Wood Turtle

Wood Turtle

Wood turtle

2 languages
Glyptemys insculpta
Population size
Life Span
40-58 yrs
1 kg
14-20 cm

The wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta ) is a species of turtle endemic to North America. It is in the genus Glyptemys, a genus which contains only one other species of turtle: the bog turtle (Glyptemys muhlenbergii ). The wood turtle reaches a straight carapace length of 14 to 20 centimeters (5.5 to 7.9 in), its defining characteristic being the pyramidal shape of the scutes on its upper shell. Morphologically, it is similar to the bog turtle, spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata ), and Blanding's turtle (Emydoidea blandingii ). The wood turtle exists in a broad geographic range extending from Nova Scotia in the north (and east) to Minnesota in the west and Virginia in the south. In the past, it was forced south by encroaching glaciers: skeletal remains have been found as far south as Georgia.

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It spends a great deal of time in or near the water of wide rivers, preferring shallow, clear streams with compacted and sandy bottoms. The wood turtle can also be found in forests and grasslands, but will rarely be seen more than several hundred meters from flowing water. It is diurnal and is not overtly territorial. It spends the winter in hibernation and the hottest parts of the summer in estivation.

The wood turtle is omnivorous and is capable of eating on land or in water. On an average day, a wood turtle will move 108 meters (354 ft), a decidedly long distance for a turtle. Many other animals that live in its habitat pose a threat to it. Raccoons are over-abundant in many places and are a direct threat to all life stages of this species. Inadvertently, humans cause many deaths through habitat destruction, road traffic, farming accidents, and illegal collection. When unharmed, it can live for up to 40 years in the wild and 58 years in captivity.

The wood turtle belongs to the family Emydidae. The specific name, insculpta, refers to the rough, sculptured surface of the carapace. This turtle species inhabits aquatic and terrestrial areas of North America, primarily the northeast of the United States and parts of Canada. Wood turtle populations are under high conservation concerns due to human interference of natural habitats. Habitat destruction and fragmentation can negatively impact the ability for wood turtles to search for suitable mates and build high quality nests.

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Generally solitary






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The Wood turtle is a medium-sized, semi-aquatic turtle native to North America. They have a rough carapace that is a tan, grayish-brown or brown color, with a central ridge (called a keel) made up of a pyramidal pattern of ridges and grooves. Their plastron (ventral shell) is yellowish in color and has dark patches. Although sometimes speckled with yellowish spots, the upper surface of their head is often a dark gray to solid black. The ventral surfaces of the neck, chin, and legs are orange to red with faint yellow stripes along the lower jaw of some individuals.



Wood turtles occur in a broad geographic range extending from Nova Scotia in the north (and east) to Minnesota in the west and Virginia in the south. In the past, it was forced south by encroaching glaciers: skeletal remains have been found as far south as Georgia. These turtles prefer slow-moving streams containing a sandy bottom and heavily vegetated banks. The soft bottoms and muddy shores of these streams are ideal for overwintering. Also, the areas bordering the streams (usually with open canopies) are used for nesting. Spring to summer is spent in open areas including forests, fields, bogs, wet meadows, and beaver ponds. The rest of the year is spent in the aforementioned waterways.

Wood Turtle habitat map

Climate zones

Wood Turtle habitat map
Wood Turtle
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Habits and Lifestyle

Wood turtles are diurnal creatures. During the spring, they are active during the daytime and will almost always be found within several hundred meters of a stream. The early morning and late afternoon are preferred foraging periods. Throughout this season, Wood turtles use logs, sandy shores, or banks to bask in the sunlight. During the summer, Wood turtles are considered largely terrestrial animals. At night they will rest in small creeks or nearby land (usually in areas containing some sort of underbrush or grass). During warmer weather, Wood turtles stay in the water for a larger percentage of the time. For this reason, during the winter months (and the late fall and early spring) they are considered aquatic turtles. November through February or March is spent in hibernation at the bottom of a small, flowing river. Wood turtles are generally solitary but may hibernate alone or in large groups. During this period, they bury themselves in the thick mud at the bottom of the river and rarely move. Although being solitary species, male Wood turtles establish dominance hierarchies and can be aggressive, with larger and older turtles being more dominant. Larger males rank higher on the social hierarchy often created by wood turtle colonies.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Wood turtles are omnivorous, feeding mainly on plant matter and animals both on land and in water. They eat beetles, millipedes, and slugs. Also, Wood turtles consume specific fungi, mosses, grasses, various insects, and also carrion.

Mating Habits

spring, fall
47-69 days
at birth
3-20 eggs

Mating activity among Wood turtles peaks in the spring and again in the fall, although they may breed throughout the portion of the year they are active. Males fight to gain access to females. The courtship ritual consists of several hours of 'dancing,' which usually occurs on the edge of a small stream. Males often initiate this behavior: starting by nudging the female's shell, head, tail, and legs. Because of this behavior, the female may flee from the area, in which case the male will follow. Nesting occurs from May until July. Nesting areas receive ample sunlight, contain soft soil, are free from flooding, and are devoid of rocks and disruptively large vegetation. Females may also travel long distances in search of a suitable site, sometimes a 250 meters (820 ft) trip. Before laying her eggs, the female may prepare several false nests. After a proper area is found, she will dig out a small cavity, lay about 7 eggs (but 3 to 20 is common), and fill in the area with earth. Females in general lay one clutch per year. Incubation lasts 47-69 days. Hatchlings emerge from the nest between August and October and are independent at birth. They become reproductively mature between 14 and 18 years of age.


Population threats

Despite many sightings and seemingly large and diverse distribution, Wood turtle numbers are in decline. A large number of deaths caused by humans result from habitat destruction, farming accidents, and road traffic. Also, these turtles are commonly collected illegally for the international pet trade.

Population number

The IUCN Red List and other sources don’t provide the number of the Wood turtle total population size. Currently, this species is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • In order to maintain their body temperatures through thermoregulation, Wood turtles spend a considerable amount of time basking. They reach a peak body temperature of 37 °C (99 °F) after basking. During times of extreme heat, these turtles have been known to estivate.
  • Wood turtles are very tricky hunters. They will stomp the ground with alternating hits of the left and right front feet. This behavior is thought to imitate the sound of falling rain, sometimes causing earthworms to rise to the surface where they quickly become easy prey.
  • Wood turtles can travel at a relatively fast speed (up to 0.32 km per hour (0.20 mph)); they also travel long distances during the months that they are active.
  • Wood turtles are intelligent animals. They have homing capabilities. Their mental capacity for the directional movement was discovered after an experiment that involved an individual finding food in a maze. The results proved that these turtles have locating abilities similar to that of a rat. This was also proved by another, separate experiment. One male Wood turtle was displaced 2.4 kilometers (1.5 mi) after being captured, and within five weeks, it returned to the original location.


1. Wood Turtle on Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wood_turtle
2. Wood Turtle on The IUCN Red List site - https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/4965/97416259

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