Turtles of Butler County
It’s that time of year when we can see turtles basking in the sun. If you have a pond, or hike at a wetland area such as Gilmore Ponds Metropark, perhaps you will be lucky enough to spot some. Here is some helpful information to assist you with the identification of the shelled critters that you find.
These tiny turtles, reaching only 3-4.5” in size, look very plain, with the skin and shell often being similar in color. They have a ridge along the length of their shell, and two bright yellow stripes on either side of their head. These turtles get their name from the foul odor they expel when first caught.
Common Musk prefer slow moving or still bodies of water, such as ponds, lakes, and slow streams, with soft muddy bottoms, with plenty of vegetation. You seldom see them out of the water except for early spring when they bask in the sun.
Midland Painted turtles are among the most abundant and certainly the most conspicuous turtles in Ohio. The deep green carapace (upper shell) is brightly patterned with red and black along the underside of the marginal plates. The patterns look as if they were painted on by hand. The skin is usually covered with lines that are yellow near the head, then changing to red. There are several subspecies of painted turtles in the United States, but only the Midland Painted turtle can be found in Ohio. A distinguishing feature of the adult male are the elongated claws on their front feet.
Particularly fond of basking and can be seen by the dozens on logs and along the banks of most bodies of water throughout the summer, and even during warm winter days. When winter arrives, the Midland Painted turtles seek deep water and burrow into the mud or debris on the bottom.
Red Eared Slider
As their name implies, this little green turtle’s most distinctive marking is the broad reddish patch behind each eye. In rare instances, the red is replaced by yellow or may be so dark as to not be visible at all. They are also fond of basking and can be seen on logs and along the banks of many types of bodies of water throughout the summer months.
Although these turtles are common in areas far south of Ohio, isolated communities have been discovered in some northern states. Outside of a few southern Ohio counties, most populations of Red-Eared Sliders found in the state are more than likely the result of a discarded pet. Please note that releasing pets into the wild is illegal, and may end up endangering our native wildlife.
The Snapping turtle is the largest turtle in Ohio. The largest specimens can weigh more than 35 pounds, and have a carapace of more than 14 inches long. They range in color from brown to black. The only Ohio species to have a long tail, and a proportionally huge head. Their pronounced beak-like mouth is capable of doing great damage to a carelessly placed finger. Great caution should be exercised if handling these exceptionally bold and aggressive reptiles. They should always be carried by the base of the tail, with the plastron (lower shell) toward your body, and well away from your legs. Snapping turtles usually provide the meat for turtle soup.
They are habitat generalists, found in permanent bodies of water, as well as ephemeral wetlands and ditches. Although very abundant they are not seen as frequently as most other turtles. You are most likely to see females crossing the road from May through June, in search of sites to lay their eggs.
The Map turtle gets its name from the yellow lines on its carapace that look like contour lines on a topographic map. These lines are very noticeable on young specimens but they fade with age. A more or less longitudinal yellow spot behind the eye is distinctive among the yellow lines on the neck. The female of this species attains a carapace length of about 10 inches, while the male seldom exceeds five inches. The carapace in cross section is shaped like an A-frame tent.
These turtles are very social and often sun themselves, sometimes stacking one on top of another. When frightened they quickly slip back into the water. They show a marked preference for sizable bodies of deep water, such as large rivers and lakes, where they can dive to the safety of the depths. The broad, flat crushing surfaces of the powerful jaws are well suited for consuming snails, crayfish, and clams, which form the bulk of their diet. They are one of the last turtles to go into hibernation, and have even been seen walking under the ice.
Eastern Spiny Softshell
The Eastern Spiny Softshell body instead of being protected by bony plates, has a tough, leather-like shell that is very round and flattened. They usually range from olive-gray or yellow-brown, with the younger individuals having well defined round spots on the shell. Their snout is snorkel shaped and is often the only part of the turtle that you see above the water. It gets its name from the row of small, conical spines on the front of the shell.
Using its large webbed feet, it is an excellent swimmer and extremely fast both on land and in water. Like the snapping turtle, it is very aggressive. If you see a huge spiny softshell it is likely to be a female. Females can reach 12-20 inches, with the diminutive male only ranging from 5-9 inches.
Although it can be found in lakes and smaller streams, the Eastern Spiny Softshell is essentially a river turtle. It prefers relatively shallow water with a sand or soft mud bottom. They completely bury themselves by rocking from side to side, while flipping sand and mud up onto their back. They will lie like this for hours, either with their nose at the surface of the water or taking oxygen directly from the water, waiting for prey such as crayfish, frog, and small fish to come close.
Unlike most turtles, Eastern Box turtles live on land. They are most commonly found in woodlands, occasionally spotted in grasslands and meadows. Other than habitat, they are easily recognized by their high-domed carapace, which may carry a wide variety of markings. Usually it is dark brown or black, often accented with some combination of yellow or orange streaks, spots, or blobs. A simple identification between male and female is that males have red eyes, while females have yellow-brown eyes.
The box turtle gets its name from its centrally hinged plastron (lower shell), which enables both front and rear portions of the plastron to be drawn up tightly against the carapace. This “boxes in” the turtle for protection. Aside from the loss of habitat, a significant threat to Ohio’s box turtles is being run over as they lumber across roadways. They are also illegally collected and kept as pets.
During the heat of summer, this docile animal spends the day hidden beneath rotting logs, decaying leaves, and other plant debris, venturing out only during early morning or evening. A sudden shower after a dry spell will usually bring out box turtles in large numbers.
There are other turtles species found elsewhere in Ohio, such as the Blanding's Turtle and the Smooth Softshell. The Ouachita Map Turtle is very rare. It is unknown if the Ouachita Map is native to Ohio, or if they were pets illegally released. They have been known to live near the mouth of the Great Miami River in Hamilton County, and in the lower reaches of the Scioto River.
Leave them in the wild
It is illegal to buy, sell, barter, or trade any reptile or amphibian taken from the wild in the state of Ohio, except for snapping turtles and softshell turtles. It is also illegal to release reptiles into the wild that are captive-bred, obtained from outside the state, that has been held in captivity for more than 30 days, or held with other animals.
A fishing license is required to take turtles from Ohio waters, and only snapping and softshell turtles may be taken during their respective hunting season. More information as to dates, sizes, and other hunting requirements can be found at: http://www.eregulations.com/ohio/fishing/frog-turtle-regulations/.
We hope you get a chance to spot some of these native reptiles while you are out exploring nature. If you do, share your pictures with us on social media @ButlerSWCD.
Reptiles of Ohio Field Guide https://ohiodnr.gov/static/documents/wildlife/backyardwildlife/Pub%205354_Reptiles%20of%20Ohio%20Field%20Guide.pdf