Description: Loggerhead musk turtles have an adult carapace
length of 7.5-11.5 cm (2.9-4.5 in). While juveniles have a well-defined
central keel on their carapace as well as two additional keels
along the side, these are mostly lost in adulthood. The plastron
is small and doesn't completely protect the turtle. It contains
one inconspicuous anterior hinge and a single gular scute. The
carapace is tan to dark brown with black streaking or spotting
and has overlapping vertebral scutes. They have light brown heads
with dark spots as well as a pair of barbells on their chins.
Males can be differentiated from females by their larger head
and longer tail that has a curved claw-like tip used in mating.
The two subspecies of loggerhead musk turtles, the nominate loggerhead
musk turtle (S. m. minor) and the stripe-necked musk turtle
(S. m. peltifer), have a widespread range of overlap and
intergradation. Sternotherus m. minor has a large brown
or gray head with many small black spots and a pale pink, yellow,
or white plastron. Sternotherus m. peltifer has yellowish,
broken stripes on the head and neck and an orangish plastron.
The nominate subspecies is more likely to retain remnants of all
three carapace keels into adulthood.
Distribution and Habitat: The range of S. m. minor
extends from north-central Georgia to southeast Alabama and north-central
Florida while the range of S. m.peltifer stretches from
southwest Virginia and eastern Tennessee to the Gulf and the Pearl
River in Mississippi. Loggerhead musk turtles tend to reside in
clear limestone springs in Florida as well as in rivers and stream
tributaries of the Gulf Coastal Plain and Piedmont regions of
Georgia. Stripe-necked musk turtles, on the other hand, inhabit
fast flowing rivers and streams with rock and cobble bottoms in
the Cumberland Plateau region. They sometimes ascend clear, shallow
creeks at the edges of mountains, often reaching 1000 feet of
Reproduction and Development: Mating occurs underwater
in the spring and fall. Females lay 1-4 clutches of two or three
elliptical eggs a year. Egg laying lasts from spring to summer
and is characterized by a nest dug in organic debris along a stream
bank or in a nearby sandy area. After 60-120 days of incubation,
the young emerge. Males reach sexual maturity at an average of
4 years while females may be 8 years old.
Habits: Highly aquatic, loggerhead musk turtles spend
a large portion of their time searching for prey or mates along
river bottoms. They have been seen crawling in Florida springs
at depths of 20 feet or more. Though they do not bask frequently,
musk turtles have been observed climbing snags or cypress knees
to bask a significant distance above the water. Loggerhead musk
turtles will not typically move overland except to nest. Not much
information is known about the habits of stripe-necked musk turtles,
though their behavior is probably similar. Both subspecies are
largely carnivorous, but they may eat some plant material as well.
Their diet includes aquatic insects, crayfish, mollusks, and the
preferred small snails. They may opportunistically consume algae
from rocks or carrion. Raccoons, skunks, opossums, crows, and
common kingsnakes predate nests, while the primary predators of
adults include alligators, alligator snapping turtles, snapping
turtles, cottonmouths, and large fish. Musk turtles are not without
defense, however, as they release a foul-smelling musk when threatened
and are equipped with powerful jaws for biting.
Conservation: While this species appears to remain abundant
across much of its range, loggerhead musk turtles are vulnerable
to pollution and siltation of their habitat, which affects prey
abundance. Populations of stripe-necked musk turtle in Virginia
and Alabama have seen a decline since the 1980s according to anecdotal
observations. Loggerhead musk turtles intended for the pet trade
were removed from Florida springs in the 1980s as well, heavily
damaging the population.
Buhlmann, Kurt, Tracey Tuberville, and Whit Gibbons. Turtles of
the Southeast. Athens: University of Georgia, 2008.
Conant, Roger, and Joseph T. Collins. A Field Guide to Reptiles
& Amphibians: Eastern and Central North America. 3rd ed. Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 1998.
Jensen, John B., Carlos D. Camp, Whit Gibbons, and Matt J. Elliott.
Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia. Athens: University of Georgia,
Account Author: Lindsay Partymiller