Species group: North American Semi-Aquatic Turtles
Scientific name: Clemmys guttata
The Spotted Turtle’s small size, bright coloration and alert demeanor place it high in the regard of turtle keepers worldwide. Although rare in the wild, captive-bred individuals are readily available – if quite expensive! But those who give this endearing little turtle a place in their collections become instant fans, and never regret the price they paid. The Spotted Turtle’s range extends from southern Ontario and Quebec along the US Atlantic Coastal Plain to central Florida, and west through Pennsylvania to northern Indiana and northeastern Illinois. It is a habitat specialist, being restricted to the shallow, thickly-vegetated waters of bogs, swamps, sloughs and other marshy wetlands. Hatchlings are highly aquatic, but adults spend some time in nearby moist woodlands. Over-collection and the loss of its unique habitat have decimated populations, which are now protected; please be sure to purchase only captive-bred individuals.
Appearance / health:
The bright to light yellow spots that mark the black carapace render the Spotted Turtle nearly invisible among duckweed, yet startlingly conspicuous in an aquarium. Among the world’s smallest turtles, adults measure a mere 4-5 inches in length.
Behavior / temperament:
Spotted Turtles are as hardy and responsive as the more commonly-kept sliders, and are now being regularly bred by hobbyists. Although somewhat shy at first, most soon learn to rush over for food when approached. Spotted Turtles must be watched carefully if housed in groups. Males often harass females with mating attempts, and may stress or bite them in the process; males should not be kept together, as they will usually fight.
Although diminutive, Spotted Turtles are always foraging and exploring their environment, and should be provided with as much room as possible. A 20 gallon aquarium is adequate for a single adult. The water in their aquarium should be of a depth that allows the turtle to reach the surface with its head without needing to swim. Floating plastic or live plants should be provided as cover for the always-shy hatchlings (they are on the menus of predators ranging from giant water bugs to bullfrogs!). Adults become quite bold, but still prefer aquariums with cover, driftwood, and caves to bare enclosures. The aquarium should be equipped with a dry basking site, UVB bulb, heater, and powerful filtration. Ambient water temperature: 68-76 F; Basking temperature: 88-90 F
Turtles are messy feeders, and quickly foul even well-filtered aquariums. Removing your pet to a plastic storage container at feeding time will lessen the filter’s workload and help to maintain good water quality. Partial water changes (i.e. 50 % weekly) are also very useful. Filters designed specifically for turtles, if serviced regularly, are usually preferable to those marketed for use with tropical fish. Some folks find it easier to maintain their aquatic turtles in plastic storage containers that can easily be emptied and rinsed.
Spotted Turtle’s natural diet includes fish, tadpoles, snails, carrion, insects, crayfish, shrimp, salamanders, frogs and aquatic plants. Pets should be offered a diet comprised largely of whole animals such as minnows, shiners, earthworms, snails, pre-killed pink mice, crayfish, and prawn. Some adults will also accept dandelion, zucchini, collard greens, apples and other produce. Spinach and various cabbages cause nutritional disorders and should be avoided. Goldfish should be used sparingly, if at all, as a steady goldfish diet has been linked to kidney and liver disorders in other turtle species. Roaches, crickets and other insects may be used to add variety to the diet. A high quality commercial turtle chow can comprise up to 60% of the diet. A cuttlebone should be available to supplement the calcium provided by whole fishes and similar foods.
Mating and egg deposition occurs from April-August. Breeding behavior may be stimulated by a winter resting period at reduced temperatures, but this should not be attempted without expert guidance. Females produce 1-2 clutches of 1-8 eggs. Gravid (egg-bearing) females usually become restless and may refuse food. They should be removed to a large container (i.e. 5x the length and width of the turtle) provisioned with 6-8 inches of slightly moist soil and sand. Gravid females that do not nest should be seen by a veterinarian as egg retention invariably leads to a fatal infection (egg peritonitis). It is important to note that females may develop eggs even if unmated, and that captives may produce several clutches each year. The eggs may be incubated in moist vermiculite at 82-84 F for 50-85 days.