Eastern Spiny Softshell
Apalone spinifera spinifera
One of the largest species of turtles which is found in the state, softshells get their name from the smooth, flat, rubbery, skin-covered carapace which lacks scutes and has flexible edges. The neck is long as the nose is pig-like and protrudes from the snout of the turtle,
softshells often only stick the tip of the nose out of the water to
catch a breath of air. Like some other species of turtle, the eastern
spiny softshell is sexually dimorphic. Females are considerably larger
than males; carapace length 8-19", and have dark blotches or mottling
across the carapace. Males are considerably smaller; carapace length
5-9", and have clean black circles and spots across the carapace.
Juveniles exhibit the same markings as adult males.
Eastern Snapping Turtle
Chelydra serpentina serpentina
Our largest turtle species by weight, the eastern snapping turtle is one
of the most recognizable turtles in Michigan. Adults attain carapace
lengths between 8-19" and can weigh upwards of forty pounds. The
carapace is broad and may be gray, brown, or olive in coloration, though
it is often covered in algae or mud. The rear marginal scutes are
serrated, while the vertebral and pleural scutes may feature a sharp
ridge in younger specimens. The plastron is small and crossed shaped.
The tail is long and features a row of sharp triangular scutes which run
along the top of it. The head is large and with a short, pointed snout
and sharp jaws with a hooked upper beak. The limbs are large with large
webbed feet and heavy, curved claws. The skin may be dark, yellow, or
olive in coloration and has a very warty texture.
Chrysemys picta marginata
Probably our most common species of turtle, the midland painted turtle is found throughout the lower peninsula and into the upper peninsula. The western painted turtle (Chrysemys picta belli) is found in the western upper peninsula and hybridizes with the midland painted in the central part of the U.P. This species is medium sized with adults averaging carpace lengths between 4-9", and females getting slightly larger than males. Males are generally smaller, but have noticeably long toe nails which they use to court females.The carapace is black or olive with red markings along and under the marginal scutes. The plastron is orange or yellow and may have some central markings. The head is dark with bright yellow stripes which transition to red stripes on the neck. The limbs have either yellow or red striping.
Spotted turtles are arguably the prettiest turtle species which inhabits Michigan, but sadly is also the rarest. This small species is easily recognizable by it's dark black carapace and scattered yellow spots. The plastron is yellow or orange with alternating black markings, but it may occasionally be mostly black altogether. The limps are reddish orange on the underside and black with yellow spots on top. Adults are small, with carapace lengths ranging from 3-5". This species is also sexually dimorphic, males have a concave plastron and usually have a dark head and chin while females have a flat plastron and an orange striped chin.
Unfortunately the story of this species in Michigan and across it's range is saddening. Spotted turtles have experienced severe declines due to habitat loss by the draining of wetlands for agriculture, road mortality, nest predation, and illegal collection. These declines have been so severe that the species is listed as Threatened in Michigan. Spotted turtles are rare and are found in scattered locations in the southern and western parts of the lower peninsula. Any observations of this species are important and should be reported to the Michigan Herp Atlas.
Species of Special Concern
One of our larger and most recognizable turtle species, the Blanding's turtle features a smooth, dome shaped carapace with is black and usually has bright or faint yellow speckles across it. The plastron is yellow in color with black outer blotches and a crosswise hinge which is allows it pull it's limbs and head into the shell and close slightly, but not completely like the eastern box turtle. When basking, it's long snake neck and bright yellow chin and throat are easily visible. Adults are quite large, with carapace lengths ranging between 6-11". Males are usually slightly large then females, they feature a deeply concave plastron and a noticeably thick, long tail.
Species of Special Concern
The name Glyptemys insculpta literally translates into "sculptured turtle" and there's no better way to describe the carapace of the wood turtle. Each scute has ornate, concentric growth rings that have been likened to the inside of a tree, another place where this species gets it's common name. The carapace coloration is usually brown in color and Michigan specimens usually feature many radiating yellow lines. The plastron is yellow in color with black outer blotches. The head is partially black in coloration, while the neck and limbs are yellow or yellowish orange in color with some black coloration as well. Adults are large, attaining carapace lengths between 6.5-9.5". Males are usually slightly larger then females and feature a concave plastron, an enlarged and widened head, and a long thick tail.
Northern Map Turtle
Graptemys geographica geographica
The common river turtle often seen basking in large numbers on large
fallen timber. Northern map turtles are a variable species which
features an olive or brown carapace with irregular map-like markings and
a low central keel. This central keel is much more pronounced in in
adult males and juveniles. The head and neck feature thin yellow stripes
and there is a distinct yellow spot behind the eye on either side of
the head. Females are considerably larger than males; 6-11" total
carapace length, and have large heads with a wide, pronounced jaw.
Females use their strong jaws to crush the shells of snails, crafish,
freshwater muscles, and other invertebrates. Males are much smaller;
4-6" total carapace length, and usually feature the characteristic
central keel and a long, thick tail.
Eastern Musk Turtle
This small species is fairly common throughout the state, but is fairly secretive in it's habits. Musk turtles are one of the smallest turtles in Michigan, with adult carapace lengths of 3-5". The carapace is brown or black in coloration and is narrow with a high arch. More often than not, the carapace is covered in algae. The plastron is noticeably small and has skin between the scutes. The snout is pointed and usually features two yellow stripes on either side of the head. The tail is short, but is much stouter in males. Adult males also have a slightly larger head than females.
Eastern Box Turtle
Terrapene carolina carolina
Species of Special Concern
The only true terrestrial turtle which is found in Michigan, the eastern
box turtle is also one of the state's prettiest. The high domed
carapace features yellow or orange radiating lines and features a hinge
across the plastron which allows the turtle to close up into it's shell
completely. The head and limbs also feature yellow or orange markings.
This species is highly variable, with some individuals being incredibly
colorful and others being fairly dull. Males tend to be more colorful
than females on average and have bright red eyes and a concave
Farther south in their range, Box Turtles are traditionally known as a woodland species. But in Michigan, they prefer a mosaic of community types. Michigan Turtles often are found along woodland edges in grasslands but they occasionally wander into wetlands such as fens. They are often found in some sort of cover and are rarely out in the open except after summer rainstorms. Box Turtles have a wide diet which includes worms, insects, plants, berries, and fungi. In the late summer when wildberries fruit out and drop to the ground, Box Turtles can often be found concentrated under or around large berry patches. A Species of Special Concern in Michigan, this species has declined drastically from its former distribution in the state. Even today, nest predation and road mortality are the most significant threats to the longterm survival of this species in Michigan. Raccoons are estimated to occupy 700-800% of their original population numbers at the turn of the century.