Species Description: This small, aquatic turtle is easily recognized by the yellow or orange spots covering its body and on the top of its head. Spots are not visible on the shell of most spotted turtles in West Virginia, however. They rarely exceed carapace lengths over 5 inches (12.7 cm). Their plastron may be completely black or there may be an orange pattern in the center on younger turtles. There is usually some orange on the chin and on the inside of the arms and legs. Interestingly, the spots are actually not spots -- they are clear areas in the surface of the shell that expose the color of the bone beneath. Males have a concave plastron and their cloaca is visible on the tail relatively far beyond the edge of the carapace.
Habitat: In West Virginia, spotted turtles only occur in fens in the eastern panhandle. They spend the spring in shallow, spring-fed wetlands. In the morning they can be found basking on downed cattails or on sedge hummocks and they usually feed on crustaceans in the afternoon and evening. In summer most spotted turtles go into aestivation, a period of hot-weather dormancy, usually in fields or woodlands. They may also aestivate in soft-bottomed pools of water. Spotted turtles probably hibernate under the waterlogged roots of trees or in underwater burrows in the ground in West Virginia.
Breeding Activity: Mating occurs in this species just after hibernation, usually in March and April. Three to five eggs are deposited in shallow, flask-shaped burrows in an open area of soil or sand during late May or early June. Incubation takes about 70-80 days. Nests are oftentimes destroyed and the eggs eaten by raccoons, foxes, or minks.
Range: Spotted turtles only exist at 5 sites in West Virginia. Some populations are large, but all are isolated on small patches of wetlands.
Comments: This turtle is declining in much of its range due to habitat destruction as well as over collecting by pet traders. These animals are very long-lived and taking adults out of already small and fragile populations can have major effects on the viability of populations. Spotted turtles are popular pets because of their small size and their wonderful demeanor. However, taking them as pets will only cause their numbers to decline even more. They are easy to observe in the wild if you know where to look. If you have to have one as a pet, you can find a wetland and visit your turtle as much as you like. Give your favorite spotted turtle a name if you want to! By leaving the turtles alone in their wetland, this species will have a better chance of still being around for many years.
Status: Species of Special Concern. Illegal to collect for commercial purposes.
Note: Past and present students are conducting research on this species in West Virginia and will be looking for new populations of this turtle. Please let Dr. Pauley know if you have any information on spotted turtles in the state (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Ariana Breisch, a current graduate student, is radio-tracking spotted and wood turtles in West Virginia. Please contact her at email@example.com .