Description: Common musk turtles are small turtles
(2 - 5 in; 5-12 cm) with dark brown or black shells that
may be streaked or mottled and commonly accumulates green algae.
There are two distinct stripes on the head and barbels on both
the chin and throat. This species can be differentiated from
the similar mud turtles (Kinosternon sp.) by their relatively
small plastron (bottom of shell), which has one weak hinge
and exposed areas of skin between plastron scutes. Loggerhead
Musk Turtles (Kinosternon minor) have much larger heads,
with no slight stripes. Males have thicker tails than females.
Additionally, males' tails always ends in a spine and the anal
vent extends beyond the edge of the carapace.
Range and Habitat: Common musk turtles occur throughout
the eastern U.S. in a variety of aquatic habitats. They are most
common in shallow water-bodies with low currents, abundant aquatic
vegetation, and soft organic bottoms.
Habits: Musk Turtles are primarily nocturnal and they
are often seen foraging in shallow water in the evening. They
are omnivorous (e.g., seeds, insects, snails, tadpoles, algae)
and will occasionally scavenge on fish carrion. This species rarely
emerges to bask and is most successfully captured with nocturnal
trapping techniques. Musk turtles climb surprisingly well and
occasionally rest fairly high in trees. Breeding occurs in the
spring and fall. Mating often occurs in the water and males bite
the female to see if she is receptive before mounting. Females
often lay two clutches a season of 1-9 eggs under debris in loamy
soils. Clutch size varies with carapace length and age, but environmental
factors could be the primary influence. There is geographical
variation with time of reproduction and clutch size. Nesting aggregations
are occasionally observed. Male-biased sex ratios are observed
consistently across populations. This species over-winters in
the debris and mud under water. The name "stinkpot"
is appropriately assigned due to phenolalkalinic acid excreted
from glands that creates a pungent musky odor. Females reach sexual
maturity at 8-9.5 cm (~ 4 yrs) and males at 6-7 cm (~ 2 yrs).
Conservation Status: The common musk turtle does not have
state, federal, or heritage ranking, but is considered threatened
in Ontario. Water pollution, raccoon predations, and incidental
mortality from fishing lines and traps are all threats to this
species. Although they move less than <1 km in short bursts,
in highly fragmented areas, high rates of road mortality can occur.
They are also sensitive to land conversion and activity shifts
after drainage of an inhabited pond has been observed. As with
other turtles, this species is long-lived and can not endure chronic
rates of mortality.
Ernst, C. H. 1986. Ecology of the turtle, Sternotherus odoratus,
in southeastern Pennsylvania. Journal of Herpetology 20(3): 341-352.
Account Author: Kimberly Andrews, University of Georgia
- edited by J.D. Willson
Musk turtle plastron