A blog of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation
Home / Outdoor Oklahoma Journal / Turtle Trivia

Turtle Trivia

Jena Donnell
Wednesday, September 20, 2017

 Turtles are often associated with words like “slow” or “fearful,” but many wildlife enthusiasts know these tiny tanks are built to withstand a wide variety of challenges. Turtles – land and aquatic – can be found across our great state and provide a wealth of ecosystem services.

Wow your friends and coworkers with these six turtle truths:

1. Oklahoma has 18 species of turtles.

At least 63% of Oklahoma’s turtle diversity, including four Species of Greatest Conservation Need, has been documented at one turtle hotspot – Red Slough Wildlife Management Area in extreme southeastern Oklahoma. What makes Red Slough a retreat for these deliberate creatures? The area offers plenty of habitat:  wetland units provide plentiful shelter and food and nearby banks offer nesting sites.



2. Not all turtles have a hard, bony shell.

Two of Oklahoma’s turtle species are known as “softshells” and have soft and flexible leathery shells. How do you tell the two apart? While spiny softshell turtles do have small, blunt spines on the edge of the shell, they are best distinguished from midland smooth softshell turtles by closely inspecting their snouts. Spiny softshells have small projections on the inside of their nostrils.



3. Turtles don’t have teeth and instead, consume most of their food whole. (Strong jaws and claws are used to make larger prey more manageable.)

Contrary to popular belief, turtles are not universally detrimental to our state’s diverse fishery. While some species, like snapping turtles, are carnivorous, most predatory turtles are opportunistic scavengers and feed largely on dead fish. Adult red-eared sliders join several other turtle species in a more herbivorous diet, primarily eating aquatic plants. Still other turtles, like Mississippi map turtles, eat a variety of snails and freshwater mussels.



4. Turtles are egg-layers.

After mating, females dig nests with their back feet, deposit their leathery eggs, and leave their offspring’s fate to nature. Turtle eggs and newly hatched turtles are often sought out by predators. 



5. Most turtles begin courting in the spring.

Though seasonal, multiple clutches may be produced from May through mid-July. Three-toed box turtles can even store sperm for up to four years and have been known to produce fertilized eggs years after mating.



6. Turtle gender is largely determined by incubation temperature.

Depending on the species, two patterns emerge. In some turtles, low incubation temperatures only produce males while high temperatures only produce females. In other turtles, both high and low incubation temperatures generate mostly females while intermediate incubation temperatures generate mostly males.