Testudines

Field Guide to Maryland's Turtles (Order Testudines)


Eastern Musk Turtle

Family: Musk and Mud Turtles (Kinosternidae)

Common Name:

​Eastern Musk Turtle


Scientific Name:

Sternotherus odoratus​


Photo of Eastern Musk Turtle courtesy of John White
Photo of Eastern Musk Turtle courtesy of John White


Size:
2 - 4½ inches. Record - 5 inches

Appearance:

Also known as “Stinkpot”, its fetid smell aids in identification.

  • The bottom shell, or plastron, is reduced with the front half or lobe having an inconspicuous single hinge.
  • The gular scute, or "scale" closest to the head on the plastron, is not divided (as it is in most other turtles).
  • The pectoral scutes are squarish (vs. triangular in mud turtle).
  • Two light stripes (yellowish or white) on head and neck, and barbells, whisker-like organs, on chin and throat.
  • The highly arched smooth carapace (top shell) is olive brown to black and often has green algae growing on it.


Photo of Habitat for Eastern Musk Turtle courtesy of Rebecca Chalmers
Photo of Habitat for Eastern Musk Turtle courtesy of Rebecca Chalmers


Habitats:

Found in most permanent bodies of water with slow current and soft bottoms, including ponds, lakes, swamps, streams and rivers. It is not found in brackish waters. Often climbs slanting trees on swamp and marsh edges, where they occasionally fall onto boaters.


How to Find:

Look in shallow water areas from April to September, particularly areas of still water. It is chiefly nocturnal, resting on the bottom during the day. It can sometimes be observed through binoculars basking on trees. May be ill-tempered if handled.


Distribution in Maryland:

Can be found throughout Maryland but more common on the Coastal Plain.

Maryland Distribution Map for Eastern Musk Turtle