Home » 8 Species of Turtles That Live on Land – [A Detailed List]

8 Species of Turtles That Live on Land – [A Detailed List]

by Janet
Species of Turtles That Live on Land
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Turtles are truly fascinating creatures and among the longest surviving creatures in the world. To begin with, they’re the only reptiles you’ll find with a shell shielding their body. 

According to scientific definitions, they belong to the taxonomic order Testudines and include any reptile whose bodies are encompassed in a bony shell. While many animals, including invertebrates and mammals, have evolved shells of their own, none compares to the distinct architecture turtle’s shell.

When you hear the word turtle, you’re probably picturing them in vast water bodies. This is because they’ve majorly been depicted as sea creatures. The reality is, however, that there are varying species of turtles, both aquatic and terrestrial. Some turtles are even semi-aquatic, meaning they can live on land as well as water.

The following is a detailed list of the different species of turtles that can and do live on land:

  1. Tortoise

land turtles

Most people tend to differentiate tortoises from turtles. Based on the definition of a turtle, tortoises are a type of turtle. According to the taxonomy, they are they come from the family Testudinidae under the order Testudines (turtles). Tortoises are grouped into 15 genera with a total of 49 species. All 49 of these species are terrestrial, meaning they live solely on land. In the past, the term tortoise was used to refer to any terrestrial turtles.

Today, they are distinguished by their distinctive cylindrical hind legs and stubby hind feet. They also have a high-dome shell, which they can easily retract their heads into for protection against predators. Their sizes vary depending on the species. You may find some with shell lengths of 4-6” and others of 3’ long.

Tortoises can be found in all continents apart from Antarctica and Australia. Initially, they populated almost every island, today, however, you can find them anywhere from deserts to wet tropical forests. They are herbivores and opportunistic eaters, meaning they feed on the vegetation available to them. They are also known to mate yearly, nesting a total of 5-20 eggs depending on the size of the species. Examples of different tortoises include; pancake tortoise, elongate tortoise, Aldabra tortoise, and Galapagos tortoise.

  1. Common Box Turtle

turtles that live on land

They are a sub-species of the North American Box Turtles. The name is derived from the fact that their shells allow them to retract fully into their shell and look like a closed-up box. This is possible because of the presence of hinges and ligamentous bridges that make the shell flexible. They’re also known as Eastern Box Turtles since they are mainly found in Eastern America.

They can be identified by their high-dome shells that are dark brown with distinctive markings on them. The turtles are generally 6″ in length and 1 pound in weight. Although they’re not as large as other turtles, the size of their shells still protects them from predators. This is because it is still difficult to consume it whole. Additionally, when the retract the shell tightens up making it difficult to crack.

They are terrestrial turtles, therefore inhabit mainly woodlands and grasslands. They also prefer cool temperature areas. In terms of diet, the Common box turtle is an omnivore. They tend to eat worms, fish, and fungi. It’s important to note, however, that the younger common box turtles, eat meat for the first five years before slowly transitioning to mostly eating plants and fungi as they age.

  1. Spotted Turtle

turtle species that lice on land

The name spotted turtle was based on the yellow spots observed all over the dark-colored shell and skin of this particular turtle. Spotted turtles are a type of freshwater turtles, although they are semi-aquatic. This means that they can survive on land and in water. They’re generally small in size and can only grow up to about 5″ in length.

Being semi-aquatic, they are mainly found near shallow water bodies, swamps, boggy ponds, or sedge meadows. They tend to busk in groups in the sun but are most vulnerable to predators while on land. At the sign of danger, they run into the water and bury themselves in the mud to hide. Spotted turtles are also known to be most active in spring and least active in summer.

Like common box turtles, they are omnivores who feed on algae, aquatic plants, worms, insects, and insect larvae. As for differentiating the sex, the males and females differ in size and coloring, whereby the females have more spots than the males. Due to their exotic look and small size, spotted turtles are prone to poaching hence they are listed as endangered species protected by the law in many states.

  1. Wood Turtle

wood turtle species on land

The wood turtle is another type of freshwater turtle that is semi-aquatic. Its mainly found in Northern America and is generally 7-9″ in size as well as 2.3lbs.  Being freshwater turtles, they are mainly found near rivers brooks, and creek, but prefer remote ones. Because of their ability to live on land also, you can find them in remote open fields and thickets.

The wood turtles are distinguished from other freshwater turtles with the groove appearance of their shell that has a distinctive pyramid shape. The underside of the shell is, however, concave for the males and convex for the females. As omnivores, wood turtles eat tadpoles, snails, worms, insects, larvae, berries, mushrooms, and foliage. They’re also known to hibernate during winter in fast-flowing streams. Later they feed and thermoregulate on land during the warmer seasons.

  1. Three-stripped Box Turtle

land turtle species

The name is based on the three dark stripes on its dark brown shell. The three-stripped box turtle is also called the gold-coin turtle. It was once common in Southern China, but today it’s an endangered species that can only be found in Hong Kong. It’s a type of species from the Asian box turtles. Like all other box turtles, it can fully retract into its shell for protection.

It is generally 7-12″ in size with a golden-yellow or sometimes olive-green-colored head. The male turtles have indented under shells and thicker tails compared to the females. Since they are semi-aquatic, their natural habitation is around river banks. As omnivores, they mainly eat frogs, worms, vegetables, and fruits. They also mate yearly and nest about 2-6 eggs in total.

  1. Keeled Box Turtles

box turtles that live on land

Keeled box turtles are another species of Asian box turtles. The name comes from the fact that it has three distinctive keels on its upper shell. One large one at the center in between two smaller ones. The fact that the shell has pointed serrations also earned it the name Jagged shell box turtle.  It is native to Asian countries like China, Vietnam, India, Thailand, and Burma.

They are about 18cm in length and have grey or brown colored heads with varying-colored streaks along their neck and head. Like with all box turtles the mails have thicker tails and brown or black irises. The females, on the other hand, have red or orange irises.  Unlike other turtles, they are nocturnal. They burrow in dirt and sleep during the day and wake up to feed at night. Like tortoises they are herbivores but you may occasionally find them eating insects and snails. You’ll mostly find Keeled box turtles in the deep Asian forests.

  1. Flower-back Box Turtle

species of turtles that live on land

Yet another Asian box turtle species, the flower-back box turtle is also known as the Indochinese box turtle or Vietnamese box turtle. As per its name, this box turtle is native to Hainan Island in China and North Vietnam. Their high-dome shells have yellowish cream and dark brown stripes. They have a yellowish head with yellow chins and throats.

Although they are freshwater turtles, they are semi-aquatic so they can live on land and water. They are maybe found near freshwater bodies, bushy woodlands, or forests. Flower-backs also prefer high altitude areas. In terms of diet, they are omnivores who eat worms, insects, vegetation, and fruits. Like all box turtles, they can fully retract into the shell for protection when attacked.

  1. Yellow-margined Box Turtle

turtles living on land

It also goes by the named yellow-headed or golden-headed box turtles. They are Asian natives found in China and Japan. The name yellow-margined is based on the yellow stripes on its dark brown high-domed shell. The head is also brown with a pale green color at the top and yellow lines behind each eye.

They are semi-aquatic like the Flower-back and Three-striped box turtles. As such they inhabit areas with wet winters and hot summers. You’ll likely find them in hilly areas, dense forests, low grasslands, rivers, or streams. They are omnivorous but mainly feed on vegetation and fruits and occasionally have animal protein. Another fact about them is they mate all year round, with the females laying 4-9 eggs each time.


As seen, there are varying species of turtle that in turn have sub-species. You’ll find them spread all over the world in different habitats. While some live in the sea, there are also those that live on land, or both on land and in water.



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