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Eastern Mud Turtle

Kinosternon subrubrum subrubrum

Eastern mud turtles are typically found in the shallow waters of wetlands and marshes but are known to often wander away from water. (Image by Dave Huth/Flickr)
Eastern mud turtles are typically found in the shallow waters of wetlands and marshes but are known to often wander away from water. (Image by Dave Huth/Flickr)

The eastern mud turtle is a small, semiaquatic reptile that lives in the shallow waters of wetlands and marshes. It is the only mud turtle found in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Appearance:

The eastern mud turtle is a small, flattened, oval turtle with short legs and webbed feet that grows to be about 4 inches in length. It has no distinctive field marks, but is the only mud turtle found throughout much of its range. It has a smooth top shell, or carapace, that varies in color from olive to almost black, and its skin is darkly-colored brown, grey or black. Its large, double-hinged bottom shell, or plastron, may be plain yellowish-brown or marked with black or dark brown. The turtle’s only bright markings are on its head, which is often spotted or streaked with yellow or white. Female eastern mud turtles are slightly larger than males, although males have longer tails than females. Both males and females have spines on the ends of their tails.

Habitat:

Prefers shallow water such as ditches, wet meadows, small ponds and marshes; large, deep bodies of water are avoided. Strong tolerance for brackish water and often found at the inner edges of tidal marshes. Wanders away from water often, especially in early morning and early evening. Overwinters on land in burrows, often using existing muskrat burrows.

Range:

Found year-round along the Atlantic Seaboard, from Long Island to the Gulf Coast. In the Chesapeake Bay region, found throughout Delaware and in the eastern portions of Maryland and Virginia. Populations in Pennsylvania and New York sit outside the boundaries of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Feeding:

Eastern mud turtles are omnivores, feeding on insects, crayfish and various mollusks as well as seeds and aquatic vegetation.

Predators:

Adult eastern mud turtles are preyed on by herons and large rodents. Blue crabs, gars, snakes and crows prey on juvenile mud turtles. Predators of eggs include snakes, opossums, weasels, skunks and raccoons.

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

Mating usually occurs mid-March through May, with nesting occurring shortly after through the end of June. Nests are generally dug in the dirt, where the female will deposit between two to five eggs, although eggs are sometimes deposited on open ground. Females lay one to three clutches per year. Incubation takes 90 to 100 days. Unlike most turtle eggs, eastern mud turtle eggs are hard-shelled and do not absorb water. Young hatch in September and spend winter in the nest, or the eggs overwinter and hatch in April.

Other Facts:

  • Hatchling mud turtles are often mistaken for snapping turtles. Mud turtles have larger, hinged lower shells, or plastrons, whereas snapping turtle hatchlings have a very small plastron and a long tail.
  • Adult mud turtles can be confused with stinkpots, a type of musk turtle. The stinkpot has two light stripes on its head and a small lower shell, or plastron, with a single hinge, whereas the mud turtle’s plastron has two hinges.
  • Although not federally endangered, the eastern mud turtle is listed as endangered in several states, such as New York, Pennsylvania and Indiana.

Sources and Additional Information:




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