Minnesota’s Hidden Turtles: A Guide to Their Unique Characteristics

Do you want to learn more about the types of turtles that call Minnesota home?

From the Blandings Turtle to the Northern Painted Turtle, this article will cover everything you need to know about the unique turtles found in the state. Discover the different species, as well as their key features, and why they are important to Minnesota’s ecology.

Turtle Habitats in Minnesota: Exploring Where They Live

Minnesota is home to a diverse array of turtle species, each with unique habitat requirements. Understanding where these turtles live can help conservation efforts and increase our appreciation for these amazing creatures.

They are found throughout Minnesota, but they are most commonly found in wetland habitats, such as lakes, ponds, and rivers. The common snapping turtle, for example, is often found in shallow, weedy areas of lakes and ponds, while the painted turtle can be found in a variety of aquatic habitats, including wetlands, ponds, and slow-moving rivers.

It’s important to note that turtles require specific habitat conditions in order to survive and thrive. For example, many species require access to suitable basking sites, such as logs or rocks, where they can warm themselves in the sun. They also require access to suitable nesting sites, where females can lay their eggs and the hatchlings can emerge and make their way to the water.

Unfortunately, many of these habitats are under threat due to human activities, such as habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change. It’s important that we take steps to protect these habitats in order to ensure the survival of these amazing creatures.

One way we can do this is by supporting conservation efforts and organizations that work to protect turtle habitats. We can also take steps to reduce our impact on the environment, such as reducing our use of single-use plastics and reducing our carbon footprint.

By understanding and appreciating their diverse habitats in Minnesota, we can work to protect these amazing creatures for future generations to enjoy.

Painted Turtle

Painted Turtle

The painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) is one of the most common turtles found in Minnesota and is a species of special concern in the state. They can be found in lakes and ponds throughout the state, ranging from shallow areas to much deeper water. The back, sides, and top of their shells are usually bright green or brown with yellow or red markings, while their bottom shell is usually yellow or cream with red spots or stripes throughout.

Their head and legs are also marked with yellow, orange, or red lines and often have a light greenish color on the chin. They typically have an average lifespan of up to 50 years and grow up to 5 inches long and 4 inches wide.

They feed on small insects, snails, frogs, fish eggs, and plants as well as carrion when it’s available. They can also be territorial toward other turtles but will avoid larger predators like raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and birds of prey while they are in the water. They will typically bury themselves under leaves or debris during cold months in order to hibernate until it warms up again during springtime.

Overall this type of turtle plays a vital role as part of Minnesota’s wildlife ecology as they help cleanse ponds while providing an additional food source for other animals.

Snapping Turtle

Snapping Turtle

The snapping turtle is one of the most common types found in Minnesota. These freshwater turtles can usually be found in ponds, creeks, marshes, and other natural bodies of water. It is easily identifiable due to its large size and distinctive head shape. Adults can weigh up to 16 pounds (7.2kg) and measure up to 18 inches (45cm) in length. They have a smooth carapace that is dark green or brown with yellow stripes running down the sides.

Snapping turtles primarily feed on aquatic invertebrates, amphibians, fish, and crustaceans but will also consume plant material when available. As their name implies, snapping turtles are capable of aggressively defending themselves if provoked and should generally be handled with caution.

Unlike other species of turtles found in Minnesota, the snapping turtle does not hibernate through the winter season so they can often be seen swimming throughout the year no matter how cold it gets outside! Males are especially active during mating season when they patrol their territory looking for female mates or potential competitors for mating rights within their area’s population.

Blanding’s Turtle

Blanding's Turtle

This is one of the species native to Minnesota and is known for its high-domed carapace, which is olive to black in color with yellow markings on each scute. They reach up to nine inches in length, making them neither the largest nor the smallest species in the state. They inhabit shallow freshwater habitats and will often burrow into mud or sand along shorelines, remaining there for long periods of time if conditions are too cold for them to remain active.

They feed on a wide variety of animals, including amphibians, insects, fish, reptiles, and crustaceans. They are especially adept at hunting crayfish and have been observed fully submerging themselves in order to catch these abundant prey items. Blanding turtles also make an important food source for various predators throughout Minnesota due to their hard shells and slow speed.

In addition to being an essential food source for aquatic predators, Blanding’s turtles are also an important part of Minnesota’s ecosystem as they help control insect populations that can potentially harm crops. Unfortunately, this species is now considered vulnerable due to habitat destruction and illegal poaching – both of which should be monitored carefully if this species is going to make a full recovery in Minnesota.

False Map Turtle

False Map Turtle

The false map turtle is a unique species found in Minnesota and several other nearby states. This species is small in size, with adults reaching an average length of 3-4 inches. Its shell is typically olive-green to yellow-brown in color, featuring yellow to orange markings and raised bumps on its carapace (top part of its shell). The false map turtle also has distinctive pale yellow stripes on its face, along with speckles scattered across its head and neck.

The false map turtle isn’t just an intriguing creature—it’s also an important member of the aquatic ecosystem. This species forages for food near shorelines where water clarity permits, covering a range of habitats from large rivers to backwater lakes and shallow marshes. Although they can often be found basking on logs or floating in slow-moving waters, they tend to stay closer to the bottom when looking for their prey.

Though they may not be the largest or most popular species around, the false map turtle still has much to offer us through direct observation such as patience while observing their behavior or appreciation for their beauty when admiring them from afar. It’s never too late to enjoy this unique type of turtle as it can become an incredibly rewarding experience that can’t be replicated anywhere else in nature!

Northern Map Turtle

Northern Map Turtle

The northern map turtle (Graptemys geographica) is a species of reptile that can be found throughout Minnesota. This type is noted by its triangular-shaped head, olive green carapace, and yellow-orange lines and spots on its plastron, or undershell. Native to Minnesota, it is easily identifiable thanks to these unique features and can only be found in this state. They are also the only species of map turtle that inhabits the waters found in Minnesota.

They typically prefer shallow bodies of water with rivers and streams as their main habitat. They are aquatic species that spend the majority of their lives in the water so they need a good food source like fish, frogs, snails, and aquatic plants which can be plenty in river systems or ponds that contain slower-flowing waters for them to take advantage of. Since this turtle species also needs good basking spots to regulate body temperature, you may catch glimpses of them sunning themselves on rocks close to their waterside homes as well.

Pond Slider

Pond Slider turtle

The pond slider is one of the most commonly found types of turtles in Minnesota. It’s native to North America and loves shallow, quiet bodies of water, such as marshes and ponds, which makes it a common choice as a pet. The pond slider is identified by its large head, short neck, and broad shell that is usually dark green with yellow or tan stripes running along its length.

Adults can grow up to 11 inches in length and weigh up to 7 pounds, but young are considerably smaller when they are first born. As for lifespan, the pond slider can live for 20-25 years or longer when provided with adequate care.

Nature lovers often encounter this species when it’s basking in the sun on logs or rocks near the edge of a body of water. If you spot one in the wild do not pick it up or disturb it – be sure to observe from a distance as these creatures need their natural habitat to survive.

And if you’re interested in owning your own pet turtle remember that responsibly sourcing them from breeders is the best way to go!

Smooth Softshell

Smooth Softshell

The Smooth Softshell is an aquatic species found throughout Minnesota. It is a medium-sized turtle with a carapace (top shell) that is dark olive to black in color and smooth to the touch. The carapace has a slightly concave shape and can range in size from 13 to 18 inches long. Other unique characteristics include non-overlapping scutes, mostly webbed feet, a long snout with notched margins, and no barbels present on the chin.

The Smooth Softshell lives in slow-moving rivers and streams with sand or mud bottoms. It is an omnivorous species that feeds on crustaceans, insects, mollusks, amphibians, and small fish as well as plant matter like algae and emergent vegetation. It is an active forager and will move around its habitat to find food; often burying itself in the soft substrate but can also be seen basking at the surface during sunny days.

It is an important predator of the aquatic ecosystem in Minnesota, helping to keep insect populations under control as well as competing for food resources with fish that are important to commercial fisheries of the state such as carp minnows or catfish. As a result, Smooth Softshells play an important role in maintaining healthy aquatic ecosystems throughout Minnesota waters!

Turtle Watching in Minnesota: Tips for a Successful Experience

Turtle Watching in Minnesota

Turtle watching is a popular activity for nature enthusiasts in Minnesota. However, successfully spotting these elusive creatures can require some patience and preparation. Here are some tips for a successful turtle-watching experience in Minnesota:

  • Know where to look: They can often be found in or near bodies of water, such as lakes, ponds, and rivers. Look for areas with plenty of vegetation, logs, and rocks, as these provide ideal basking spots for turtles.
  • Be patient: They are not always easy to spot, so be prepared to spend some time waiting and observing. Try to remain still and quiet, as they can be easily spooked.
  • Time of day: They are most active during the early morning and late afternoon, so these are the best times to look for them. They are also more likely to be out basking in the sun on warmer days.
  • Dress appropriately: Be sure to wear comfortable, weather-appropriate clothing and footwear, as you may be standing or sitting for an extended period of time.
  • Respect their space: When observing them, it’s important to keep a respectful distance and avoid disturbing them. Do not approach them or attempt to touch them.
  • Consider a guided tour: If you’re having trouble spotting turtles on your own, consider booking a guided tour with a local nature center or park. They can provide expert knowledge and increase your chances of seeing these amazing creatures in their natural habitat.

By following these tips, you can increase your chances of having a successful turtle-watching experience in Minnesota. Remember to always respect these amazing creatures and their habitats, and leave no trace of your visit.


Minnesota Turtle faq

Are all types of turtles in Minnesota safe to handle?

No, some species, such as the common snapping turtle, have powerful jaws and should be handled with caution.

How can I tell the difference between different types of turtles in Minnesota?

They can be distinguished by the size, shape, coloration, and patterns on their shells.

What is the lifespan of turtles in Minnesota?

Their lifespan in Minnesota varies depending on the species, but some can live for several decades.

Are turtles in Minnesota important to the ecosystem?

Yes, they play an important role in the aquatic food chain and help to maintain healthy wetland habitats.

How can I help protect turtle populations in Minnesota?

You can help protect their populations in Minnesota by supporting conservation efforts, reducing your impact on the environment, and reporting any turtle sightings to local wildlife authorities.

Can turtles in Minnesota be kept as pets?

Yes, some species found in Minnesota can be kept as pets, but it’s important to ensure they are obtained legally and cared for properly.

What is the best time of year to spot turtles in Minnesota?

They are most active during the early morning and late afternoon in the spring and summer.

Are turtles in Minnesota affected by climate change?

Yes, they are affected by climate change, as changes in temperature and precipitation patterns can alter their habitats and migration patterns.

Can I feed turtles in Minnesota if I encounter them in the wild?

No, feeding them in the wild can disrupt their natural diet and behavior, and can also cause health problems.


This guide has provided an overview of the different types of turtles found in the state of Minnesota. From the Common Snapping Turtle to the Smooth Softshell, Minnesota offers an interesting selection that can be fun and rewarding to observe and learn about. The habitats of these wonderful creatures demonstrate the importance of preserving natural ecosystems for all creatures, large and small.

Given that they have slow metabolisms, it’s important to remember to keep them in their natural environment as much as possible. When captive turtle care is necessary, one should do so responsibly with the understanding that a change in temperature or diet can adversely affect their health. Careful attention must also be paid when handling them as they may bite if they feel threatened or disturbed.

By using this guide and following some basic turtle care guidelines, you’ll become a more informed observer when it comes to these fascinating creatures and part of a community dedicated to their conservation and appreciation!

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