Discover Maryland's Herps

Field Guide to Maryland's Turtles (Order Testudines)

Family Emydidae

Eastern Musk Turtle
Sternotherus odoratus

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

Size

2 - 4 inches. Record - 5 inches.

Photo of Eastern Musk Turtle courtesy of Scott A. Smith
Photo of Eastern Musk Turtle courtesy of Scott A. Smith

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

     

    FaceBook Icon

    Maryland Amphibian
    and Reptile Atlas Project

    "A Joint Project of the Natural History Society of Maryland, Inc. and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources"

    For monthly newsletters of the Maryland Amphibian & Reptile Atlas Project click on Recent Newsletters and scroll down to the MARA Newsletters.

    The Maryland Herpetology Field Guide is a cooperative effort of the MD Natural Heritage Program and the MD Biological Stream Survey within the Department of Natural Resources and their partners. We wish to thank all who contributed field records, text, and photographs, as well as support throughout its development.