Find wood turtle information at Animal Diversity Web
Adult wood turtles have a shell length of 16 to 25 cm (6.3 to 9.8 inches). It is brownish to gray-brown in color.
The head of the adult turtle is black, occasionally with light dots or other markings; the scales on the upper legs are black to brown, while the skin on the throat, lower neck, and on the lower parts of the legs can be yellow, orange, or orange-red to salmon-red, sometimes speckled with darker colors.
Hatchling turtles have round shells that range in length from 2.8 to 3.8 cm (1.1 to 1.5 inches); their tails are nearly as long as the shell itself. At hatching they are a brown or gray color.
Clemmys insculpta, the wood turtle, is found in a small area of eastern Canada and the northeastern United States, from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick south through New England, Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey, to northern Virginia, and west through southern Quebec, southern Ontario, northern Michigan (northern Lower and Upper Peninsulas), northern and central Wisconsin, to eastern Minnesota; these turtles can also be found in northeastern Iowa. In this range, wood turtles are uncommon.
Clemmys insculpta is found near moving water (streams, creeks, or rivers), although some turtles may wander considerable distances away from water, especially in the warmer months. Streams with sand or sand and gravel bottoms are preferred, but rocky stream courses are sometimes used. Wood turtles are often described as woodland turtles, but in reality, they can live comfortably in a number of habitats such as woods, shrub or berry thickets, swamps, and open, grassy areas.
Older, larger males tend to be dominant over smaller male wood turtles, and also have better success in mating.
Courtship may include a mating "dance" in which the male and female face each other and swing their heads back and forth; more often the male simply chases the female while nipping at her limbs and shell and then mates with her in shallow water on a sloping stream bank. Mating is most frequent in spring and fall, when the turtles are more aquatic.
In May or June, female wood turtles search for open, sunny nesting sites, preferring sandy banks near moving water. The female digs the nest with her hind feet into which she lays 3 to 18 eggs (usually 5 to 13). The eggs are carefully buried, and the female camouflages the nest, then departs, offering no further protection to her offspring. Females may not reproduce every year (Harding, 1977, 1991, 1997).
Most wood turtle eggs never hatch; nest predation by raccoons, skunks, shrews, foxes, and other predators can typically result in high losses. Incubation requires from 47 to 69 days. Hatchling C. insculpta hatch from their nests in late August or September and move to water.
Wood turtles in the wild usually reach adulthood between 14 and 20 years of age.
Wood turtles can live up to 58 years and possibly longer.
Wood turtles are diurnal animals and spend much of their active time taking up sunlight during the day.
Clemmys insculpta hibernate in winter (October through April in northern Michigan), generally on the bottom in the shallows of streams and rivers where the water will not freeze.
Individual wood turtles tend to remain within a home range of about 1 to 6 hectares (2.5 to 15 acres). Most turtles remain in or within a short distance of moving water throughout the year.
These turtles are quite agile and are unusually intelligent (for turtles).
Clemmys insculpta is an omnivorous turtle that can feed both in and out of water. Natural foods for the species include leaves and flowers of various woody plants (violet, strawberry, raspberry, willow), fruits (berries), fungi, slugs, snails, worms, and insects. They will occasionally eat young mice or eggs, or scavenge dead animals.
Wood Turtles in some areas are known to capture earthworms by thumping the ground with their feet or the front of the shell. It is thought that the worms mistake the vibrations caused by this thumping for the approach of a mole, and come to the surface, only to be grabbed by the hungry turtle.
This species of turtle is harmless to humans.
Wood Turtles were once hunted for human food (in the east) and for the biological supply trade , and in the last few decades they have been collected for the pet trade. Most populations of C. insculpta are now greatly reduced from former numbers, and many have become locally extinct (Harding, 1991, 1997).
Because C. insculpta gives birth to few young in its lifetime, combined with the old age it must reach to dominate and breed, it is especially vulnerable to extinction by human interference.
Direct removal by humans is the biggest threat to the species in some areas. Today, C. insculpta is legally protected from collection.
Wood Turtles have also suffered greatly from habitat loss. Intensive forestry, farming, or industrial or residential development can severely impact C. insculpta. Another threat to these turtles is the recent increase in numbers of predators, such as raccoons (Procyon lotor), which not only destroy turtle eggs and hatchlings, but can also kill adult turtles (Harding, 1985; 1991, 1997, pers.obs.).
The long-term future for this species is bleak unless its habitats are protected and the animals themselves are left alone. Wood turtles are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN and special concern in the state of Michigan, and they are in CITES appendix II.
Based on new scientific data, the scientific name of the wood turtle was recently changed from Clemmys insculpta to Glyptemys insculpta.
David Armitage, Animal Diversity Web Staff
James Harding, Michigan State University
James Harding, Michigan State University
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