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Turtles live throughout the United States. Spotting one in the wild can be exciting. However, identifying that turtle can be a challenge, since many look similar. But if the turtle you find has red spots on his head, you're in luck, because only a few species of turtles in the United States have those.
The red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta) inhabits ponds, marshes and other still waters throughout much of the south-central United States, from the Great Lakes region to southern Texas, east to northern Florida, and north to West Virginia. Red-eared sliders have a wide red or orange stripe behind each eye. Adults range in size from 5 to 11 inches. They're often found basking with other sliders -- sometimes on top of each other.
Big Bend Slider
The Big Bend slider (Trachemys gaigeae) is very similar to the red-eared slider. In fact, some consider it a subspecies. This turtle is only found in the Rio Grande and Conchos River valleys of Texas and New Mexico. Unlike the red-eared slider, the Big Bend slider prefers fast-moving water. It has an orange or reddish dot bordered by black behind its eye.
Box turtles live on land -- often near water -- in the eastern United States. Of the four subspecies of box turtles, the three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis) is the only one with red on its head. The male's head can be completely red. Other males and females will have red, orange or yellow spots on their head. Box turtles range in size from 4 to 7 inches.
Turtles With Orange on Head
Some turtles have orange head markings that might appear red from a distance. The Texas map turtle (Graptemys versa), found only in central west Texas, has a curved orange stripe just behind its eye. The bog turtle (Glyptemys muhlenbergii) -- a small turtle in the eastern states -- has a large orange or yellow spot on her neck.
- Discover Life: Turtle Identification Key
- University of Michigan: Trachemys Scripta
- International Union for Conservation of Nature: Trachemys Gaigeae
- National Park Service: The Rio Grande
- Herps of Texas: Big Bend Slider
- University of Michigan: Terrapene Carolina
- University of Michigan: Graptemys Versa
- University of Georgia: Bog Turtle
- Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images