*Does not include all Michigan Species of Turtles
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                                                      TEAM REPTILE

                               MICHIGAN TURTLE INFO PAGE

Turtles are four-legged, toothless, tailed reptiles that have a shell that covers part to most of their body.  
The shell is fused to the body and therefore, contrary to what some people believe, turtles can not come
out of their shell.  Many species do have the ability to pull their head, legs, and tail at least partially into
this shell.  The turtle’s ability to enclose itself within its shell has a lot to do with its behavior and where it
tends to live.  The more a turtle can pull itself within its shell, the less aggressive they generally are, and
the more they tend to stray from the water.  The upper portion of the shell, which covers the backside of
the turtle, is called the carapace.  The bottom portion, covering the belly-side, is called the plastron. The
turtle’s shell is made of bone, which is usually covered by scales that are called scutes.  The scutes are
usually very apparent on the carapace of all the Michigan turtles except for the Softshell turtle and the
Snapping Turtle, which each have a carapace covered by their leathery skin.  The scutes of the plastron
are usually quite apparent, except for on the Softshell Turtle, and, from our experience, on some
Snapping Turtles (see Snapping Turtle Info for more regarding this).   Female turtles lay shelled eggs in
nests on land that hatch into smaller versions of adults, although in some species, like the Blanding’s
turtle, they can look quite different from the adults when they are young.  The amount of time it takes for
the young to hatch is usually within a few months, although it can vary according to the species and the
environment.  Predators often destroy the eggs, as they are a tasty treat to many animals, including
skunks, raccoons, opossums, as well as many others.

Painted Turtle:  This turtle is named for the vibrant colors that are on its shell and extremities, as if they
were put there by a brush.  Their head and neck are black, with yellow and red colors on them.  Their
legs and tail are also black, with reddish markings usually on them.  The Painted Turtle’s carapace is
usually a dark green, olive, bronze, or black color, with very detailed red or orange markings on the
edges and sometimes between the scutes.  The plastron is generally a cream or yellow color and often
has a gray, black, or brown marking in the middle that appears as though someone did an “ink blot” test
on it.  The “Painter” as it is often referred to, is the most common turtle in Michigan, and because of its
habit of basking in the sun, is the turtle most often seen by people.  This species is also not very picky
when it comes to where it will inhabit.  We have seen Painted Turtles in rivers, lakes, ponds, swamps,
and even large puddles.  Although they usually live in aquatic areas, they do tend to “wander” at times in
search of a new habitat.

Common Map Turtle:  This turtle is often mistakenly identified as the Painted Turtle, although when
looked at closely, there are many distinct differences.  Common Map Turtles have yellow markings on
their black head, legs, and tail, but do not have the red markings on these areas like the Painter does.   
Map Turtles also have a “fleshy-colored” mouth region compared to the darker mouth of a Painted Turtle,
and their carapace is usually more of a tan or light bronze color.  The Map Turtle’s plastron is often
yellow or cream, like the Painter’s, however the scutes are usually outlined by a darker color, and there
is no “ink blot” in the middle.  The Map Turtle actually gets its name for the very detailed reddish lines
that run along its carapace.  When viewed closely, they look as though they could be rivers and roads on
a map.  Unlike the Painter, Map Turtles tend to be pickier about their habitat, and generally live in large
lakes or rivers.  The adult female map turtle is generally much larger than the male, and has a much
wider head with more powerful jaws.

Common Snapping Turtle:  This is the largest species of turtle in Michigan, and an adult is one of the
top predators within a pond or lake ecosystem.  They are named for their powerful jaws and aggressive
behavior.  The Snapper, as it is often called, is easily recognized by its large black, brown, tan or gray
head, limbs, and shell.  The carapace often has bumps or edges on it, although as the turtle gets older
these tend to smooth down.  The carapace is covered with skin, and is more “rubbery” than most other
Michigan turtles.  The Snapper's very small plastron causes it to not be able to pull its legs in to its shell,
which can leave its underside exposed to predators if it is flipped over by a larger predator.  This is
much of the reason why the Snapping Turtle tends to remain in the water, and why they tend to get so
aggressive when they are on land.  Their powerful jaws and claws are their only protection when they are
on land, and their aggressiveness can tend to either injure or at least scare off predators.  We have
noticed that the plastrons of Snapping Turtles are quite different in northern regions of Michigan, as
compared to the south.  The Snappers we have found north of Gaylord, MI tend to have a plastron that
covers more of the underside, and have more defined scutes.  We have also noticed that the carapace
of turtles in that region tend to have more defined scutes and annuli (growth rings).

Common Musk Turtle:  The Musk Turtle is a small turtle, with yellow stripes on its black head and neck,
that has a high dome carapace that is usually green, gray, brown, or black.  This dome, and its
coloration, allows them to blend in with the floor of their aquatic environment.  This allows them to appear
as though they are just a rock or log on the bottom of a lake to both predators and prey, and many times
to members of Team Reptile.  The Musk Turtle is primarily nocturnal and tends to walk along the bottom
in search of food, rather then swim.  They get their name from the nasty odor that comes from fluid
secreted from glands that are located near the plastron.  Although the Musk Turtle has a hard carapace
that can cover their head and limbs, their plastron is much smaller and does not offer much protection to
their underside.  When Musk Turtles are removed from their aquatic environment they tend to be very
aggressive, although their small size does not make them nearly as successful at deterring predators
the way a Snapper can.

Blanding’s Turtle:  The Blanding’s Turtle has a black, gray, or brown head that usually has small white
or yellow dots on it.  The carapace is also usually black, gray, or brown, and it generally has white or
yellow dots or small marks on it.  The plastron is generally yellow, with large black rectangles that line
each side.  Their long neck is bright yellow, which helps make it easier to identify the turtle from a
distance.  Blanding’s Turtles are also referred to as “semi-box” turtles, partly because they tend to spend
more time on land then many other species of turtle, and because they can partially close themselves up
in their shell.  They can do this because they have a hinge on their plastron that allows them to at least
partially close their shell to protect their head and legs from predators.  Although these turtles can get
fairly large, they tend to not be very aggressive and will usually just pull into their shell when they feel

Wood Turtle:  This is a turtle species that can be found in the mid to northern regions of the state.  They
are named for the fact that they tend to inhabit wooded areas, especially near large rivers.  They usually
have a dark gray shell, which can be quite “bumpy”.  The scutes of the Wood Turtle usually have
prominent growth rings (annuli) on each one from when they shed.  Their black head with a blunt snout,
along with the orange on their neck and legs, makes this turtle look very unique compared to other
Michigan turtles.  Their plastron is very similar to that of the Blanding’s Turtle.

Eastern Box Turtle:  These turtles are primarily a terrestrial species, spending most of their time in
woodlands and fields, usually even hibernating on land.  They are named for their ability to close their
head, limbs, and tail within their colorful high domed shell, similar to closing up a box.  They are able to
do this because the hinge on their plastron allows them to completely close each portion of the plastron
independently.  The turtles' thick, hard shell, and their ability to close themselves completely in it, causes
them to not be a very aggressive turtle.  Their head, limbs, and shell are very colorful, usually brown or
black with numerous yellow or tan markings on them.  

Softshell Turtle:  This turtle is easily recognized by its flat, round pancake appearance, and its long pig-
like snout.  They can be white, brown, gray, green, or even black, and they often have dark spots on their
carapace.  The plastron is almost non existent, and is also covered by skin.  The Softshell Turtle is
named for its soft, thin shell, which is covered by leathery skin, and really does not allow much protection
to the turtle.  The stubby webbed feet of the turtles, along with their lightweight flat shell, allow them to
move much quicker through the water then most other turtles.  These features also allow the turtles to
burrow very quickly under the mud or sand, and even move around while buried.  The lack of shell
protection and stubby feet keep the turtles from venturing on to land very often.  When the turtles are
threatened they can be very aggressive, and since they are the second largest turtle species in Michigan
they can inflict some damage with their jaws and claws.      
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