Eastern Musk Turtle, Sternotherus odoratus

The Eastern Musk Turtle, also known as the “Stinkpot,” occurs from the Mississippi River to the Unaka Mountains; absent from many central and northeastern counties.

Description: A small, aquatic, dark turtle (2.0 to 4.5 inches in length) with a smooth, domed-looking shell  . Carapace (upper shell) is long and varies from light olive-brown to nearly black.   The sides of the head have 2 distinct light-colored stripes; and barbels (fleshy nodules) occur on chin and neck.   The small plastron (lower shell) is yellow or yellowish-brown and has a single horizontal hinge towards the front.   Males have a longer and thicker tail.   Young have a prominent keel running down the center of the carapace.

Similar Species: Stripe-necked Musk Turtle has dark, prominent stripes on the side of the head and barbels on chin only.   Eastern Mud Turtle has 2 hinges on the plastron – one in the front and one in the rear.

Habitat: Prefers permanent water bodies with available shallow water and plentiful aquatic vegetation including rivers, streams, sloughs, and ditches.   Also, found in temporary water pools, wetlands, and small ponds.

Diet: Crayfish, minnows, tadpoles, fish eggs, algae, aquatic insects, and carrion.

Breeding information: Adults court and breed in spring and summer. Females lay up to 6 clutches per year producing 2-5 small, white eggs per clutch.   Females do not dig their own nests, but rather place eggs in stump holes, under dead leaves, or in rotten logs. Eggs hatch after 2 to 3 months.

Status in Tennessee: Appears to be common in its known habitats across Tennessee.

Fun Facts:

  • Commonly known as the “Stinkpot” because of the unpleasant odor released from musk glands, located along their sides, as a defensive measure.

Best places to see in Tennessee: Shallow streams and rivers in the Tennessee River system and Mississippi River coastal plain.

Conant, R. and Collins, J. 1998. Peterson Field Guides: Reptiles and Amphibians (Eastern/Central North America). Houghton Mifflin Company, New York. 616pp.

Jensen, J. B., Camp C. D., Gibbons, W., and Elliot, M. J. 2008. Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia, University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA. 575pp.

Johnson, T.R. 2006. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri. The Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, MO.

Eastern Musk Turtle
Eastern Musk Turtle Range Map