Eastern Musk Turtle


Scientific Name: Sternotherus odoratus
Size: 3 – 5.4” (adult carapace length)
Status: Locally common in lower Great Lakes region. Some populations have experienced declines or local extirpation in recent years, especially where lake edge habitat alteration has taken place due to residential development.
Eastern Musk Turtle



Inhabits wide variety of permanent waters, including ponds, lakes, marshes, sloughs, and rivers. Most common in clear lakes or ponds with marl, sand, or gravel bottoms and moderate growth of aquatic plants.

Adult Coloration:

Brown, gray, or black carapace, sometimes with dark streaks or spots. Yellowish or brownish plastron. Two yellow stripes extend from nose above and below the eye, and along the side of the head and neck, but may fade with age.

Adult Characteristics:

Small with a rather narrow, domed carapace, and a large head with a pointed snout. Carapace is smooth, plastron is small and cross shaped, exposing soft parts around legs. Usually there are areas of smooth skin between plastral scutes, especially toward the center. Front of plastron flexible and can move upward. Two or more pointed barbels on chin and throat. Males with a longer, thicker tail and stiff blunt spine at its tip; females with less skin between plastral scutes and a very short tail.

Juvenile Characteristics:

Hatchlings have a carapace length of 0.7 – 1,” and carapace is centrally keeled, often with two lateral keels. Carapace is rough, and black with white spots on outer edge of marginal scutes. Yellow head stripes are usually well defined.

Species Confused With:

May be mistaken for the larger Snapping Turtle due to its small plastron and willingness to bite.


  • Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region by Jim Harding
  • Harding, J.H. and J.A. Holman. 1990. Michigan Turtles and Lizards. MSU Cooperative Extension Service and MSU Museum. 96 pp.
  • Ruthven, A. G., H. B. T. Gaige, et al. 1912. The herpetology of Michigan, by Alexander B. Ruthven. Crystal Thompson and Helen Thompson; Memoranda towards a bibliography of the archaeology of Michigan, by Harlan I. Smith; prepared under the direction of Alexander G. Ruthven. Lansing, Mich., Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford, State Printers.
  • Holman, J. A. 2012. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Michigan: A Quaternary and Recent Faunal Adventure. Detroit, Mich., Wayne State University Press.
  • Conant, R., and Collins, J. T. 1998. Reptiles and Amphibians: Eastern, Central North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Press.


  • Jim Hardingg