University of Massachusetts Amherst

Massachusetts North American Amphibian Program

Eastern Musk Turtle

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Herp Atlas 1992-1998 Survey

  • The map below shows the distribution of the Musk Turtle in Massachusetts based on the original intensive volunteer survey that took place from 1992-1998.
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Updated Distribution Map

Stenotherus odoratus (3-5”)

Musk Turtle
Musk Turtle
Musk Turtle
Musk Turtle

One of the smallest turtle in Massachusetts the musk turtle, sometimes referred to as the stinkpot, reaches lengths of 3-5 inches as an adult. Adult musk turtles have a smooth, domed carapace (upper shell) that is typically gray, brown or black. The carapaces of younger turtles may be patterned but those of adult musk turtles are typically unmarked and often covered with algae. The plastron (lower shell) is relatively small and provides little protection for the turtle. The skin of the head, neck and legs is black or dark gray with two white or yellow lines running from the snout over and under the eye and down the head and neck. Male musk turtles have thicker and longer tails than females. Males also have tails that end in a hardened point as well as a plastron that is deeply notched at the rear. Hatchlings are very small (about the size of a quarter) with a rough textured carapace.

Musk turtles are primarily aquatic, inhabiting ponds, lakes and slow-moving rivers and rarely venturing out on land. They are largely nocturnal and are typically found in the shallow margins of water bodies in areas with soft or rocky bottoms with vegetation. Musk turtles hibernate through the colder months of the year and are active from April into October. They rarely leave the water preferring to bask in the shallow water with only the carapace exposed above the water surface.

The diet of musk turtles includes both plant and animal matter. Invertebrates, algae and carrion are typical prey for smaller turtles while larger individuals partake of a more diverse diet of plants, algae, small fish, fish eggs, tadpoles, invertebrates and carrion. They feed on the bottom of water bodies by probing the substrate with their heads looking for prey.

Courtship and mating can happen at any time in the active season but typically occurs in the spring or fall. Nesting usually takes place in June with nests located close to water under stumps and other woody debris, or in the walls of muskrat burrows. Females typically lay 2-8 eggs and may share nest sites with other females. Nest sites may be in sunny or shaded areas. The temperature at which the eggs are incubated determines the sex of the hatchlings; high temperatures yield predominantly females with lower temperatures producing a mixture of male and female turtles. The eggs hatch in late summer or fall.

 

 

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