Spotted Turtle

Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata)

spotted turtle

Spotted turtle./J.D. Mays

General: This small turtle is 3.5 to 5 inches long, with yellow-orange spots on the head, neck, and scattered across the smooth blackish shell. Spotted turtles can be found from southern Maine west to Michigan and south to northern Florida. They need both wetland and upland habitats in close proximity. Spotted turtles use marshes, bogs, shrub swamps, forested wetlands, and seasonal ponds; on land, they seek out damp fields, woodlands, and edges or ecotones, areas that typically have a thick understory of herbaceous and woody shrubs and vines. Spotted turtles feed mainly in the water, eating invertebrates and assorted plants including aquatic grasses and algae. On land, they use burrowing sites in dense vegetation. Females lay their eggs in shallow nests that they dig in warm open areas such as old fields and recent forest clearings. During winter, spotted turtles hibernate in wetland areas under dense plant clumps or in cavities.

Status: Spotted turtles are very sensitive to toxins and disappear rapidly from polluted waters. The species is declining throughout its range and is listed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in 17 eastern states.

How to Help Spotted Turtles: Protecting wetlands, plus a generous surrounding zone of undeveloped upland habitat, could be the most valuable conservation action that a land trust, community, or alliance of private landowners could undertake. Since females need warm open areas for nesting, old fields and forest patch openings could aid in reproduction. Upland areas with a well-developed understory of weeds, shrubs, and vines can be encouraged through a well-designed young forest habitat effort. To protect local populations, never remove a spotted turtle from the wild.
Both public and private landowners can make young forest habitat. The Young Forest Guide explains how.

Click on the map at left to see a larger image.

For more detailed information about the spotted turtle, including references to scientific papers, download Under Cover: Wildlife of Shrublands and Young Forest. This publication can also be purchased from the Wildlife Management Institute.

Visit a habitat demonstration area within this species' range to increase your chances of seeing spotted turtles and other wildlife that use young forest.