Wood Turtle: Key Facts

Did you know that wood turtles are endangered? Or that they are quite picky about the type of environment they live in? Keep reading to learn more about these and other wood turtle key facts.

Quick Facts About Wood Turtles

Scientific Name:Glyptemis insculpta
Type of Animal:Reptile: Turtle
Number of Species:1
Description:Small to medium semiaquatic turtles with sculpted shells. The scutes of the carapace often have a yellow and black fan-shaped pattern, while in older turtles the colors may be a dull olive to brown color. The plastron is yellow with black markings in the lower outside portion of each scute. The neck, arms, and legs are often a bright red to orange color. Eggs are white and round, and baby wood turtles are a dull gray-green color.
Distribution:Found only in parts of eastern North America.
Habitat:Temperate riparian habitats such as clean streams and rivers, creeks, wetlands, forests, and farmland.
Size:5 to 10 inches in diameter.
Diet:Omnivore; foods include:
– Moss
– Algae
– Grass
– Insects
– Invertebrates
– Carrion
– Mushrooms
Average Lifespan:40 to 60 years or more

What are Wood Turtles?

Wood turtles are an endangered reptile found in northeastern portions of the United States and southeastern parts of Canada.

These turtles are easily recognizable by the red or orange coloration on their bodies as well as the sculpted appearance of their shells. They can grow up to 10 inches in diameter, though most are a few inches smaller.

Wood turtles eat a wide variety of foods, including plants, mushrooms, insects, invertebrates, and carrion. During the winter, they do not eat but brumate (or hibernate) underwater.

Wood turtles can live for several decades in the wild; those in captivity may live for more than 60 years.

Wood turtles lay up to 18 eggs each year, though most of these eggs don’t survive to reach adulthood. Both baby and adult wood turtles face threats from predators, habitat loss, pollution, disease, vehicle accidents, and the pet trade.

Check out this video to learn more about wood turtles:

What Do Wood Turtles Tell Us About Stream Health?

Wood turtles are rather choosy when it comes to the habitats they choose to live in.

They prefer to live in or near slow-moving streams and rivers that are filled with fresh, clean, cold water. They can often be found swimming in these streams and brumating in them throughout the winter.

Wood turtles tend to avoid areas of stagnant, cloudy, or polluted water.

According to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources:

“Because of their preference for clean, cold-water streams, wood turtles serve as excellent indicators of stream health and water quality as well as the overall health of a stream’s surrounding landscape.”

In other words, wood turtles’ presence in some streams and absence in others can help people to determine the quality of the water in these streams. Because wood turtles stay away from polluted or bad water sources, we can assume that any stream with a population of wood turtles is filled with clean, high-quality water.


Wood turtles are an endangered species that lives only in clean river environments in some eastern regions of North America. Known for their red to orange skin coloration and friendly personalities, these turtles can serve as an indicator of stream and river health, as they will only inhabit clear, unpolluted waters.

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