Michigan has its fair share of reptiles, with turtles colonizing a multitude of local ecosystems, primarily semi-aquatic. Today, we will discuss the 10 most popular and intriguing local species of turtles that may interest you.
Habitat – Blanding’s turtles are found primarily in shallow, slow-moving bodies of water, such as wetlands, marshes, ponds, and swamps, preferably with abundant aquatic vegetation and muddy bottoms. They may also be found in surrounding grasslands and forests, usually in the vicinity of water.
Appearance – Blanding’s turtles have a distinctive appearance, usually characterized by a medium-sized, high-domed carapace that is typically black or dark brown with yellow speckling. The plastron is yellow with black blotches in most individuals, although some may lack the distinct spots. The head is usually dark, with a bright yellow chin and visible throat markings. Adults typically range from 7 to 10 inches in length, which depends on their living conditions, diet, genetics, and so on.
Diet – These turtles are omnivorous and prefer to consume aquatic organisms almost exclusively. The turtle’s main meals include live foods with high nutritional content, such as fish, frogs, tadpoles, crayfish, snails, and aquatic insects. They also consume some plant material occasionally for a plus of vitamins and minerals, including aquatic vegetation, leaves, and seeds.
Behavior – Blanding’s turtles are generally shy and elusive creatures, spending most of their time in the water, basking on logs or rocks near the water’s edge. They are known for their ability to “gape” their mouths to attract prey. During the breeding season, males court females through a series of head bobs and touches to attract their attention and make their intentions obvious. These turtles are known to have impressively long lifespans, with some individuals reaching over 70 years, especially in captivity, where they enjoy fine meals, ideal living conditions, and peace.
Common Map Turtle
Habitat – Common map turtles inhabit large rivers, lakes, and ponds with ample and preferably easily accessible basking sites such as logs, rocks, or sandbars. They prefer areas with a mix of deep water and shallow, vegetated zones for feeding, which also provides them with security from predators.
Appearance – Named for the intricate, map-like patterns on their carapace, common map turtles have a keeled, serrated carapace, typically olive or greenish-brown with yellow markings. Their skin is dark with yellow or green stripes, and they have a broad head with a pointed snout. Females are larger than males, with adults ranging from 4 to 10.5 inches in length in ideal conditions.
Diet – Common map turtles are primarily carnivorous, feeding on aquatic insects, crustaceans, mollusks, and small fish for the high protein and fat content. They may occasionally consume plant material as well, but only occasionally, as treats.
Behavior – These turtles are known for their basking behavior and will often stack themselves on top of one another in prime basking spots. Male turtles tend to be more aggressive than females and will defend their territory with rather unhinged violence, as much as turtles can express violence, of course.
Common Musk Turtle
Habitat – Common musk turtles, also known as “stinkpots” due to the musky odor they emit when threatened, prefer slow-moving or stagnant water bodies with soft bottoms and abundant vegetation. They inhabit ponds, marshes, swamps, and slow-moving streams where they can find plenty of food and security, which is about all they need to thrive.
Appearance – These small turtles showcase a dark, smooth, oval-shaped carapace that can range in length from 2 to 5.5 inches. Their plastron is smaller and narrower, providing them with a greater range of motion when walking. They also have large heads, small eyes, and sharp beaks, characteristics which imbue them a unique appearance. Most individuals also have yellow stripes stretching across the face and neck.
Diet – Common musk turtles are omnivorous and, like any omnivorous turtle, they feed on a variety of aquatic invertebrates. Such live food options include snails, insects, and crayfish, as well as fish and amphibians, with some plant material on the sides.
Behavior – These reptiles are primarily nocturnal and spend much of their time submerged in water or hiding in the vegetation. They are known to be good climbers and can often be found basking on branches or logs above the water. Aside from the standard flee-and-hide defensive tactic, these turtles can also release a foul-smelling musk to deter predators.
Common Snapping Turtle
Habitat – Common snapping turtles inhabit a wide range of freshwater environments that come with muddy bottoms and ample aquatic vegetation for safety and camouflage. These include ponds, lakes, rivers, marshes, and swamps, and anything humid enough to satisfy the turtle’s need for proper hydration and comfort.
Appearance – These large, robust turtles have a dark, rough carapace with three keels and serrated rear edges, making them fairly easy to identify. Their plastron is small and cross-shaped, leaving their limbs and tail exposed. The head is large with a strong beak-like jaw, and the tail is long and muscular with a saw-toothed ridge. Adults can reach up to 20 inches in length and weigh over 35 pounds, which is quite impressive for a turtle.
Diet – Common snapping turtles are opportunistic carnivorous feeders, which already explains a lot about the turtle’s meal preferences. This voracious and rather unhinged reptile consumes a wide variety of prey, which includes live food and carrion alike. Fish, amphibians, insects, small mammals, they are all on the menu. They lack any trace of subtlety, so their preferred hunting method is the bite-and-crush one, which is a snapping turtle trademark strategy.
Behavior – Snapping turtles are known for their aggressive behavior when threatened or provoked. Fortunately, they are primarily aquatic, spending most of their time submerged in water, ambushing prey, or scavenging. So, they’re unlikely to run into humans randomly unless said humans invade their territory. They are also known to bask on logs or rocks near the water’s edge on occasion, whenever they feel safe to do so, which is more often than you’d think; this turtle only has a handful of predators.
Eastern Box Turtle
Habitat – Eastern box turtles inhabit a variety of terrestrial habitats, but you can also find them in mixed ecosystems with various water sources nearby. These may include deciduous and mixed forests, meadows, grasslands, and wetlands, and even suburban areas, which is where most people find them. They require moist environments with ample leaf litter, logs, and vegetation for shelter and rich hunting opportunities.
Appearance – Eastern box turtles have a high-domed, oval carapace that is usually dark brown or black with vibrant yellow or orange patterns. Their plastron is hinged, allowing them to retract completely into their shell for protection whenever they’re scared or threatened. The skin is dark with bright yellow or orange markings, and males typically have red eyes, while those of females are brown. Adults range from 4.5 to 6 inches in length, so this is a small and cute reptile that makes for the perfect semi-aquatic pet.
Diet – These turtles are omnivorous, so they consume plants, invertebrates, and small animals, but they don’t have any particular preference; anything goes. Their diet includes insects, worms, slugs, snails, fruits, berries, mushrooms, and occasionally carrion if nothing else is available.
Behavior – Eastern box turtles are primarily terrestrial and are known for their slow and calculated movements that make them appear sluggish. As diurnal creatures, they are most active in the morning and late afternoon and have a strong homing instinct; box turtles will often travel long distances to return to their preferred territory.
Habitat – Painted turtles are the most widespread turtle species in North America. They prefer habitats with soft bottoms, aquatic vegetation, and ample basking sites for when they need to regulate their body temperature, which is quite often.
Appearance – Painted turtles have a smooth, dark green carapace that comes with red and yellow markings along the edge. Their skin is also dark, with yellow and red stripes stretching along the legs, necks, and heads for an even more distinct appearance. Adults range from 4 to 10 inches in length.
Diet – These omnivorous turtles specialize in acquiring and consuming aquatic plants, insects, crustaceans, mollusks, and small fish. They usually have a healthy appetite because they generally consume small prey with low caloric input.
Behavior – Painted turtles are highly social and are often seen basking in large groups on logs or rocks, which is rather unusual among reptiles in general, but not unheard of among turtles. They are also active during the day and prefer to spend most of their sweet time in the water. In colder climates, painted turtles hibernate underwater by burrowing into the mud or debris, which provides them with extra protection and allows them to regulate their body temperature better.
Habitat – Red-eared sliders are native to the southern United States but have been introduced to various locations worldwide, including Michigan, through the pet trade. They inhabit slow-moving or still bodies of water, such as ponds, lakes, marshes, and ditches, with plenty of basking sites and aquatic vegetation nearby.
Appearance – Named for the red stripe behind each eye, red-eared sliders have a dark green to black carapace with yellow markings. Their skin is also dark with yellow and green stripes, making this species highly recognizable, even in the juvenile stage. Adults range from 5 to 12 inches in length, with females being large but more docile at the same time.
Diet – These turtles are also omnivorous, which is rather standard among turtles in general. Their favorite dishes include aquatic plants, invertebrates, and small vertebrates, including fish and amphibians, albeit more rarely. They require calcium supplementation in captivity to stay healthy and avoid nutritional deficiencies, which is a normal requirement for most reptiles.
Behavior – Red-eared sliders are active during the day and spend a significant amount of time basking on logs or rocks. They are skilled swimmers and can dive for extended periods when searching for food or escaping predators, which explains the stability and resilience of the population as a whole.
Spiny Soft-Shell Turtle
Habitat – Spiny soft-shell turtles inhabit freshwater environments, primarily, such as rivers, lakes, ponds, and marshes. They prefer sandy or muddy bottoms with little vegetation and easy access to basking sites, although they prefer to avoid land incursions as much as possible.
Appearance – These turtles have a unique appearance, with a flat, leathery carapace (olive to brown) covered in small, spine-like projections near the front edge. Their skin is smooth and sprinkled with small, dark spots or blotches. They also have a long, tubular snout and webbed feet to improve their swimming abilities. Adult females are larger than males due to them having to produce and nourish eggs, ranging from 7 to 18 inches in length. Males can only get to 5 to 9 inches overall, but they make up for it in territorial aggression and generally a more active demeanor.
Diet – Spiny soft-shell turtles are primarily carnivorous with a sweet tooth for aquatic insects, crustaceans, mollusks, fish, and amphibians. The long and narrow snout allows them to search for food in crevices and tight places that other reptiles cannot access.
Behavior – These turtles are almost exclusively aquatic and spend most of their time underwater, usually buried in the sand or mud with only their eyes and nostrils exposed. They are fast swimmers and can quickly evade predators but don’t possess any other meaningful defense mechanisms, so they prefer to only come to land sparingly. Basking is a less common behavior among these turtles, but they may occasionally emerge onto sandbars or logs for a fast dose of sunlight. Males engage in aggressive territorial displays during the breeding season.
Habitat – Spotted turtles inhabit a variety of wetland habitats. Their preferred ecosystems include marshes, swamps, bogs, fens, and shallow ponds, preferably with easy access to the land. They prefer ecosystems with clean water, soft bottoms, and abundant aquatic vegetation for increased security and feeding opportunities. They may also be found in grasslands and forests near wetland areas with easy access to water and food.
Appearance – Spotted turtles are small, with adults ranging from 3.5 to 5 inches in general, depending on their diet and living conditions. Their smooth, black carapace is covered in small yellow spots that also extend to their head, neck, and limbs, while the plastron is yellowish-orange with black markings along the seams. Males have a slightly concave plastron and a longer, thicker tail than females.
Diet – These turtles feed on aquatic invertebrates, which their habitat is filled with. These include protein-rich live foods such as insects, snails, and crustaceans, and some aquatic and semi-aquatic vertebrates like amphibians and small fish; plants are also on the menu, but only as treats. As opportunistic eaters, they won’t refuse any meal so long as it’s nutritious enough.
Behavior – Spotted turtles are diurnal and spend most of their time in the water, although they can sometimes be found basking on logs or rocks. They are known for their timid nature and will quickly retreat to the water when disturbed or threatened, and everything usually threatens them. They are also known to have a strong sense of site fidelity and will often return to the same basking and nesting sites year after year.
Habitat – Wood Turtles are semi-aquatic and thrive in a variety of diverse habitats, including forests, meadows, and wetlands. They prefer clear, slow-moving rivers and streams with sandy or gravelly bottoms, as well as adjacent terrestrial habitats with ample vegetation and cover.
Appearance – Wood turtles have a sculptured, keeled carapace that is brown to grayish-brown with a slightly serrated rear edge. The plastron is yellow with dark markings, while the skin is brown or gray with yellow or orange markings on the neck and legs. Adults typically range from 5.5 to 8 inches in length, but some can get larger.
Diet – These turtles prefer to feed on a variety of plant materials, invertebrates, and small animals to meet their nutritional quota. Their diet includes insects, worms, slugs, snails, berries, mushrooms, algae, and occasionally fish and amphibians if given the opportunity.
Behavior – Wood turtles are known for their intelligence and curiosity. They are diurnal and will often travel long distances between aquatic and terrestrial habitats. They are also good swimmers, which is to be expected, but, despite that, spend more time on land compared to other turtle species. Wood turtles are known for their unique method of hunting worms, called “worm stomping,” where they tap their feet on the ground to mimic rain, causing worms to emerge. Mating occurs in the water, and during courtship, males will chase and bite the females’ legs and carapace to force them into submission.
Michigan holds an impressive variety of turtles, each with its unique characteristics, behaviors, and lifestyles. This provides you with a large pool of options if you choose to go into the pet trade.