University of Massachusetts Amherst

Massachusetts North American Amphibian Program

Wood Turtle

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Herp Atlas 1992-1998 Survey

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

Glyptemys insculpta (5.5-8”)
MA Status: "Special Concern." Illegal to harass, kill, collect or possess.

Wood Turtle
Wood Turtle

The Wood Turtle is a medium-sized turtle, 5.5-8 inches, that can be recognized by its sculpted shell and orange coloration on the legs and neck. The carapace (upper shell) is rough and each scale (scute) rises upwards in an irregularly shaped pyramid of grooves and ridges. The carapace is tan, grayish-brown or brown, has a mid-line ridge (keel) and often has a pattern of black or yellow lines on the larger scutes. The plastron (lower shell) is yellow with oblong dark patches on the outer, posterior corner of each scute. The head is black, but may be speckled with faint yellow spots. The legs, neck, and chin can have orange to reddish coloration. Males have a concave plastron, thick tail, long front claws, and a wider and more robust head than females. Hatchlings have a dull-colored shell that is broad and low, a tail that is almost as long as their carapace and they lack orange coloration on the neck and legs.

The preferred habitat of the Wood Turtle is riparian areas. Slower moving mid-sized streams are favored, with sandy bottoms and heavily vegetated stream banks. The stream bottom and muddy banks provide hibernating sites for overwintering, and open areas with sand or gravel substrate near the streams edge are used for nesting. Wood Turtles spend most of the spring and summer in mixed or deciduous forests, fields, hay-fields, riparian wetlands including wet meadows, bogs, and beaver ponds. Then they return to the streams in late summer or early fall to their favored overwintering location.

The Wood Turtle typically spends the winter in flowing rivers and perennial streams. Full-time submersion in the water begins in November, once freezing occurs regularly overnight, and continues until temperatures begin to increase in spring. It may hibernate alone or in large groups in community burrows in muddy banks, stream bottoms, deep pools, instream woody debris, and abandoned muskrat burrows.

Wood Turtles are opportunistic omnivores; their diet consists of both plant and animal matter that is consumed on land and in the water. The Wood Turtle occasionally exhibits an unusual feeding behavior referred to as “stomping.” In its search for food, this species will stomp on the ground alternating its front feet, creating vibrations in the ground resembling rainfall. Earthworms respond, rising to the ground’s surface to keep from drowning. Instead of rain, the earthworm is met by the Wood Turtle, and is promptly devoured.

Although the peaks in mating activity occur in the spring and fall, Wood Turtles are known to mate opportunistically throughout their activity period. In Massachusetts, most nesting occurs over a four-week period, primarily in June. Clutch size in Massachusetts averages 7 eggs. Hatchling emergence occurs from August through September. The life span of the adult Wood Turtle is easily 46 years and may reach as much as 100 years.

Adapted from the MA Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program’s Wood Turtle fact sheet. 2007

 

 

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