Stay in the know about wildlife, water quality, and ecosystems on Sanibel and Captiva Islands and in Southwest Florida

SCCF Tracking Rare Florida Mud Turtle

September 30, 2020

The Florida mud turtle (Kinosternon steindachneri) is the rarest turtle found on Sanibel, and is considered the holy grail species at SCCF due to its elusive nature and the limited number of encounters. 

“During a recent finding, we deployed a radio transmitter on one so we can learn more about their movements and hopefully find others,” said Wildlife & Habitat Management Director Chris Lechowicz. “There have been no studies on this species south of Polk County, so SCCF is happy to add to the knowledge of this turtle, especially on a rare island population.”

The video below shows the release of the turtle after the tracking device was placed on it. This seldom seen turtle appears to be ephemeral in nature by only being found during periods of high-water levels from rainfall. They have been reported, in other parts of their range, to spend the dry times of the year in dormancy. 


Sanibel has many hidden wildlife treasures that often go under the radar. From the endemic Sanibel Island rice rat (Oryzomys palustris sanibeli) to the eastern glass lizard (Ophisaurus ventralis), most people would never know such unique or rare animals occur on the island. 

Sanibel is also very special in that it has the representation of every one of the nation’s seven turtle families. 

“This is highly unusual for a barrier island,” said Lechowicz. “Of our high diversity of island turtles, two of the terrestrial or freshwater turtles are considered very rare.”

These are the Florida chicken turtle (Deirochelys reticularia chrysea) and the Florida mud turtle. Sanibel has two mud turtle species, the Florida mud and striped mud (Kinosternon baurii). The latter is considered common on Sanibel, with the Florida mud turtle being rare or uncommon.

Although this turtle has been documented in the 1960s and 1970s on Sanibel, no verifiable occurrences of this species transpired until 2012, when two hatchlings were found within a month of each other. Since then, one adult female was documented in 2014 and two more adults in 2020. 

Florida mud turtles are an oval-shaped brown 4- to 5-inch turtle with a hinged plastron. They have a very thin bridge — the part that connects the top of the shell, carapace, to the bottom of the shell plastron — as compared to the common striped mud turtle. 

Striped mud turtles are easily distinguished by their three broad stripes running down the top of their shells. However, some striped mud turtles have very faint or absent striping on the carapace, which often leads to incorrect identifications. 

If you see a Florida mud turtle on Sanibel please contact the SCCF Wildlife & Habitat Management Office at (239) 472-3984 or email



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