The Common Musk Turtle
Die Gewöhnliche Moschusschildkröte (German)
Genus: sternotherus / kinosternon
Species: Sternotherus odoratus.
The common musk turtle is native to North America. It can be found in the vast area from New England and south of Ontario to southern Florida and to central Texas. It also lives in Cansas and western Texas and in the Chihuahuan desert in Mexico.
It is an aquatic species. These turtles are excellent swimmers. Mainly they move on the bottom, looking for food, therefore they are commonly found in slack water or in slow moving fresh water with a lot of ooze on the bottom.
In the northern part of the habitat common musk turtles brumate in winter. In the south of the habitat they are active throughout the year. The turtles brumate in the holes under the water which they dig themselves. The holes are dug when the temperature decreases to 10 degrees, The turtles can brumate in groups.
The common musk turtle comes ashore only in order to lay eggs.
The common musk turtle grows to approximately 15 cm, but in captivity they seldom get over 12 cm. Their carapace is oval-shaped and smooth (young turtles have three apical ridges). Their heads and necks are gray and white with light stripes. Algae often grow on the carapaces of adult turtles.
Males have longer tails and shorter plastrons than females. Also males have spikes at the end of the tail. Females have short and thick tails.
The common musk turtle got its name due to yellowish liquid with musky odor that comes from the glands near cloaca when the turtle faces danger. In captivity the turtles quickly get tame and don’t use this method towards their owners.
If you try to catch the common musk turtle, it can be aggressive, try to come away and bite.
This species can stay submerged for a long time. They breathe by drawing in oxygen from water which is absorbed through their tongues.
The common musk turtle is not aggressive towards its specimens, they can be kept in groups. But there shouldn’t be more than one male in a group since males can fight.
The common musk turtle’s tank doesn’t need any substrate since this species lives in the water all the time. It is enough to put a big log in the tank, so that a part of it lies on the bottom and another part comes out of the water. Over this log you should place a heating lamp or a reflector. For 1-2 turtles you will need a 60x30x30 cm tank. You have to take into account that young turtles are poor swimmers and in the wild they live in shallow water. So in the tank they will need shallow water too. We don’t recommend to try and create an oozy bottom in the tank. A couple of big stones and a log will do nicely. You will also need a powerful external filter in your tank. You will have to clean it once a month because the turtles soil the water. The water should be changed weekly, and it is best to clean the gravel at the same time. You should change one third of the total water volume. Don’t put plants in the tank: turtles destroy and eat them.
This turtle needs 8-10 hours of light a day with filament or fluorescent lamps. Young turtles need a UV lamp.
The ideal water temperature is 20-25 degrees. You will need to install a durable heater.
In the wild the common musk turtle eats shellfish, water insects, plants, small fish and offal.
In captivity you can feed your turtle with mussels, snails, bloodworm, finely cut fish, mealworm, other insects. You can offer your turtle finely cut vegetables: carrots, squash, pumpkins and lettuce. But often the turtles are not very willing to eat such food. In any case, you should take uneaten food away promptly, otherwise it will rot.
This species normally likes commercial food for turtles.
It is best to feed them in a separate basin so that they soil the water in the tank less.
Adult turtles are fed 2-3 times a week. Overeating can lead to obesity.
The menu has to be varied.
These turtles are easy to keep and suitable for beginners. It is not difficult to feed them taking into account the possibility of giving them commercial food.
One of the smallest species, doesn’t require a large tank.
Regular cleaning of the tank is compulsory because these turtles soil a lot.
Don’t put them together with any kinds of fish, because the turtle will simply eat it.
The common musk turtle breeds well in captivity.
These turtles get ill very rarely and normally it happens due to poor husbandry. Improper diet can lead to diarrhea (shapeless stool). In this case you should add to the water in the tank decoction of oak bark until the water gets light brown. It is very good for irritated bowels.
This species breeds well in captivity. The turtles mate under water and don’t require any stimulation. In the period from April to July females lay eggs. In order for them to do this you will have to provide the turtle a chance to come ashore. The female will need loose soil in order to dig a hole and lay 1-7 ellipse-shaped white eggs. The eggs have hard but fragile shell. It’s best to take the eggs away and place them in an incubator. After 60-100 days of incubation under the temperature of 25 – 29 degrees the hatchlings come out. Provided good nutrition, the small turtles grow quickly.
Average life span in captivity is from 20 to 50 years.