Wildlife in Your Backyard

Live in harmony with your backyard!

Wings & ThingsTurtles – Wildlife

Birds aren’t the only ones that can use your yard to their benefit.

Anything from Deer to tiny Tree Frogs can inhabit your yard to and use its resources. Here are some of the general wildlife you can see in your yard.

Chicken Turtle
chicken turtle

Photo: J.D. Willson

Description

Chicken Turtles are mid-sized turtles (6-9 in; 15-23 cm carapace length) with shells that are egg-shaped (widest over the hind legs) and patterned with a pale yellowish netlike pattern. This species has an extremely long neck that is striped with yellow and also has vertical black and yellow stripes on the “seat of its pants.” The plastron is usually yellow and unmarked, and females reach larger sizes than males.

Habitat

Chicken Turtles occasionally bask but spend most of their time in the water. They hunt amidst aquatic vegetation for prey which includes aquatic insects, amphibian larvae, small fish, and especially crayfish. This species is among the most terrestrial of our turtles and nearly all males and some females leave the wetland each fall to spend the winter buried in the forest. Additionally, during drought, this species aestivates in uplands rather than migrating to other wetlands. Chicken Turtles are unusual among turtles in that they have a winter egg-laying period that begins in late summer and early fall, declines during the coldest months and resumes again in February and March.

For more information visit: http://srelherp.uga.edu/turtles/deiret.htm

Common Musk Turtle
common musk turtle

Photo: J.D. Willson

Description

Common musk turtles are small turtles (2 – 5 in; 5-12 cm) with dark brown or black shells that may be streaked or mottled and commonly accumulates green algae. There are two distinct stripes on the head and barbels on both the chin and throat.

Habitat

Musk Turtles are primarily nocturnal, and they are often seen foraging in shallow water in the evening. They are omnivorous (e.g., seeds, insects, snails, tadpoles, algae) and will occasionally scavenge on fish carrion. This species rarely emerges to bask and is most successfully captured with nocturnal trapping techniques. Musk turtles climb surprisingly well and occasionally rest fairly high in trees. Breeding occurs in the spring and fall. Mating often occurs in the water and males bite the female to see if she is receptive before mounting. Females often lay two clutches a season of 1-9 eggs under debris in loamy soils. Clutch size varies with carapace length and age, but environmental factors could be the primary influence. There is geographical variation with time of reproduction and clutch size. Nesting aggregations are occasionally observed. Male-biased sex ratios are observed consistently across populations. This species over-winters in the debris and mud under water. The name “stinkpot” is appropriately assigned due to phenolalkalinic acid excreted from glands that create a pungent musky odor. Females reach sexual maturity at 8-9.5 cm (~ 4 yrs) and males at 6-7 cm (~ 2 yrs).

For more information visit: http://srelherp.uga.edu/turtles/steodo.htm

Common Snapping Turtle
common snapping turtle

Photo: J.D. Willson

Description

The common snapping turtle is a large turtle, ranging in size from 8 to 14 in (20-36 cm) with a record length of 19.3 in (49 cm). Their average weights range from 10 to 35 lbs (4.5 – 16 kg), with a record of 75 lbs (34 kg). Their color varies from tan to dark brown to almost black in some specimens. Common snapping turtles have long tails and necks and rough shells with three rows of carapace keels.

Habitat

Snapping turtles are highly aquatic and are seldom observed basking. At times, however, they may move long distances over land and many die attempting to cross roads. Although generally docile in water, common snapping turtles will strike viciously if captured or cornered out of water. They mate April – November and typically deposit 20 – 40 eggs in concave nests dug by the female. Common snapping turtles are omnivores, taking a wide variety of vertebrate and invertebrate prey, as well as aquatic vegetation.

For more information visit: http://srelherp.uga.edu/turtles/cheser.htm

Eastern Box Turtle
eastern box turtle

Photo: J.D. Willson

Description

Box Turtles are mid-sized, terrestrial turtles – 4.5-6 in (11.5-15.2 cm) – with a high, rounded shell that is dark with many yellow or orange splotches. The carapace pattern is variable and becomes less prominent with age. There are four toes on each hind foot. Males have a concave plastron and often have red eyes. The plastron (bottom of the shell) is hinged, allowing the box turtle to completely close it shell.

Habitat

With the exception of the Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus), this is the most terrestrial turtle in our region. They are most commonly encountered after summer rain storms and in the fall when males actively search out females. Box turtles are omnivorous and eat mushrooms, berries, grapes, persimmons, and other fruits. Although adults are mainly herbivorous, few will turn down a juicy worm, slug, or insect. Box turtles have a low metabolic rate, which allows them to survive during times when food is scarce.

For more information visit: http://srelherp.uga.edu/turtles/tercar.htm

Eastern Mud Turtle
mud turtle

Photo: J.D. Willson

Description

The eastern mud turtle is similar in appearance to the striped mud turtle, except it lacks any prominent striping on its head. The eastern mud turtle appears to have more general habitat requirements than the striped mud turtle, although the two species may occur in the same habitat. Female eastern mud turtles may nest two or three times a year during the spring and summer, often spending several days on land during each nesting event. Although hatchlings will emerge from their eggs in late summer, they remain buried underground until the following spring. Most adults also bury themselves on land in the fall and return to a wetland in the spring. Eastern mud turtles are ubiquitous in the Southeast being found in most still-water habitats.

For more information visit: http://srelherp.uga.edu/turtles/kinsub.htm

Painted Turtle
painted turtle

Photo: J.D. Willson

Description

Painted turtles are relatively small turtles (5-7 in; 10-18 cm carapace length), colorful with dark shells and yellow stripes on the legs and, blotches or spots on their heads. The edges of the shell are smooth, not serrated, and may have red or yellow hieroglyphic-like patterns on the edge of the otherwise yellow or orange-yellow plastron. Southern painted turtles are distinguished from other sub-species by a red or yellow stripe that runs down the carapace from head to tail. Their black legs also have red stripes. Females grow larger than males, but adult males have much longer front claws, which they use in mating displays. Hatchlings look like miniature, more brightly-colored adults.

Habitat

Painted turtles have a varied, omnivorous diet and are frequently seen basking on logs or rocks or some other available site. They are most active from March to November, but may be encountered on warm days throughout the year. They mate in early spring (males are known to move between aquatic habitats, presumably looking for mates) with the females coming out of the water to nest during the day in May and June.

For more information visit: http://srelherp.uga.edu/turtles/chrpic.htm

River Cooter
river cooter turtle

Photo: J.D. Willson

Description

The river cooter is a fairly large turtle (up to 12 inches) often observed basking on rocks and logs along the banks or in rivers. The olive or brown carapace is slightly flared posteriorly and often highlighted with lighter markings. On the river cooter, a light, backward-facing C-shaped mark on the second scute on each side of the carapace can be used to distinguish it from the Florida cooter turtle. The underside of some marginals is marked by doughnut-shaped dark spots with light centers. The plastron and bridge have dark markings, particularly along the seams between scutes. The head and neck have numerous yellow “hairpin” stripes. The postorbital stripe is not as broad as in the slider turtle, with which it might be confused. Males have straight, elongated foreclaws. Female river cooters lay about 20 eggs in May to June. This species is predominantly herbivorous.

For more information visit: http://srelherp.uga.edu/turtles/psecon.htm

Slider Turtle
slider turtle

Photo: J.D. Willson

Description

The slider turtle is one of the most ubiquitous and conspicuous species of turtle in the Southeast. It occurs in every type of wetland and is frequently observed basking. Individuals are also commonly encountered on land when moving between aquatic habitats. The carapace is olive to dark brown, slightly keeled, and lightly patterned in some individuals. The plastron and the underside of the marginals are typically marked with two or more large, solid black dots or blotches. Males have elongated foreclaws and long, thickened tails. Some males may also become very dark with age. The yellow stripe behind the eye is broadest directly behind the eye. Nesting females are frequently seen from May through July.

For more information visit: http://srelherp.uga.edu/turtles/trascr.htm

Spiny Softshell
spiny softshell

Photo: J.D. Willson

Description

Apalone spinifera are easily distinguished from other turtles because of their different looking carapace. Unlike most turtles in Georgia, the spiny softshell turtle has a flat, leathery shell with very flexible edges, “resembling a pancake.” This carapace can get up to 18″ long in females and only 9″ long in males being an olive, brown to grayish color with dark spots in males and younger turtles. In adult males, the shell has a lot of spines on the carapace, but in females, it only has a few spines.

Habitat

Softshells often bury themselves in the mud or sand where they sleep or wait for food to carelessly swim by. They can sometimes be observed basking on sandbars or logs protruding from the water. These turtles are mainly carnivorous, eating almost anything living in the water that will fit into its mouth. This includes fish, insects, and crayfish. They bury themselves in the sand or mud with only their head sticking out and grab prey as they swim by. Spiny softshell turtles are most active April through October. They usually breed in May and lay 4 to 30 eggs on sunny sandbars or in loose soil.

For more information visit: http://srelherp.uga.edu/turtles/apaspi.htm

Spotted Turtle
spotted turtle

Photo: J.D. Willson

Description

Spotted Turtles are small — 3 ½ – 4 ½ inches (9-11.5 cm) – aquatic turtles that are black in color with yellow spots. Hatchlings usually have one spot per large scute on the shell, but adult spotting patterns are variable. The shell is flattened, and there is orange or yellow coloration on the head, neck, and forelegs. Males have longer tales than females.

Habitat

Relatively little is known about Spotted Turtle Biology in the Southeast, and they appear to have quite different activity patterns from other aquatic turtles. These turtles appear to be most common in the early spring when they can be seen basking on logs in wetlands. Data from radio-telemetry suggests that Spotted Turtles spend much of the warmer months buried on land. Sexual maturity is reached at 8-10 years, and the turtles may live as long as 25 years. Diet consists of snails, worms, slugs, and insects.

For more information visit: http://srelherp.uga.edu/turtles/clegut.htm