Physical characteristics

These turtles are generally small (usually less than 8 in [20 cm]) with oblong, moderately domed shells. The Mexican giant musk turtle (Staurotypus triporcatus) is the largest species, reaching a shell length of 15 in (38 cm). The plastron has one (Staurotypus, Sternotherus, some Kinosternon), two (most Kinosternon), or no hinges (Claudius), and is generally reduced (with 11 or fewer epidermal scutes), although some Kinosternon have a plastron extensive enough to close the shell opening completely. The kinosternine plastron lacks the entoplastral bone found in staurotypines. All members produce a pungent musk from glands located in front of and behind the bridge area between the plastron and the carapace. The head of some species may be greatly enlarged (an advantage for mollusk feeding), and all have sensory barbels on the chin.

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