South Dakota Turtles

Image of a common snapping turtle.

Common Snapping Turtle

(Chelydra serpentina)
Found throughout South Dakota, Snapping Turtles are known for their aggressive dispositions when out of the water. The average South Dakota snapper has a shell that is 12 inches long and weighs around 12 pounds. The record weight for a snapper caught in South Dakota is 44 pounds. The biggest Common Snapping Turtle recorded in the US weighed in at 62 pounds and measured less than 24 inches long.

Image of multiple western painted turtles crawling on top of each other near the edge of a pond.

Western Painted Turtle

(Chrysemys picta belli)
The painted turtle is one of the wetland's most common reptiles. Found throughout South Dakota, this animal can be easily identified by its colorful belly (also known as the plastron), although they can be very shy and reclusive. Like many turtles, it hunts for food in the water.

Image of a Blanding's Turtle.

Blanding's Turtle

(Emydoidea blandingii)
The Blanding's Turtle is a medium-sized semi-aquatic turtle with an average shell length of approximately seven to nine inches and a maximum length of 10 inches. A distinguishing feature of this turtle is the bright yellow chin and throat, and its domed shell. This is not a native South Dakota species, but there are a few isolated records of them being spotted in one place in southeastern South Dakota.

Image of a False Map turtle.

False Map Turtle

(Graptemys p. pseudogeographica)
Also known as "sawback" turtles because their saw-tooth edges resemble the teeth of a saw blade, these turtles are highly aquatic and can be found along the banks of the Missouri River. They are rather shy and skittish, and escape potential danger by entering the water.

Image of an Ornate Box Turtle.

Ornate Box Turtle

(Terrapene ornate)
The Western box turtle is 4-5 inches long with a dark brown or black flattened-dome shell decorated with bright yellow lines that radiate to form a starburst pattern. They are known as timid creatures and often retreat into their shells for protection. They have a small range in south-central South Dakota.

Image of a Midland Smooth Softshell turtle sitting on top of a log.

Midland Smooth Softshell

(Apalone m. mutica)
Smooth Softshell Turtles are highly aquatic and can be found along the banks of the Missouri River. They are most recognized by the appearance of their outer shell - it looks like a pancake, as it is completely smooth, flat, and leathery with very flexible edges. Their nose has no nostril ridge, and tapers to a point, resembling a snorkel.

Image of a Westen Spiny Softshell turtle laying on a rock.

Western Spiny Softshell

(Apalone spinifera hartwegi)
The outer shell of a Spiny Softshell Turtle feels like sandpaper. In adult females, the shell may be smooth, but there are several large spines or cone-like projections at the front of the shell. Their nose has nostril ridges, and tapers to a point and resembles a snorkel. They can be found along tributaries of the Missouri River in central to southeastern South Dakota, as well as the western part of the state.

Image of the Sky Dome from the outside surrounded by beautiful gardens.

There are a variety of turtles in South Dakota.  Stop by Reptile Gardens and visit our Sky Dome and stroll around the main level to see free-roaming turtles, birds, frogs, and more!


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Sky Dome

Step inside the Sky Dome to experience a warm tropical climate while exploring our indoor jungle filled with exotic and unique flora and fauna. 

Rattlesnake Gulch Funtier Town

Try your hand at gemstone sluicing, go on a 3D safari, or test your aim at the shooting gallery! Our very own old west ghost town has numerous photo opportunities and activities to keep the kids entertained.

Cheyenne's Habitat

Cheyenne the bald eagle has been a permanent resident of Reptile Gardens for 11 years with permission of the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

Maniac's habitat

Maniac is our resident giant saltwater crocodile. At over 16 feet long and1,350pounds, he is one of the largest giant crocodiles in the western hemisphere. If you don't see him at his enclosure inside the SkyDome, make sure to check outside!

Prairie Dog Town

Get down to eye-level with these fuzzy little animals and see firsthand what life is like in a typical prairie dog town!

Methuselah's Playground

Methuselah was a giant Galapagos Tortoise weighing in at over 600 pounds, and a long time resident of Reptile Gardens. His memory lives on at this playground featuring a bronze statue of Methuselah himself. 

Snake Show stage

Get up-close-and-personal with our snake ambassadors in this family-friendly snake handling show.

Gator Show stage

Dozens of Alligators, Crocodiles, and Caimans and one keeper...what could go wrong? Separate fact from fiction in this educational, family-friendly show and get a chance to pet Fluffy, our baby gator!

Bird Show stage

Interact with birds from around the world at the Bird Show, where they love to show off their beauty and intelligence. 

Gift Shop

Carrying a wide variety of Reptile Gardens souvenirs as well as educational books for every age and a variety of stunning rocks, minerals, and fossils from all over the world.

Green Parrot Cafe

Hungry? Refuel with buffalo burgers, The Maniac burger, Black Mamba Shakes, Indian Tacos, and more!

Giant Tortoise

Don't miss this photo opportunity! Get up-close and personal with these friendly giants who love to have their neck scratched and are great with kids. 

Tortuga Falls

Take a stroll through this meditative garden, gaze into our turtle and koi pond, listen to the waterfalls, and don't miss Darwin the Kookaburra! 

Walking Garden

We're about more than just Reptiles! Our outdoor gardens are beauty to be seen as they change throughout the season and year after year. 

Living Wall

This vertical garden is a wall of color that grows and changes through the Summer season creating striking patterns and unique portraits as it grows. 

Pet A Python

At the end of every snake show, you will get the opportunity to pet a python and chat with our knowledgeable show presenters. Don't forget your camera!