Stinkpot / Common Musk Turtle

Sternotherus odoratus

Description

The stinkpot is a small (to 13.7 cm) turtle with two prominent yellow or white stripes on each the side of the head that begin on the snout and extend backward passing above and below the eye. The name derives from its habit of releasing odiferous substances from glands located near the bridge of the shell.

The carapace is gray brown to black with some juveniles exhibiting a pattern of darker spots or streaks. Youngsters have a slight vertebral keel, but this is lost with age.

The light brown to yellow plastron is small with a barely visible hinge in front of the abdominal scute. In adults, some plastral scutes may be separated by soft fleshy tissue, especially in males. The pectoral scutes are square and define a centerline.

Skin is gray to black. Barbels are present on both the chin and the throat. Males have longer, thicker tails that end in a blunt terminal nail. There are two small patches of tilted scales on the inner surface of each hind leg on the male.

Habitat

Ranges from New England, Quebec, and southern Ontario south to Florida and west to Wisconsin and central Texas. Occurs in almost any waterway with a slow current and soft bottom, including rivers, swamps, ponds, canals, bayous, and oxbows. Will usually move out of brackish water, prefers shallower water than many aquatic species.

Behavior

Mainly nocturnal, remaining buried in the mud or resting on the bottom during the day. Seldom found out of water, basking is usually restricted to resting in shallow water with the top of the carapace exposed, although they will occasionally climb up on fallen tree limbs.

Stinkpots will release a foul smelling substance when disturbed. They are not shy about biting.

They are sometimes observed walking on the bottom of their pond.

Reproduction

Eggs may be laid as early as February in the south, and are produced through July. Nesting is usually near the water, with some stinkpots simply laying the eggs on open ground. Most nests are shallow, often in leaf litter or rotting wood. Females will share nesting sites. The eggs are elliptical (22-31 X 13-17 mm) with a thick, white, brittle shell. Two to five eggs are laid with two to four clutches being produced per year. Incubation ranges from 65 to 86 days with hatchlings emerging from August to November. Hatchlings (18.5 - 22.8 mm) are keeled with spots on the marginals. Sex is determined by incubation temperature, with perhaps 80% males at temperatures below 25 C and nearly all females with temperatures above 28 C.

Food

Omnivorous. Small aquatic insects, algae, carrion, earthworms, slugs, leeches, clams, snails, crabs, crawfish, fish eggs, minnows, tadpoles, and some plants. Usually eats underwater.

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