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Wood Turtle Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common Name:Wood Turtle
Scientific Name:Glyptemys (Clemmys) insculpta
Life Span:More than 20 years, up to 58 years
Care Level:Intermediate
Length: 5 to 9 inches, on average
Weight:1 kilogram
Habitat:Near lakes, rivers, and streams
Country of Origin:Canada and Northeastern United States

Naming & Taxonomy

The wood turtle was originally listed under the genus Clemmys, but they were transferred to the genus Glyptemys. They share this genus with the bog turtle, with who they have lots of similar characteristics. Throughout history, the wood turtle has experienced numerous name changes until they have settled into this one. At present times, they are also known for the common names redleg, red-legged tortoise, and sculptured tortoise.

Physical Description

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The wood turtles measure an average of 9 inches, which is around 32 centimeters, in total length, but their carapace length is usually about 14 to 20 centimeters. The shape of their carapaces are brown, grayish brown, or tan, which has a keel, or a ridge in its center with a pattern shaped like a pyramid of grooves and ridges.

When they are fully grown, they weigh around 1 kilogram or 35 ounces. Their large scutes, or their external scales, showcase a display of yellow and black lines. Their ventral shell, or their plastron, are colored yellow with some dark patches. On the other hand, their plastron’s posterior margin ends in a notch that is shaped like the letter V.

The head of wood turtles are colored black but can sometimes look like a dark gray. Sometimes, their heads are littered with yellow speckles, too. On their legs, necks, and chins, you will find orange or red surfaces with light yellow stripes. Some experts also suggest that these colors throughout their bodies have seasonal variations.

Wood turtles are also known to have some sexual differences. The males are around 3 to 5 centimeters bigger than the females, and they also have larger claws, larger heads, and longer tails. Also, female wood turtles have flat plastrons while the males have concave ones. The reds and oranges scattered around their bodies are much more vibrant for male wood turtles compared to female ones. 

Wood turtles also have a few morphological differences. Those who live in the midwest are paler in complexion compared to those living near the east of the United States. Those who are in the southern areas also have lesser genetic diversity compared to the other turtles.

Conservation Status

Though they are still well distributed in their natural habitats, the actual number of wood turtles are showing a great decline. Though there are laws against international pet trade, the enforcement and public education on this matter is still very minimal.

Their populations are threatened by raccoons, which are also over-abundant in their habitats. Additionally, humans cause a large percentage of wood turtle death, mainly due to illegal collection, farming accidents, road accidents, and habitat destruction. These factors hinder the wood turtles from looking for suitable partners and establishing their homes.

The common predators that attack the wood turtle are foxes, cats, snapping turtles, common ravens, coyotes, and raccoons. These threatening animals eat the eggs, hatchlings, and juveniles of the wood turtles. 

Life Span

Should there be ideal living conditions, wood turtles can live for 40 years in the wild and 58 years under excellent private care.

Availability and Natural Habitat

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Wood turtles are widely available in Canada, particularly in Nova Scotia. They can also be found in the Northeastern United States, particularly in Minnesota and Virginia. In the past, their remains have been traced to Georgia. Their overall population is seen to be small and isolated in terms of distribution.

Wood turtles are semi-aquatic creatures that prefer to live and spend most of their time near shallow waters, like rivers with sandy bottoms and clear streams. At times, the wood turtle can also be spotted in grasslands and forests, but they are always a few hundred meters away from natural water sources.

Behavior

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Wood turtles are not overly territorials animals, and they are diurnal, which means that they prefer to be active during the day and sleep during the nights. Also, they like spending the hottest times in the summers for estivation, and they also spend their winters in hibernation.

During springtime, the wood turtle can be seen roaming around in the day, starting from about 7:00 AM onwards, and they usually spend time near flowing bodies of water. They also spend lots of time basking in the sunlight, and they usually hang out in river banks, sandy shores, and on top of logs. To maintain thermoregulation in their body, they spend a lot of their time basking in the late mornings until the afternoons. The preferred peak body temperature is 37 degrees Celsius or 99 degrees Fahrenheit.

During the evenings, the wood turtle’s body temperature drops to 15 degrees to 20 degrees Celsius, and they love resting in grasslands, underbrushes, or small creeks.

Wood turtles are also omnivores, being able to eat plants and meat. The same way that they spend time on land and in water, they also eat in both areas, too. On average, they can walk for about 354 feet or 108 meters in a single day, which is actually a long-distance if it would be compared to other turtles.

When the weather becomes warmer, the wood turtles spend more time underwater, which shows their aquatic side. From November to February, they spend their time burrowed under the bottoms of rivers and begin their hibernation. They will usually emerge upon the land in March and April, where it becomes more active again.

Older wood turtles exhibit dominant behaviors, while male turtles have aggressive tendencies. In their communities, the larger ones have more social power in their hierarchies. Those who are weaker and more submissive experience physical abuse like ramming, shoving, and biting from the other turtles much more often compared to stronger ones.

Diet

As omnivores, the wood turtles often feed on plant matter and prey animals like slugs, beetles, and millipedes. They also consume carrion, insects, grasses, mosses, and fungi like Amanita muscaria and Leccinum arcolatum.  

Eating Habits

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In the wild, while they are hunting for prey, the wood turtle often pokes its head into decaying logs, bottoms of bushes, and other vegetative areas. When they are underwater, they tend to search rivers, algae beds, and sides of streams.

In captivity, you have the option to feed your wood turtles with slugs, snails, earthworms, canned snails, canned invertebrates, grubs, crickets, waxworms, sowbugs, roaches, mealworms, and pink mice. For their planting needs, you need to feed them carrots, mushrooms, peas, squash, apples, yams, kale, dandelions, and berries.

You can feed young wood turtles daily and the adult ones every other day.

Development and Reproduction

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In reaching sexual maturity, it takes the wood turtles a long time, and they also struggle with a low fecundity rate. In fact, the wood turtle becomes mature when they reach 14 years to 18 years of age.

Their courting ritual begins with dancing, which means that the males nudge the females, and they spend time chasing each other. These activities can last for several hours. Once it has been established that they will begin mating, the female’s head will be gently bitten by the male, and the male wood turtle will then mount her.

Their intercourse happens in the water, and it usually lasts around 20 to 33 minutes. 

Wood turtles are competitive individuals, and they follow a social hierarchy.  Sometimes, the more dominant males try to remove another turtle who is mating with a female. Among male wood turtles, the opportunities to mate also depend on their social ranking. But, rather than being dictated by their size, this opportunity is dictated by their aggressiveness.

Wood turtles are oviparous, which means they give birth to their young through laying eggs. Aside from building a nest for the turtle hatchlings, the mother wood turtle does nothing else to show parental care. For hatchlings to survive, it depends on how good the nesting construction and the area where it was placed. In fact, the female wood turtle spends lost of energy and time on this.

Usually, wood turtle nests are three inches deep and four inches wide. When the eggs lie in the nest, the female turtle covers it with dirt and other plant matter so that they will remain hidden from predators. 

Young wood turtle hatchlings are normally as big as 1 to 1.5 inches in carapace length with brown or pale grey plastrons. Their tails are also about 1 to 1.5 inches long, and they do not possess the famous wood turtle colors yet.

Mating Season

For wood turtles, the mating season begins every spring, and it happens again during the fall. 

Common Health Problems

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The common diseases that wood turtles may acquire are abscesses, vitamin A deficiencies, shell fractures, shell infections, parasites, and respiratory diseases.

The symptoms of these illnesses are as follows:

Vitamin A deficiencies

These situations occur when the nutrition levels of the turtles are too low, and their diet is inappropriate for them. For instance, being consistent on a “lettuce, carrots and vegetable only” diet, a “meat only” diet, or a “cricket and fruit only” diet are all unbalanced and end up with insufficient nutrients. When this happens, you will be able to see changes in the mucous membranes and the outer layer of your wood turtle’s skin, lethargy, a lack of appetite, swelling of the eyes, swelling of the ear, and other respiratory infections.

Respiratory Infections

Brought up by bacteria, respiratory problems have similar symptoms to Vitamin A deficiency, like runny noses and swollen eyes. These illnesses are also identified by wheezing, breathing using their mouths, mucous in their mouths, lethargy, and loss of appetite.

Abscess

These are swellings in the body of your pet that appears like a tumor and are often seen near the ear of wood turtles.

Dysecdysis

This happens when the wood turtle does not shed their scutes properly. As this can become infected, this must be dealt with by a herp veterinarian.

Metabolic Bone Disease

MBD is often seen as some noticeable deformities in the shell of a turtle, and this is a result of a poor diet, a low-quality habitat, and a lack of proper exercise.

Shell Rot

This illness is described to be ulcers and infections on the shell of the turtle. Some are just superficial, but others can be really deep and intense. 

Kidney Failure

Your wood turtle might be experiencing calcium deficiencies, which will, later on, result in kidney failure. Some signs to diagnose are softening of the scute and the shell of your pet turtle.

Parasites

One of the most common problems you will encounter can be detected through sudden changes in their appetite, weight loss, and their fecal matter looking unhealthy. This can be traced to mites, worms, ticks, or protozoa.

There are actually simple signs that show if your wood turtle might not be in tiptop health conditions. Generally, as long as you notice a deviation from your pet turtle’s normal activities and behavior should immediately be a cause of concern and a reason to have your pet evaluated by a trusted and licensed veterinarian.

To treat these diseases, this is what happens:

  1. Vitamin A deficiencies can be treated by injectable or oral vitamin A supplements. But, to be careful with the dosage, you should only ask for the help of a licensed veterinarian. If you give the wrong amounts of vitamin A, your pet wood turtle can also suffer from hypervitaminosis, which results from an over-dosage or incorrect usage of the vitamin.
  2. As most respiratory illnesses are caused by infections and bacteria, you should bring your wood turtle to a licensed veterinarian. The turtle will undergo some blood tests, bacterial cultures, radiographs, and other tests to diagnose their health concerns. If the sickness is found actually to be an infection, the wood turtle will be administered some nose drops, antibiotics, and other injectable medicines. If your turtle is critically sick, they will require intensive care where they will be force-fed and undergo fluid therapy.
  3. For abscesses, surgical treatment is required. The veterinarians will open the abscess and flush them with medicated solutions to heal the wound. The vet will also take a culture of the abscess to distinguish the underlying cause of this health concern. As an additional treatment plan, the veterinarian will also provide topical medications and injectable antibiotics.
  4. For shell fracture concerns, these are normally repaired by an expert veterinarian. In some cases, the severity of the fracture leads to irreparable damages. In other cases, shell damage caused by infections just involves finding the underlying cause, cleaning the wood turtle’s shell, and applying anti-microbial therapy.
  5. For parasitic health concerns, veterinarians recommend deworming medications to get rid of the parasites. Before this, the fecal examination will determine the microorganism, and the results dictate the type of medicine to be used.

Caging

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To set up a wood turtle terrarium, here are the things you should take note of. You can invest in custom made enclosures for your adult turtles. As they average on 8 to 9 inches, the area must at least be 5 feet by 5 feet. You can use glass terrariums, cattle troughs, or plastic rabbit cages, whichever you think will be best.

As they are semi-aquatic, a shallow water bowl that is about 2 feet by 2 feet will be more than enough for the turtle. Though these turtles love swimming and love spending time underwater, they are not highly skilled swimmers, so you should not give them an area that is too deep. For ideal depth, make sure that the turtle can reach its head into the surface without having the need to swim. As added support, add some plastic or live plants to the water area.

For their shelter, you should also install good hiding spots in their enclosure, including loose substrates where they can burrow in and some turtle huts for terrariums.

Substrate

For wood turtle enclosures, the best terrariums have a mixture of peat, slightly moist topsoil, and sphagnum moss as their substrates. To give your wood turtles an enjoyable way to spend their time, add a batch of dead leaves where they can hunt some insects and invertebrates. Regularly replace your substrates for a clean enclosure and for endless adventures for your pet.

Lighting 

For a healthy turtle, your enclosure must have some UVB light installed. Natural light is preferred, but UVB light is a great second option. For best results, your wood turtles must have the liberty to bask within 6 to 12 inches of a UVB light. Without having UVB lights, the chances for the wood turtle to acquire Metabolic Bone Disease increases.

They need a minimum of 12 hours of UVB lighting in a day so that they can process minerals and vitamins. But, remember to place the light at a proper distance because too much exposure can result in turtle stress. Also, glass can block out the UVB lighting, so the top of the enclosure must have a mesh covering that will allow lighting to come through. To regulate day and night periods, use a timer.

Temperature

Within the enclosure, the temperatures used must range around 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the colder areas and 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the basking spot. During the day, you can use incandescent bulbs for warmth, while red or black reptile bulbs can be used during the night. For better temperature options, get the largest enclosure for your pet turtle, so that you can establish gradient areas where temperature varies from cold to warm. The temperature gradients allow the turtle to make some thermal regulations due to their option to move into cooler areas or warmer areas as they deem fit.

Humidity

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Wood turtles need to have moderate humidity levels because dry conditions can bring the lead to health concerns. In some turtles, low humidity levels are linked to eye infections, ear infections, and kidney diseases. Substrates must be misted daily, and a large regularly-cleaned water area must also be readily available.

Fun Facts about the Wood Turtle

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  1. Wood Turtles are considered as intelligent animals because they have perfected the art of climbing and escaping their predators. 
  2. Wood Turtles have unique hunting capabilities. They stomp their feet to induce vibrations that would allow worms to wiggle to the surface so they can eat them.
  3. Wood Turtles are now considered as endangered species because there was a time that people capture them and treat them as food.
  4. Wood Turtles practice hibernation that they do in the beds of slow-moving streams about three feet under the ground.
  5. According to experts, wood turtles produce a whistling sound whenever they are courting.
  6. Every mating season, a female wood turtle can mate with multiple males.
  7. In Frederick County, Virginia, the wood turtle is sometimes called skiddlepot, skillpot, or siddlepot.
  8. The genus Glyptemys is a combination of the Greek words glypt and emys. Glypt means carved while emys means turtle.
  9. On the other hand, insculpta is derived from the Latin word for engraved, which basically describes the carapace of this turtle.
  10. According to the recent measurements, 30 percent of the population of the wood turtles are located in Canada.
  11. Wood turtles are found in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec provinces of Canada.
  12. In the United States, populations can be found in 17 states which are Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin/

Where Can You Get a Pet Wood Turtle?

If you want to get a pet wood turtle, you can get one from online breeders and reputable pet stores. Admittedly, though, acquiring these turtles can be pricey because of their dwindling population. Even so, stay away from purchasing wood turtles taken from the wild. Aside from being illegal, this practice is very difficult and can bring harm to your other pets. Most animals are taken from the wild then placed in captivity come with diseases.

How to Care for a Pet Wood Turtle?

To ensure that your pet wood turtle is always healthy, make sure that they receive enough Vitamin D and calcium supplements. Make sure that the turtle is exposed to natural sunlight so that they stay healthy. If they can only be housed indoors, research on the best lighting and install that in their enclosure. Also, monitor the temperatures in their enclosures very carefully.

As a responsible wood turtle owner, you should also educate yourself on the first signs of turtle health problems. No matter how great you provide healthcare to your pet, there is still a possibility that they get injured or sick. The things you should watch out for are partially closed or puffy eyes, discharge from their nose and mouth, green feces, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, excessive soaking, excessive pacing around its cage, and some general behaviors that they do not usually do. Once you see these signs, take action right away and seek the treatment from a licensed veterinarian.

Since not all injuries necessitate a trip to the veterinarian, you can prepare a first aid kit for initial treatment for your pet. Usually, minor injuries like scrapes and superficial cuts happen while your turtle is enjoying roaming around their enclosure. Here are some items that you can include in your first aid kit.

  • Adhesive tape
  • adhesive-coated polyurethane film dressing
  • antibiotic ointment
  • antiseptic solution
  • band-aids
  • clean towels and paper towels
  • gauze pads and cotton balls
  • latex gloves
  • magnifying glass
  • nail clippers
  • pet-vet-health
  • sharp scissors
  • spray bottle with distilled water to flush wounds
  • styptic powder or corn starch to stop bleeding
  • tweezers
  • vetwrap
  • waterproof bandages

Frequently Asked Questions

Where do wood turtles live?

Wood turtles are found in the northeastern parts of the United States and some areas in Canada. They live in streams, rivers, pastures, and meadows.

Is the wood turtle endangered?

Wood turtles are endangered at the moment, mainly because their slow reproduction finds it harder to catch up on quickly decreasing populations.

How long do wood turtles live?

Wood turtles usually live up to 50 years. One of the oldest ones recorded has reached 58 years old.

How do you identify a wood turtle?

A wood turtle is identifiable by its red or orange legs, slightly domed carapace that is 9 inches long, sculpted and knobby carapace, and a lightly colored plastron.

Are wood turtles aggressive?

Male wood turtles have increased aggression tendencies, and they also fight hard for dominance.

What does a wood turtle eat?

Wood turtles love eating fruits, flowers, insects, fungi, snails, slugs, and worms.

How can you tell if a wood turtle is male or female?

The best way to determine a turtle’s gender is their tail lengths. Females have skinny, short tails, while males have thick, long tails.

Do wood turtles eat fish?

Wood turtles, as omnivores, eat a huge variety of plants and animals. When feeding underwater, the wood turtles can feed on fish, especially small ones.

Where do wood turtles lay their eggs?

Wood turtles lay their eggs into the nests that they create along sandy gravel bars and moist stream banks.

Are wood turtles aquatic?

Wood turtles are semi-aquatic, meaning they are terrestrial in some parts of the year and aquatic during other months.

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