stripe-necked musk turtle

(Sternotherus minor peltifer)


This is a small aquatic turtle reaching a maximum carapace (upper shell) length of about 5 inches. The carapace is strongly arched, brown to olive brown, and may have small, nondistinct black spots. The skin is brown to gray-brown with gray to yellow mottling on legs. It has a large head with black speckling on the top and a pair of barbels on the chin. The throat has alternating yellowish and black to dark brown stripes. The juvenile is similar to the adult in pattern but has a single pronounced keel on the carapace. This turtle is a bottom walker and seldom basks. It can spend long periods submerged in water due to its ability to absorb oxygen from the water through the lining of the mouth and throat.


In Virginia, this species is known only from the Clinch, Holston, and Powell Rivers and their tributaries in Lee and Scott Counties. This is a completely aquatic turtle that is restricted to rivers and their tributaries. This turtle occurs commonly around snags and fallen trees and prefers a soft substrate. Overwintering occurs under banks and in muskrat burrows.


This species is carnivorous, but may occasionally eat plant material. Food includes mollusks, crustaceans, aquatic insects, terrestrial insects, aquatic plants, and algae. As these turtles grow, they develop expanded crushing surfaces in both jaws and enlarged jaw muscles, apparently in response to eating primarily mollusks.