How to identify turtle breed

Updated July 19, 2017

You've found a turtle and are considering keeping it as a pet. Before taking it home and naming it, you want to identify the breed. It is important to identify a turtle's breed to be sure it is safe to keep as a pet and know how to care for it properly.

Take caution when picking the turtle up. If the turtle meets the following description, it is probably a snapping turtle: claws on the front feet and webbed back feet; a bottom shell that is smaller than the turtle's body; a dark upper shell; and hooked jaws.

Inspect the turtle's toes. If the toes are webbed, the turtle is a swimmer and lives in water either part or all of the time. If the turtle has claws rather than webbed toes, it is a land turtle.

Inspect the turtle's shell. If the turtle shell is soft, it's considered a soft-shell turtle. If the top shell is high and shaped like a dome, it is probably a box turtle. If the top shell is flat with black, yellow, red or orange markings, it's probably a painted turtle of the turtle breed Chreysems.

Make notes of physical characteristics of the turtle and include notes about scales on the tail, head and leg stripes, and the hinge on the bottom shell.

Consult a field guide on turtle breeds (see Resources).

Take a picture of the turtle and post it in a turtle breed forum (see Resources). Many animal experts visit these forums and may be able to identify the turtle breed.

Schedule an appointment with your local vet, who can identify the turtle's breed and tell you how to feed and care for it.


Do not attempt to pick up a snapping turtle. If the turtle has clawed feet, do not put it in water.

Things You'll Need

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Camera
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About the Author

Janel Flynn is a freelance writer and editor for a company in the United Kingdom. Her articles have appeared on various websites, including and Associated Content. She holds a Bachelor of Science in elementary and special education, as well as a master's degree in curriculum design and instruction focusing on literacy.