Are There Turtles in Colorado?

When you think of wildlife in Colorado you might think of a bull elk bugling amidst the aspen, bighorn sheep tip toing up a canyon wall, or maybe pronghorn grazing on the prairie. Regardless, I’m willing to bet that one critter you haven’t considered is the turtle!

There are five species of turtles native to Colorado. Four of them are aquatic; the western painted turtle, snapping turtle, yellow mud turtle, and the spiny softshell turtle. The sole terrestrial turtle is the ornate box turtle.

Western Painted Turtle

Western Painted Turtle

The western painted turtle is the most common of the Colorado turtles and happens to be the Colorado State Reptile. They are easy to identify and can frequently be seen on logs or rocks in wetland areas.

Snapping Turtle

Snapping Turtles

The snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) can be up to 20″ in shell diameter and is equipped with a pair of sharp and very strong jaws. It has a rough, jagged shell and a long tail that looks a bit like an alligator tail. They can be seen swimming in ponds or lakes and also crossing roads in the springtime when they may travel several hundred yards from water to nest. It should be pretty obvious that this turtle is capable of inflicting a nasty bite so don’t try to pick one up unless you know what you are doing. Watch for the tail cutting through the water as the snapping turtle swims just beneath the surface.

Yellow Mud Turtle

Yellow Mud Turtle

Yellow mud turtles can be found along the eastern margin of Colorado around ponds, reservoirs, and rivers.  They are omnivorous, feeding on crayfish, tadpoles, and other aquatic insects, as well as vegetation and plant matter.

Ornate Box Turtle

Ornate Box Turtle

The ornate box turtle is Colorado’s sole terrestrial turtle species and can be found across the Great Plains, including in the short grass prairie of eastern Colorado.  Loss of habitat and collection for the pet trade have threatened the ornate box turtle in recent years.

Spiny Softshell Turtle


The spiny softshell turtle is one of Colorado’s largest turtle species. They are found mostly in waterways along the eastern margin of Colorado.

If you are interested in learning more about these species, visit the Colorado Division of Wildlife Natural Diversity Information Source page about turtles.

This article was first published at on May 12, 2012.  I’ve reposted it here in celebration of World Turtle Day 2016.

8 Comments on “Are There Turtles in Colorado?

  1. I have seen very large soft shell turtles around Fort Collins.

  2. Just photographed a Spiny Softshelll Turtle at Waneka Lake in Lafayette, CO!

  3. I moved to Colorado from northern Ohio. I like hiking on trails and enjoy the parks around Florence, CO. I’ve yet to spot a turtle. I used to see loads in Ohio, basking on logs, but they seem to be absent in all of the ponds and places I’ve looked.

  4. There is a 6 species the smooth soft shell has been found several times in Colorado.

  5. Just stumbled into a large nest of turtle eggs. Soft eggs with some turtles in shell looking alive. Husband said to late for eggs they should already be hatched. Eggs were found in sand by pond in our backyard.

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