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spotted turtle

Fact File

Scientific Name: Clemmys guttata

Classification: Reptilia, Order Testudines, Family Emydidae

Conservation Status:

Identifying Characteristics

This is a small freshwater turtle reaching a maximum carapace length of 5 inches. The carapace (upper shell) is black to blue-black with 3 to 92 yellow or cream-colored spots. The plastron (lower shell) is yellow, cream, or orange-ish with large black blotches. The skin on head, neck, and limbs is dark gray to black with a variable number of yellow spots on them; the undersides of the limbs are reddish to yellowish in color. Juveniles are colored and patterned as adults, but with one spot in most pleural and vertebral scutes. Older individuals usually have more spots than juveniles, and the carapace may be very worn, eroded, and spotless. The non-breeding territory for this species is 1.3 acres (.002 square miles). This species is active from spring thaw until June. Mating occurs in spring in shallow water. Two to seven eggs are laid in the late spring or summer. Basking occurs frequently, especially early in the activity season, on logs, stumps, grass mats, and tussocks. This turtle overwinters underwater in mud, under banks, or in muskrat burrows.


Although primarily a Coastal Plain species, there are several records from the Piedmont region and a few records in Augusta and Page counties. This species typically inhabits a variety of shallow, tannin stained “blackwater” habitats that are in close proximity to forested areas. They avoid large, open bodies of water such as lakes and reservoirs.


The spotted turtle is found east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but is also found in Augusta and Page counties in the Shenandoah Valley. It inhabits a variety of shallow-water aquatic habitats, including ponds, streams, flooded fields, bogs, forested wetlands, and freshwater marshes, that have wooded areas nearby.

Did you know?

The “spots” on the carapace are actually clear windows in the keratin layer revealing the yellow coloration from below.

Last updated: November 11, 2023

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