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wood turtle

(Glyptemys insculpta)


This is a medium-sized turtle, up to 9 inches in length, with a keeled, sculptured carapace. The broad, low carapace is rough, and each large scute supports an irregular pyramid formed by a series of concentric growth ridges. The skin is dark brown to black, often with some orange or red pigment on the forelegs and neck. The tail is rather long. Wood turtles lack the bright orange patch on the side of the head found in the bog turtle. Hatchling wood turtles are gray to brown and lack red or orange pigment on the head and legs. Known hatchling emergence dates in Virginia are from June to August. Clutches of 7-14 eggs are most common.Wood turtles emit a courting whistle sounding like a tea kettle. This species is usually found roaming alone except when mating. It is a very good climber. It has a rather restricted home range and some individuals turn up year after year in the same place. This species is generally terrestrial during the warm part of the year, and aquatic during cool spells and hibernation. It hibernates in deep pools or under the mud or sand bottom of its waterway, or just sits on the bottom or crawls up under the overhanging roots of trees along the bank. Virginia specimens observed in the winter were under submerged logs, in beaver lodges, and in muskrat burrows. Although highly terrestrial, wood turtles must remain in moist habitats as they experience a greater evaporative water loss than the more terrestrial box turtles. Populations have declined due to degradation of aquatic habitats, loss of wetlands, fragmentation of habitats, urbanization, being killed by vehicular traffic, and from the collection of adults and juveniles for the pet trade.


In Virginia, this species has a restricted range extending from Arlington and northern Fairfax counties westward through Loudoun and Clarke counties to Frederick, Warren and Shenandoah counties. It has recently been found in northwestern Rockingham County. It inhabits a variety of habitats, such as forested floodplains, fields, wet meadows, and farmland, as long as there is a creek or stream nearby.


The wood turtle eats both animal and plant food items, including berries, herbs, algae, moss, fungi, grass, insects, mollusks, earthworms, dead fish, tadpoles, newborn mice and other turtles’ eggs. It will forage on the ground, in the water, in herbaceous vegetation, and on logs.