Spotted Turtle

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Filed under Outdoor Notes

April 29, 2013

There are only about thirteen species of turtle in Pennsylvania, maybe nine of those are found in the Central Ridge and Valley.  Of these, perhaps the hardest to spot is the Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata).[1] There is really nothing particularly striking about Spotted Turtles, although they are, as turtles go, colorful creatures. They tend to be small–my Peterson Guide lists the record as 5 inches–and they are seldom seen, which may have as much to do with a very short active period as with actual rarity.[2] They have a Pennsylvania State ranking of S3 (Vulnerable), although they are listed as Globally secure (G5).[3]

Spotted Turtle  (Clemmys guttata)

Spotted Turtle

I have seen precisely four Spotted Turtles in my entire life, all here in Central Pennsylvania.  

The first was in a small drainage stream in a lowland forest one April about ten years ago. I didn’t know what I was looking at for certain. I didn’t have a camera, and I didn’t think it was much of anything special.

I saw the second one seven years ago, on the 6th of May 2006, sunning on an emergent log in a vernal pool.

Spotted Turtle in vernal pool.

Spotted Turtle in vernal pool.

Two years ago, on the 14th of April 2013, I found another one, also sunning on an emergent log in a different vernal pool some thirty miles away.

Spotted Turtle in vernal pool.

Spotted Turtle in vernal pool.

I have gone back to the spot where I saw the first one many times over the last ten springs. This year, on the 8th of April, I finally found one—and this time I had my camera.

Spotted Turtle  (Clemmys guttata)

Spotted Turtle

Spotted Turtles seem to prefer it a little cool.  On warmer days, they tend to limit their activity to the mornings. In Pennsylvania, they emerge from hibernation early in the spring, as early as March, and by early summer, they have gone to ground, spending the summer buried under the leaf litter of the surrounding forest.[4])

In the fall they move to hibernation points in muskrat dens and in the mud at the bottom of flowing streams. They will emerge the next spring once the water temperature reaches the low 40s.


  1. This excludes the Bog Turtle, Pennsylvania’s poster child for conservation. The Bog Turtle is generally not found in the mountains, although a couple of years ago one was found trundling through a parking lot near Swatara State Park. There is a great little write up here: Information on Pennsylvania Turtles is found at ((See []
  2. Conant and Collins. Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians Eastern Central North America, 3rd. ed., Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, NY, 1991). Note that the measurement referenced is the length of the carapace. []
  3. G5: “Common; widespread and abundant.” S3: Vulnerable in the nation or state due to a restricted range, relatively few populations (often 80 or fewer), recent and widespread declines, or other factors making it vulnerable to extirpation. Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program. Rank and Status Definitions (webpage). Accessed 17 April. []
  4. Information on the Spotted Turtle comes almost completely from Hulse, McCoy, and Censky.  Amphibians and Reptiles of Pennsylvania and the Northeast, (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY. 2001 []

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