Ontario Turtles

There are 8 native turtle species in Ontario, representing 4 families. Let’s take a look at each of these species!

Chelydridae family

Snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) are among Ontario’s more common and largest turtles. The females can travel long distances to lay eggs but otherwise they very seldom leave the water. For spending so much time in water, they are surprisingly weak swimmers and prefer to walk along the bottom. They feed primarily on carrion but sometimes catch live prey and also eat aquatic vegetation. They are known for being aggressive, especially when on land.

Kinosternidae family

Stinkpots (Sternotherus odoratus), also known as Eastern musk turtles, spend most of their lives in water and are not often encountered by people. They are small turtles, reaching an average size of just 13 cm. Their name comes from the musk they produce when handled. They usually live in shallow, slow moving water such as lakes and marshes, and eat aquatic insects, molluscs, crustaceans, and carrion. They prefer to nest in muskrat houses and females don’t usually travel far to lay eggs.


Emydidae family

Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta) are the only turtle species in Ontario considered not at risk. They are also the most widespread turtle in the Province. The midland painted turtle, the subspecies found in Southern Ontario, is dark green or black, marked with yellow, orange, and red. These turtles prefer smaller bodies of water such as ponds or streams, and are often seen on land basking in the sun on almost any available surface. Their diet consists of aquatic insects and vegetation.

Northern Map turtles (Graptemys geographica) are interesting in that the males and females are very distinct from one another. Adult females average 27 cm long, whereas males are only 13cm. Their diets are also different, with females primarily feeding on molluscs and males feeding on insects, crayfish and carrion. Northern map turtles live in large bodies of water and can swim long distances over the course of a summer. They overwinter in groups on the bottom of lakes and rivers. They can often be seen basking on rocks and logs near the water’s edge and the females travel some distance from water to nest.


Blanding’s turtles (Emydoidea blandingii) are easily recognized by their highly domed shell and yellow underside. They are poor swimmers and prefer to live in shallow water such as large marshes and shallow lakes. Females can travel considerable distances to nest, but otherwise this species does not stray very far from water. Their diet is made up of aquatic insects, molluscs, crustaceans, and vegetation.

Spotted Turtles (Clemmys guttata) are the smallest of Ontario turtles and can be identified by the round yellow spots on their shells. They are one of the first turtles to become active in the spring, but are rarely seen outside of nesting season, which occurs in mid-June. They prefer small, shallow water bodies such as ponds and marshes and the females nest close to the water. They eat aquatic insects, crustaceans and worms.


Wood turtles (Clemmys insculpta) differ from other turtles found in Ontario in that they spend most of their time on land and feed mostly on vegetation such as berries and leaves. They can be found in streams and rivers, but also in forests and meadows. They even sometimes hibernate on land, buried under the soil, although more often they overwinter in stream beds. Their shells look very sculpted, with prominent growth rings on the almost pyramid-shaped scales.

Trionychidae family

Spiny Softshell turtles (Apalone spinifera) are one of Ontario’s largest turtles and have a light grey or brown shell and a long pointed snout. As their name suggests, the shells of softshell turtles are covered in a softer, leathery skin rather that hard scales. Spiny softshells are good swimmers and can also move quickly on land. They are only found in three locations in Ontario – parts of Lake Erie, the Thames River, and the Ottawa River. They can travel long distances, but rarely move far from water. Their diet consists of molluscs, crustaceans and fish.