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New Jersey Endangered and Threatened Species Field Guide


Image of Spotted turtle.Zoom+ Spotted turtle. © Brian Zarate

Spotted turtle

Clemmys guttata

Species Group: Reptile

Conservation Status

State: Special Concern

 


IDENTIFICATION

The spotted turtle can be easily recognized by its yellow-spotted black shell. As the turtle ages the number of spots increase. The more spots on the shell the older the turtle is. This turtle is fairly small reaching about 5 inches in length. There are few cases where some turtles do not have spots; then you can identify them by the orange-yellow markings on the head and neck. The underside of the shell is usually black and yellow. Sex of this species can be determined by tail length and chin coloration. Males have short thick tails and dark coloration around the jaw. Females have long thin tails and yellow coloration around the jaw.

Image of Range of the spotted turtle in New Jersey.Zoom+ Range of the spotted turtle in New Jersey.

DISTRIBUTION AND HABITAT

The spotted turtle’s range is limited to eastern North America from Ontario and Quebec in the north to Florida in the south. The western limit of its range is Michigan and Indiana.

Spotted turtles spend the majority of their time in slow moving, shallow waters with a soft bottom of marshy vegetation including sphagnum moss, cattails, and water lilies just to name a few. These aquatic plants are important in the spotted turtle’s habitat. These shallow water ecosystems include bogs, marshes, swamps, ponds, streams, etc. They can occasionally be found swimming in slightly deeper waters. This species occasionally wanders on land to nest. Various moist sites along wetlands are sometimes used for hibernation.

DIET

Spotted turtles mainly feed in water. Their diet may include vegetation matter such as aquatic grasses and green algae. They’ll also consume aquatic insect larvae, small crustaceans, snails, and tadpoles.

LIFE CYCLE

Spotted turtles breed between March and May. Breeding can occur both on land and underwater. A female turtle usually has about 2 to 8 eggs in the nest. Females only lay eggs once or twice a year. The gestation period lasts about 70 to 80 days.

The sex of the turtles in the eggs is dependent on temperatures in the surrounding environment. Higher temperatures normally produce females and lower temperatures normally produce males.

CURRENT THREATS, STATUS, AND CONSERVATION

Although spotted turtles may be found throughout much New Jersey, there are still some threats to this species. Habitat destruction, road mortality, predation, collection for pet trade purposes, and pollution are just a few threats facing this species. Habitat destruction is a major reason for the population decline of spotted turtles in this state.

Habitat destruction and fragmentation isolate individuals from finding mates and food. This causes local populations to decline in numbers or become extirpated from an area. Their slow reproductive rate does not allow for a fast recovery if a local population losses several individuals in a given amount of time.

Many species of turtles are highly sought for their use in the illegal pet trade (one of the world’s most profitable markets). Many people illegally collect turtles to breed in captivity for use as pets. Another conservation concern is the impact of high mortality rates from impacts with motor vehicles. Many roads transect suitable habitat for spotted turtles and many turtles that enter roadways die each year.

These threats have exacerbated their decline and due to that fact the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, Endangered and Nongame Species Program have listed them as a Species of Special Concern. This listing will mostly importantly help garner protection through enhanced habitat protection of suitable or critical habitat for spotted turtles.

HOW TO HELP

The Endangered and Nongame Species Program would like for individuals to report their sightings of spotted turtles. Record the date, time, location, and condition of the animal and submit the information by submitting a Sighting Report Form. The information will be entered into the state’s natural heritage program, commonly referred to as Biotics. Biologists map the sighting and the resulting maps “allow state, county, municipal, and private agencies to identify important wildlife habitats and protect them in a variety of ways. This information is used to regulate land-use within the state and assists in preserving endangered and threatened species habitat remaining in New Jersey.”

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
    Phylum: Chordata
       Class: Reptilia
          Order: Testudines
             Family: Emydidae
                Genus: Clemmys
                   Species: C. guttata

Find Related Info: Special concern, Reptiles

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Download the complete list of New Jersey's Endangered, Threatened, & Special Concern species.