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Turtles in Hawaii (9 Different Species)

There are 9 types of turtles in Hawaii, of which the only native turtles are sea turtles. Did you know there are turtles native to the Hawaiian islands, though there are no native freshwater turtles in the island chain?

That’s right, the only native turtles are sea turtles. Of the 7 species of sea turtles in the world, 5 come to visit the islands.

There are also 4 species of aquatic, freshwater turtles that have been introduced to the islands, and now call this tropical paradise home. You may be able to see 2 types of softshells and a few species of pond sliders here.

Without wasting any more time, let’s dive into the 9 different species of turtles in Hawaii.

Pond Sliders in Hawaii

Pond sliders are some of the most widespread and common turtle species in the US, and Hawaii is no exception. There are three subspecies of pond sliders, two of which have been confirmed in many places across the islands. The three subspecies include the Red Eared Slider, the Yellow-Bellied Slider, and the Cumberland Slider.

1. Red Eared Slider

Two Red Eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) basking on a log
Two Red Eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) basking on a log
  • Experience level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Trachemys scripta elegans
  • Common Name: Pond slider, Red-eared terrapin, Water slider
  • Average Adult Size: 6 – 8 inches
  • Life Span: 20 to 40 years
  • Average Price Range: approximately $30 to $100
  • Conservation Status: Least concern

Red Eared Sliders are the most abundant of the pond sliders. Though they are native to much of the Eastern United States, they are being found in most places across the nation, including Hawaii.

These turtles are extremely popular as pets because they are so active, take to humans well, and are just so stinking cute! They can live for a very long time though, and if you’re not used to caring for turtles, these little cuties can be a lot of work.

Many parents find this out the hard way when they get them for their children. When the child loses interest, the parent looks for a way to safely let it go, and then you have non-native turtles in areas they don’t belong, such as Hawaii.

You can recognize these turtles by the red markings behind their eyes. The rest of their skin is dark green to black with lighter colored stripes. These stripes range from cream to yellow, to orange.

Their shell is smooth and slightly domed with bright markings throughout the scutes. As the turtle ages though, these markings become increasingly harder to see. The lower shell (plastron) is yellow, with dark or black blotches on each scute.

Red Eared Sliders are hardy turtles and can live in most types of water. They prefer ponds, lakes, and other slow-moving waters, but they can take well to many other types of freshwater.

They are omnivores, so they can eat nearly anything from insects, snails, fish, tadpoles, and many types of vegetation. 

Red Eared Sliders can mate 3 to 5 times per year, and lay up to 150 eggs per season. In areas that rarely see winter weather—which would slow down the mating progression—such as Hawaii, this number can greatly increase.

Red Eared Sliders can be found on five of the major islands; Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Oahu, and Kauai.

2. Yellow Bellied Slider

Yellow bellied slider (Trachemys scripta scripta) basking on downed tree in pond
Yellow bellied slider (Trachemys scripta scripta) basking on downed tree in pond
  • Experience level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Trachemys scripta scripta
  • Other Names: Pond slider, Yellow slider
  • Average Adult Size: 5 – 13 inches
  • Life Span: 50 to 100 years
  • Average Price Range: approximately $30 to $130
  • Conservation Status: Least concern

Similar in appearance to Red Eared Sliders, the Yellow Slider has no red markings on the head. Their plastron is also yellow, but they rarely have any markings along their bellies. The yellow markings on their skin, and especially the head are wider and more prominent.

These turtles also grow a little larger than Red Ears. Yellow Sliders can reach just over 12 inches in length, the Red Eared Slider typically maxes out at 8 to 9 inches in length.

Yellow Sliders prefer ponds, drainage ditches, rivers, and lakes, but they will occupy most types of water. They love to bask in the sun, but will quickly drop back into the water at the first sign of a disturbance.

These turtles are native to the Southeastern United States, especially Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. They have been found in ponds and waterways in Hawaii, but their exact numbers right now are unknown.

Yellow Bellied Sliders are omnivores, but their diet changes depending on their age. Young and juveniles typically consume more insects, fish, tadpoles, snails, and other sources of protein. As the Yellow Slider matures, their diet changes to include mostly plant matter.

3. Cumberland slider

Cumberland slider (Trachemys scripta troostii) on bank of pond basking
Cumberland slider (Trachemys scripta troostii) on bank of pond basking
  • Experience level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Trachemys scripta troostii
  • Other Names: Yellow Eared Slider, Troost’s Turtle, Cumberland Turtle
  • Average Adult Size: 5 to 11 inches
  • Life Span: 40 – 50 years
  • Average Price Range: Approximately $40 to $80
  • Conservation Status: Least concern

The Cumberland Slider is a subspecies of pond slider, but so far they have not been found in Hawaii. Their native range includes the Mississippi and Tennessee rivers, and areas in Kentucky. Though they have been introduced in Illinois, Alabama, and Georgia.

The carapace (upper shell) of Cumberland Sliders is slightly keeled, becomes more wrinkled looking as they age, and has plenty of different color markings. Their skin is olive to dark brown with yellow stripes.

Behind their eyes is a larger yellow stripe that can gradually change to orange or red as it stretches farther back toward the neck.

Cumberland Sliders prefer slow-moving or still waters with muddy bottoms and a lot of vegetation. If they can find ponds, lakes, rivers, or streams with overhanging basking spots, they like the area even more.

Juvenile Cumberland Sliders are mainly carnivorous, but adults are very omnivorous. Adults will eat algae, plants, seeds, tadpoles, crayfish, mollusks, fish, and insects.

Softshell Turtles in Hawaii

4. Chinese Softshell Turtle

Chinese Softshell turtle (Pelodiscus sinensis) in tank angled towards the bottom
Chinese Softshell turtle (Pelodiscus sinensis) in tank angled towards the bottom
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Scientific Name: Pelodiscus sinensis
  • Other Names: Asiatic softshell turtle, dwarf softshell turtle
  • Average Adult Size: 11 10 13 inches
  • Life Span: 25 – 50 years
  • Average Price Range: Approximately $100 to $400
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable

The Chinese softshell turtle is, as you probably guessed, native to China and other parts of Asia. This turtle was brought to Hawaii when Asian immigrants brought them during World War II. This turtle is especially important to many people in Asia as an important source of food.

The Chinese Softshell turtle is the world’s most economically important turtle. Millions are farmed for turtle soup and other foods, but they are still listed as vulnerable or threatened in many areas.

Males of these species are much smaller than females, but they have longer tails. These turtles have a pliable shell, especially around the edges which allows them to be more mobile in the water. They have highly webbed feet and long claws.

They are mostly solid colored along the top of their shells and throughout their skin. Chinese Softshell turtles are usually olive colored with some dark blotches and spots along the carapace and skin.

The plastron on the other hand is typically red-orange and may have larger black markings.

Chinese Softshell turtles can live in fresh and brackish water. In Hawaii, they are found in marshes and drainage ditches where they can hide among the vegetation and mud.

Highly aquatic, the Chinese Softshell turtle rarely leaves the water, even to bask. They will leave the safety of the water to find a proper nest and lay their eggs.

Like most softshell turtles, the Chinese Softshell is mainly carnivorous, consuming mollusks, shrimp, crayfish, fish, crustaceans, and insects.

5. Wattle Necked Softshell Turtle

Wattle Necked Softshell Turtle (Palea steindachneri) basking on rocks
Wattle Necked Softshell Turtle (Palea steindachneri) basking on rocks
  • Experience Level: Unknown
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Scientific Name: Palea steindachneri
  • Other Names: Steindachner’s soft-shelled turtle
  • Average Adult Size: 14-18 inches
  • Life Span: 30 to 40 years
  • Average Price Range: Unknown
  • Conservation Status: Endangered

The Wattle Necked Softshell turtle was introduced to Hawaii in the same manner as the above mentioned cousin. Wattle Necked turtles are also used mainly for food in Asian cultures. Unfortunately, they are highly poached in these areas and their numbers are quickly diminishing.

This turtle is so named because of the fleshy tubercles located on the neck, close to the shell. This softshell turtle has a long neck, and snorkel-like, tubular nose like others, but it has several nodules along the back of the shell, unlike most other softshell species.

They are mostly grey or olive green in their early years but darken as they age. These turtles tend to look a lot like the river rocks they swim around. In swift-running, clear water streams, these turtles have great camouflage.

The Wattle Necked Softshell turtle is mostly nocturnal. They rarely leave the water and spend their time either burrowed under rocks to hide or hunt. Their long necks allow them to reach above the surface of the water to get a breath. The turtle then quickly draws its head back again without leaving the hiding spot.

Wattle Necked softshells prefer clear, fast running mountain streams and rivers. Wattle Necks can be found in streams and canals in Kauai, and Oahu.

Mostly carnivorous, the Wattle Necked Softshell turtle feeds on shrimp, insects, fish, and snails.

Sea Turtles in Hawaii

6. Hawksbill Turtle

Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) swimming in turquoise waters with sandy bottom
Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) swimming in turquoise waters with sandy bottom
  • Experience level: N/A, Illegal to own any sea turtle
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Scientific Name: Eretmochelys imbricata
  • Other Names: Hawksbill
  • Average Adult Size: 30 – 36 inches
  • Life Span: 50 – 60 years
  • Average Price Range: N/A
  • Conservation Status: Critically endangered

Because of their multi-colored, marbled shell, the Hawksbill Sea Turtle is often considered the most beautiful turtle species in the world. Unfortunately because of this exceptional beauty, they are hunted and were very near hunted to extinction.

It’s illegal to hunt any sea turtles now thanks to an International ban on sea turtle hunting. This still doesn’t stop many poachers though, who take them for the shell. Some people still eat the meat though it can be mildly toxic because of the sponges they eat.

The turtle shells are processed into hair accessories, jewelry, and ornamental items.

Not only is this turtle a beautiful specimen, but it’s the only reptile in the world (so far) that produces a bioluminescent light. When it absorbs blue light, it reflects it back in a bright green or red color. Scientists are unsure what exactly causes this because it’s difficult to study these turtles.

They think the bioluminescence is a result of the Hawkbill’s diet, or from a certain alga that attaches to their shells.

Hawksbill turtles are often found in shallow waters and reefs where they consume sponges. Of all the sea turtles you may see off the coast of Hawaii’s islands, the Hawksbill and Green Sea turtles are the most common.

7. Green Sea Turtle

Green Sea turtle swimming on the sea floor
Green Sea turtle swimming on the sea floor
  • Experience level: N/A, Illegal to own any sea turtle
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Scientific Name: Chelonia mydas
  • Other Names: Green Sea Turtle
  • Average Adult Size: 3 – 4 feet
  • Life Span: 50 – 70 years
  • Average Price Range: N/A
  • Conservation Status: Endangered

Green Sea turtles are named for the green fat and flesh under their skin, not for their outward appearance. Their shells are similar to the Hawksbill Sea turtle with different colors of brown, black, green, white, and more. The Green Sea turtle is the most abundant turtle along the shores of Hawaii.

These turtles are still very endangered, but with wide conservation efforts, these turtles are making a comeback. There are several places in Hawaii that take tourists out to watch and even swim with sea turtles.

It’s a great way to bring money into the Hawaiian community as well as help people understand conservation efforts, and what they can do to help these beautiful, essential creatures.

Green Sea turtles are born omnivores because they need to grow very quickly. Baby sea turtles are prey for so many ocean predators; from crabs, birds, fish, and sharks, to squid, octopi, and more.

Green Sea turtles start out eating worms, crustaceans, fish eggs, jellyfish, seaweed, and mollusks. As they age, Green Sea turtles increase their consumption of algae and seagrasses until they make up the majority of their diet.

Sea turtles are endangered because of excessive hunting for their meat and eggs. Fishing nets and collisions with watercraft have also taken their toll on all sea turtle species. Another big reason for their decline is the destruction and development of nesting grounds.

With education, and proper fishing techniques, we can save these turtles, but it will take a conscious effort among all people to really make a difference.

8. Leatherback Sea Turtle

  • Experience level: N/A, Illegal to own any sea turtle
  • Family: Dermochelyidae
  • Scientific Name: Dermochelys coriacea
  • Other Names: Atlantic Leatherback, Leatherback
  • Average Adult Size: 4 – 8 ft
  • Life Span: 30 – 50 years
  • Average Price Range: N/A
  • Conservation Status:  Endangered

Leatherback Sea turtles are the largest species of turtle in the world. They grow up to 6 to 8 feet long measured from the front to the back of their leathery shell. These turtles are highly migratory and are amazing swimmers, often taking on journeys that last for tens of thousands of miles.

Leatherbacks can hold their breath for nearly an hour and dive down more than 4,000 feet. That’s deeper than any other turtle can dive. They’re probably searching for Black Beard’s lost treasure!

You’d think such a large turtle needs to eat a lot, and you’d be correct. The thing is, they eat mostly jellyfish, which are made of up to 90 percent water. Huge Leatherback turtles have to eat hundreds of jellyfish every day to keep up with their caloric intake.

These huge turtles have soft, leathery shells that have several ridges running from front to back. They are mostly black with white spots and have lighter colored undersides.

9. Olive Ridley

Olive Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) laying a clutch of eggs
Olive Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) laying a clutch of eggs
  • Experience level: N/A, Illegal to own any sea turtle
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Scientific Name:  Lepidochelys olivacea
  • Other Names: Pacific Ridley Sea turtle, Ridley sea turtle
  • Average Adult Size: 20 – 29 inches
  • Life Span: 40 – 50 years
  • Average Price Range: N/A
  • Conservation Status: Threatened

The  Olive Ridley Sea turtle got its name from the brownish-green color of the heart-shaped shell. The Olive and Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are the smallest in the ocean.

Olive Ridley turtles are open ocean turtles that rarely come close to shore. Often it’s because they are coming in to nest. Both Ridley species of sea turtles come to nest at the same time, and the eggs hatch at about the same time. This behavior is called arribada.

While it may help them survive predators, and help more babies survive the gauntlet from the beach to the water, it allows people to collect them and their eggs in record numbers. While many countries have outlawed the collection of sea turtles and their eggs, it still happens in other places.

Not only do Olive Ridley Sea turtles have to worry about human predators, but feral pigs, coatis, birds, crabs, and coyotes eat the eggs and baby turtles.

Olive Ridley Sea turtles are the most abundant sea turtle in the world, while their cousin the Kemp’s Ridley Sea turtle is the least numerous and most endangered. Talk about seeing both sides of the spectrum!

Olive Ridley Sea turtles eat jellyfish (not as much as Leatherback Sea turtles), shrimp, crabs, and other crustaceans, mollusks, and other bottom dwelling invertebrates.

10. Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta Caretta) resting on sea bed
Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta Caretta) resting on sea bed
  • Experience Level: N/A, Illegal to own any sea turtle
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Scientific Name: Caretta Caretta
  • Other Names: Loggerhead
  • Adult Size: 2.5 – 3.5 feet
  • Life Span: 70 – 80 years
  • Average Price Range: N/A
  • Conservation Status: Endangered

Loggerhead Sea turtles are the largest hard-shelled species of turtle. They regularly reach lengths of 4 to 5 feet long and can weigh up to 300 pounds and more.

Loggerhead Sea Turtles have large, rounded heads. That is because of all the hard-shelled creatures they eat. Their jaw muscles get a solid workout crunching through whelk shells, conches, lobsters, and horseshoe crabs.

These turtles are long lived and can take up to 39 years to reach sexual maturity. They are often found in tropical waters in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans.

Did you know that only about 1 in 1000 sea turtles make it to adulthood? Maybe that’s why sea turtles seem to cry as they come ashore, lay their eggs then return to the water. Actually, sea turtles have glands along their eyes that secrete excess salt from their body.

It looks like they are crying, but they are actually working on regulating the salt imbalance throughout their system.

Wrapping It Up

There we have it. All the turtles you may see on the islands of Hawaii. While all the freshwater turtles are non-native transplants, I still feel they’re lucky to be there. Just because I’m slightly jealous because I’d love to live on a tropical island where I could see the ocean every day.

In all seriousness though, the sea turtles that visit Hawaii’s shores really need our help to keep them around for future generations. The Hawksbill, Loggerhead, Leatherback, Olive Ridley, and Green Sea turtles are essential parts of a healthy ocean.

Be sure to clean up any trash you leave behind when you’re at the beach, only consume ethically sourced seafood, and turn off beach lights at night to help these amazing creatures.

While you’re here, why not leave a comment below. Let us know what your favorite turtles are and share any turtle related stories you have. We love to hear all about your turtle experiences!

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