Michigan State University masthead

spotted turtle

spotted turtle
Clemmys guttata

Image of spotted turtle (hatchling)Description

The little spotted turtle has a smooth, black carapace with a variable number of rounded yellow spots. The plastron is yellow or orange with a black blotch in each scute; the blotches may cover most of the plastron in some specimens. The head, neck, and legs are black above, usually with a few scattered yellow spots, and there are usually one or more irregular orange or yellow bands on the side of the head. The skin under the legs and neck is orange or pinkish. Occasional specimens have no spots on the carapace; others may have only one spot per scute. Males usually have brown eyes and brown or black lower jaws, while most females have orange eyes and yellow or orange lower jaws.

Adult Carapace Length:

3.5 to 5 inches (9 to 12.7 cm).

Habitat and Habits

This species inhabits small ponds, bogs, sphagnum seepages, and grassy marshes. The primary requirements are clean, shallow water with a mud bottom and ample aquatic and emergent vegetation. Spotted turtles become active quite early in spring and often bask on logs or grass clumps. If disturbed, they dive into the water and bury themselves in bottom mud. Overland movement is common. These turtles are not often seen in summer -- they are less active in hot weather, and the growth of surrounding vegetation helps to conceal them. Shy and retiring, spotted turtles rarely bite in self-defense. They eat a variety of small animals and plants, including insects, snails, worms, slugs, crayfish, tadpoles, duckweed, algae, and fruit. Most food is taken and eaten underwater.

Image of spotted turtleReproduction

Mating usually occurs in April and May in shallow water. Males pursue the females, nipping at their legs and shell margins; they may also fight with other males courting the same female. In June females move to elevated, open places to nest. From 2 to 7 elliptical, soft-shelled eggs are buried in the nest cavity. Incubation can take from 45 to 83 days, depending on nest temperature and humidity. Baby spotted turtles usually have black carapaces with one yellow spot per scute. An occasional hatchling will have a brownish carapace without spots, but nearly all have some spots on the head.

Range and Status

Spotted turtles have been recorded from most of the Lower Peninsula, except for the northeastern counties and the northern tip of the "Thumb", but are most common in the southwestern corner of the LP. Destruction of their specialized wetland habitat and exploitation by pet collectors have led to a serious decline in their numbers over much of the state, and the species is generally rare and confined to localized colonies. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has listed the spotted turtle as a "species of special concern". This turtle is protected by state regulations and may not be taken from the wild or possessed without a scientific collector's permit issued by the DNR.

Image of spotted turtleAcknowledgement

James Harding
MSU Museum
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824
(517) 353-7978