Arizona Turtles and Tortoises

At least two turtle species live in my stock ponds near the northernmost stretch of perennial flow in the Agua Fria River.  I am sure Texas Spiny Softshells and Pond Sliders (photo) are present.  I think I saw a Sonoran Mud turtle, but the individual I saw might have been a small Pond Slider.

Turtles have exceptional regenerative powers.  Dr. Justin Congdon, a classmate from long ago, managed a study of turtles in the E. S. George Reserve in Michigan for more than 40 years. In the 1980’s Justin made a startling discovery:  Blanding’s Turtles were producing more eggs and offspring as they got older.  Eventually Justin published his results and drew international attention.

Related research shows that turtle cells live longer than cells of  most other vertebrates.  Learning how they do it might provide a means to add as much as 100 years to the average human lifespan.


Another interesting trait of turtles is that they are resistant to toxic materials in their environment.  Arizona fish, frogs, and mollusks develop various forms of cancer in response to toxic chemicals from pesticides, urban runoff, and treated waste water.  Turtles do not.  Like other species groups, however, Arizona turtles suffer from habitat loss and human harvest.  The Pond Slider in the photo is not a native of the Agua Fria River.  It probably arrived as a pet sold by the roadside vendor who comes every summer and sells turtles at a highway intersection near the River.  There are at least two Pond Sliders living in my pond.  If the pond doesn’t dry up because of water pumping for urban use, the turtles may be living there long after I’m gone.

Field guides are provided online by the Arizona Herpetological Association and Thomas C. Brennan, and in print (Stebbins, 1966).





AZ T&E**





*Data from Wikipedia and Reptile and Amphibian Ecology International.

**Tier 1A species of greatest conservation need (Arizona Game and Fish Department).


Turtle References

Arizona Game and Fish Department:

Arizona Herpetological Association:

Brennan, T.C.  2008.  Online field guide to reptiles and amphibians of Arizona:

Congdon, J. D., A. E. Dunham, and R. C. van Loben Sels. 1993a. Delayed sexual maturity and demographics of Blanding’s turtles (Emydoidea blandingii): implications for conservation and management of long-lived organisms. Conservation Biology. 7:826-833.

Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation:

Stebbins, R.C.  1966.  A field guide to western reptiles and amphibians.  Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA.  279 p.



*  Tier 1A species of greatest conservation need (Arizona Game and Fish Department).

** Indicates introduced species.

Turtles and Tortoises
Chelydridae (Snapping Turtles)
** Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentine)
Emydidae (Box and Water Turtles)
 Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta)
 Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornate)
** Pond Slider (Trachemys scripta)
Kinosternidae (Mud Turtles)
 Arizona Mud Turtle (Kinosternon arizonense)
 Yellow Mud Turtle (Kinosternon flavescens)
*  Sonora Mud Turtle (Kinosternon sonoriense)
Testudinidae (Land Tortoises)
*   Desert Tortoise (Mohave Pop. earns the *)(Gopherus agassizii)
Trionychidae (Softshell Turtles)
Spiny Softshell  (Apalone spinifera)

2 thoughts on “Arizona Turtles and Tortoises

  1. Does the chart indicate the number of species in the areas shown?
    What is “AZ T&E”?
    Are turtles omnivorous?
    Good photo!


  2. Yes. There are 300 species worldwide and 9 in Arizona.
    AZ T&E refers to two species that are classed as “species of greatest concern” by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
    Tortoises are usually purely herbivorous. Aquatic turtles are principally carnivorous, and Semi-aquatic turtles are omnivorous. I haven’t checked, but my guess is that the Spiny Softshells and Pond Sliders in the pond are carnivores. Both like to sun, but I’ve never caught them out on the pond bank. This doesn’t mean they eat only meat. They probably eat some water plants and may graze on the pond margins.
    Thank you.



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