Auburn University
Academic Departments Student Services Alumni Research Outreach Diversity
Auburn University



Common Musk Turtle hatchling
Order Testudines

Gopher Tortoise hatchling

Chose from one of the six groups of turtles below.  Here are a few definitions of words used in the descriptions that may come in handy.

Carapace - Top half of the shell that is on the turtles back.
Plastron - Bottom half of the shell found covering the turtles stomach.
Marginals - Scales that circle around the edge of the carapace.  You can see the encircling marginal scutes in the picture of the slider below.
Central and Costal scutes - There are large scutes on the back that you can see in the gopher tortoise.  The row of scutes that run down the middle of the back are the central scutes, and the row on each side of that are the costal scutes.  You count the scutes from front to back (1st costal, 2nd costal, etc.)
Keel - The ridge running down the carapace where the center of the central scutes are pinched.  You can see the keel in the pictures of Map turtles.

Large, Land Turtle

Gopher TortoiseStumpy feet, large scaly front legs, digs burrows in sandy soils, found in Southern AL.


Box and Water Turtles

Eastern Chicken TurtleVery long neck with yellow stripes, vertical yellow stripes on hind legs, broad yellow stripe on forelimbs, carapace is long and narrow, and line-like ridges on shell. SliderEither A yellow blotch or red stripe behind the eye (may not be present in old males), similar to chicken turtle but stripes on forelegs of sliders are narrow and shell is wider. Florida CooterPlastron is unmarked (no black spots) except the underside of the marginals have black spots with a yellow center, many yellow stripes on neck, also has the vertical yellow stripes on hind legs. 
River CooterThe second costals have C-shaped marks on them, five light stripes between the eyes, the underside of most marginals are spotted, plastral scutes have dark borders with other scutes. Painted turtle Smooth shells, red, yellow, and black in color, the front edges of the carapace scutes have light edges (seen on second and third marginals in picture), may have  a red stripe on back or red on marginals, reddish plastron with or without a black blotch down the center of the plastron that may extend in between the scutes to the sides. Alabama Red-bellied turtleReddish plastron, yellow or red bar on the second costal scute, and a yellow arrow shaped mark between the eyes and point down to the nose.  Similar to the cooters but the notch on the upper jaw has a cusp on each side of it.  Also it does not have the black spots with yellow centers on the marginals.
Common Map TurtleIntricate markings on carapace in young turtles, longitudinal yellow blotch behind eye, slight keel may look slighty knobbed. Ouachita map turtle Ernst's Map Turtle
Barbour's Map TurtleSaw-teeth on back, olive cap between and above eyes, narrow light markings on marginals, light c-shaped bar under chin, old females may lose markings. Alabama Map TurtleBlack line down middle of carapace, olive mask around eyes, wide light marks on marginals, light bar under chin, old females may lose markings. Black-knobbed SawbackKnobby projections on keel, narrow light rings on carapace.
Box Turtle A land turtle with a high, domed shell, four toes on hind feet, eyes red in males and brown in females, yellow spot on each scute that fades with age, front of plastron is hinged so that the front of shell can close. Mississippi Diamondback TerrapinFound near salt marshes, circular grooves in scutes, spotted head and legs, and knobs on keel.


Mud and Musk Turtles

small (top shell less than 14 cm.), dome shaped, oval shell, and brown.

Eastern Mud TurtleNo characteristic markings, brown smooth shell, and plastron has two hinges, sometimes found in brakish waters. Flattened Musk Turtle Flattened carapace, dark pattern on light colored head, barbels on chin, and plastron is small. Common Musk TurtleTwo light stripes on each side of the head and barbels on the chin and throat.
Loggerhead musk turtleThere are three keels on the carapace in young turtles, plastron is small, one hinge, one gular scute, barbels only on chin, and head is light colored with dark spots. Razorback Musk TurtleCarapace is keeled, single hinged plastron with no gular scute.


Soft-shelled Turtles

aquatic, flat, leathery shell, and long, tubular snout

Florida SoftshellLarge turtle, dark color, and their are flattened bumps at the top edge of the carapace. Smooth Softshell Smooth shell and no ridges in the nostrils. Spiny SoftshellFeet are streaked or spotted, a ridge in nostrils, bumps on carapace along spine, young and females have the circular dark markings at rear of carapace.


Snapping Turtles

Alligator Snapping TurtleRough-pointed shell, hooked snout, and strong rows of keels on carapace with an extra row of scutes on each side of the carapace.  Common Snapping TurtleRough carapace with three keels in younger turtles, saw-toothed tail that is as long as carapace, and three rows of scutes on carapace.


Large Sea Turtles

Loggerhead Reddish-brown in color, five or more costal scutes on each side of the carapace, three or four large scutes at bridge between carapace and plastron, and keeled carapace. Green TurtleBrown carapace sometimes splotched, and four costal scutes on each side of carapace. Atlantic HawksbillScutes overlap, keeled, brown color, and four costal scutes on each side of carapace.
Atlantic RidleyCircular carapace, olive-green to gray color, five costals on each side of carapace, and four large scutes at the bridge between the carapace and plastron. LeatherbackFive longitudinal ridges on carapace, blackish to dark blue skin covering scutes, and white or pink blotches.