How to Tell If Turtle is Boy or Girl (Step By Step Guide)?

Whenever you get a pet, one of the first things you want to know is whether it’s a boy or a girl. Not only so that you can choose a fitting name, or decorate its living space accordingly, but so that you are able to give it appropriate care, and know its basics! 

The problem is that turtles don’t have any external genitalia, so you can’t just turn them over and check whether they’re male or female. This makes identifying the sex of the turtle a lot harder, which is why most people will just ask the vet or the people at the pet store. 

If you do want to try and figure it out yourself, however, there are a few subtle differences that you can try and spot, in order to make your more educated guess.

There are a few different methods for telling whether a turtle is male or female, and although you will always struggle to be 100% certain, it’s a step in the right direction. 

Different Ways of Telling Whether a Turtle is Male or Female

As mentioned, there are a few different ways of telling whether your turtle is a boy or a girl, some easier than others. You might not ever get a 100% answer as to the sex of your turtle, but it’s worth going through these different methods to draw your best conclusion. 

Here are the most common methods you can use: 

Examining the Shell:

As a general rule, there will be subtle differences between the carapace of a male turtle, and that of a female turtle. Size is usually the biggest one, as well as shape and even color. 

However, it is important to note that this will only properly work once the turtle is fully grown. Before that, the shell is still changing and developing, and therefore the differences might not yet be properly visible. 

Here are the things to look out for:

  • The size of the shell:

In order to use the size of the shell as an identifying factor for the sex of your turtle, you need to know the species of turtle, as the differences vary.

In most turtle species, females will grow to be larger, and therefore they will have a bigger length to the shell compared to males. However, in some turtle species (fewer types of turtles) it will be the male that grows larger, and in some species, they grow to be a very similar size regardless of sex. 

  • The plastron:

The plastron is what we call the underside of the turtle’s shell, and it is the part that covers the belly. To check this, you will have to turn your turtle upside down, so handle this step with care and make sure your turtle is comfortable at all times. 

As a general rule, male turtles will have a slightly concave plastron that curves inwards. This is so that they can fit over the female turtle during mating, without just rolling off or being unable to reach. 

Female turtles, on the other hand, will have a flatter plastron which allows for them to have more internal room, where they grow the eggs. 

  • The tail notch: 

You can also check whether the shell of your turtle features a tail notch on the back-end side. Male turtles will usually have a small notch, shaped like a V. This is in order to accommodate their tail while they mate, as it would otherwise be crushed against the underside of the shell. 

Female turtles, however, will not have this tail notch. 

Checking for Different Physical Details:

Apart from the shell, which is the most obvious place to look for a difference between males and females, there are also a few other physical details that you can check for. These will usually be a lot more subtle, but it’s worth trying to find them. 

  • The front claws:

This isn’t always a clear difference, but as a general rule, male turtles will have longer front claws. This is due to the fact that male turtles will use their claws to fight and defend their territory, especially during the mating season.

Meanwhile, female turtles have no need for longer claws, and theirs will therefore be shorter. 

In some turtle species, such as the Red Eared Slider, this difference is pretty notable and can be a reliable indicator of sex. 

  • The cloaca:

All turtles have an opening hole or vent which is located on the underside of the tail, and this is called the cloaca. And yes, it is essentially just their butt. But depending on whether the turtle is male or female, the cloaca will be slightly different. 

With male turtles, the cloaca is longer and shaped more like a slit. Plus, it is located in the last third of the tail, close to the tip. 

With female turtles, on the other hand, the cloaca is rounder and the shape looks more like a star. Plus, it is located a lot closer to the body, so much so that it often gets hidden underneath the shell. 

  • The tail:

In male turtles, the genitalia is located within the tail. This causes the tail to be longer and thicker, in order to accommodate it. In female turtles, however, the tail is a lot shorter and thinner. 

Nevertheless, in a lot of turtle species, the tail sizes can be very similar, so this isn’t a very reliable indicator of the turtle’s sex.

In Conclusion

The gender of a turtle can be very hard to determine, as there is no external genitalia, and the differences between male and female turtles are often very few, and very subtle. However, there are a few tell-tale signs that you can look out for, in order to guess the sex of your turtle. 

Mainly you will have to check the shell, for its size and shape, as well as looking out for details such as the claws, the tail, and the cloaca.