Spotted Turtle

Clemmys guttata

The Spotted turtle is one of the smallest full sized turtles found with in the United States. It ranges in size from 4 inches to approximately 5 1/4 inches. A Spotted turtle’s shell is solid black covered with yellow spots. The number of spots varies depending on the turtle’s age. Older turtles tend to have a lot more spots, sometimes over 125 scattered across their shell and face, whereas younger turtles will have just a few spots, often just one per scute. There have even been reports of spotted turtles having a completely black shell without one spot, these turtles are known as melanistic spotted turtles. The spots usually grow in numbers as a juvenile ages. Sometimes when an adult ages to near death, some spots will fade. A spotted turtle’s hingeless plastron is yellow and orange with some blotches of black. The legs are mainly black with red or orange mixed in with the yellow spots and in rare occasions you might find some white in there. Wild spotted turtles will sometimes have a brown tinted shell covering the original black shell with yellow spots; this is caused by the turtle living in high acidic cedar swamps or cranberry bogs containing large amounts of iron. Pealing of the existing scutes lightly and carefully can easily clean the shell. This will expose some of the spots hidden under the tinted shell.

Sex is easily determined in spotted turtle adults; males have a dark (black) pigmented chin, whereas the female will have a much brighter orange or reddish-pigmented chin. The males also have a longer thicker tail and the females have a shorter thin tail. If you look on the plastron (bottom) of the turtle’s shell you will see a flatter smooth surface if its a female and a concave or slight indentation if its a male. The males tend to have this indentation to help breeding, allowing the male to cling to the female as she moves rapidly through the water trying to escape the male. In most adults, males will appear to have darker looking eyes, like a brownish color. And the females will have an orangish colored eye.

Spotted turtles are found in two regions, one being along the whole Atlantic coastal plain which includes, northern Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, southern New Hampshire, southern Vermont and Southern Maine. The other region being Pennsylvania, northern Ohio, Indiana, southern Quebec, southern Ontario through to northeastern Illinois and western Michigan.

They are found in a wide variety of habitat. However, they are most frequently seen in shallow, well-vegetated wetlands. You also see them in either marshes, cedar swamps, cranberry bogs, fens, tamarack swamps, sedge meadows, cattail marshes, wet cow pastures, sphagnum bogs, slow moving woodland streams, roadway ditches, puddles and along the shoreline of a largely vegetated lake where the water tends to be shallower. It is usually hard to see spotted turtles actually bask on a log in front of you in the wild. About 9 out of 10 turtles while basking will spot you before you spot them. The turtle usually then dives down and hides in the muddy bottom under leaves and pine needles. Spotted turtles are almost always found in well-vegetated bodies of water because there is usually a large source of food available. It is very common to see turtles travel in cedar swamps and streams in multiple numbers. I have seen large numbers of about 25-35 adults traveling together depending on their food source. They will stay in one small area for like a week or until the food is low and then move on to another area where it is abundant. During the process of movement, some turtles leave the group and new turtles arrive. I have witnessed a lot of their actions in heavily wooded areas. It is very unusual to find a spotted by itself; they are almost always traveling together.

Spotted turtles should be kept in shallow waters around 4-6 inches deep as spotted turtles are poor swimmers. It is not good to keep them in deeper water unless you know what you are really doing and have experience. The reason for this is because you want the spotted turtle to have easy access to get air as there are always many reports of spotted turtles drowning in people’s ponds, tanks or other enclosures. Always keep your water clean which means clear and if you can cool. Warm water feeds ammonia which causes them to get sick quite often. Ammonia comes from the waste from spotteds turtles. Plenty of oxygen flow can place good bacteria in the water which fights ammonia. In order to reduce stress on your turtle, avoid constant changing of their enclosure. Turtleland tubs make great enclosures for a spotted group of about 1.4. A basking log is always something you should have allowing your turtle to climb out of the water and completely dry off to prevent fungus growth on their skin and shell. A heat lamp should be placed about 1 foot away from the log with a 100watt heat bulb which can be purchased at a local pet store. Submersible filters can also be purchased at your local pet store to help keep your water cleaner

Spotted turtles feed on a variety of things. They are mainly carnivorous; in fact I rarely see them eat greens. However, some turtles will consistently feed on greens, such as romaine lettuce or other sources of vegetation that might grow in your pond. Based on what I have studied with my spotted, I have noticed that they prefer other foods such as insects and other meat sources. The spotted that I keep are fed earthworms, wax worms, mealworms, crickets, tadpoles, chicken, crab, turkey, bacon, beef, reptomin and trout chow. One thing I have seen my spotted turtles eat which totally surprised me, is blueberries. In the wild, they feed on just about anything small enough that lives or falls in the water and can fit in their mouth. This means caterpillars, snails, slugs, dragonflies, spiders, worms, fish, small frogs, mollusks, crustaceans, amphibian eggs, carrion, baby birds, etc. For the most part, I feed my turtles daily, however it is all right if I miss a day here and there if I cant be home to do so. I have even experienced a year where I fed them every other day and had more eggs that year. I am just afraid that Darwin?s theory of Natural Selection, “the survival of the fittest,” will take over and my weaker spotted might not get a chance to eat. Spotted turtles will sometimes feed very heavily on chicken, reptomin, and beef. Then all of a sudden stop eating completely. At this point, you should start offering new types of food, such as earthworms, crickets, greens and blueberries. Spotted turtles in the wild feed from late March through late October and sometimes even early November. Mine, which are located in New Jersey, stop eating around the end of October. They stay active for about a few weeks afterwards, which gives their system a chance to empty out and prepare for hibernation. A turtle’s stomach must be empty prior to being in a full state of hibernation. If it is not empty, the food will eventually rot in their stomach, possibly killing the turtle.

Spotted turtles breed in early spring and late fall when water temperatures are cooler. For the best breeding, it is always a good idea to hibernate the species although it is not a necessity for these turtles in order to produce fertile eggs. Keeping your males separate from your females is also a good idea. To simulate early spring and late fall in your enclosure, its good to create something in a basement or garage during these months so the water temp in their enclosure is cold. 40-55 seem to be the best breeding temps for your water. During breeding season, it is best to leave the turtles alone as much as possible, the more you pass by or are near the enclosure the more uncomfortable the turtle becomes. When breeding occurs you will see that the male will try to mount the female by climbing on top of her shell while his tail moves towards hers. The breeding session may take as few as 1 minute or as long as several hours. The best is to just keep them together for about a week to assure she is gravid. Once this occurs, the eggs may develop in as few as 15 days to about a month later. At that time the female will begin to try to escape her enclosure non stop. She will try climbing the sides of the aquarium or pen looking for a suitable egg laying site. At this time you can remove the turtle and place her in an area where there is a lot of soil, sunlight and plants. Spotted turtles are likely to lay their eggs at the base of a tall grass where they can hide underneath the blades of grass while depositing eggs.

Like all turtles, the temperature in which the eggs are incubated can determine sex in babies. Eggs incubated at temperatures between 75 degrees and 80 degrees will produce all males. Eggs incubated at temperatures between 81 degrees and 84 degrees will produce a mix of males and females and eggs incubated at temperatures between 85 degrees and 89 degrees produce all females. A few times I have incubated eggs at around 90-92 degrees by mistake. These eggs produced many different kinds of morphs. A spotted with no eyes, a siamese spotted, an amelanistic spotted and even an albino. Most of these died in the egg before using up their egg sac and breaking free which was very devastating. When incubating at high temperatures, you will often run across babies with irregular scutes. When you see irregular scutes on turtles, you almost know immediately that it is a female. Once in a blue moon you will get a male with irregular shaped scutes. Incubation can last from around 60 days to about 90 days when incubated artificially. Spotted turtle eggs in the wild have been known to hatch anywhere from 60 days in southern locations such as South Carolina to 125 days in northern locations such as Maine. However in some areas, depending on elevation, the babies may over-winter inside the egg and hatch the following spring. I tend to keep eggs that still look good in the incubator until at least 140 days have past, just to be 100% sure they wont hatch.

When spotted turtle babies first emerge from their little white egg, they usually measure about an inch in length. Most cases after they break through the eggshell, they will sit in the egg for a few days absorbing their egg sac. Some spotted turtles climb right out of their egg even if they still have a large yolk sac. When your spotted turtle emerges from the egg, it is very important that you pick it up gently and look underneath on its stomach. You will either see a small, medium or large egg sac. At this time, it is ideal that you mist the egg sac with a spray bottle to make sure that all the substrate is off of the turtle. Sometimes, the egg sac can get very dirty and cause the egg sac to become infected and eventually kill the hatchling. Hatchling spotted turtles are very fragile turtles, they will usually start feeding right away if kept in a safe environment. It is recommended that babies are set up in Tupperware bins or aquariums that is no more than an inch deep and provided with some aquatic plants. I set my babies up in a ten-gallon aquarium with 2 water hyacinths at 1.5 inches in depth. I also use plenty of artificial plants as well. If the water depth is over 1 inch in depth, any plants, sticks, leaves or mosses should be used to fill empty space in the water, due to the fact spotted turtles are very poor swimmers and therefore need something to grab onto to pull themselves to the top for air. The addition of these live or plastic water plants add to the sense of security for the animals. The live plants may provide an additional food source. Of course as your spotted turtle grows in size, the habitat and water depth should be increased. A hatchling’s spots are determined through genetics. If you are wondering whether they will be pretty or ugly as adults, look at their parents. If they are going to be pretty at adulthood, you should see a large bright spot on each scute. As the turtle ages, more and more little spots will appear scattered across the shell. It is rare to see two not so colorful adults produce beautiful babies. Most cases all the babies from the same nest will look and appear identical.

Keeping a baby turtle’s water clean is extremely important. When a baby turtle gets sick, there is not too much you can do for it because they are so small and fragile. If a baby spotted turtle gets a respiratory infection, the only thing you can do is separate it and keep its water very clean. Another method you can try is a respiratory powder used on birds. The powder can be mixed with the spotted turtle’s water after dehydrating the turtle a little bit by keeping it out of water for an entire day. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t, but it is worth a shot since there is almost nothing else you can do. If a baby turtle stops eating, try heating up the water a little bit, either by putting the heat lamp closer or by adding a water heater. If it doesn’t eat the brand name foods, I would strongly suggest feeding nothing but live insects or meats such as chicken or beef. In a baby spotted turtle’s enclosure, the turtles will usually hide in the roots of the plant until offered live blood or black worms, which move freely through the water grabbing the turtle?s attention. I would feed them blood / black worms at first just to get an appetite going on the little guys. I would also mix in some Reptomin sticks, which have a worm-like structure look to it. Baby spotted turtles will also feed on small crickets, mealworms, guppies, and meats, such as chicken or beef. I try to only feed my hatchlings Reptomin, as Reptomin contains the proper nutrition baby turtles need to grow and remain healthy. Sometimes when a baby turtle is fed excessive mealworms, crickets or wax worms, the turtle will strictly eat them and nothing else, which prevents the turtle from getting the proper nutrients it needs to thrive. In the long run the turtle will probably die if it only eats strictly one certain food with exception to Reptomin and trout chow. I have had baby turtles that only ate mealworms, I have had baby turtles that only ate wax worms and I have had baby turtles that only ate crickets. All eventually died. Other foods I have seen my hatchlings go crazy for are krill, freeze dried shrimp, tuna, hotdogs and turkey bacon cut very small. Bruce and Zack Russo, friends of mine, feed their hatchlings ghost shrimp. Even though baby turtles feed on a variety of things, I would recommend sticking with Reptomin and trout chow. It is very important that you monitor your turtle when feeding it and pay close attention to what foods it is feeding on. Lighting is very important with baby turtles. A heat bulb is a mandatory item needed to keep a baby turtle’s appetite heavy. Hatchlings kept below 70 degrees most often stop eating and eventually die.

This caresheet written by Al Roach at