North American Wood Turtle

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Species group:

Other common names: Wood Turtle

Scientific name: Glyptemys insculpta (formerly Clemmys insculpta)

The basics:
The North American Wood Turtle actually inhabits most any habitat that is near a moving water source. They are found around the southern areas of the Great Lakes region and throughout most of the northeastern U.S., and reaching into some parts of neighboring Canada. Once a common species, they are now in serious trouble, currently as a result of the pet trade. Due to their popularity as a pet they are no longer found in some of their once native regions. They are now a listed species in most of their natural areas. This means that their collection, possession, and breeding are highly regulated by the local natural resources authority. In addition, they are a CITES listed species protecting their trade outside of their native countries. In most cases collection from the wild is illegal. Below is a partial list of regulations involving pet wood turtles. It is highly recommended that you research your local laws regarding the North American Wood Turtle prior to obtaining one as a pet.

New Hampshire: Possession, sale, and collection are illegal.

New Jersey: Possession and collection are illegal.

Maryland: Permit required to posses more than one turtle. Collection from the wild is illegal.

Nova Scotia: Wild collection is prohibited.

Appearance / health:
The North American Wood Turtle has a flattened look with a light brown to dark olive carapace. Their scientific name insculpta refers to their sculpted shell scutes which are naturally slightly pyramid shaped and have a radiating pattern of yellows, browns, and olives. Their carapace also has a single midline keel. The marginal scutes flare slightly. The plastron is yellow – orange with a distinctive black blotch in the bottom outer corner of each scute. Their skin is bright yellow to orange. Older wood turtles (20+ years) will have completely smooth shells.


AVERAGE ADULT SIZE: 4 – 10 inches

Behavior / temperament:
Active and intelligent are how these turtles are described by owners and researchers alike. A 1932 study reported on their ability to figure out mazes as adeptly as rats. They have even learned to bring worms to the surface by stomping the ground.

These seemingly small turtles are actually very active and need a lot of space, both on land and water. They are best housed outdoors in a secure enclosure as they excel at climbing and escaping. One adult turtle will need 25 square feet of space. Another 4 square feet needs to be added for each added turtle. Their habitat should be well planted, have a basking spot, and have a well filtered pond with a moderate current. The water should be 1 -2 feet in depth.
LIFESPAN: 30-50 years

TEMPERATURE/HUMIDITY: Water Temperature: no more than 70° F, Basking: 85° F.

HIBERNATION / ESTIVATION: In the wild the North American Wood Turtle hibernates from about November to mid March. Once temperatures go below 40° F they find a muddy spot in shallow waters to hibernate. As a pet, whether hibernating indoors or out they must be in a location that is humid so that they do not dehydrate and die.

HEALTH CONCERNS: Wild caught individuals tend to have internal and external parasites. As pets, the most common health conditions are usually a result of improper nutrition and poor water quality. Feeding the wrong diet can result in shell deformities and other Metabolic Bone Disease conditions. Poor water quality can result in various bacterial and fungal infections.

The North American Wood Turtle is notorious for eating anything it can catch and swallow; plant or animal, dead or alive. Their natural diet can include insects, worms, fish, algae, mushrooms, berries, leaves, snails, and tadpoles. However, if given a choice they will choose meat over plants. This makes them relatively easy to feed as a pet. The key is quality food choices and lots of variety to keep them healthy. Especially easy to do if they are housed outdoors by planting foods they can eat (hostas are a favorite) and providing places for bugs to hide. Turn over a rock in moist soil and your turtle will have a feast! Supplemental foods can include carrots, berries, crayfish, and small mice.

North American Wood mature at 3 years of age. They mate after hibernation and when water temperatures are above 59° F. Mating takes place in the water; if the female can’t move to shallow waters or onto land the male may drown her. Only one male should be housed per enclosure as they will fight.

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