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The Herps of La Crosse

Living With Herps

Easy Herp Monitoring

Herps as Pets

General Herp Info

Suggested Reading and Bibliography


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Common Musk Turtle
(Sternotherus odoratus)

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        Description:  The Common Musk Turtle is relatively small, reaching adult carapace lengths of 2 to 4 ˝ inches.    It is easily distinguished from other aquatic turtles in the state by its extremely high, domed shell.  In addition, it has a somewhat pointed snout, which has two yellowish lines that run from the tip of the nose on either side of the head onto the neck.  The rest of the body and shell, however, is generally a uniform gray or brown.  In addition, it has small protuberances or “nubs” on the underside of the chin that are bright yellow.

        Habitat/Ecology: If the conditions are right, this turtle is reported in many types of aquatic habitats.  They are found in rivers with slow currents, sloughs, lakes, and ponds with soft bottoms.  They also are documented to enjoy ample aquatic vegetation, and avoid hard-bottomed water bodies.  In fact, I have encountered them in Dane Co. (near Stoughton, WI) in the backwaters of the slow-moving Yahara River, in areas of dense rooted, floating macrophytes (i.e. lily pads).

                The nest-building season is reported to be from late May to early July and this is when adult females most likely to be seen on land.  Most other times of the year they remain at the bottom of the water body in which they live, searching for prey, which includes many aquatic invertebrates, small aquatic vertebrates, and carrion.

        Remarks:  These are slow moving turtles that are easily captured on land.  When threatened, they hiss, open their mouths, and release a musky smelling odor (hence, their name).  These turtles will not hesitate to bite if careless fingers stray towards their mouth.  Although they occasionally eat small fish, they have little or no impact on sport fishing. 

I have not encountered the Common Musk Turtle within the La Crosse area.  Casper (1996) does not report them from La Crosse Co., however.  They have been reported in nearby Trempealeau Co.  As stated previously, I have found them in Dane Co., existing in areas that are very similar to the backwaters of the Mississippi River and would not doubt that they are found within La Crosse.  It is interesting to note that Musk Turtles are occasionally called "Stink Pots", or "Stinkers".

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