Pacific Pond Turtle

Local Streams

The Pacific pond turtle, formerly known as the western pond turtle, is the only native freshwater turtle in western Washington and on the Pacific Coast.

Pacific Pond Turtle

The Pacific pond turtle (Actinemys marmorata,), formerly known as the western pond turtle (Clemmys marmorata), is the only native freshwater turtle in western Washington and on the Pacific Coast. This turtle ranges from the western coast of Baja California, Mexico and the U.S. to British Columbia, Canada; but is an Endangered Species in Washington and not found locally, and a Species of Concern in all states.

The adult pond turtle is medium-sized and ranges from 6-8 inches in length and weighs 1-2.4 pounds. Its color ranges from brown or greenish–brown on the upper shell (carapace) with dark flecks, streaks or marbling on the shell. The lower shell (plastron) is black and yellow. The head and legs are dark with black flecks or yellow markings.

These turtles live in ponds, lakes, wetlands and streams. Although pond turtles spend much of their lives in water, they require terrestrial habitats for nesting. In Washington, the species overwinters in mud bottoms of lakes and ponds or in upland habitats adjacent to water bodies. Pond turtles are generally shy and hide in aquatic vegetation, but they can be seen basking on floating logs and rocks and occasionally on pond and river banks.

The pond turtle is long-lived. It can live up to 50-plus years but reproduces slowly. Females take an average of 10 years before they are sexually mature and lay about ten eggs a year. Nesting occurs from May to mid-July in soils with limited vegetative cover adjacent to water.

The initial decline of the pond turtle in Washington was due to commercial exploitation for food. Other major reasons for local declines and extinctions have been the draining and filling of wetlands for development and the loss of upland, stream and pond habitat. Predation of small juvenile turtles by introduced non-native (exotic) predators, such as bullfrogs and bass, and the capture of turtles for “pets” have also led to the decline and local extinctions of the Pacific pond turtle.

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What is being done to save the Pacific pond turtle?

  • Control and elimination of introduced predator species
  • Control of introduced, non–native turtles, such as the red-eared slider turtle, which carries disease
  • Education to teach people to leave turtles in their habitat
  • Land conservation to preserve essential turtle habitat
  • Captive breeding programs to raise native turtles for reintroduction to the wild such as the 20 year old Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project sponsored by the Woodland Park Zoo.


Did you know?

Historically, the western pond turtle occurred widely in the southern Puget Sound lowlands, but it is now locally extinct. In Washington, the Pacific pond turtle currently occurs in only a few small populations in the Columbia River Gorge and a small pond complex in Pierce County, where turtles have been reintroduced from captive brood stock. They have also recently been spotted near Edmonds.