The spotted turtle is a small semi-aquatic species known for the bright yellow spots that dot its dark shell. The species is listed as threatened in several states and endangered on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) Red List of Threatened Species.
The spotted turtle is a small species that rarely exceeds five inches in length. The smooth carapace (shell) is slate gray or black with variable number of bright yellow spots, which can disappear in older turtles. The plastron (underside of shell) is yellow or orange with wide black smudges. Its head mostly black with variable number of bright yellow spots and often a large yellow or orange blotch on each side. Its legs and tail are black with scattering of yellow spots. The lower surfaces of the legs and neck are orange to pink or salmon-red. Males and females differ in size and coloring: males have brown eyes; a tan, brown or black chin; and a longer and thicker tail, while females have orange eyes, a yellow or orange chin and a comparatively narrow tail.
Spotted turtles prefer shallow bodies of water, including bogs, marshes, swamps, flooded fields, woodland streams and permanent and seasonal pools and ponds. They bask on logs, stumps, grass mats and tussocks and wander on land to travel between wetlands and their nests. They use moist terrestrial sites for late-summer aestivation (dormancy during hot, dry periods) and winter hibernation, although overwintering more often occurs underwater in mud or former muskrat burrows. They occupy a limited home range of about one to eight acres.
Populations of spotted turtles are often small and isolated. These turtles are found in localized populations throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. One portion of their range includes the eastern seaboard of the United States from southern Maine through the eastern portions of Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia and northern Florida, while the second portion of their range includes the Great Lakes region of Canada and the United States from northeastern Illinois into southern Michigan, northern Indiana, Ohio and western Pennsylvania and across southern Ontario into New York.
Feeding begins once spring temperatures reach about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Spotted turtles feed on algae, soft aquatic plants, water lily seeds, worms, mollusks, crustaceans, insects and insect larvae, amphibian eggs and larvae and carrion.
Common predators include raccoons and muskrats. Spotted turtles are vulnerable to predation, especially while on land. If they are startled while basking, they will dive into the water and bury themselves in mud.
Spotted turtles reach sexual maturity at seven to 14 years. Courtship and mating occur in March, April and May, when spotted turtles are most likely seen. Males pursue females in a wild underwater courtship chase, nipping and biting her legs and carapace and fending off rival males. Nesting occurs from late May through June. Nesting females look for open, sunny locations with moist but well-drained soils. Nests are dug with their hind feet. Females lay one clutch of one to eight elliptical eggs each year, although some may lay a second, smaller clutch a few days after the first. Incubation takes 44 to 83 days. Young emerge in August or September. The sex of the hatchlings is determined by nest temperatures during middle third of incubation period: cooler temperatures produce males, while warmer temperatures produce females. Males can live up to 65 years, females up to 110 years.