Common Musk turtle or Stinkpot (Sternotherus odoratus)

IDENTIFICATION:  2-4.5inches (5-11.5 cm)   The gray to brown carapace is arched and oval in dorsal perspective.  A series of dark radiatng lines are often present on the carapacial scutes.  The plastron varies in coloration from yellowish to brown.  A weakly developed plastral hinge is present in younger specimens but may be relatively absent among older specimens as the fleshy areas between the plastral scutes increases with age.  The flesh between the plastral elements ranges in color from that of the rest of the fleshy parts to having suffusions of orange or pink.   Depending upon the age and locality of origin of the specimen the flesh can vary from light gray to nearly black and a pair of light colored stripes are present on the each side of the head.  The lines start at the tip of the nose and extend over and under the eye onto the side of the head.  Depending upon the age of the specimen the lines may be broken or faded.

BEHAVIOR AND ECOLOGY: This small turtle inhabits  bodies of freshwater with soft bottoms and aquatic vegetation.  While common musk turtles seem to prefer still to slow moving bodies of water they have been found in numerous streams with swift currents.  Populations from southern localities may remain active throughout most of the year.  Female Common musk turtles (Sternotherus odoratus) sometimes deposit their eggs directly onto leaf litter, but they will also dig a nest for their eggs, deposit them beneath leaf litter and under logs.  Sometimes more than one female will use the same nesting site.  Females usually lay between 2-5  elliptical brittle-shelled eggs per clutch.  However, some females have produced as many as 9 eggs per clutch.

This species is primarilly aquatic and not often found out of the water.  However, when specimens are found basking it is always near water.  I have found individuals perched on culverts approximately 4 feet (1.5 meters) above the surface of the water that made a quick dive into the water after detecting my presence.  Given the amount of time spent in the water, some specimens may bear  healthy growth of algae on their shells.  Prey items are variable but aquatic snails and insects constitute a majority of the diet.

PREDATORS AND DEFENSE:  These small turtles are susceptible to various predators ranging from predaceous diving beeetles, (Family Dystictidae), large mouth bass (Micropterus sp.), bullfrogs (Lithobates catesbiana), kingsnakes (Lampropeltis getula), cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorous), alligators (Alligator missippiensis), crows (Corvus sp.), bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), hawks (Buteo sp.), skunks (Mephitis sp.) and racoons (Procyon).  However, humans are probably responsible for more casualties than all of the other predators combined.  Whenever hooked by a fisherman this species is usually killed.  However, pollution and habitat loss in the form of drained wetlands poses the greatest threat.

LONGEVITY:  The Philadeliphia Zoo maintained a captive specimen for 54 years and 9 months.

GEOGRAPHIC DISTRIBUTION:  Sternotherus odoratus occupies the northernmost range for the family Kinosternidae.   This species occupies a geographic range that includes southern Ontario, Canada and New England  westward to Wisconsin and southward to Florida and Texas.