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Get to know Tennessee’s Turtles—and Slow Down for Them!

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

Get to know Tennessee's Turtles, their habitats, and their ecological roles in detail.

Tennessee is home to 16 species of turtles (not including the subspecies), and here are some fun facts About Tennessee turtles:

The Alligator Snapping turtle is Tennessee's largest reptile. The Alligator Snapping Turtle has a unique hunting strategy while lying on the bottom of a lake or river. It holds its mouth wide open and wiggles a small worm-like appendage on the floor of its mouth to lure unsuspecting fish.

Stripe-necked Musk Turtles walk along the bottom for food when submerged in water. They can remain underwater for a long time due to their ability to absorb oxygen from the water through the lining of their mouth and throat.

The Eastern Musk Turtle is commonly known as the "Stinkpot" because of the unpleasant odor released from musk glands along their sides as a defensive measure.

Painted Turtles may live up to 60 years.

The Bog Turtle, which occurs in the extreme northeast corner of Tennessee, is Tennessee's smallest and most threatened turtle.

Northern map turtles have been known to move about under ice in frozen lakes.

False Map Turtles will over-winter at the bottom of lakes and sloughs, muskrat dens, or under rocks and logs.

River Cooters are so fond of basking in the sun that if space is limited, they will stack 2 or 3 on each other.

The Eastern Box Turtle is the official state reptile of Tennessee and The only turtle in Tennessee that can completely close itself in its shell (and very tightly) due to its broad-hinged lower shell.

Smooth Softshells are commonly seen as "snorkeling," using their long neck and sticking just the tip of the snout out of the water for air.

The Spiny Softshell The upper shell is soft, leathery, and has no scales or plates. A rough outline of their vertebrae and ribs can faintly be seen in the middle of the back.

To learn more about Tennessee's turtles, please visit


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