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Aquatic Turtles Who Call Our Riverfront Home

08/13/2019  |  BY rfw

Our beloved rivers are home to many fish, mammals, and plants. The slow-moving, sediment-heavy water makes a perfect home for many species of aquatic turtles as well, including the Common Snapping Turtle, the Midland Painted Turtle, the Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle, and the Common Map Turtle.

The Common Snapping Turtle is known for its size and combative disposition. Often growing to be over 30 pounds, these turtles have long tails and powerful beak-like jaws. They eat a variety of aquatic invertebrates, fish, small birds or mammals, aquatic vegetation, and even other reptiles. While they prefer to hide underwater in the sediment, they’ve been known to traverse long distances on land. Although their exact lifespan isn’t known, research suggests they can live to be over 100 years old.

The Midland Painted Turtle is one of the most conspicuous turtles in the area—often seen by kayakers basking above the water on logs or rocks before diving below at the slightest disturbance. They’re identified by the red stripes on their limbs and neck, along with the red markings around the edge of their shell. They survive on aquatic vegetation, algae, insects, crustaceans, and small fish. They stay warm by only being active during daytime hours, and during the winter in the mud at the bottom of the river.

The Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle is unique because it lacks horny plates or scales, and has a shell which is covered in leathery skin. But what they lack in a traditional protective shell, they make up for in speed and temperament. They’re every bit as aggressive at the snapping turtle, but can outswim all other species. They’re mostly found in slow-moving shallow bodies of water that have sandy bottoms, which is important for nesting and camouflage. Their nostrils are positioned at the tip of their flexible snout so they can hide underwater with only their eyes and nostrils above water.

The Common Map Turtle got its name because of the yellow maze-like pattern covering its body. They can also be identified by the distinct midline ridge on the shell and yellow oval spots next to each eye. They live in slow-moving bodies of water with lots of aquatic vegetation. The females, which have larger heads and stronger jaws, eat snails, clams, and crayfish, while the males eat insects and snails. Much like the Midland Painted Turtle, the Common Map Turtle spends most of the day basking in the sun. This species has been known to adapt better to human modifications of its habitat than many other turtle species. 

Next time you’re on the river, or down near a riverbank, keep your eyes open for these stealthy reptiles lounging on logs or hiding just below the surface.


Kelly Benton joined the Riverfront staff in 2019 as a special events coordinator. She lives downtown with her husband and two sons, and is excited about all of the development and buzz happening around the rivers. In her free time, she enjoys taking pictures, biking, hitting up the local breweries, and taking long walks through West Central with her family.


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