Natural Highlights: Mud and Musk Turtles

     E. Musk (left) and Miss. Mud Turtles (B.Grizzle)

Our Smallest Turtles: The Eastern Musk Turtle and the Mississippi Mud Turtle    by Ben Grizzle                                      

In the swamps and ponds of the Mid-South, there live two turtle species that, to the untrained eye, appear nearly identical. Both members of the family Kinosternidae, the Eastern Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) also called the Stinkpot, and the Mississippi Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum hippocrepis) are small bottom-dwelling turtles that specialize in eating invertebrates such as crayfish and aquatic insects.

Despite their similar appearances, there is a key difference that sets these two turtles apart: their bellies. The undersides of their shells (known as the plastron in the turtle world) are highly distinctive. In the Musk Turtle, the plastron is narrow and leaves much of the turtle exposed. In the Mud Turtle, the plastron covers almost everything, and even has a hinge at the front that allows them to close tight like a Box Turtle.

Please note that these small turtles are substrate feeders, poking around on the bottom for other bottom-dwelling organisms to eat.  They might eat a dead fish if they find one, or the bait on the end of a fishing line, but they are much more likely to fall prey to large fish themselves, especially as juveniles.  They do not threaten the fish population and there is no reason to persecute them in the name of improving conditions for fishermen.

For more information on Eastern Musk Turtles, visit this link.

For more information on Mississippi Mud Turtles, visit this link.

Mississippi Mud Turtle (B.Grizzle)

Posted by Cathy Justis at 10:22 AM