Stinkpot

Sternotherus odoratus

SUBFAMILY

Kinosterninae

TAXONOMY

Testudo odorata Latrielle, 1801, Charleston, South Carolina. OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Common musk turtle; French: Sternothere odorant; German: Gewöhnliche Moschusschildkröte.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

This is a small kinosternid turtle (maximum shell length 5.4 in [13.7 cm]) with two light stripes on each side of the head (sometimes observed in old individuals) and with barbels on the chin and the throat. The plastron is reduced, has 11 epidermal scutes, a single weakly movable anterior hinge, and a pectoral scute with a quadrangular shape.

DISTRIBUTION

Ranges in North America from New England and southern Ontario to Wisconsin and south through Texas and Florida.

HABITAT

This turtle inhabits nearly any permanent body of fresh water, but prefers ponds or lakes with muddy bottoms and extensive submergent vegetation.

BEHAVIOR

It is most commonly observed foraging along the bottom, but is sometimes seen basking as high as 7 ft (2 m) above the water on the boles of trees in wooded (and hence shaded) aquatic habitats. It rarely leaves the water except to bask or nest. It hibernates at high latitudes, but is active year-round in the south.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

These turtles prefer animal food (e.g., earthworms, snails, clams, crayfish, crabs, insects, tadpoles, fish, and fish eggs) and even scavenge on dead animals. However, they also often feed on algae and aquatic plants (particularly seeds). They have perhaps the most generalized diet of all kinosternids.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Courtship and mating apparently can occur any time the turtles are active, with peaks in the spring and autumn. Nesting occurs in the spring, earlier and longer in the south (February to July) than in the north (May to July). Some females simply drop their eggs in leaf litter, whereas others dig well-formed nests up to 4 in (10 cm) deep. The eggs are very small and elliptical (0.9-1.2 X 0.5-0.7 in [22-31 X 13-17 mm]) with white, porcelain-like eggshells. The clutch size ranges from one to nine (typically two to five) and tends to increase with the female's body size. As many as four clutches may be laid each year in the south, but one or two is the norm farther north. Hatchlings emerge in the summer or autumn after about 65 to 85 days of incubation and move directly to the water.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened. This species is so widespread and reaches such high densities that human impact has mostly been via habitat loss (e.g., draining swamps or ponds).

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Exploited by humans only minimally for the pet trade. ♦

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