Top Photo: Head tucked in, hatchling common musk turtle pauses to take shelter while making it’s way across pavement to the wetlands, a long dangerous journey.
About 2.5 to 3 months ago, a female common musk turtle mucked her way through the mud of the wetlands and up and across the pavement of the walkway searching for a quiet place to dig a nest. Finding a safe location off the beaten path and in soft soil, she dug a small hollow nest in the earth and deposited a half dozen tiny, oblong eggs. After covering the eggs with dirt she had previously displaced while digging the nest, she headed back to the wetlands.
The eggs began hatching on the early morning of October 5, all hatching within hours of one another. One at a time the one inch hatchlings climbed their way out of the chamber their mother had so deftly dug earlier in the season. Some went to the east, some to the west, others to the various compass points between, all in hopes of finding the pond their parent had originally emerged from so many weeks before, our wetland.
One of the hatchling turtles had nearly been stepped on by the people who were now walking along the asphalt path between the red wolf and black bear enclosures. The turtles are very small and difficult to see. They’re easily mistaken for a pebble.
Common musk turtles (Sternotherus odoratus) occupy a variety of ponds, lakes, rivers and streams, especially waters with soft muddy bottoms like our wetlands. Adults reach a length of about 4 – 5 inches (front of shell to back). The newly hatched are about an inch long.
These aquatic turtles can sometimes be seen basking far out on a limb, six or more feet above the water. Their nickname of stinkpot is well deserved as they emit a pungent smelling liquid from anal glands when they’re disturbed. Their species name, odoratus, alludes to the musky odor. Pick one up and you’ll see, or rather smell, what I mean.
The little hatchling pictured was picked up and safely released into our wetlands by volunteer Sammie. To my knowledge, no turtles were harmed in the process.
You would be equally correct in calling these little turtles eastern musk turtle, common musk turtle, stinkpot, or Sternotherus odoratus.