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Animal Facts: Spotted turtle

  • Published Jul 01, 2023
  • Updated Jul 04, 2024
  • 475 words
  • 2 minutes
Easily recognized by its smooth black shell, the spotted turtle is one of Ontario's smallest turtles that rarely grow to be more than 13 centimetres. (Photo: Laura Wolf/Flickr)
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The spotted turtle is a highly recognizable North American species that is known for its distinctive yellow spots on its dark coloured shell.

 

Fast Facts

Common name: Spotted turtle

Scientific name: Clemmys guttata

Type: Reptile

Diet: Omnivore

Group name: Bale or nest

Average weight: 0.2 to 0.4 kg

Average length: 8 to 12 cm

COSEWIC status: Endangered

Did you know?

Spotted turtles don’t always hibernate alone. During the winter months, groups of up to 12 turtles have been found in communal hibernation.

Physical characteristics and behaviour

These small, aquatic turtles are easily recognized by signature yellow or orange spots on its shell, body, and head. That’s not to say every spotted turtle will have similar numbers of spots–there can be anywhere from zero to around 100 spots dotting a turtle’s dark surface. The spotted turtle is so tiny that you can fit a few in your hands at once. 

During the spring and summer months, they can be spotted basking in the sun on logs or rocks. During bouts of intense heat, they’re also known to retreat to an aquatic area or some sheltered surface location in a kind of summer hibernation known as aestivation. The turtles spend their nights underwater on the pond bottom. 

Spotted turtles emerge from hibernation in early spring–sometimes while there’s still snow and ice on the ground–and begin looking for mates. After breeding, the females travel in search of nesting areas. It’s a perilous journey, and, in many cases, spotted turtles are killed while trying to cross roads. Once a spotted turtle has reached a preferred nesting site–somewhere out in the open, where predators can be seen coming–the female digs out a nest with her hind legs and feet, and lays between three and seven eggs. Those eggs will hatch in mid-September through October, though some hatchings will only emerge the following spring. 

Despite the turtles’ small size making them particularly prone to raccoon and muskrat attacks, spotted turtles can live up to 50 years.

Diet

Like other turtles, the spotted turtle is omnivorous, but it doesn’t like to feed on anything outside the water. They consume plant material, like aquatic vegetation and green algae, and will also indulge in a wide range of animal foods, including aquatic insect larvae, worms, slugs, millipedes, spiders, crustaceans, tadpoles, salamanders, and even a few types of small fish. 

Habitat and distribution

A spotted turtle’s ideal habitat has shallow and slow-moving waters, along with some sort of aquatic vegetation. As such, the turtles live in a variety of wetland habitats, including bogs, fens, marshes, swamps, and slow-moving streams. In Canada, you can only find wild spotted turtles in southern Ontario and Québec. Outside of Canada, the turtles can be found in some areas around the eastern United States, from Maine all the way down to northern parts of Florida. 

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