Designated the official state reptile by the Alabama Legislature. Listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. HIGHEST CONSERVATION CONCERN.

River Cooter Pseudemys concinna concinna. Common and statewide in rivers, lakes, and larger streams. Subspecific allocation of Alabama’s populations is problematic. Lowest Conservation Concern.

Florida Cooter Pseudemys concinna floridana. Somewhat peripheral, and fairly common in southern portion of Coastal Plain. Taxonomic status questionable; many authorities consider it a full species, P. floridana. Occurs in vegetated lakes and ponds, as well as oxbows and vegetated margins of large sluggish streams. Lowest Conservation Concern.

Eastern Box Turtle Terrapene carolina ssp. Common to locally uncommon or rare statewide. While they have declined over past two decades, box turtles still are frequently encountered (especially after rains) in, or near, forested areas. Often seen on roads. Includes subspecies T. c. carolina (eastern box turtle) with influence of T. c. major (Gulf Coast box turtle) and T. c. triunguis (three-toed box turtle). Low Conservation Concern. (Fig. 108, p. 116)

Pond Slider Trachemys scripta ssp. Common statewide. Inhabits ponds, lakes, rivers, creeks, and swamps. Shows high tolerance to pollution. Includes two intergrading subspecies, T. s. scripta (yellow-bellied pond slider), T. s. elegans (red-eared pond slider), and possibly a third, T. s. troosti (Cumberland pond slider). Lowest Conservation Concern.

Mud and Musk Turtles - Family Kinosternidae

Eastern Mud Turtle Kinosternon subrubrum ssp. Common statewide in virtually all aquatic habitats except free-flowing creeks and rivers. Often wanders on land and is frequently seen crossing roads. Includes K. s. subrubrum (eastern mud turtle) and K. s. hippocrepis (Mississippi mud turtle), and intergrades between the two. Lowest Conservation Concern.

Razor-backed Musk Turtle Sternotherus carinatus. Peripheral in Escatawpa River and its tributaries in Mobile County. Possibly occurs in Red Creek in Washington County. Long known from Mississippi, it was first documented from Alabama in 1994. HIGH CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Flattened Musk Turtle Sternotherus depressus. Threatened. Restricted to upper Black Warrior River Basin in Southwestern Appalachians. Occurs only in Alabama. A small bottom-dwelling turtle of rocky rivers and large creeks. Extirpated from many formerly occupied streams. Although most habitat is degraded, a few sizeable populations remain in certain free-flowing streams with good water quality. Some reservoir habitats also are inhabited. Listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. HIGH CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Loggerhead Musk Turtle Sternotherus minor ssp. Common essentially statewide, except for upper Black Warrior River system. A bottom-dwelling small turtle of creeks and rivers. Includes subspecies S. m. minor (loggerhead musk turtle) and S. m. peltifer (stripe-necked musk turtle) and intergrades. Low Conservation Concern.

StinkpotSternotherus odoratus. Common statewide in a variety of sluggish-water environments. More tolerant of habitat degradation than other members of its genus. Lowest Conservation Concern.

Tortoises - Family Testudinidae

Gopher Tortoise Gopherus polyphemus. Threatened. Greatly reduced from historic abundance; locally common in only a few protected areas. A large burrowing land turtle of open sandy areas in Coastal Plain south of Blackland Prairie, and extreme eastern Fall Line Hills. Western population (Louisiana; Mississippi; and Mobile, Washington, and Choctaw Counties in Alabama) listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. HIGH CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Softshell Turtles - Family Trionychidae

Florida Softshell Apalone ferox. Peripheral. Known from only a few localities in southern Baldwin County and extreme southern Coastal Plain in the Yellow and Choctawhatchee river systems. Inhabits sluggish streams, lakes, and ponds. MODERATE CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Midland Smooth Softshell Apalone mutica mutica. Common. Inhabits Tennessee Valley creeks, rivers, and impoundments. Low Conservation Concern.

Gulf Coast Smooth Softshell Apalone mutica calvata. Common. Coastal Plain portions of Mobile Bay drainage. Inhabits creeks, rivers, and impoundments in western portion of Coastal Plain. Low Conservation Concern.

Eastern Spiny Softshell Apalone spinifera aspera. Fairly common. Inhabits streams and lakes of Tennessee River drainage. Low Conservation Concern.

Gulf Coast Spiny Softshell Apalone spinifera spinifera. Fairly common. Inhabits streams and lakes south of Tennessee River. Low Conservation Concern.

References Cited:

Mirarchi. Ralph E., ed. 2004. Alabama Wildlife, Volume One.  A Checklist of Vertebrates and Selected Invertebrates: Aquatic Mollusks, Fishes, Amphibians, Reptiles, Birds and Mammals.  The University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, AL. 209 pp.

Turtles are protected by regulation and by law. These regulations include, but are not limited to:
"No person shall take, attempt to take, sell or possess any turtle egg or turtle or parts thereof from the wild in this state, to include public and private waters, for commercial purposes. This is not to prohibit the operations of properly permitted 'Turtle Farmers' or 'Turtle Dealers' as defined in Rule 220-2-.142."
"This is not to prohibit the removal of turtles from a privately constructed farm pond by the landowner or his agent while controlling nuisance animals as long as the turtles are not sold or traded for anything of value."
"Nothing in this regulation prohibits the taking for personal use of up to two legal turtles per day by hand, dip net or hook and line however, no person shall take more than two turtles per day from the wild in this state, to include public and private waters."
"It shall be unlawful to possess more than one box turtle or to offer for sale, sell, or trade for anything of value any box turtle (Terapene spp.), box turtle part or reproductive product except by permit as outlined in 220-2-.92."
"No person, firm or corporation shall import or cause to be imported, any nonindigenous turtle species for the purpose of propagation."

 

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