Geographical Range Southeastern Canada; eastern and midwestern United States, south through Texas
Habitat Rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, swamps
Scientific Name Kinosternon odoratum
Conservation Status Not listed by IUCN

This turtle may be little (up to just 5 ½ inches in shell length), but it packs a mighty punch: when attacked, it may bite and scratch fiercely. Worse yet, it may spray its musk -- an odor so vile, it has earned this turtle the nickname "stinkpot."

Like all turtles, common musk turtles spend most of their time in the water. Since they're generally nocturnal (active at night), they spend the daytime hours resting on the water bottom. When the sun goes down, they forage for food in the water, walking around and probing the mud and sand with their heads. They eat a wide variety of foods, mostly animals -- earthworms, snails, clams, crayfish, crabs, insects, tadpoles, fish,and fish eggs. But they also eat some plant foods, like algae.

In the southern parts of their range, these turtles are active all year long. But in more northern areas, they brumate during the cold months. (This means they're in a hibernation-like state, but they may have periods of wakefulness.) They may hunker down either underwater, buried a foot deep in the mud, or above-ground, burrowed beneath rocks or logs.

As the weather warms in the spring, courtship and mating (which occur off and on throughout the year) reach a peak. Following this comes nesting, which can vary widely, depending on the female: some simply drop their eggs in leaf litter, while others dig nests up to four inches deep. The size of the clutch is usually about two to five eggs, but can be as few as one or as many as nine. (Interestingly, clutch size depends on the size of the female: the bigger the female, the more eggs she lays.) After an incubation period of about 65 to 85 days, the eggs hatch and the little turtles move directly to the water.

Did You Know?

Since common musk turtles spend so much time underwater, their shells are often covered with algae and leeches.