After 40 years, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles still stand tall as iconic heroes of our generation and our kids. And while you may write of the original concept as nothing more than a comic or children’s cartoon, some deeper thought went into their creation.

It’s amazing when you dig into your favorite franchise and find just how much lore and backstory there is. And even if you think you know what species the Ninja Turtles are, did you know it has changed several times over the years? Let’s look at

What Kind Of Turtles Are The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? 

In the original comic book and ‘80s cartoon, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are all red-eared slider turtles. To make the species even more apparent, they wear red bandanas on their heads that represent the red markings the real turtles have around their eyes.

For those that don’t know, the red-eared slider is a common type of pond turtle native to the U.S. and can be found in the wild in the Midwestern part of the country and the Northern part of Mexico.

However, since the original release of the TMNT comics and the animated TV series in the 80s, there have been a lot more variations of the story where the 4 brothers are different species of turtles altogether. 

What Species Are The Turtles In The 2012 TMNT Series?

The turtles in the 2012 “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” series are Eastern Common Box turtles.

As years passed by, many different TV Shows and movies were released, one of which being the 2012 version that ran for 5 seasons. In this interpretation of the story, there is an episode where they are fighting and Donatello says: “Actually, we’re freshwater turtles. I suspect we’re derived from the diamondback terrapin, but it’s possible we’re common box-“. 

So, if we do a little research and see what the diamondback terrapin looks like we will see a pale-skinned turtle with black spots all over its shell. Physical characteristics that aren’t the same as those seen in the show.

Now, let’s get back to Donatello’s quote. Notice how his sentence was cut short because of the fighting? If we take our best guess, he most likely wanted to say that they are common box turtles.

This makes sense if you ask me since these species look very much like the fictional turtles in the cartoon. They even have small orange spots, the same as Mickey’s freckles in the 2012 TMNT series.

What Species Are The Turtles In “Rise Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”? 

In the 2018 series “Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” Raphael is a snapping turtle, Michelangelo is a box turtle, Donatello is a softshell turtle, and Leonardo is a red-eared slider. 

“Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is a TV Show by Nickelodeon Animations that was released in 2018 and ran for 2 seasons before getting canceled. In these series, the creators took a never-before-seen creative decision and made four different turtles. This is the first time for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to be of separate species rather than being related brothers.

Why Were The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Species Changed?

There are two possible answers to this question. The first one is that the change is simply a creative decision from the directors or it may be because of the pet turtle craze that was caused because of the popularity of the series.

As I said, the turtles in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were red-eared sliders and were later changed to other species. Many people suspect that the reason for this originated back in the late 1980s and early 1990s when you could buy a pet turtle very cheaply. 

The Ninja Turtles started getting popular worldwide, and apart from their toy turtles, many kids wanted a real turtle. There were already red-eared sliders pets as 3.5 million turtles were exported yearly. However, after Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was released, that number rose to 9 million exported turtles per year.

This trend continued throughout the world until it led to a lot of turtles being abandoned in nature. Apart from this being bad for the turtles, as not every type of habitat is suitable for these species, they were also becoming dangerous for the environment.

Other Animal Mutants In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Apart from the turtles, the franchise is full of different species of mutated animals with cool powers. Some of those animals are:

  • Sensei Splinter: 
  • A mutated rat and a great martial artist. 
  • King Komodo: Komodo dragon with mind-controlling powers.
  • Tokka: Alligator snapping turtle that was mutated by the Shredder. 
  • Bebop: A cool and stylish mutated warthog.
  • Rocksteady: He is Bebop’s companion and an ex-Russian arms dealer who mutated into a rhinoceros.
  • Fishface: A human who has been mutated into a fish by Shredder and later “upgraded” with cybernetic equipment.
  • Bludgeon: Mutated hammer-shark. One of the scariest enemies of the turtles.

Final Thoughts On Teenage Mutant Red-Eared Slider Turtles

The original creators of the TMNT took inspiration from a native turtle species and turned the Turtles into one of the most recognizable names in the world

As always happens in the pop culture world, as some character gets popular, many fans want to buy merchandise and figures from it, which is one of the creators’ goals.

With the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, things took a little turn and the toys and figures were not as interesting to the fans as buying a real turtle. They were probably hoping to teach it the ninja ways, I don’t know.

Anyway, this led to regrettable decisions that were ultimately bad for nature and its inhabitants (along with the turtles). Many future projects changed the species of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in an attempt to avoid something similar from happening.

In any case, a fresh change of design is a welcome twist to the original story, and whether people decide to buy a turtle is up to them. I just hope that anyone who buys one is a responsible person who knows that it’s not a toy.