The Spotted Turtle is one of the smallest species of semi-aquatic turtle to be kept as a pet. They are found in multiple regions of the Eastern and Midwestern United States as well as southern regions of Canada.
They are a popular choice as a pet as they are attractive, not too big, and can live well in or outdoors. The decision to take on a Clemmy, however, should not be taken lightly. They need a lot of care to keep them healthy, and they are likely to outlive you. Some have been recorded as reaching over 50 years of age.
Common Names: Spotted Turtle, Clemmy, Michigan Spotted Turtle
Scientific Name: Clemmys Guttata
Adult Size: 4 to 6 inches
Life Expectancy: Can easily live up to 26 years, with some recorded as living over 50 years
Spotted Turtle Behavior and Temperament
The Spotted Turtle, due to their small size, is a popular semi-aquatic turtle species. This does not mean that they are easy to care for, however. As with all aquatic turtles, they have complex housing and dietary needs that need to be considered.
This species is very distinctive because of the yellow-spotted markings they develop on their carapace (the upper part of their shell). These tend to be small in number in juveniles and grow, sometimes to over 100 spots, on mature adults. The spots are also seen on the face and neck.
Like the Common Musk Turtle, this is another very small species, and they are usually only between four to six inches in size when fully mature.
Determining the gender of your Clemmys Guttata is easier as the turtle matures. The female has a reddish chin, whereas the male has a black one. The males tail is longer and thicker too. While they are a semi-aquatic species, they are not known for their swimming skills and stick to the shallows.
Spotted Turtles are a curious, alert and active species but, as with most aquatic turtles, they can become stressed by over-handling. They are best observed without too much interference.
If handling is required, this should, ideally, be kept to a minimum, and don't forget always to wash your hands afterwards. There is a small risk that aquatic turtles can carry the salmonella bacteria.
Housing the Spotted Turtle
This species can be kept out or indoors. Generally, they thrive better when kept in a suitable outdoor enclosure, once they are fully mature.
They should not be kept in an enclosure with deep waters. Because they are not strong swimmers, this could increase the risk of them drowning or becoming overly tired. Generally, the water levels should be kept where they can rest their feet on the ground but still reach up to the surface. Hatchlings are primarily aquatic, and only leave the water to bask. As they mature, you may notice they don't spend as much time in the water.
Providing logs and raised areas in their enclosure provides plenty of opportunities for them to rest outside of the water. It also means they are getting additional exercise and enrichment. Using aquatic or plastic plants also offers hiding spots. Make sure that the basking out of water areas are easy to access and dry. Making slanting access points makes it easier for your turtle to get out onto them from the water.
Because they do spend a lot of time in the water, often even feeding in there, you must ensure the water is kept clean. Dirty tanks and ponds can lead to a variety of health problems for your turtle.
Using a suitable water filtration system, compatible with shallow water conditions. is often recommended. This means you will have to clean the water manually less often, making things less time consuming for you and less stressful for the turtles. You can also buy kits that allow you to check the cleanliness of the water. This ensures the filter is doing its job effectively and allows you to know when it is time to do a full clean-out.
Tap water used in the tank or pond should be dechlorinated. The chlorine can impact on the efficiency of the filter and impact the health of your turtle.
Spotted Turtles can live together, although housing males together is not a good idea as they will usually become aggressive towards one another.
It is important to keep your Spotted Turtle comfortable and warm. Ideal water temperature will be around 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure that, if you are using water heaters, these are always covered by water. If the water evaporates and they are exposed, it can result in overheating, which can be very dangerous for your turtle.
You also want to ensure that any basking areas are suitably warm enough, ideally with a temperature of around 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature drops too low, this can induce hibernation in your turtle. This can pose a number of risks for your turtle, so, unless you are an expert keeper, it is not generally encouraged.
Turtles need sufficient amounts of Vitamin D3 to help them metabolize calcium properly. Without this, they can suffer from a number of health conditions. Providing UVB lighting above basking spots, particularly in an indoor tank, where your turtle will not be exposed to natural sunlight, is another important consideration.
Food and Water
Spotted Turtles are primarily carnivorous, and providing them with a varied diet will help to maximize their longevity. Once every day or every other day feeding is sufficient, and they often enjoy things like shrimps, worms, crickets, and other insects. They have even been known to enjoy an occasional piece of cooked beef.
Some enjoy fruits and leafy greens, and others may even like aquatic plants like Duckweed. You can also add in some commercial turtle pellets if these are enjoyed. These pellets often contain Vitamin D3 supplemented calcium which can be beneficial for indoor turtles.
A calcium supplement without the Vitamin D3 may also be added to the diet of outdoor residents, or you could provide a Cuttlefish bone.
Common Health Problems
The spotted turtle is generally considered to be a robust little turtle. Like all turtles, it is important to feed them the right diet, provide appropriate lighting and heating, and to keep their water and enclosure clean to keep them in excellent health. Some common aquatic turtle conditions worth being aware of are detailed below.
Infectious diseases are a relatively common problem in aquatic turtles, and these can range in their severity. Ensuring your turtle is residing in clean water, and has a warm and clean basking spot to allow their shell to dry out fully, can help to minimize the risk of developing a problem.
Parasites: It is not uncommon for even healthy aquatic turtles to host certain parasites in their system, like nematodes or flagellates. If their numbers become too great, or they pick up parasites like a tapeworm from another host, this can impact on their health. You may see things like weight loss, lethargy or diarrhea. An annual fecal exam with a specialist exotic vet can help to ensure that potential problems do not go untreated.
Choosing Your Spotted Turtle
It is so important to do your research when considering providing a home to a Spotted Turtle. You should look for a reputable breeder or rescue organization. Any purchased turtle should be captive-bred to ensure the preservation of wild populations.
By finding a passionate, knowledgeable and recommended small-scale specialist breeder, you are more likely to get a healthy and ethically sourced turtle.
There are also a number of specialist rescue organizations looking to find adoptive homes for turtles in need. You can even search on websites like Petfinder.com to find out if any turtles are looking for their forever home in an area near you.
In certain areas of the United States, there is a law that prohibits sales of turtles with a carapace under 4 inches. This means you will not likely find a hatchling Spotted Turtle through most breeders.
Similar Species to the Spotted Turtle
If you want to consider other species of aquatic turtles before deciding what one might be right for you, you could also consider:
Or, you can check out our full list of aquatic turtle profiles to help you choose your next pet.
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Turtle Brumation: The Benefits and Dangers of the Hibernation Cycle. Texas A&M University Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
Purgley, Hugh & Jewell, Jack & Deacon, James & Winokur, Robert & Tripoli, Vicki. Vitamin D3 in Captive Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas). Chelonian Conservation and Biology. vol. 8, pp. 161-167, 2010, Chelonian Research Foundation. doi:10.2744/CCB-0765.1
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