New Jersey is home to 17 types of turtles.

New Jersey is a haven for turtles, boasting an astonishing 17 different types of these intriguing creatures. The majority of turtles in the state belong to the freshwater group, thriving in the various lakes and rivers that dot the landscape. Among them, the Common Snapping Turtle stands out with its renowned powerful jaws, while the vibrant and eye-catching Painted Turtle showcases its colorful shell. Meanwhile, the Northern Map Turtle is distinguishable with its web-like markings, and the Diamond-Backed Terrapin is an extraordinary species adapted to live in salty water. Turtles such as the Eastern Mud Turtle and Spotted Turtle have specific preferences for their watery habitats, while the Eastern Musk Turtle surprises with its ability to emit a peculiar musky odor and even climb trees. Unfortunately, the population of the beautiful Spotted Turtle is dwindling due to habitat loss and human interference. Additionally, New Jersey is also home to Box Turtles, Sea Turtles, and a handful of other species, making it a dynamic and diverse turtle sanctuary.

Freshwater Turtles

New Jersey is home to a diverse array of turtle species, with 17 different types of turtles inhabiting its waterways. Freshwater turtles make up the largest group of turtles in the state, and they play a vital role in the ecosystem. Let’s explore some of the fascinating freshwater turtle species that can be found in New Jersey.

Common Snapping Turtles

One of the most well-known turtle species in New Jersey is the Common Snapping Turtle. These turtles are widespread and can be found in various aquatic habitats, including rivers, lakes, ponds, and marshes. Common Snapping Turtles are known for their powerful jaws and aggressive nature. Despite their intimidating appearance, they are an important part of the ecosystem, keeping aquatic food webs in check by feeding on a variety of plants, invertebrates, fish, and even other turtles.

Painted Turtles

Painted Turtles are another commonly found species in New Jersey. These turtles are easily recognizable by their colorful shells, which feature intricate patterns of red, yellow, orange, and black. They inhabit a wide range of freshwater habitats, including ponds, slow-moving rivers, and marshes. Painted Turtles are highly adaptable and are often observed basking on logs or rocks, soaking up the warm sunshine. Their diet mainly consists of aquatic plants, insects, snails, and small fish.

Northern Map Turtles

Northern Map Turtles are named for the web-like markings on their shells, which resemble the contours of a map. These turtles primarily live near rivers, lakes, and other freshwater habitats with sandy or muddy bottoms. They are known for their semi-aquatic lifestyle, spending a significant amount of time basking on rocks or fallen logs. While Northern Map Turtles predominantly consume plants, they also feed on a variety of invertebrates, including insects and mollusks.

Diamond-Backed Terrapins

One unique and intriguing species of freshwater turtle in New Jersey is the Diamond-Backed Terrapin. These turtles are the only freshwater turtles adapted to live in salty water, making their homes in brackish marshes and estuaries. The name “Diamond-Backed” comes from the diamond-shaped patterns on their shells. Diamond-Backed Terrapins play a crucial role in maintaining the health of these coastal ecosystems by feeding on a variety of prey, such as crabs, mollusks, and small fish.

Northern Red-Bellied Cooters

Northern Red-Bellied Cooters are easily distinguished by their vibrant red plastron, or underside of the shell. These turtles can be found in freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams throughout New Jersey. They are primarily herbivorous, feeding on various aquatic plants and algae. As they play their part in the ecosystem, these turtles also serve as prey for larger predators, such as raccoons, otters, and snakes.

Spiny Softshell Turtles

Spiny Softshell Turtles are unique due to their rough, sandpaper-like shells. These turtles have a flattened body and a long, tubular snout, which allows them to “breathe” underwater through their throats. They are excellent swimmers and can be found in various freshwater habitats, including rivers, lakes, and large streams. Spiny Softshell Turtles mainly feed on aquatic invertebrates and small fish and are known for their ability to bury themselves in the sand or mud, camouflaging perfectly with their environment.

Eastern Mud Turtles

Eastern Mud Turtles dwell in muddy, silty-bottomed water bodies, and they are well-adapted to this habitat. They have strong jaws that help them crush the shells of snails, which make up a significant part of their diet. Unlike many other turtle species, Eastern Mud Turtles do not hibernate during the winter months. Instead, they remain active, even when temperatures drop. This adaptation allows them to search for food during colder periods when other turtles are in hibernation.

Eastern Musk Turtles

Eastern Musk Turtles are known for emitting a foul, musky odor when threatened, which serves as a defense mechanism against predators. These small turtles inhabit various freshwater habitats, including ponds, rivers, and marshes. Eastern Musk Turtles are unique in their ability to climb trees, using their sharp claws and strong limbs. They are omnivorous, feeding on both plant matter and various invertebrates, such as insects and worms.

Spotted Turtles

Spotted Turtles are a beloved species, thanks to their attractive appearance. They have black shells with bright yellow spots, making them stand out among other turtle species. Unfortunately, Spotted Turtles are declining in population due to habitat loss and human interference. They prefer shallow freshwater habitats with ample vegetation and clean water. Spotted Turtles are omnivorous, feeding on a mix of animal and plant matter, including insects, worms, tadpoles, and aquatic plants.

Bog Turtles

Bog Turtles are a small yet fascinating species of freshwater turtles found in New Jersey. They have dark brown to black carapaces with yellowish or red centers, which provide excellent camouflage in their preferred boggy habitats. Bog Turtles are considered a threatened species due to habitat destruction and collection for the pet trade. They mainly feed on insects, worms, and various aquatic plants. Conservation efforts are crucial for the survival of these remarkable turtles.

Other Types of Turtles

In addition to the numerous freshwater turtle species found in New Jersey, there are also other types of turtles that inhabit the state, albeit less commonly.

Box Turtles

Box Turtles are land-dwelling turtles that can be found in forests, fields, and meadows, as well as adjacent wetlands. They possess a hinged plastron that allows them to close themselves inside their shells completely, providing excellent protection against predators. Box Turtles are omnivorous, consuming a mix of plant matter, such as fruits and mushrooms, and small invertebrates, including insects and worms.

Sea Turtles

While New Jersey is not a tropical destination like some other coastal regions, it is sometimes visited by sea turtles. Various species, such as the Loggerhead and Green sea turtles, occasionally make their way to the waters of New Jersey, especially during the warmer summer months. These fascinating creatures undertake long migrations, and New Jersey serves as a temporary home for them as they forage for food along the coast.


Alongside the various freshwater and sea turtle species, there are other less common types of turtles that can be found in New Jersey. This includes species like the Snapping Turtle, Wood Turtle, Eastern Painted Turtle, and Eastern Box Turtle, to name a few. Each of these species contributes to the biodiversity of the region, showcasing the incredible diversity of turtles that call New Jersey home.

In conclusion, New Jersey boasts a rich diversity of turtle species, particularly in its freshwater habitats. From the powerful-jawed Common Snapping Turtles to the brightly colored Painted Turtles, these reptiles play essential roles in the state’s ecosystems. However, it is important to recognize the challenges faced by some turtle species, such as the declining populations of Spotted Turtles and the threatened status of Bog Turtles. Conservation efforts and protection of their habitats are crucial to maintain the delicate balance of New Jersey’s turtle populations and their contributions to the natural environment.

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