kemps ridley turtle
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There are lots of turtle species around the world, but only a handful of them are tiny. There are lots of small turtles out there, but what’s the smallest?

Small Turtles

The Smallest Turtle in the World –Speckled Padloper Tortoise

The smallest turtle in the world is the Speckled Padloper Tortoise. These tiny creatures measure a full 3 inches (6-8 cm) for adult males and 4 inches (8-10 cm) for adult females.  And weigh in at a beefy 100-165 grams!

The ‘padloper’ in the animals’ name means ‘trail walker.’  This refers to the skinny trails and paths along South Africa where these small turtles are commonly found.

Although the speckled cape tortoise is exceptionally tiny and as such, probably seems to be easy prey for a multitude of hungry predators, it survives by squeezing in and hiding between crevices in the rocky terrain in parts of South Africa.

This diminutive tortoise also has a rather interesting mating ritual.  The males and females will swing their heads back and forth prior to mating, like a dance.

Mating, as well as a large portion of this tortoise’s activities, generally happens in the spring. In South Africa, this runs from August to October, when the rainfall becomes abundant and the plants and flowers that the speckled padloper tortoise relies on for food, come out again.

Despite the fact that this tortoise is listed as ‘near threatened’ and is the world’s smallest tortoise, not much is known about its distribution and population.

For the time being, its biggest threat continues to be poachers. They capture the tiny tortoises and re-sell them for profit abroad.

The speckled padloper isn’t the only exceptionally small turtle, as there is also the karoo padloper. This turtle is only slightly larger (by a few centimeters) than a speckled padloper tortoise.

The Smallest Turtle Species – North American Bog Turtle

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While the Speckled Padloper is technically a tortoise, you are probably wondering what is the smallest turtle species. Meet the North American bog turtle or glyptemys muhlenbergii.

Coming in at a blistering size of 4.5 inches long (11 cm), this tiny guy not only holds the crown of smallest turtle in the United States, but it is also the smallest turtle on the entire North American continent!

These small turtles can be found in marshes that stretch across much of the eastern band of the United States. They are easily recognizable by the small orange or yellow spot on either side of their black-colored heads.

Although the bog turtle has been listed as a protected species in the United States since 1995, researchers and environmentalists have been perplexed as its numbers have dwindled in recent years.

One likely culprit has been the introduction of several invasive species of plants, such as purple loosestrife.  This plant grows very thick and can hinder the movement and even the food supply of this tiny turtle.

As its name implies, this type of semi-aquatic turtles loves marshy, low-lying and still watered forests and areas.

However, the expansion of urban development in the eastern United States heavily eroded much of its natural habitat.  This expansion has pushed the bog turtle into drier meadows where it is out of its native environment, and at higher risk of being eaten, maimed or killed.

These small turtles can be found in marshes that stretch across much of the eastern band of the United States.

The Musk Stinkpot Turtle

The musk turtle, otherwise known as the “stinkpot” turtle, is native to the American state of Missouri and is also one of the world’s smallest turtle species, coming in at 2 to 4 inches (6 to 10cm) in length.

One of the easier ways to recognize these turtles is by their dark grey to black shell and skin. They also have two prominent narrow yellow stripes racing down each side of its head and neck.

But what really makes the stinkpot earn its name is its special scent glands, which is a defensive mechanism it possesses whereby the turtle can release an extraordinarily foul smell to would-be predators and threats.

Although it can be rather smelly, the musk stinkpot turtle is one of the more common species of pet turtle. They also have fairly long lives, living up to 30 years.

If you plan on getting a musk turtle as a pet, you should check out my article on the best tanks for small turtles.

The Smallest Sea Turtle In The World – The Kemp’s Ridley

The lepidochelys kempii, or Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, is the smallest sea turtle in the world today.

These small sea turtles can grow up to 2 feet (65 cm) in length and up to 100 lbs (45kg). The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle makes its home in the Atlantic Ocean between North America and Europe to Africa, as well as the Gulf of Mexico.

Kemp’s Ridley’s tend to have a lifespan of about 50 years.

For food, they love to dive down into the water to munch of crabs and other crustaceans. They will also sometimes chow down on jellyfish.

During their nesting season, known as an arribada, female ridleys will plop down onto beaches, find a good spot and lay their eggs en masse.

Like many other sea turtles, the Kemp’s ridley will travel hundreds and hundreds of miles for food, and when it comes time to lay their eggs, they will oftentimes come back to the exact same beach from which they themselves hatched from.

Unfortunately, the Kemp’s ridley is the most endangered sea turtle in the world today. Only an estimated 1,000 females now remain.

Although conversation groups and organizations have been trying desperately to increase their numbers, little progress has been made. The main culprit seems to be the over-harvesting of Kemp’s ridley eggs during the 20th and 21st centuries.


National Geographic

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