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Wild About Illinois Turtles! - Family Kinosternidae

Photos © photographer named. No photographs included within this information may be used on the internet, publications or any other form of media without the photographer's express permission. All rights reserved.


yellow mud turtle (Kinosternon flavescens)** Photo © Scott R. Ballard

The yellow mud turtle averages four to five inches in length. Its soft parts are black or gray. It has paired barbels (whisker-like projections) on the chin and neck. The barbels and front half of the lower jaw have a yellow tinge. The carapace (upper shell) is flattened and dark brown in color. The plastron (lower shell) is double-hinged.
 
The yellow mud turtle lives in sand prairies in shallow ponds and sloughs in west-central and northwestern Illinois. This turtle is aquatic. It buries itself in sand in the heat of summer and hibernates there in winter. It excretes a bad-smelling musk when disturbed. Mating occurs in spring. The female deposits three to four eggs in a soil nest in summer. Hatching occurs in late summer. This turtle feeds while walking along the bottom of ponds and sloughs. It eats snails, insects, fishes, crayfish and mussels.
 
 

eastern mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum) Photo © Scott R. Ballard
The eastern mud turtle averages about three to four inches in length. Its carapace (upper shell) is smooth and some shade of brown. The plastron (lower shell) is double-hinged. A broad bridge connects the upper and lower shells. The head is spotted, mottled or streaked with yellow. This animal has barbels (whisker-like projections) on its chin and neck.
 
The eastern mud turtle lives in the southern one-third of Illinois in shallow water with a soft bottom such as in marshes, ditches, swamps and sloughs. This turtle is aquatic but often leaves the water. Mating occurs in spring. The female deposits one to six eggs in a nest dug in soil or vegetation in spring or early summer. This animal feeds while walking along the bottom of ponds and sloughs, eating mostly insects.
 
 

eastern musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) Photo © Dr. E. O. Moll
The eastern musk turtle averages three and one-fourth to four and one-half inches in length. Its oval, high-domed shell may be covered with algae. The carapace (upper shell) is smooth and brown to black in color. The plastron (lower shell) has one hinge. Barbels (whisker-like projections) are present on the chin and throat. Two light stripes are located on each side of the head.
 
The eastern musk turtle lives in the shallow, still water of rivers and small streams statewide. This turtle is aquatic, but it may be seen basking on logs or other objects along the water's edge. It is sometimes called “stinkpot" due to the foul smelling musk this turtle may release from its scent glands when disturbed. It may climb fairly high into trees along the water's edge, if the trees are leaning over the water. The musk turtle is most active from before sunrise through early morning and again from late evening until shortly after dark. It buries itself in mud to overwinter. Courtship and mating occur from April through June. The female deposits three to five eggs in a nest dug in the soil. The eggs hatch in early fall. This turtle eats arthropods (insects, spiders and others), fishes, worms, algae, dead animals and mollusks (snails, slugs and others).
 
* = threatened in Illinois
** = endangered in Illinois