This species is relatively small, with adult carapace (top shell) length averages between 9-13 cm. Spotted Turtles are well known for their distinct carapace- it is black in colour and has large bright yellow or yellow-orange spots. Their plastron (bottom shell) is orange or yellow-orange with black blotches, but as they are it becomes almost entirely black. Their head is black and has yellow or yellow-orange spots with large orange “ear patches” on each side. Spotted Turtles also have legs that are black with yellow-orange spots on the upper side and orange or pink-orange spots on the underside. Females have orange irises and orange along their mouths, a flat plastron, and a thin tail. Males have light brown irises and light brown along their mouths, as well as concave plastrons, and thicker tails.
The foraging observations of 227 Spotted Turtles in Ontario found that their diet is composed of 74% aquatic invertebrates like snails, leeches, and worms, 16% carrion, and small amounts of vegetation and tadpoles (Rasmussen et al. 2009). They generally forage along the bottom of lakes, ponds, rivers, and wetlands.
Biology and Behaviour:
Spotted Turtles typically travel smaller distances than other Ontario turtle species. They can migrate hundreds of metres among aquatic sites and between aquatic and terrestrial sites, but average daily movements are typically less than 30 m. They are most active in cool weather, which is generally early spring and fall. Normal activity temperature range is between 3 - 32 degrees Celsius.
Spotted Turtles will move to their breeding and nesting grounds once the weather warms up in the spring. They tend to return to the same breeding sites each year. Spotted turtles are usually the first species to emerge from hibernation in their region. Nesting takes place from late May to late June and primarily occurs at night, although they will also nest on warm overcast afternoons, and while it rains. They will travel up to 900 m and spend up to 9 days on land before returning to their wetland habitat. Spotted Turtles prefer to nest in substrates like soil, gravel, sand, clay, or sphagnum. They can usually find these substrates in shallow soil under lichen, moss and leaf litter on rocky outcrops, mossy hummocks in flooded zones, open peat areas along drain banks, hayfield edges adjacent to wetlands, muskrat lodges, decaying logs and stumps, paved road shoulders, mowed fields, and more. Spotted Turtles will lay 1-7 eggs and they will incubate in the nest for 70-100 days. In Ontario, hatchlings emerge between early September and late October. This species reaches sexual maturity at about 11-15 years old. The Ontario populations have been reported to reach ages of 110 for females and 65 for males.
Winter hibernation in Ontario generally lasts 6 to 7 months. They move to hibernation areas in late summer to late fall and remain there from mid September until late April. Spotted Turtles are also known to hibernate communally in groups of as many as 16-34 individuals in a single area. They will also hibernate in the heat of summer, but not fully. Not all Spotted Turtles will become inactive, but those that choose summer hibernation will reduce their activity but not all together. This reduced activity period may occur from late June through to early September and can last for several days or weeks.
Spotted Turtles seem to share positive relationships with Beavers and Muskrats. Beaver dams can create shallow flooded zones which is a preferred habitat for these turtles. Muskrat lodges and mounds provide nesting and basking habitat, while shallow channels and areas of cleared emergent vegetation created by this aquatic mammal provide movement corridors. Predators of adult turtles include Raccoons, Striped Skunks, Red Foxes, Coyotes, River Otters, Bald Eagles, and American Mink. Adults are most susceptible to predation after hibernation when they are extremely lethargic and unable to react quickly to protect themselves. Eggs and hatchlings are often predated by Raccoons, Red Foxes, Skunks, and Coyotes.
Adult Spotted Turtles may be confused with juvenile Blanding’s Turtles, which also have a dark carapace and yellow flecks that resemble the yellow spots of this species. However, Blanding’s can be distinguished by their yellow chins and throats. Spotted Turtles also have more of a polka dot yellow pattern on their top shell, where Blanding’s have more of a flecked pattern.
Conservation and recovery strategies:
Stricter enforcement of legislation preventing harvesting of this species is needed since poaching is a huge issue. Habitat location data protection and enforcement is crucial for Ontario subpopulations so that poachers cannot learn where they are. Protecting and restoring Spotted Turtle habitats- particularly small, shallow wetlands should be carried out using land acquisition, stewardship, and restoration projects. Invasive species reporting and control is also important for habitat restoration. Lowering speed limits along roads close to wetlands and putting up signs for vehicles to watch for turtles should also be included in the recovery strategy.
Since the Spotted Turtle is listed as Endangered, this species and their general habitat are both protected. The Ontario Government has both short and long term goals, with the short term being to immediately protect known habitat and monitor subpopulations in order to start immediate species recovery. Long term goals are habitat restoration in order to create more habitat to support larger populations. Government, agencies, and organizations like The Land Between are working to help locate and report this species since they are not commonly found.
SARA. 2018. Recovery Strategy for the Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) in Canada
Species at Risk Act. Species at Risk Act. Ottawa. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/species-risk-public-registry/recovery-strategies/spotted-turtle-2018.html
COSEWIC. 2014. COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Spotted Turtle Clemmys guttata in Canada. Ottawa. Xiv-74 pp. https://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/virtual_sara/files/cosewic/sr_Spotted%20Turtle_2014_e.pdf
Seburn, D. and C. Seburn. 2000. Conservation Priorities for the Amphibians and Reptiles of Canada. World Wildlife Fund Canada and Canadian Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network.
Rasmussen, M.L. and Litzgus, J.D., 2010. Patterns of maternal investment in spotted turtles (Clemmys guttata): implications of trade-offs, scales of analyses, and incubation substrates. Ecoscience, 17(1), pp.47-58.
Rasmussen, M.L. and Litzgus, J.D., 2010b. Habitat Selection and Movement Patterns of Spotted Turtles (Clemmys guttata): Effects of Spatial and Temporal Scales of Analyses Megan L. Rasmussen1 and Jacqueline D. Litzgus1
Rasmussen, M.L., J.E. Paterson, and J.D. Litzgus. 2009. Foraging ecology of Spotted Turtles (Clemmys guttata) in Ontario. Herpetological Review 40: 286-288.
Litzgus, J.D. and R.J. Brooks. 2000. Habitat and temperature selection of Clemmys guttata in a northern population. Journal of Herpetology 34: 178-185.
Lewis, T.L. and Ritzenthaler, J., 1997. Characteristics of hibernacula use by spotted turtles, Clemmys guttata, in Ohio. Chelonian Conservation and Biology, 2, pp.611-614.
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