Wood Turtle

Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta)

General: Wood turtles are 5 to 8 inches long, with males slightly larger than females. The sculpted, rough-surfaced shell is gray or brown; the skin of the neck and forelegs is often reddish orange. Wood turtles are found from Atlantic Canada south to Virginia and west to Minnesota.

Wood turtle

Wood turtle./J. Mays

Wood turtles forage in woodlands, eating fruits, earthworms, insects, carrion, and fungi. They thrive in lowland areas along rivers and streams, living among plants, shrubs, and young trees that grow densely beneath gaps in the forest canopy. They also inhabit shallow wetlands and shrub swamps. In spring and summer they lay their eggs in nests dug into sun-bathed sandy banks and gravel bars. During the winter wood turtles hibernate in the sandy bottoms of slow-moving streams.

Status: Conservationists consider the wood turtle one of the most endangered freshwater turtles in North America. The loss of streamside forests to development threatens local populations, and many adults die when crossing roads between fragmented patches of suitable habitat.
How to Help Wood Turtles: Create openings in the forest canopy that let in sunlight to stimulate a low dense growth of small trees, shrubs, and other plants. To protect local populations, any timber harvesting should be done in winter when the turtles are safely hibernating in streams. Never capture wood turtles to keep as pets, because the loss of even one adult from a local population can harm it badly and may even cause it to die out.

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

Both public and private landowners can make young forest habitat. The Young Forest Guide explains how.

For more detailed information on this animal, 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.

Visiting a habitat demonstration area within this species' range is a good way to increase your chances of seeing wood turtles and other young forest wildlife.