Species At Risk

Spotted Turtle

(Clemmys guttata)


Spotted Turtle


The Spotted Turtle is one of Ontario’s smallest turtles with a shell that is rarely more than 13 centimetres long. It is easily recognized by its smooth black shell, which is spattered with bright yellow-orange spots. The head and limbs are also black with yellow-orange markings. These turtles eat aquatic insects, crustaceans and worms.


In Canada, the Spotted Turtle is found primarily in Ontario along the north shore of Lake Erie, in the Georgian Bay area and in scattered locations throughout southern and eastern Ontario. Over the last 30 to 40 years, Spotted Turtles have declined significantly and are no longer found at several sites in southern Ontario.

It is difficult to estimate the Ontario population size, but recent data suggests there are approximately 2000 individual Spotted Turtles spread throughout several small, scattered populations. Of the handful of known populations, only a few are large enough to ensure long-term survival.


The Spotted Turtle is semi-aquatic and prefers ponds, marshes, bogs and even ditches with slow-moving, unpolluted water and an abundant supply of aquatic vegetation. They are found in different types of wetlands throughout the province, depending on the types of habitats that are available. Females dig their nests in sunny locations where there is not a lot of woody vegetation. This species usually hibernates in wetlands or seasonally wet areas associated with structures including overhanging banks, hummocks, tree roots, or aquatic animal burrows.


The most significant threats are habitat destruction and illegal collection for the pet trade. Activities that alter the water table during the winter, such as digging a ditch along a road, can wipe out an entire population. Nest predation, pollution, and road mortality have also contributed to its decline. Since this turtle is slow to reach sexual maturity (up to 15 years) and suffers high egg and juvenile mortality, population recovery may be slow.


The Spotted 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 Spotted Turtle

  • The Ministry of Natural Resources tracks species at risk such as the Spotted 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.
  • The Spotted Turtle is a common target of the illegal pet and food trade. 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.
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
  • As with all wildlife, don't disturb nests, young or adults. Be respectful and observe from a distance.
  • Every year turtles must cross busy roads to get to their nesting sites. Watch for turtles on the roads, especially between May and October. Some municipalities post road signs in areas where turtles are common
  • Private land owners have an important role to play in the recovery of the Spotted Turtle. Spotted Turtles can return to use the same nesting and hibernation sites over several years. These areas can be crucial for survival of the local population. If you find a Spotted 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?

The Spotted Turtle is relatively social. It congregates to breed in the spring and also often hibernates in groups. Females even nest together in some sites.

Did you know?

Spotted Turtles often emerge from hibernation when there is still partial ice cover.

Did you know?

Most female and male turtles look a little bit different. In the case of Spotted Turtles, females have bright orange eyes and chins whereas males’ are dark brown or black.

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.