What are the Different Types of Turtles?

Paulla Estes
Paulla Estes

We all are familiar with the children's story, The Tortoise and the Hare. What we may not know is that there is more to tortoises and turtles than slow movement and a hard shell. Turtles are some of the oldest creatures, having been around since the days of the dinosaur, and even looking a bit prehistoric. There are many different types and varieties of turtles, classified in twelve biological families. Turtles generally can be divided between tortoises (the land variety) and marine turtles, which spend most of their time in water, though there are overlaps.

A sea turtle swimming.
A sea turtle swimming.

Common freshwater turtles form the largest family of turtles and can be found all over the world. They spend most of their time in ponds, lakes and slow moving streams. Most of the turtles we see in ponds or pet stores belong to this family, including diamondback terrapins and box turtles. Less common freshwater turtles include the soft-shelled variety. These turtles have a leathery covering rather than a hard shell.

There are many different types of turtles.
There are many different types of turtles.

Land tortoises form another large group of turtle classifications. Like other land reptiles, land tortoises live generally in warm areas of the world and are herbivorous. Unlike the fins on a marine turtle, tortoises have club-like feet and they travel slowly over land. Snapping turtles are large, carnivorous fresh-water turtles. While most turtles are quiet and fearful, snapping turtles are aggressive and are prone to attack just about anything.

Sea turtles are divided up among two classifications. The majority of sea turtles are of different families, but are closely related. Leatherbacks are the largest and heaviest of sea turtles, often weighing nearly 1100 pounds (500 kg). Sea turtles are much faster in the water than their land-loving counterparts—some sea turtles have reached speeds close to 20 mph (32 kph). Most sea turtles are endangered. Though they are sought for food, leather, and shell ornaments, catching sea turtles is illegal.

The soft-shelled turtle is a less common type of freshwater turtle.
The soft-shelled turtle is a less common type of freshwater turtle.
Paulla Estes
Paulla Estes

Paulla is a freelance writer and website editor who currently lives in Maine. Paulla has a B.A. in English Literature from George Mason University and over 15 years of experience as a freelancer. She relishes the flexibility and consistency of working on wiseGEEK articles, as well as the opportunity to constantly learn something new.

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i have two turtles. I am not sure what they are. They seem like red eared slider turtles as they have a light red spot behind their ears but it's not that significant, so am thinking maybe they are map turtles.

I wanted to know for how long they can stay under water and if they need to surface every now and then. Plus, what do i feed them? regards --vicky


i keep 2 maps and 2 yellow bellies together in a 6'x2'x2' tank half filled. they've been together since they were babies and they are a joy and no hassle to keep.

the maps have so much character and are fearless little things. they aren't hard to keep in a tank, not sure about outside. I'm thinking of putting some red eared sliders with them in the next few days. good luck. ac uk


I really want a turtle but I'm not sure what type to go for. i would want a small one. i have heard about the snapping turtles and that is excluded. also my parents won't let me have one. any advice on how i could change their minds?


I found a turtle in the backyard. I need to know how to care for it. food, living space, general care.


I have a baby turtle that looks like a red eared slider, but it doesn't have the red stripe. It's green, so it must not be a map turtle as i was told. What type of turtle do i have?


I have a snapping turtle and yes they bite at everything. It's not because they're just being mean, it's because they are always prey to larger animals and predators only part time. They feed about 5-6 times a day but eat very little each time. Now my turtle is a fatty asnd eats about 9 full size crickets per day. So I guess it depends on the turtle. But they bite out of habit, not to be mean.


I have 2 red-ear sliders I have had since they were little. They had a baby in the pond about a year ago. Never saw it too much, always ran from us. Thought it had died as had not seen in long time. Then my husband saw it out several months ago. Now it has been gettin up on rocks and staying out a long time. Not running when we approach anymore. But, its coloring is different from other young red-ears. He is boxier looking and his shell is a light brown. His body also is a light brownish color. No stripes on head and his nose and face area are a reddish hue coloring. Very different. Don't know if it's the same baby or someone dumped another turtle in our pond. Any info would be appreciated.

Thanks, Valarie116


This similar article here about types of turtles says that map-turtles are very difficult to keep.

I was considering to get one but now don't know what to do. Any reply will be highly appreciated.



Is it really true that snapping turtles will attack "just about anything"? Why is this? Something to do with a physical weakness that they are trying to compensate for?

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