The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 21, 2002


Spotted Turtle

(Photo by Tom Brownrigg)
Name: Clemmys guttata or Spotted Turtle

When and where seen: On May 30, crossing Brook Street (at Pages Brook) around 6:00 p.m. by Chris Kavalauskas. You are most likely to see them basking in wetlands in early spring or on land in late May or June as females seek out an area to lay eggs.

Distinguishing characteristics: Here's a species unlike the skunk cabbage, may apple, or, heaven forbid, the toadflax, where the logic of the common name is obvious. Spotted turtles are turtles with spots. The yellow spots are always on the head, neck and legs and almost always on the carapace.

The carapace is smooth, black and relatively flat compared to the rather high dome of the Box Turtle or Blanding's Turtle. The spots and markings, including those on the underside, make it possible to identify individuals within the species. Take photos! Make sketches! Males have brown eyes, tan, brown or black chins, and a concave plastron (underside shell). Females have orange/red eyes, a light-colored lower jaw, and a flat plastron. These are very small turtles reaching only 3.5 to 5.5 inches long at maturity.

Nests, Eggs and Hatchlings: Spotted turtles make their nests in disturbed, open areas, such as meadows, fields, or along roadsides and typically begin digging in the early evening. They usually lay a single clutch of one to eight eggs and after scraping the excavated earth back over the eggs, they also attempt to smooth the site with their plastron. The eggs hatch in about 11 weeks. The hatchlings are almost circular, about an inch in diameter, and they usually have a single yellow spot on each plate of their carapace.

Habitat: Spotted turtles can be found in a number of habitats including shallow emergent marshes, vernal pools, and forested swamps. They frequently move between wetland habitats via slow flowing streams. They prefer shallow ponds with a soft substrate and lots of vegetation. They rely heavily on vernal pools as a source of food in the spring.

Food: Spotted turtles are omnivores eating amphibian eggs, worms, mollusks, insect larvae and other pond-dwelling invertebrates, as well as algae and leaves of aquatic plants. The turtles themselves are food for raccoons and muskrats.

If you see one: Spotted turtles are rare and considered a species of "special concern" in Massachusetts. Adults are killed by vehicles, and as habitat is lost the remaining populations become isolated and genetic exchange is limited, putting the species at further risk. If you see a spotted turtle, please report it to the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program (NHESP), or tell me or a member of the Carlisle Conservation Commission who will report it for you.

References: Leo P. Kenney and Matthew R. Burne, A Field Guide to the Animals of Vernal Pools; Thomas F. Tyning, Stokes Nature Guides, A Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles; University Of Michigan, Museum of Zoology, online at

Submissions for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged from everyone. You can write the column yourself or tell me what you saw and I will write it. The only requirements are that the organism exists in the wild and was seen in Carlisle. Send a note to Kay Fairweather at 392 School St., Carlisle MA 01741 or to

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito