Species At Risk

Eastern Musk Turtle

(Sternotherus odoratus)

Threatened

Eastern Musk Turtle
Eastern Musk Turtle occurrences map

Description

The Eastern Musk Turtle, also known as the Stinkpot, is a small freshwater turtle named for the musky, skunk-like odour it produces when disturbed. Its narrow, highly arched shell, less than 13 centimetres long, easily distinguishes this species from most other Ontario turtles that have wide, flatter shells. The Eastern Musk Turtle has a dull black-brown body except for two distinctive yellow stripes often found on the side of the head.

Range

In Canada, the Eastern Musk Turtle is found mostly along the southern edge of the Canadian Shield in Ontario and Quebec. In Ontario, it also occurs at various locations throughout southwestern and eastern Ontario. The limited data available indicate that the stinkpot has disappeared from much of its original range in southwestern Ontario.

Habitat

Eastern Musk Turtles are found in ponds, lakes, marshes and rivers that are generally slow-moving have abundant emergent vegetation and muddy bottoms that they burrow into for winter hibernation. Nesting habitat is variable, but it must be close to the water and exposed to direct sunlight. Nesting females dig shallow excavations in soil, decaying vegetation and rotting wood or lay eggs in muskrat lodges, on the open ground or in rock crevices.

Threats

The most significant threat to the Eastern Musk Turtle is habitat destruction, primarily through wetland drainage, pollution and shoreline development. This turtle is extremely vulnerable to drought and abnormally high water levels can drown eggs. Heavy motorboat traffic and intense angling increase adult mortality rates to potentially unsustainable levels.

Protection

The Eastern Musk Turtle is protected under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act and the federal Species at Risk Act. This species has also been designated as a Specially Protected Reptile under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.

What You Can Do to Help the Eastern Musk Turtle

  • The Ministry of Natural Resources tracks species at risk such as the the Eastern Musk Turtle. The Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas collects observations of all Ontario reptiles and amphibians. Submit your observations to either of these databases at nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca/species/species_report.cfm and www.ontarionature.org/atlas. Photographs are important to help confirm the identification of species and are always helpful.
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
  • Never buy turtles that have been caught in the wild and never buy a native species of any kind that’s being sold as a pet.
  • Eastern Musk Turtles can spend their entire life near the same water body, which provides important nesting and hibernation habitat. Maintain a buffer of natural shoreline vegetation and do not disturb aquatic vegetation. Old muskrat lodges, in particular, can be popular Eastern Musk Turtle nesting areas.
  • Since Eastern Musk Turtles often bask in shallow water, they can be hard to see and can be easily hit by outboard motors of boats coming in to shore. If you know there are Eastern Musk Turtles in the area please drive carefully!
  • Private land owners have an important role to play in species at risk recovery. If you find an Eastern Musk Turtle or nest on your property, you may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
  • Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.
  • Visit the Ontario Nature Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas (www.ontarionature.org/atlas) or Toronto Zoo Adopt-a-Pond website (www.torontozoo.com/Adoptapond) to learn more about Ontario’s rare turtles, their habitat, and related conservation initiatives.

Did you know?

Unlike other turtles, the Eastern Musk Turtle rarely leaves the water except when females lay eggs. It spends most of the day resting on the soft lake bottom, foraging for food or basking in the sun under floating aquatic vegetation in shallow water.

Did you know?

This turtle is a poor swimmer and usually walks along the lake bottom in search of food (aquatic molluscs and insects).

Did you know?

The Eastern Musk Turtle is able to partially close the front portion of its shell for protection.


The Endangered Species Act


Contact your local ministry office


Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.