Musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus)

Also called the Stinkpot or Stinking Jim, the musk turtle is one of our smallest native turtles. They get their
name from their ability to secrete foul-smelling, yellowish fluid from two pairs of musk glands when disturbed. These glands are located under the edge of their upper shell, or carapace. Known to anglers as expert “bait-stealers,” musk turtles will bite readily with powerful, sharp-edged jaws. Though highly aquatic, or water dwelling, musk turtles are excellent climbers that will leave the water from time to time to bask in trees and bushes. At the first sign of danger, they will drop into the water below. These turtles are found in the Zoo’s Conservation Pond and are common in Beardsley Park waters as well.


A small (3 to 5.3 inch-long) olive-brown to dark gray turtle with a highly domed, oval-shaped carapace (upper shell). The carapace is often covered with a camouflaging layer of algae. Musk turtles have two light facial stripes beneath their eyes and small, tentacle-like sensory extensions known as barbels on their chins and throats. The plastron (lower shell) is small and has a single hinge which enables the turtle to partially close and protect itself.


Freshwater; with a preference for quiet, sluggish water bodies such as mud-bottomed lakes, ponds and streams.


Wisconsin, southern Ontario and coastal Maine to Florida, west to central Texas.


Mollusks such as freshwater mussels and snails, crayfish, small fish, carrion and aquatic plants.

Life Span: 

Up to 54 years.

Family Life: 

Musk turtles breed underwater. Females lay 1 to 9 eggs in shallow nests under leaf litter or rotting logs near the water’s edge. Communal or group nesting sometimes occurs, and females will sometimes lay two or more clutches of eggs per year in the warmer parts of their range. After 60 to 84 days of incubation, the hatchlings emerge. They are precocious, meaning they receive no parental care and must fend for themselves.


These adaptable little turtles are common throughout their range.

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