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2020 Year of the Turtle – the spotted turtle

With the Spotted Turtle we begin a series of species that are often called “pond turtles”.  These belong to one of the largest families – the Family Emydidae. It includes not only the spotted turtle but the box turtles, chicken turtles, map turtles, sliders, cooters, and the terrapin.  There are 36 species in this family.  They all have a somewhat flattened-oval shaped shell (except for the box turtle) to be more aerodynamic while swimming.  They range is size from the smaller spotted turtle to some very large cooters.  These turtles are frequently seen basking on logs near a river, lake, or retention pond.

The spotted turtle.
Photo: University of Toledo.

The Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) is not common in Florida but there are at least 50 records in the northern portion of the Florida peninsula between the Apalachicola and St. John’s Rivers and as far south as Orlando.  It is common along the Atlantic seaboard of the eastern United States.

 

It is a small emydid turtle with a carapace length of only 5 inches!  The carapace is dark black and each scute has at least one distinctive bright yellow spot on them.  The head is also dark with bright yellow spots – it’s a beautiful turtle.  Males have a tan-brown chin, brown eyes, and a concave plastron similar to box turtles.  The females have a yellow chin, yellow-orange eyes, and a smooth plastron.

 

It will inhabit a variety of wetland habitats including ephemeral ponds, swamps, small streams, bogs, marshes, wet pastures, and wetland forests.  They seem to move between these during the year.  In our state it seems to prefer wooded swamps within pine flatwoods.  Being small and uncommon, they are difficult to find – most specimens have been found along side roads in rural areas.  They prefer water but usually shallow pools.

 

They seem to be inactive a lot, moving during daylight hours but spending a lot of time “hunkered down”.  They will travel over land looking for new water spots and may spend time resting in terrestrai locations while doing so.  Nesting information has been gathered only from those outside of Florida.  They are daytime nesters seeking open areas with lots of sunlight.  They will deposit 3-5 small 1” long eggs and will lay multiple clutches.

 

Spotted turtles are omnivorous feeding on filamentous algae, cranberries, insect larvae, small crustaceans, snails, amphibian larvae, and fish.  Being small, they have numerous predators.  Raccoons, skunks, and eagles are known to take the adults and the eggs.

 

They fall under the FWC freshwater turtle protection rule.  No more than one turtle per person per day and cannot be sold commercially.  You may only transport one turtle at a time unless you have a license to do otherwise.

 

References

 

Meylan P.A. (Ed). 2006. Biology and Conservation of Florida Turtles. Chelonian Research Monographs No.3, 376 pp.