The common musk turtle, also locally known as “stinkpot,” is the only musk turtle in the Northeast. It is 2 to 4 inches in size, dark brown to black in color, and has two light stripes on the head as well as fleshy barbells on the chin and throat. The plastron is small with one hinge. Males have a thick tail with wider areas of skin showing between scutes of the plastron than the thin-tailed females.
Nests usually in early summer and lays an average of 5 eggs. Hatching occurs in early fall.
Found in a variety of freshwater habitats such as lakes, ponds and rivers. Prefers still water. In Connecticut, usually restricted to riparian systems, and thrive in impoundments on rivers and streams.
Musk turtles are mostly carnivorous, feeding on a wide variety of invertebrates such as aquatic insects, bivalves and crayfish, and small vertebrates such as fish.
New England and southern Ontario to southern Florida and west to Wisconsin and Texas. In Connecticut, it is commonly found in the Thames and Housatonic river drainages and locally in the Farmington and Quinnipiac drainages.
Musk turtles often go unnoticed because of their secretive nature, but are locally abundant in Connecticut.
Although they are mostly aquatic, musk turtles have been known to bask on logs as high as 6 feet above the water. Sleepy turtles have been known to fall into canoes. The name “stinkpot” referes to the strong, musky odor the turtles produce when disturbed.
Conant, R. and J.T. Collins. 1991. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians: Eastern/Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 450 pp.
Klemens, M.W. 1993. Amphibians and Reptiles of Connecticut and Adjacent Regions. Hartford, CT: State Geological and Natural History Survey of Connecticut Bulletin 112. 318 pp.
Text by James Sirch.
Photograph (top) © Twan Leenders. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Photographs (bottom) © Gregory J. Watkins-Colwell. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Animals featured in photographs on this page are from Connecticut.