A handy guide for identifying and learning about the species living here.
Story by Michaela Satterfield
Turtles are found in a wide variety of habitats across the Lowcountry. Take a closer look at the fascinating reptiles that live here and learn what makes each species unique.
Green Sea Turtle: As the only herbivorous adult sea turtle, these have serrated jaws to help them tear their favorite vegetation.
Hawksbill Sea Turtle: With beak-like jaws, these turtles can snatch food, such as sponges and squid, from places that can be hard to reach in coral reefs.
Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle: Although steps are being taken to protect them, these are the most endangered sea turtles in the world due to former over-harvesting of their eggs.
Leatherback Sea Turtle: These turtles stand out from the rest as the only sea turtle without a hard shell, as well as the largest turtle in the world – they can grow up to seven feet long.
Loggerhead Sea Turtle: These sea turtles are named for their large heads and strong jaws, which help them eat shellfish.
Alligator Snapping Turtle: Sometimes called the “dinosaur of the turtle world,” these turtles have spiked shells and typically live from 50 to 100 years.
Common Snapping Turtle: Known for their ability to snap, what most don’t know is these turtles have this ability to protect themselves because they can’t fit inside their shells like other turtles.
Barbour’s Map Turtle: These rare turtles can only be found in the Apalachicola River system in Florida, as well as a few nearby river systems.
Bog Turtle: You can find them in bogs or swamps, but you won’t have much luck in the winter months – they bury themselves in six to 18 inches of mud underwater to hibernate.
Box Turtle: While some reptiles, such as snakes, don’t have eyelids at all, these turtles have eyelids they close when they’re sleeping and even when they’re happy.
Chicken Turtle: They don’t look like chickens and they don’t prey on chickens, but rumor has it their meat tastes just like chicken.
Common Map Turtle: Spot these turtles, which can be found in the water or out basking on logs and rocks, by looking for the markings on their shells which resemble waterways on maps.
Diamondback Terrapin: Named for the diamond-like pattern on their shells, these live in brackish water and have salt glands by their eyes to flush out extra salt, like sea turtles.
Florida Cooter: While these can be difficult to distinguish from the River Cooter, a key difference is they prefer to live in still water rather than moving water.
Florida Redbelly Turtle: Laying eggs in alligator nests is a tactic these turtles use to ensure extra protection for their eggs, but the technique requires some sneaking around.
Painted Turtle: These turtles have shells made of bone plates with rings on them. When they grow, they shed the bone plates and grow new ones, so you can determine their age by counting the rings.
River Cooter: You’ll find these turtles spending a lot of time underwater, as they can literally breathe underwater through a sac located on their tail.
Slider Turtle: These turtles are common pets, but owners must do research to ensure they are taking care of them properly.
Spotted Turtle: These typically have one spot as hatchlings and gain more as they grow, but they can have anywhere from zero to over 100 spots throughout their lives.
Florida Softshell: These turtles have skin covering their shells which resembles a pancake.
Spiny Softshell: These are known for being the largest freshwater turtles in North America, as well as having rubbery shells.
Local history: Gopher Hill
Ridgeland was originally known as Gopher Hill, derived from the gopher tortoise, which is indigenous to the area. The name was not considered good enough for a new railroad station, so it was changed to Ridgeland in 1902 for the fact that the town stands on a sandy ridge that is some of the highest land in Jasper County. According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, these terrestrial tortoises are only found in the sand hills and coastal plains of three South Carolina counties — Jasper, Hampton and Aiken. Currently, the state lists them as endangered and critically imperiled.
Mud & Musk Turtles
Common Musk Turtle: Look up in the trees for these – they’re good climbers and have been known to spend some time high in trees.
Eastern Mud Turtle: While these turtles can swim, they typically stick to crawling on the bottom of the body of water.
Striped Mud Turtle: You’ll know these turtles by the stripes on both their shells and faces.
Stripeneck/ Loggerhead Musk Turtle: You guessed it – these turtles were named for the stripes on their necks and heads.