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It's your nature: Turtles in the region

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    A wood turtle is more terrestrial than today’s highlighted turtles. Note the flatter shell. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

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    The snapping turtle (snapper) can attain a weight of more than 30 pounds and leaves the water only to lay its eggs. Note the ridged (dragonlike) tail.

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    The stinkpot turtle has a higher-domed and rather unremarkable shell. Very shy, I couldn’t get it to stick its head out at all.

Published June 08. 2018 08:36PM


The Times News area has more species of turtles than you probably expect. They include the painted, box, snapping, stinkpot, spotted, wood and map turtles. They range in size from snapping turtles with a shell over a foot in length and about 30 pounds, to the stinkpot turtle with a shell only 3 to 4 inches. How about a little information on a few of these?

The stinkpot turtle is more common than you realize. True to its name, it is a type of musk turtle secreting a foul-smelling liquid from under its carapace (top shell) when it feels threatened. Seldom seen, it habituates shallow, slow-moving streams or sluggish river edges or shallow, mucky ponds. They seldom leave the water, but when it needs to warm up, it moves to a shallow edge of the water where its unusually high-domed shell remains exposed to the warming spring sun.

The ones I have observed have all been covered by the pond muck where they live. Supposedly they can climb tree trunks that slope out of their watery home and are the best tree climbing Pennsylvania turtles.

The spotted turtle is actually quite pretty with a black glossy shell speckled with yellow spots. The number of yellow spots (dots) is variable among different specimens. I have found them only in East Penn Township where springs have formed rather clear, shallow pools next to the abandoned railroad beds there. I’ve seen them basking in the sun on some grass clumps on cooler spring days. They are a bit larger than the stinkpot and like all other Pennsylvania turtles, find a south-facing gravelly area (sometimes the cinder railroad beds themselves), to lay their few eggs.

The snapping turtle (snapper) is the largest state turtle. They spend almost all of their lives in ponds, lakes, canals or slow-flowing streams. They appear very menacing if they are “cornered” on land, and please give them plenty of space with their very sharp, powerful jaws. Keep your fingers as far from their mouths as possible. They have proportionally the longest tails (almost dragonlike) of any of our turtles.

Their bottom shell (plastron) is rather small compared to the top and their neck can extend quite a distance to snatch its prey. They will scavenge and eat dead animals as well as frogs, fish, tadpoles and some birds. Ducks and geese may lose some of their brood when a snapper sneaks under them as it walks cautiously on the pond bottom waiting for the opportunity to pull one under. I did watch one feeding on some leaves hanging just above a pond’s surface.

My father would find one or two days each summer to take me along to one of the smaller Pocono lakes to bass fish. He fished almost entirely with live minnows. I believe at least one time on each trip he hooked into a snapper. We would regularly see their heads slowly rise to the water surface to breathe, much like a periscope rising from a submarine. If exploring near one of these bodies of water, keep an eye out for their characteristic head rising just above the surface.

Remember that most species of turtles live in or mostly in water. Only the wood turtle and box turtle in our area spend most of their lives on land.

Test your outdoor knowledge: The last few weeks you may have noticed 1- or 2-inch conical holes dug in your well-kept lawns. _____ are the nocturnal culprits. A. moles, B. raccoons, C. skunk, D. groundhogs.

Last week’s trivia question answer: The peregrine falcon is one wildlife success story. Now getting complete protection, it nests at many locations, especially tall city building ledges, close to an abundant supply of pigeons and other “city birds.”

Contact Barry Reed at



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