Lifestyle and Lifespan
Small (usually 4 inches, maximum 5 inches) black turtle with yellow spots on a broad, smooth, keelless carapace. These spots may fade in old adults and occasional specimens lack carapace spots altogether. The plastron (or undershell) is yellow or slightly orange with large black blotches covering a portion of each scute. The head is moderate in size with a non-projecting snout and a notched upper jaw. Head is black and other skin is gray or black with the occasional yellow spot or band.
Sexually dimorphic. Females are slightly larger than males, on average. Male have tan chins, brown eyes, a slightly concave plastron and long thick tails. Females have yellow chins, orange eyes and a flat or convex plastron.
To aid in camouflage, they exhibit an overall backdrop of brown with spots, speckles or swirls of varying color. A very spiky tail used to swipe at predators, paired with on open mouth hissing, are there first line of defense. As a result of high concentrations of salt bearing plants, this species has glands in its nostrils used for eliminating extra salt without eliminating water. Can you tell in the picture below which is the Common Chuckwalla and which is the Mali Spiny Lizard (hint: look at the tails)?
Vegetated shallow waters, like sedge meadows, sphagnum seepages, and slow, muddy streams. These turtles also frequently wander on land between wetlands, and may aestivate on land for weeks at a time.
Populations extend along the eastern seaboard from southern Maine through New England, and south through portions of Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia and northern Florida.
Omnivore. When they come out of hibernation, these turtles will eat just about anything, such as crickets, other insects, worms, snails, aquatic plants, crayfish, and sometimes algae.
Diurnal. Only active during daylight hours and spend the night under water on the pond bottom.
Spotted turtle mating begins in March and continues into May. During this time, males are in an active, almost frantic pursuit of females; several males may be seen simultaneously chasing one female. Courtship involves the male chasing the female under water while nipping and biting her legs and carapace, he then mounts her shell and bites at her head and neck. Copulation occurs in shallow water and may last up to an hour.
Nesting occurs from late May to July. Two elliptical white eggs with flexible shells are laid in a flask shaped nest in well-drained soil. They can also be deposited on grass tussocks, hummocks, and sphagnum moss of the wetland. Only one or two clutches are laid each year. Sex of the offspring is dependent on incubation temperatures, with mostly females at higher temperatures. Hatchlings generally emerge from the nest in autumn, but may occasionally overwinter in the nest. During a warm summer, these turtles aestivate in the mud bottom of waterways or in muskrat burrows. During the cold winter they hibernate in similar sites.
Listed as Endangered by IUCN. This turtle is protected by state and local laws throughout its range. Unfortunately protection is not yet consistent or universal over the turtle's range. The regulations that are in place aren't strictly enforced and entire populations are often collected for the pet trade. The specialized wetland habitat used by Spotted Turtles has been widely drained and converted by humans into agricultural and residential land, or modified into more open aquatic habitat not favored by Spotted Turtles. Many of the remaining Spotted Turtle populations are now very small and isolated, with little or no opportunities for genetic exchange with other sites. As these turtle "colonies" become increasingly isolated, they also become more vulnerable to human exploitation and to predation by other animals such as raccoons. Spotted Turtles also have certain traits that make them more vulnerable to human exploitation and habitat degradation such as high egg and hatchling mortality. They have a low reproductive potential under natural conditions, delayed sexual maturity (8-10 years), and a relatively long potential adult breeding life.
You can help the Spotted Turtle by conserving wetland habitats! Learn about the exotic pet trade and help keep species like the Spotted Turtle in the wild. Never release a captive turtle into the wild. It would probably not survive and may not be native!
The spots on the carapace are transparent areas in the scutes overlying patches of yellow pigment; they may fade with age and some old individuals are spotless.
Growth rings, called annuli, are usually visible on the underside. Counting these annuli is an unreliable method of determining the age of a mature specimen, though such a count may allow an estimate of a specimen's minimum age.
This turtle is sometimes referred to as the 'polka dot' turtle.
This species will only feed underwater.
Harding, J. 2013. "Clemmys guttata" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed February 07, 2017 at http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Clemmys_guttata/
Ernst, Carl and Barbour, Roger. 1989. Turtles of the World, Smithsonian Press.
Hutchins, Michael. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia. Vol. 7 Reptiles. 2003. The Gale Group, Farmington Hills, MI.