Thursday, March 25, 2010

Common Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus)

This was a pleasant surprise. With the lake level low, I’ve been walking the beach from the point (segment 3-4) almost back to the pedestrian bridge (segment 1). One of the inlets, about midway along segment 2, has water running into the lake.

I spied this little fellow. It was either an Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum) or a Common Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus). I can never remember which.

The pattern on its carapace

I did know that I had to get a photo of its plastron (underside) to be able to identify it.

I turned it back over and waited to see if it would make its way back to the water. It poked the tip of its nose out but that was all. I was going to have to provide transportation back to the water.

The obligatory portrait. You can just see its eye to the left midway between the nostrils and mouth. The tips of its toes are just visible in the lower left of the photo.

Back in the water.

I didn’t realize how fast they could move. It took off up the waterway and swam in under this cover of algae. If I had passed this way a few minutes earlier or later I might have missed it.

When I got home, I was able to identify it as a Common Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus). Given that musk turtles may release a pungent musk odor when irritated, this little guy was very tolerant of my interfering with whatever it was doing when I happened on it.

Click on an image to view a larger image

Identification resources:

Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, University of Georgia: Turtles of Georgia and South Carolina
- Common Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus)

- Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum)


Amber Coakley said...


I am well-acquainted with the musk defense of snakes, but had no idea that turtles employed this tactic as well. If a turtle's musk-making is anything like a snakes, you sure did have a lucky look at this cute fella.

Bernard Brown said...

Cute little turtle - every now and then you get a nippy one, but they're fun turtles to catch and photograph.

JSK said...

The only other Musk Turtles I've seen and smelled have been dark, almost black and worn. I think this was a fairly young turtle judging by the clear color/pattern of the carapace.
I did handle it gently; maybe it was just kind to me. :-)

JSK said...

That's interesting Bernard. I didn't know that. I do generally pick them up well behind the nippy end and wouldn't put my fingers anywhere close to its mouth. Something about how strong the jaws look. But good to know for future reference. Thanks.

Sally said...

What a great encounter... and nice photos!

JSK said...

And it's over now. The construction at the park has been completed and the lake level - lowered by 8 feet - has returned to normal after 5 inches of rain last week. Can't walk that beach any more.
The turtle is probably happy. No more human interference.