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Eastern Musk Turtle

Eastern Musk Turtle
   Photo: James Kamstra

Features: The Eastern Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) will emit a musky, skunk-like smell if it is disturbed or handled. Growing to a maximum length of about 13 cm, it is among the smallest turtles in Ontario (Ontario has eight species). It has a dark-coloured carapace that becomes algae-covered in older individuals. The adult has two bright yellow stripes along the side of the head. It frequents shallow, slow-moving water where it typically walks along the bottom rather than swimming, and its diet consists of molluscs and insects. Eastern Musk Turtles hibernate underwater, burying themselves in mud when the water temperature dips below 10C.

Status: Threatened Provincially and Nationally

Range: The Eastern Musk Turtle is widespread in eastern North America, ranging from Florida west to Texas and Wisconsin, east to the Atlantic coast and north to Ontario. In Ontario, it is now largely confined to Georgian Bay and the southern edge of the Precambrian Shield. It can be locally abundant.

Threats: Populations that were likely historically widespread in southern Ontario have declined as development has changed shorelines. The current distribution and population size is difficult to ascertain: Eastern Musk Turtles rarely leave the water, even to bask, and so they are likely overlooked.

Threats include habitat loss and accidental death from fishing and boat propellers. The habit of basking at the water surface (rather than on land) makes it susceptible to boat collisions.

Protection: Under Ontario's Endangered Species Act 2007, it is illegal to harm, harrass, possess, buy, sell or kill Eastern Musk Turtles. There is a small population of Eastern Musk Turtles in Point Pelee National Park, but most populations are on lakes where land is privately owned. This species is also protected in Ontario under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.

Text Sources: Edmonds 2000; Froom 1976; MacCulloch 2002

Last Modified Date: September 2009



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