Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

Upon emerging from winter hibernation, which generally takes place at the bottom of shallow streams and rivers (8), this diurnal species spends much of its day basking in the sunshine (6) (11). Wood turtles are omnivorous, foraging for a variety of plants and animals both in and out the water, including leaves, flowers, berries, fungi, slugs, snails, worms and insects, as well as opportunistically scavenging the occasional dead animal (8). In some populations, this turtle practices an extraordinary technique of hunting earthworms in which it thumps the earth, either by stomping its forefeet or rapidly dropping its shell to the ground. Earthworms appear to react to the vibrations by emerging from their burrows, and are then quickly snatched up (6). Males actively pursue females both in and out of the water, and courtship can be an aggressive matter (11). Mating can occur at any time but is probably most frequent in spring and autumn (8). Females seek out open, sunny nesting sites, preferably sandy river banks, from May through to July, depending on climate (8) (9). Anywhere from 3 to 18 eggs are carefully buried, after which the nest site is covered over and concealed, which marks the end of parental investment. Nest predation by racoons, skunks, shrews, foxes and other predators means that most eggs sadly never hatch. After 47 to 69 days incubation, survivors emerge from their nests in late August or September and head to the water (8). It may take between 14 and 20 years before individuals attain sexual maturity and begin to produce offspring of their own (6) (8). The oldest known captive specimen was 58 years of age, but the lifespan in the wild may well exceed this (8).
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Description

The wood turtle probably derives both its Latin and common names from the deep concentric growth rings and grooves known as 'annuli' that mark the somewhat raised carapacial scutes, which give the shell a 'sculpted' appearance as if carved from wood (5) (6) (7). In immature specimens (up to the age of 15 or even up to 20), roughly one ring is produced per year so that the annuli count can give a rough estimate of age, usually accurate within a couple of years (2) (7). Once they approach adulthood, however, accuracy drops off quickly (2). The back edge of the carapace is serrated and a prominent keel runs down the centre, also adding to its sculpted appearance (6). The carapace is typically brown or greyish-brown, sometimes with ray-like yellow streaking (5). The upper head is usually black, and upperparts of the limbs and tail are grey to greyish-brown, or even black with yellow spots (2). By contrast, the vividly-coloured underparts range from yellow in specimens from western (Great Lakes) parts of the species' range (8), to orangish-yellow or orange in the central part of its range, to orange-red or 'salmon-red' in the northeast (2). Hatchling turtles have flat, non-sculpted, almost circular carapaces, and lack any of the adult yellow, orange or red pigment (3) (8) (9). The yellow plastron is also distinctive, with its pattern of dark blotches along the outside edge of each scute (9) (10).
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Distribution

occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: (200,000-2,500,000 square km (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)) Eastern North America, from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Quebec south to northern Virginia and Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, west through the Great Lakes region (including southern Ontario) to eastern Minnesota, northeastern Iowa, and western Pennsylvania (Bleakney 1963, Gilhen and Grantmyer 1973, Green and Pauley 1987, Quinn and Tate 1991, Conant and Collins 1991, Harding 1997). Not known from Illinois or Indiana; occurrence in extreme northeastern Ohio was questioned as a possible native population (Conant 1975, Thompson 1953). See 1994 Herpetol. Rev. 25:144-146 for a discussion of occurrence on the coastal plain of Maryland.

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Geographic Range

Clemmys_insculpta, the wood turtle, is found in a small area of eastern Canada and the northeastern United States, from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick south through New England, Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey, to northern Virginia, and west through southern Quebec, southern Ontario, northern Michigan (northern Lower and Upper Peninsulas), northern and central Wisconsin, to eastern Minnesota; these turtles can also be found in northeastern Iowa. In this range, wood turtles are uncommon.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

  • Harding, J. 1997. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press.
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Geographic Range

Glyptemys insculpta occurs in a relatively small area of eastern Canada and the northeastern United States, from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick south through New England, Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey, to northern Virginia, and west through southern Quebec, southern Ontario, northern Michigan (northern Lower and Upper Peninsulas), northern and central Wisconsin, to eastern Minnesota; an isolated population occurs in northeastern Iowa. Within this range, this turtle is generally uncommon to rare and spottily distributed (Harding, 1997; Conant and Collins, 1998).

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

  • Harding, J. 1997. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press.
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Continent: North-America
Distribution: Canada (from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, S Ontario),  USA (Maine, SE New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, S New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, N Virginia, NE Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, E Minnesota, NE Iowa)  
Type locality: "inhabits the northern states," U.S.A.; restricted to the "vicinity of New York City" by Schmidt (1953:92).
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Range

The wood turtle is found in Canada and the U.S., ranging from southern Nova Scotia south to northern Virginia in the east, and from southern Quebec and the Great Lakes region to eastern Minnesota and north-eastern Iowa in the west (9) (11). Within this range, populations are thought to be relatively patchily distributed and fragmented (8).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Adult wood turtles have a shell length of 16 to 25 cm (6.3 to 9.8 inches). It is brownish to gray-brown in color.

The head of the adult turtle is black, occasionally with light dots or other markings; the scales on the upper legs are black to brown, while the skin on the throat, lower neck, and on the lower parts of the legs can be yellow, orange, or orange-red to salmon-red, sometimes speckled with darker colors.

Hatchling turtles have round shells that range in length from 2.8 to 3.8 cm (1.1 to 1.5 inches); their tails are nearly as long as the shell itself. At hatching they are a brown or gray color.

  • Conant, R., J. Collins. 1998. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, Third Ed., Expanded. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin.
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Physical Description

Adult wood turtles have a carapace length of 16 to 25 cm (6.3 to 9.8 inches). The brownish to gray-brown carapace has a low central keel, and the scutes usually show well-defined concentric growth annuli, giving the shell a rough, "sculptured" appearance that probably gave the species its specific name (and perhaps its common name as well). In some specimens, the accumulated annuli may give each carapace scute a somewhat flattened pyramidal shape (though this character has been over-emphasized in some earlier literature). The carapaces of older specimens may be worn quite smooth. The vertebral scutes sometimes display radiating yellow streaks, or yellow pigment may be restricted to the keel. The hingeless plastron is yellow with a black blotch at the rear outer corner of each scute; there is a V-shaped notch at the tail. Plastral scutes display prominent annuli, though, as with the carapace, these can be worn smooth over time.

(Note: Counting the scute annuli, or "growth rings," can offer a reasonable estimate of age in a juvenile animal, but this method becomes increasingly unreliable as the specimen approaches and then attains maturity. In older animals, growth, and thus the formation of annuli, may essentially cease; however, counting scute annuli will usually provide a reliable minimum age for a specimen.)

The head of the Wood Turtle is black, occasionally with light dots or other markings; the scales on the upper legs are black to mottled brown, while the skin on the throat, lower neck, and on the lower surfaces of the legs can be yellow, orange, or orange-red to salmon-red, sometimes speckled with darker pigment. This skin color varies between localities, and shows some regional variation, with yellow to yellow-orange predominating in the western (Great Lakes) part of the range, and orange to reddish skin color characterizing eastern specimens (Harding, 1997).

Hatchling Wood Turtles have nearly circular carapaces that range in length from 2.8 to 3.8 cm (1.1 to 1.5 inches); their tails are nearly as long as the carapace. At hatching they are a uniform brown or gray color dorsally; the brighter juvenile and adult coloration described above is attained during the first full year of growth (Harding, 1997).

Compared to females, adult male G. insculpta tend to have wider heads and higher, more elongate and domed, carapaces; the plastron is concave (depressed) in the center, and their tails are thicker and longer, with the vent (cloacal opening) beyond the edge of the carapace when the tail is extended. Compared to males, adult females tend to have lower and wider, more flaring carapaces; the plastron is flat to slightly convex, the tail is narrower and slightly shorter, with the vent situated beneath the edge of the carapace when the tail is extended (Ernst, Lovich, and Barbour, 1994; Harding, 1997).

  • Conant, R., J. Collins. 1998. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, Third Ed., Expanded. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin.
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Size

Length: 23 cm

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Diagnostic Description

Differs from box turtles and Blanding's turtle in lacking a hinged plastron. Differs from diamondback terrapin in habitat and having orange neck and leg skin in adults and a plain colored (vs. patterned) head in young.

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Ecology

Habitat

Comments: Wood turtles live along permanent streams during much of each year but in summer may roam widely overland and can be found in a variety of terrestrial habitats adjacent to streams, including deciduous woods, cultivated fields, and woodland bogs, marshy pastures. Use of woodland bogs and marshy fields is most common in the northern part of the range.

Wood turtles are often associated with the margins of woods. For example, in Wisconsin, wood turtles used wet mesic forest in riverbottom and riparian shrub/forest ecotones; most captures were in ecotones between alder thickets and grassy openings (Ross et al. 1991). In western Maine, within activity areas, wood turtles selected nonforested locations close to water with low canopy cover; within a watershed, they selected activity areas close to streams with moderate forest cover and little open water; overall they appeared to select forest edges to balance thermoregulatory and feeding needs (Compton et al. 2002).

Most activity is terrestrial June-August in Pennsylvania, May-October in New Jersey (Farrell and Graham 1991), but turtles commonly enter streams at night (Kaufmann 1992). Individuals occur mainly in streams in spring and fall. Some agricultural operations may be locally beneficial by providing a mixture of different food and cover types near wooded streams (Kaufmann 1992). Western populations are closely associated with water year-round, and eastern populations tend to be more terrestrial in the summer. According to Harding and Bloomer, Michigan wood turtles were never found more than 152 m (500 ft) from water, and had leeches (evidence of aquatic habits) at all times of the year. New Jersey wood turtles were found farther from water and were free of leeches during summer months. Hatchlings and small juveniles are much more closely associated with water than are adults. In Minnesota, Buech et al. (1990, 1991) found that nesting habitat and stream substrate are the most important habitat determinants. Wood turtles were never found in water where the bottom substrate was mucky. Harding (1990) reported that in Michigan these turtles are not found in clay-bottomed streams. However, Carl Ernst (1992, pers. comm.) reported that in Virginia and Pennsylvania the turtles can be found in streams with clay substrate. Harding (1990) also reported that wood turtles are usually found where openings in the streamside canopy allow growth of herbaceous plants. These openings provide both food and basking sites. As with other turtles, nesting wood turtles require loose substrate on fully exposed (unshaded) sites, such as sandy banks or sand-gravel bars in streams. When natural openings are unavailable they may use such man-made disturbances as road grades, railroad grades, sand pits, or plowed fields.

Overwintering occurs in bottoms or banks of streams where water flows all winter, including pools underneath a layer of ice; underwater muskrat burrows, beaver lodges, or over-bank root systems also may be used as winter hibernation (brumation) sites (Ernst 1986).

Reproductive activity (courtship, copulation) is aquatic (Ernst 1986). Eggs are laid in open sunny areas in fairly moist but well-drained, sandy or gravelly soil, commonly in clearings created by humans. Sites are usually near a stream, but females often appear along roads at this time of year, presumably looking for nesting sites in the soft shoulder material. This habit is a significant source of adult mortality. The female digs a hole in the dirt or sand with her hind feet, deposits the eggs and then carefully fills in the soil and tamps it flat (Pallas 1960).

Other turtles often share nest sites with this species. McBreen (1989) reported that Chelydra serpentia, Chrysemys picta, Terrapene carolina, Pseudemys rubrinventris used the same nest sites as wood turtles in Virginia. In Michigan wood turtles shared nesting areas with Chrysemys picta and Chelydra serpentina. In New Jersey, Clemmys muhlenbergi, C. guttata, Chrysemys picta, Chelydra serpentina, and Terrapene carolina commonly share nesting areas with wood turtles (Harding and Bloomer 1979).

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Glyptemys insculpta uses a variety of habitats focused on clear, hard-bottomed streams and rivers and adjoining forest, woodland and some fields. Deep pools with permanent flow are essential for successful hibernation.

Wood Turtles feed on a variety of vegetation, mushrooms, earthworms, slugs and other invertebrates, and carrion.

Males reach 23 cm carapace length (CL), females 20 cm CL. Maturity is reached at 14–18 years (19–20 cm CL) in males, and at 14–18 years (16–18 cm CL) in females. Females usually produce a single clutch, but second clutches have been reported; clutches comprise 8–11 (range 3–20) eggs. Incubation takes about 67 days (range 42–82). Hatchlings measure about 37 (28–40) mm. Longevity exceeds 40 years (review in Ernst and Lovich 2009). Generation time has not been calculated but is likely similar to that of Emys (Emydoidea) blandingii, i.e. at the order of 36–47 years (Harding, pers. comm. Aug 2009).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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Clemmys_insculpta is found near moving water (streams, creeks, or rivers), although some turtles may wander considerable distances away from water, especially in the warmer months. Streams with sand or sand and gravel bottoms are preferred, but rocky stream courses are sometimes used. Wood turtles are often described as woodland turtles, but in reality, they can live comfortably in a number of habitats such as woods, shrub or berry thickets, swamps, and open, grassy areas.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial ; freshwater

Terrestrial Biomes: forest

Aquatic Biomes: rivers and streams

  • Ernst, C., J. Lovich, R. Barbour. 1994. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
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Glyptemys insculpta is almost invariably found in association with moving water (streams, creeks, or rivers), although individuals in some populations may wander considerable distances away from water, especially in the warmer months. Females may be more terrestrial than males in some populations. Streams with sand or sand and gravel bottoms are preferred, but rocky stream courses are sometimes used, especially in the north-eastern portion of the range. Wood turtles are often described as a woodland species, but in some places they appear to thrive in a mosaic habitat of riparian woods, shrub or berry thickets, swamps, and open, grassy areas. Some unvegetated or sparsely vegetated patches, preferably with moist, but not saturated, sand substrate, are needed for nesting (Harding, 1991; Ernst, Lovich, and Barbour, 1994; Harding, 1997; Tuttle, 1996).

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial ; freshwater

Terrestrial Biomes: forest

Aquatic Biomes: rivers and streams

  • Ernst, C., J. Lovich, R. Barbour. 1994. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
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Wood turtles are semi-aquatic and live along forested rivers and streams (10), usually in cool, upland areas of deciduous woodland, red maple swamp, marshy meadow and farmland habitats (3) (11). Streams with sand or gravel bottoms are preferred (8), while logs or banks near water and sunny woodland openings are often utilized for basking (6).
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Migration

Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

In Virginia, a male moved 1 km in one day from his hibernaculum to his normal home range (Ernst and McBreen 1991, Mitchell 1991). In New Hampshire, Tuttle (1996) recorded movements of over 900 m in one day.

After eggs are laid, adults in eastern populations often disperse to more upland areas for summer range, where they tend to remain within a fairly defined, though variably sized, area (referred to as "home range" below).

The home range is often elongate because of the tendency to follow streams (Strang 1983). Virtually all turtle locations are within 150-300 m of streams used by the turtles (Harding and Bloomer 1979, Arvisais et al. 2002). Based on the 95% convex polygon method, the largest home ranges have been documented in Quebec and Ontario (averaging about 24-28 ha; largest single-season home range = 132 ha) (Quinn and Tate 1991, Arvisais et al. 2002). Maps in Quinn and Tate (1991) depicted home ranges of up to about 1.9 km in longest dimension; one female moved 3.6 km in a fairly straight line from her apparent nesting site to her late summer range. Home range size documented by others is an order of magnitude smaller (average less than 7 ha) (Strang 1983, Kaufmann 1995, Ross et al. 1991, Tuttle 1996, Tuttle and Carroll 1997, Ernst 2001; see also Arvisais et al. 2002).

Wood turtles have a reputation of intelligence and agility. They are excellent climbers and easily escape from boxes and enclosures. They are quick to learn mazes, daily routines, and are known to be good at homing (Tinklepaugh 1932, Clement 1958). Caroll and Ehrenfeld (1978) reported that wood turtles could often return to the exact spot of capture when released up to 2 kilometers away. Homing ability fell off sharply beyond the 2 km distance, and learning, age, and sex were not found to influence homing ability.

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Trophic Strategy

Comments: Opportunistic omnivore. Pope (1967) indicated a strong preference for vegetable matter, including fruits, berries, tender leaves, and mushrooms. Harding and Bloomer (1979) listed insects, earthworms, mollusks, tadpoles, dead fish, and newborn mice as foods, with invertebrates and plant matter predominant. Favorite leaves include sandbar willow and strawberries (Harding 1990). Strang (1983) tallied food choices of wood turtles in their natural habitat in Pennsylvania and found that they ate fungi and green leaves most frequently (accounting for a total of 68% of all feeding observations), and fruits/flowers and insects about equally (totalling 32% of observations). In Pennsylvania, Ernst (2001) reported a diet of earthworms, leeches, caterpillars, fish (likely carrion), and Rana clamitans tadpoles and adults.

Feeds in water and on land (Ernst 2001). In some areas, reported to stamp the front feet or hit the plastron on the ground, which brings earthworms to the surface where they can be captured and eaten.

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Food Habits

Clemmys_insculpta is an omnivorous turtle that can feed both in and out of water. Natural foods for the species include leaves and flowers of various woody plants (violet, strawberry, raspberry, willow), fruits (berries), fungi, slugs, snails, worms, and insects. They will occasionally eat young mice or eggs, or scavenge dead animals.

Wood Turtles in some areas are known to capture earthworms by thumping the ground with their feet or the front of the shell. It is thought that the worms mistake the vibrations caused by this thumping for the approach of a mole, and come to the surface, only to be grabbed by the hungry turtle.

Animal Foods: eggs; carrion ; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods; mollusks; terrestrial worms; aquatic crustaceans

Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers; fruit; flowers

Other Foods: fungus

  • Harding, J. 1991. A twenty year wood turtle study in Michigan: implications for conservation. Chapman University, Orange, California: In: Proceedings of the First International Symposium on Turtles and Tortoises: Conservation and Captive Husbandry.
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Food Habits

Glyptemys insculpta is an omnivorous species that can feed both in or out of water. Natural foods reported for the species include leaves and flowers of various herbaceous and woody plants (violet, strawberry, raspberry, willow), fruits (berries), fungi, slugs, snails, worms, and insects. They are usually slow, deliberate feeders, and seem incapable of capturing fish or other fast-moving prey, though they will opportunistically consume young mice or eggs, or scavenge dead animals (Ernst, Lovich, and Barbour, 1994; Harding, 1997)

Wood Turtles in some populations are known to capture earthworms by thumping the ground with their forefeet or the front of the plastron. It is thought that the worms may mistake the vibrations caused by this thumping for the approach of a mole or perhaps the advent of a hard rain, and thus come to the surface, only to be grabbed by the hungry turtle (Harding and Bloomer, 1979; Kaufmann, et al., 1989; Ernst, Lovich, and Barbour, 1994).

Animal Foods: eggs; carrion ; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods; mollusks; terrestrial worms; aquatic crustaceans

Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers; fruit; flowers

Other Foods: fungus

Primary Diet: omnivore

  • Harding, J. 1991. A twenty year wood turtle study in Michigan: implications for conservation. Chapman University, Orange, California: In: Proceedings of the First International Symposium on Turtles and Tortoises: Conservation and Captive Husbandry.
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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 - 300

Comments: The number of occurrences has not been determined using standardized occurrence specifications, but probably there are at least a few hundred distinct occurrences.

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Global Abundance

10,000 - 100,000 individuals

Comments: Total adult population size is unknown but likely exceeds 10,000.

In the Great Lakes region, this species is generally uncommon to rare; locally common where habitat is intact and human disturbance is minimal (Harding 1997). It is rare in Minnesota and uncommon even in suitable habitat; populations are not large (Oldfield and Moriarty 1994). It is widespread but apparently rare in Maine (Hunter et al. 1992).

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General Ecology

Solitary late spring-summer; may aggregate in or near hibernation sites. Not territorial (Kaufmann 1992, which see for a detailed study of social behavior in central Pennsylvania).

New Jersey populations averaged 12.5 adults/ha, but the turtles were usually concentrated around basking areas or favorite food patches, rather than spread evenly across an area. In New Jersey, population density over several years averaged 10.7/ha of suitable habitat (Farrell and Graham 1991). In Michigan, the populations seem to be more scattered, and density is likely considerably lower. In southern Quebec, density was estimated at 1.2 turtles per 100 m of river (Daigle 1997). In West Virginia, estimated density was 19.1 individuals per hectare of total habitat (287-337 individuals along a 1.7 km length of river) (Niederberger and Seidel 1999). In Pennsylvania, density for 240 ha of available habitat was 0.66 turtles/ha, whereas density for available riparian habitat where most turtles occurred was 4.42 turtles/ha (Ernst 2001).

The combination of late maturity, low reproductive success, and long-lived adults results in a population structure skewed heavily toward adults. Harding's study populations consisted of 80 to 85% adults. Farrell and Graham (1991) reported 3% juveniles (1 to 8 years), 53% subadults (9 to 13 years), and 34% adults (over 13 years) in one New Jersey population; almost half of the population comprised individuals over 14 cm in plastron length These characteristics combine to delay the detection of population declines, and to reduce the ability of small, declining populations to recover. A population studied in West Virginia included 46% juveniles (Niederberger and Seidel 1999).

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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Comments: Most active diurnally, March or April through October or November (Farrell and Graham 1991, Ernst 2001). Some aquatic movements may occur in winter, especially in the southern part of the range. Activity peaks in morning in summer, in afternoon in spring and fall. Mating and egg layinh sometimes continue after dark. Does not estivate (Ernst 1986, Farrell and Graham 1991).

Males tend to be active and easy to find earlier in the spring than are females, whereas females are easier to find during the egg-laying season.

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Wood turtles can live up to 58 years and possibly longer.

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
58 (high) hours.

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Lifespan/Longevity

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
58 (high) hours.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
12.5 years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
60.0 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 60 years (captivity) Observations: Unverified, albeit plausible, reports suggest these animals may live up to 60 years in captivity (http://www.demogr.mpg.de/longevityrecords).
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Reproduction

Copulates in spring or fall (e.g., Niederberger and Seidel 1999, Ernst 2001); mostly in spring in the north; usually late March-April and October-November in New Jersey (Farrell and Graham 1991); more often in fall than in spring in Virginia and central Pennsylvania (Kaufmann 1992).

Depending on local climate, eggs can be laid anytime from mid-May to early July. In New Jersey, Virginia, and Pennsylvania (Ernst 2001), a single clutch generally is laid in June. Clutch size usually is 4-18 (often 7-14). Clutch size averaged 11 in Wisconsin (Ross et al. 1991), about 9 in Ontario (Brooks et al. 1992).

In New Jersey, clutch size was 5-11 (mean 8.5) (Farrell and Graham, 1991). Harding and Bloomer reported that clutches averaged 10 eggs in Michigan, and clutches of 13-14 eggs were "not uncommon." Eggs hatch after 70-80 days, August-October (after about 70 days, generally in late August, in New Jersey). Sex is genetically determined, and sex ratios are approximately 1:1 at birth (Ewert and Nelson 1991).

In New Jersey, wood turtles grow to 165 mm (6.5 inches) in 7 or 8 years. In Michigan, growth rates are slower, and it may take as many as 12 years to attain a 169 mm CL (Harding, 1990). Growth rates for males and females are constant until secondary sexual differences begin to appear, when males begin to grow faster, and ultimately become larger than females (Lovich et al. 1990). Harding (1990) found that average CL of females was 182 mm (n = 105), and average CL of males was 200 mm (n = 86). After and early growth spurt, growth of both sexes slows considerably, until by 20 years of age, growth rates are so slow that annual growth rings on the shell no longer yield accurate age data (Harding 1990).

In Pennsylvania, secondary sexual characteristics began to appear at 5-9 years of age, at a size of 160 to 180 mm (Lovich et al. 1990). However, there is usually a delay of several years between sexual differentiation and sexual maturity. Maturity is apparently not attained until 12 to 15 years of age (Lovich et al. 1990, Farrell and Graham 1991, Harding 1990). In a long term study in Michigan, Harding reported that the smallest female found laying eggs was 158 mm carapace length and had twelve growth rings, indicating she was at least 12 years old. In New Jersey, attained maturity in 14th year (Farrell and Graham 1991). In Wisconsin, the youngest gravid female was 14 years old; the smallest male observed copulating was 20 years old (Ross et al. 1991). In Ontario age at maturity was 17-18 years (Brooks et al. 1992).

Nesting success generally is very low, with egg predators taking a heavy toll. One report conservatively estimated egg and hatchling mortality at 98% (Harding 1990). An Ontario population incurred a high rate of predation on nests and adults (Brooks et al. 1992). Reproductive success depends on a high rate of adult survival, long-lived adults that reproduce many times during their lifetime, and the occasional good season when a nest survives (Harding, pers. comm. 1992).

Adults may live for many years, with maximum ages of 32 years (wild caught) and 58 years (captive) reported by Harding and Bloomer (1979). In Pennsylvania, several known-age turtles marked as juveniles were found to live at least 30 to 42 years (Ernst, 1992, personal communication). Given the difficulty of aging turtles over 20 years, the wild caught age is likely conservative.

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Older, larger males tend to be dominant over smaller male wood turtles, and also have better success in mating.

Courtship may include a mating "dance" in which the male and female face each other and swing their heads back and forth; more often the male simply chases the female while nipping at her limbs and shell and then mates with her in shallow water on a sloping stream bank. Mating is most frequent in spring and fall, when the turtles are more aquatic.

In May or June, female wood turtles search for open, sunny nesting sites, preferring sandy banks near moving water. The female digs the nest with her hind feet into which she lays 3 to 18 eggs (usually 5 to 13). The eggs are carefully buried, and the female camouflages the nest, then departs, offering no further protection to her offspring. Females may not reproduce every year (Harding, 1977, 1991, 1997).

Most wood turtle eggs never hatch; nest predation by raccoons, skunks, shrews, foxes, and other predators can typically result in high losses. Incubation requires from 47 to 69 days. Hatchling Clemmys insculpta hatch from their nests in late August or September and move to water.

Wood turtles in the wild usually reach adulthood between 14 and 20 years of age.

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Male wood turtles form dominance hierarchies in the wild, and will often aggressively attack other males; females also exhibit aggressive behavior, which can be directed both toward males and other females. Older, larger males tend to be dominant over smaller individuals, and also have better success in fertilizing eggs (Kaufmann, 1992).

Courtship may include a mating "dance" in which the male and female face each other and swing their heads back and forth; perhaps more frequently the male simply pursues the female while nipping at her limbs and shell and then mounts her carapace. While thus positioned, the male may nip at the female's head and often thumps the female's carapace by straightening and then flexing his front limbs, and dropping his plastron onto the female's shell. Copulation usually occurs in shallow water on a sloping stream bank, though courtship may be initiated on land. Mating may occur at any time during the active season, but is probably most frequent in spring and fall, when the turtles are more aquatic.

In May or June, female wood turtles seek open, sunny nesting sites, preferring sandy banks adjacent to moving water whenever possible. The female excavates the nest with her hind feet, creating a globular cavity about 5 to 13 cm (2 to 5 inches) deep. Clutch size ranges from 3 to 18 eggs (usually 5 to 13). The eggs are carefully buried, and the females goes to considerable effort to smooth and obscure the nest site, but then departs, offering no further care to her offspring. Only one clutch is produced each year, and females may not reproduce every year (Harding, 1977, 1991, 1997).

Most wood turtle eggs never hatch; nest predation by raccoons, skunks, shrews, foxes, and other predators can typically result in high losses, sometimes approaching the entire year's reproductive effort for a turtle population when predator numbers are high. In a Michigan study, 70 to 100 percent of nests were typically lost each year, mostly to raccoons. For eggs fortunate enough to escape detection, incubation requires from 47 to 69 days, dependent mostly on temperature and moisture conditions in the nest. Hatchling G. insculpta generally emerge from their nests in late August or September and move to water. They appear not to overwinter in the nest, as occurs in some other freshwater turtle species (Ernst, Lovich, and Barbour, 1994; Harding, 1997: Tuttle, 1996).

In this species, the sex of the hatchling is independent of incubation temperature, a departure from the trend in closely related emydid species (such as Clemmys guttata and Emydoidea blandingii) in which embryonic sex differentiation is directly related to nest temperatures during the middle third of the incubation period (Ewert and Nelson, 1991).

Wood turtles in the wild usually reach sexual maturity between 14 and 20 years of age; in a Michigan study, most reproductive adults were in their third and fourth decade of life. Maximum lifespan in the wild is unknown, but can probably exceed the age of 58 obtained by a captive specimen (Ernst, Lovich, and Barbour, 1994; Harding 1991, 1997).

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)

Sex: male:
5840 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)

Sex: female:
5840 days.

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Glyptemys insculpta

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N3 - Vulnerable

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N3 - Vulnerable

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G3 - Vulnerable

Reasons: Occurs in the northeastern United States and portions of adjacent southern Canada; apparently declining throughout most of the range; still extant in all 21 states and Canadian provinces from which recorded but rated as apparently secure in only 2 states; late maturity and very low annual juvenile recruitment make the species vulnerable to declines and limit recovery potential; threatened by over-collection (commonly illegal) and habitat loss and fragmentation; better information is needed on population trends and their relationship to specific threats.

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Highly to moderately vulnerable.

Comments: Population biology (late maturity, very low annual juvenile recruitment) limits recovery potential, and heightens vulnerability to over-collection. Low mobility (relative to birds, e.g.), and tendency to home, reduce probability of recolonization of decimated populations. These characteristics necessitate early response to indications of decline.

Environmental Specificity: Narrow. Specialist or community with key requirements common.

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
EN
Endangered

Red List Criteria
A2cd+4c

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2011

Assessor/s
van Dijk, P.P. & Harding, J.

Reviewer/s
Horne, B.D., Mittermeier, R.A., Philippen, H.-D., Quinn, H.R., Rhodin, A.G.J., Shaffer, H.B. & Vogt, R.C

Contributor/s

Justification
Quantitative data on the overall population decline of Glyptemys insculpta are not available, but the general perception is that some populations hold stable while others (possibly most) are in slow decline. Considering the long generation time of the species (about 36–47 years) the cumulative decline over the past 100 years is likely to have exceeded 50%, much of this decline is irreversible, and declines are likely to continue in places. Thus, an Endangered designation under criteria A2cd+4c appears warranted.

Glyptemys insculpta was evaluated as Vulnerable A1abcd+2cd in 1996.

History
  • 1996
    Vulnerable
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Because C._insculpta gives birth to few young in its lifetime, combined with the old age it must reach to dominate and breed, it is especially vulnerable to extinction by human interference.

Direct removal by humans is the biggest threat to the species in some areas. Today, C._insculpta is legally protected from collection.

Wood Turtles have also suffered greatly from habitat loss. Intensive forestry, farming, or industrial or residential development can severely impact C._insculpta. Another threat to these turtles is the recent increase in numbers of predators, such as raccoons (Procyon_lotor), which not only destroy turtle eggs and hatchlings, but can also kill adult turtles (Harding, 1985; 1991, 1997, pers.obs.).

The long-term future for this species is bleak unless its habitats are protected and the animals themselves are left alone. Wood turtles are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN and special concern in the state of Michigan, and they are in CITES appendix II.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: appendix ii

State of Michigan List: special concern

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Glyptemys insculpta displays a number of life history traits that make it especially vulnerable to exploitation and habitat alteration by humans. In this and many other turtle and tortoise species, low reproductive rates (low clutch size and/or high nest and hatchling mortality) and delayed sexual maturity are normally balanced by relatively high survivorship of older juveniles and adults, and a long adult reproductive lifespan. It has been demonstrated that such species have virtually no harvestable surplus in their populations (assuming the desirability of population stability), and any factor (natural or human-caused) which reduces the normally high survivorship of older juveniles and mature adults will result in a declining or even extirpated population. In addition, these turtle populations will predictably be very slow in recovering from any factor which significantly reduces numbers of mature individuals. The Wood Turtle may be equally, or even more vulnerable than certain other well-studied turtle species (such as Emydoidea blandingii) in this regard (Congdon et al., 1993; Harding, 1991, and unpubl. data).

Direct removal by humans is the primary threat to the species in some portions of the Wood Turtle's range. Removal can take the form of road mortality, shooting of basking turtles by vandals, commercial poaching for the pet trade, or just incidental collection by stream-based recreationists such as canoeists and fishermen. In one study (Garber and Burger, 1995), a previously unexploited population of Wood Turtles declined to virtual extirpation within a decade of being exposed to human recreationists. Glyptemys insculpta is legally protected from commercial collecting practically range-wide at present, and collection for personal use is at least regulated, if not prohibited, by most of the states and provinces where it occurs.

Wood Turtles have also suffered greatly from habitat loss and degradation. While the species seems somewhat tolerant of modest timber harvest and agricultural activity in its habitat, intensive forestry, farming, or industrial or residential development in the riparian zone can severely impact Wood Turtles. Intensive, mechanized agriculture can result in maiming and deaths of Wood Turtles due to impacts from farm machinery (Saumure and Bider, 1998). Certain fish management practices that involve removal ("stabilization") of sand bank nesting sites along northern rivers is a relatively recent threat that can reduce reproductive opportunities for this and other turtle species. An additional threat is the recent increase in numbers of "human-subsidized" predators, particularly raccoons (Procyon lotor), which not only destroy turtle eggs and hatchlings, but can also kill or maim adult turtles (Harding, 1985; 1991, 1997, pers.obs.).

The long-term future for this species is bleak unless its riparian habitats are protected and the animals themselves are left undisturbed. Wood turtles are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN and special concern in the state of Michigan, and they are in CITES appendix II.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: appendix ii

State of Michigan List: special concern

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable

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Status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2006 (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (4).
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Global Short Term Trend: Decline of 30-70%

Comments: Robust data on trend are not available for most occurrences, but available evidence indicates that this species is declining in many parts of its range, and trend is unknown but likely declining in most other areas. The species is not known to be stable or increasing in any substantial portion of the range. Decline in population size over the past three generations (which likely exceeds 50 years) probably has been substantial.

In the Great Lakes region, many local populations recently have been greatly reduced or extirpated by human activities (Harding 1997).

In southern Quebec, a local population in an agricultural area along the Sutton River declined by 50% over 7 seven years (Daigle and Jutras 2005).

Global Long Term Trend: Decline of 30-70%

Comments: Long-term decline is primarily in abundance and condition of occurrences.

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Population

Population
In suitable habitat, Wood Turtles can reach substantial densities, ranging from five to over 100 animals per hectare of prime riparian habitat, but such stream valleys only represent a small portion of the overall area. Wood Turtles tend to be localized and associated with relatively less developed remote hill and montane regions (review in Ernst and Lovich 2009).

Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Degree of Threat: Very high - high

Comments: The species has been seriously impacted by illegal collection. Entire populations along some streams have been eliminated. As a result, the distribution is now more discontinuous than it once was, and gene flow has certainly been reduced in some areas. Collection for pet trade (now illegal in most of the range) is the major threat to the survival of wood turtles. In the north, where development pressure is not great, collection may be the only serious threat. Collectors can easily clean out an entire population along many miles of stream in only one or two seasons of collecting, by timing collection to coincide with the turtles' emergence from hibernation. Although the level of illegal collecting is undocumented, experts in most states surveyed mentioned collecting as a major threat in their state. Most states and provinces in the range now have laws prohibiting mass collection and commercial use. Nevertheless, it is not illegal to sell wood turtles in the rest of the United States, or to export them. They commonly show up in pet stores on the west coast, and they are also shipped to Japan and Europe. Hundreds to thousands of wood turtles arrive in Florida for world-wide distribution each spring (Harding, pers. comm.). Levell (2000) discussed commercial exploitation for the live animal trade. The wood turtle was recently listed in Appendix II of the CITES treaty, which will mean that permits will be required for export of the species (Brautigam, A., 1992, in litt. to J. Harding). The summary prepared for this listing (Inclusion of Clemmys insculpta in Appendix II United States of America Doc. 8.46: No. 51) indicated that "reviewers concur that protective legislation at state and provincial levels in the United States and Canada appears to have done little to curb collection of this species." One reviewer for the CITES listing indicated that specimen price lists only reveal a small fraction of the numbers actually sold, and that sale prices in Europe were reported to exceed US $100 (J. Harding). Another reviewer had been offered $35 per animal and had found selling prices of US $35-200 (R. Brooks). In this same document, reviewer J. Kaufmann reported that Canadian collectors had collected (illegally) several hundred specimens from one stream in Pennsylvania over a couple days time. Clearly, the selling price and apparent ease of collection will continue to put pressure on this species until sales are effectively regulated. The Chelonian Advisory Group of the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums has adopted a resolution calling for a cessation of collection of CLEMMYS spp. from wild populations, and limitation of purchase to specimens proven to be captive-bred.

In contrast to the vulnerability to direct human exploitation, wood turtles are fairly tolerant of moderate habitat alterations. For instance, though wood turtles are generally associated with wooded streams, they generally feed along the margins of woods, or in openings, where preferred berries grow. Thus, some clearcutting adjacent to streams may not be harmful (Harding 1990). They are also tolerant of moderate development/disturbance, such as shoreline hunting cabins used only a few times a year, timber harvest, light grazing, and low-intensity agriculture (Harding 1997). On the other hand, intense use, such as high-use canoe put-ins and campgrounds generally result in absence of the turtles along such stretches of stream (Harding, pers. comm.). In Connecticut, two formerly stable wood turtle populations declined drastically after a protected drinking water supply area was opened to recreational use (Garber and Burger 1995). Presumably most of the turtles that disappeared were taken by people. In Quebec, "agricultural development may have resulted in reduced predation but also in reduced growth and recruitment, as well as increased adult mortality" (Saumure and Bider 1998).

Habitat destruction and fragmentation due to intense development and accompanying stream alterations are serious problems in the southeastern portion of the wood turtle's range, especially northern Virginia (Mitchell 1994), northwestern New Jersey, southeastern New York and eastern Pennsylvania. Similar problems exist in the Great Lakes region (Harding 1997). "Certain fisheries management practices, such as sand bank stabilization and the digging of sand traps in streams, can eliminate nesting sites and reduce preferred turtle habitat" (Harding 1997). With increasing development, adult mortality due to road traffic also increases (Harding 1997).

Another detrimental aspect of development and intense recreational use is increased egg predation by predators that coexist well with humans. For example, egg predators such as skunks and raccoons commonly increase in abundance with surrounding development and degradation of natural habitat. Although this turtle is apparently adapted to high egg mortality, predation rates elevated above "natural" rates may reduce reproductive success below critical replacement rates. Raccoons may also increase adult mortality. Farrell and Graham found 16.8% of wood turtles captured over a 4-year study to be injured, primarily by raccoons. Harding (1985) provided further information on predation and injuries.

Wood turtles are also intolerant of all types of water pollution. Wood turtles showed declines in some areas in the 1950s and 1960s, probably in response to increasing insecticide use.

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Major Threats
Habitat degradation, fragmentation and destruction are widespread in Wood Turtles' areas of occupancy, from residential and recreational developments (particularly second homes/cabins) and associated infrastructure, as well as forestry practices in the public lands where the main populations are located.

Wood Turtles are valued as pets, and continued collection of animals for the (illegal) pet trade represents a threat to some populations.
The terrestrial habits of Glyptemys insculpta in summer lead to road mortality as well as fatal encounters with recreational vehicles and agricultural machinery.

Predation by (subsidized) raccoons is significant, and believed to result in no recruitment in Michigan (J. Harding, pers comm Aug 2009). Subsidized predators may become a more significant issue as residential and recreational developments penetrate further into wood turtle habitat.

Glyptemys insculpta is well documented to have shifted its range northward with the end of the past ice age; global warning is likely to tip southern populations towards extinction, while northern populations might expand into new territory.

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The numbers of wood turtles have declined at an alarming rate in recent years, largely as a result of human interference and collection for the pet trade (9). Egg predation by skunks, raccoons and opossums is becoming a serious problem due to an increase in the number of these scavengers since human settlement, with egg and hatchling mortality exceeding 80 percent in some areas (6) (10). In the last few decades, commercial poachers have mercilessly exploited this turtle for the pet trade range-wide, and remain the primary threat to the species in a number of areas (6) (8). Significant numbers are also lost from road mortality, shooting of basking turtles by vandals, and incidental collection by recreationists (8). Indeed, two wood turtle populations in areas of Connecticut previously closed to the public declined to virtual extinction within a decade of being exposed to human recreationists (3) (8). Because these turtles have a late onset of sexual maturity and a slow reproductive rate, but a long lifespan, they depend upon a long adult reproductive span to sustain population levels. Removal of just a few individuals thus has a dramatic impact and can easily lead to local extinction (3). Wood turtles have also suffered greatly from habitat loss and degradation (8). Although the species appears to tolerate modest timber harvest and agricultural activity, intensive forestry, farming, or industrial or residential development has a greater impact by fragmenting, destroying and polluting important wood turtle habitat (3) (8). Water management strategies that remove sand banks as a form of 'stabilisation' also limit available nesting sites and reproductive opportunities (8).
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Management

Restoration Potential: It is possible to breed wood turtles in captivity as long as natural conditions, including winter hibernation, are approximated. However, Harding (1990), after more than 20 years studying wood turtles, strongly discouraged captive breeding for this species. He stated his arguments this way: "...release of hatchlings is poor compensation for removal of adults from a population, due to high natural mortality of the former. Based on Michigan data, the release of between 50 and 100 hatchlings would be required to balance the removal of one adult from the population. Head-starting of juveniles is an unproven technique; the recapture rate of head-started juveniles (1 year olds) in this study was less than 5%." Recovery of the species to historical levels is highly unlikely, because much habitat has been permanently lost to development. However, if commercial collection were stopped, in much of its range the wood turtle would require little active protection or management to remain secure.

Low recruitment rate may make recovery a slow process.

Preserve Selection and Design Considerations: Overall, land preservation is currently less important than regulatory protection from commercial collection for the pet trade. In the extreme southeastern portion of its range, land protection is of primary importance. In areas where human use conflicts with wood turtle needs, habitat protection should proceed. Preserve design should include protection of wooded stream corridors, nesting, feeding, basking, and overwintering sites, and an upland buffer would be necessary to include in preserve design. The size of the upland buffer would need to be determined from studies of local populations, since wood turtles vary considerably in home range size. Alternatively, a preserve could be fenced to prevent turtles from leaving the protected area, if adequate food, basking, nesting and hibernating sites were available within the preserve. Control of excessive nest predation should also be considered in preserve design. Finally, roads should not be placed close to and parallel to the stream, as adult mortality along roads is significant.

Garber (unpublished) suggested that populations with a minimum of 50 breeding adult females in a population might be viable.

Management Requirements: Because of low natural reproductive success, it is essential to respond to declining populations early. Habitat management could benefit this species in the portions of its range where human use and development are intense. Wood turtles are fairly tolerant of a variety of adjacent land uses. Any management compatible with maintenance of water quality, nesting and hibernating habitat, a reasonable food supply, and natural mortality levels, will be compatible with wood turtles.

Habitat improvement is probably best aimed at nesting, basking, and hibernating sites. Creation of openings in the woods along streams, where herbaceous vegetation and berries can thrive may be a necessary management activity in some areas. Maintenance of natural stream dynamics that create sand bars and islands, natural banks, and open sand shores, and restriction of intense human impact along rivers (restriction of designated campgrounds and access points), are probably the most critical foci of management. Some trout management practices, especially sand traps that remove sand and produce a gravelly stream bed, are counterproductive for wood turtles, which prefer sandy substrate.

Education is also an important management tool, especially on rivers that get heavy canoe use. Canoeists should be informed that this species is protected and should not be collected or used as a target for shooting.

In some areas, predator control would be of benefit. Management of habitat characteristics of adjacent uplands should be aimed at achieving a mixture of vegetation including forest-edge habitat without encouraging raccoon and skunk populations.

See Brewster and Brewster (1991) for information on the movements of captive-bred juveniles introduced into a wood turtle population in Wisconsin.

Management Research Needs: The biology of wood turtles is fairly well studied. The main research needed presently is an assessment of the rangewide status (see monitoring needs, above). Population monitoring and management would be enhanced by population studies, including viability analyses, on a few important populations from across the range. This would give a more complete picture of the status of the species. These studies would also help to identify the population parameters that best indicate population health, so these could be used to improve the value of monitoring efforts.

Research is needed to determine levels of predation that can be tolerated by wood turtles without causing population declines. Then, the impact of various human use patterns on predation level should be investigated so that predator controls can be instigated where needed.

Also needed is a better idea of the amount of feeding and summer habitat wood turtles use or require in different regions, so that management can be aimed at adequate habitat.

Biological Research Needs: Population viability analyses across range; levels of predation that can be tolerated; impact of human use on predation level; amount of feeding and summer habitat required in different regions and habitats.

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Global Protection: Few to several (1-12) occurrences appropriately protected and managed

Comments: Occurrences in public forests and parks are still vulnerable to illegal collection. Recent CITES listing may help reduce collecting pressure.

Needs: Species was given CITES Appendix II protection in 1992, which means that permits will now be required for exports. State laws to protect from commercial collection needed in all states and provinces in range. Regulation of commercial sale also needed throughout USA. Also, habitat preservation, education, and moderation of recreational stream use.

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Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Glyptemys insculpta is included in CITES Appendix II and is protected in most areas of its occurrence. Substantial populations occur in protected areas and lands safeguarded from major development.

Remaining populations of Wood Turtles need to be considered carefully in land management practices, particularly forestry on public lands. Measures to minimize accidental mortality need further research, awareness, extension and implementation; this potentially includes roadside fencing and underpasses, and higher blade height on agricultural mowers. Regulations against collection of animals from the wild need full enforcement.
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Conservation

The wood turtle is legally protected to varying degrees by all the states and provinces where it lives, and is totally protected from commercial collection and trade (5) (8). Like many endangered turtle species, captive breeding may be the solution to satisfying the commercial demand for the wood turtle. Unfortunately, this has led to many reptile breeders scrambling to obtain specimens while they still can (11). Thus, unless its habitat is protected and the animals themselves are left undisturbed by poachers and predators, the long-term future for this ornately sculpted turtle looks increasingly bleak (8).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Uses

Comments: Very popular in the pet trade (Mitchell 1991).

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Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

This species of turtle is harmless to humans.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Wood Turtles were once hunted for human food (in the east) and for the biological supply trade , and in the last few decades they have been collected for the pet trade. Most populations of C._insculpta are now greatly reduced from former numbers, and many have become locally extinct (Harding, 1991, 1997).

Positive Impacts: pet trade ; food ; body parts are source of valuable material; research and education

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This species is harmless to human interests and values.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Wood Turtles were once harvested extensively for human food (in the east) and for the biological supply trade (especially in the western Great Lakes area), and in the last few decades they have been mercilessly exploited for the pet trade range-wide. None of these activities are sustainable in the long-term; most populations of Wood Turtles are now greatly reduced from former numbers, and many have been totally extirpated (Harding, 1991, 1997).

Positive Impacts: pet trade ; food ; body parts are source of valuable material; research and education

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Wikipedia

Wood turtle

For other uses, see Wood turtle (disambiguation).

The wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) is a turtle endemic to North America. It is in the genus Glyptemys, a designation given to only one other turtle: the bog turtle. The wood turtle reaches a carapace length of 14 to 20 centimeters (5.5 to 7.9 in), its defining characteristic being the pyramidal pattern on its upper shell. Morphologically, it is similar to the bog turtle, spotted turtle, and Blanding's Turtle. The wood turtle exists in a broad range extending from Nova Scotia in the north (and east) to Minnesota in the west and Virginia in the south. In the past, it was forced south by encroaching glaciers: skeletal remains have been found as far south as Georgia.

It spends a great deal of time in or near the water of wide rivers, preferring shallow, clear streams with compacted and sandy bottoms. The wood turtle can also be found in forests and grasslands, but will rarely be seen more than several hundred meters from flowing water. It is diurnal and is not overtly territorial. It spends the winter in hibernation and the hottest parts of the summer in estivation.

The wood turtle is omnivorous and is capable of eating on land or in water. On an average day, a wood turtle will move 108 meters (354 ft), a decidedly long distance. Many other animals that live in its habitat pose a threat to it. Raccoons are over-abundant in many places and are a direct threat to all life stages of this species. Inadvertently, humans cause a large number of deaths through habitat destruction, road traffic, farming accidents, and illegal collection. When unharmed, it can live for up to 40 years in the wild and 58 years in captivity.

Taxonomy[edit]

Formerly in the genus Clemmys, the wood turtle is now a member of Glyptemys, a classification that wood turtles share with only the bog turtle.[4] It and the bog turtle have a similar genetic makeup, which is marginally different from that of the spotted turtle, the only current member of the Clemmys genus.[5] It has undergone extensive name changes by various scientists over the course of its history.[4] Today, there are several prominent common names for the wood turtle, including sculptured tortoise, red-legged tortoise, and redleg.[4]

Although no subspecies are recognized, there are morphological differences in wood turtles between areas. Individuals found in the west of its range (areas like the Great Lakes and the Midwest United States) have a paler complexion on the inside of their legs and underside of their necks than ones found in the east (places including the Appalachian Mountains, New York, and Pennsylvania).[6] Genetic analysis has also revealed that southern populations have less genetic diversity than the northern; however, both exhibit a fair amount of diversity considering the decline in numbers that have occurred during previous ice ages.[7]

Description[edit]

A wood turtle lifting its head slightly while on rocky soil.
Adult specimen
Plastron of an adult male.
Plastron

Wood turtles grow to between 14 and 20 centimeters (5.5 and 7.9 in) in length,[8] and reach a maximum of 23.4 centimeters (9.2 in).[4][6] They have a rough carapace that is a tan, grayish brown or brown color, with a central ridge (called a keel) made up of a pyramidal pattern of ridges and grooves.[8] Older turtles typically display an abraded or worn carapace. Fully grown, they weigh 1 kilogram (35 oz).[9] The wood turtle's karyotype consists of 50 chromosomes.[6]

The larger scutes display a pattern of black or yellow lines. The wood turtle's plastron (ventral shell) is yellowish in color[8] and has dark patches. The posterior margin of the plastron terminates in a V-shaped notch.[4] Although sometimes speckled with yellowish spots, the upper surface of the head is often a dark gray to solid black. The ventral surfaces of the neck, chin, and legs are orange to red with faint yellow stripes along the lower jaw of some individuals.[4] Seasonal variation in color vibrancy have been known to occur.[6]

At maturity, males, who reach a maximum length of 23.4 centimeters (9.2 in), are larger than females, who have been recorded to reach 20.4 centimeters (8.0 in).[6] Males also have larger claws, a larger head, a concave plastron, a more dome-like carapace, and longer tails than females.[10] The plastron of females and juveniles is flat while in males it gains concavity with age.[9] The posterior marginal scutes of females and juveniles (of either gender) radiate outward more than in mature males.[10] The coloration on the neck, chin, and inner legs is more vibrant in males than in females who display a pale yellowish color in those areas.[6] Hatchlings range in size from 2.8 to 3.8 centimeters (1.1 to 1.5 in) in length (straight carapace measurement).[10] The plastrons of hatchlings are dull gray to brown. Their tail usually equals the length of the carapace and their neck and legs lack the bright coloration found in adults.[8] Hatchling's carapaces also are as wide as they are long and lack the pyramidal pattern found in older turtles.[10]

The eastern box turtle and Blanding's turtle are similar in appearance to the wood turtle and all three live in overlapping habitats. However, unlike the wood turtle, both the Blanding's turtle and members of the box turtle family have hinged plastrons that allow them to completely close their shells. The diamondback terrapin has a shell closely resembling the wood turtle's; however its skin is gray in color, and it inhabits coastal brackish and saltwater marshes.[8] The bog turtle and spotted turtle are also similar, but neither of these have the specific sculptured pattern found on the carapaces of the wood turtle.[11]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Map of the eastern United States and eastern Canada, read coloring marks the wood turtles inhabitance.
Distribution, includes United States and Canada

The wood turtle is found in most New England states, Nova Scotia, west to Michigan and Minnesota,[6] and south to Virginia. Overall, the distribution is disjunct with populations often being small and isolated. Roughly 30% of its total population is in Canada.[9] It prefers slow-moving streams containing a sandy bottom and heavily vegetated banks. The soft bottoms and muddy shores of these streams are ideal for overwintering. Also, the areas bordering the streams (usually with open canopies[3]) are used for nesting. Spring to summer is spent in open areas including forests, fields, bogs, wet meadows, and beaver ponds. The rest of the year is spent in the aforementioned waterways.[8]

The densities of wood turtle populations have also been studied. In the northern portion of its range (Quebec and other areas of Canada), populations are fairly dilute, containing an average of 0.44 individuals per 1 hectare (2.5 acres), while in the south, over the same area, the densities varied largely from 6 to 90 turtles. In addition to this, it has been found that colonies often have more females than males.[5]

In the western portion of its range, wood turtles are more aquatic.[12] In the east, wood turtles are decidedly more terrestrial, especially during the summer. During this time, they can be found in wooded areas with wide open canopies. However, even here, they are never far from water and will enter it every few days.[13]

Evolutionary history[edit]

In the past, wood turtle populations were forced south by extending glaciers. Remains from the Rancholabrean period (300,000 to 11,000 years ago) have been found in states such as Georgia and Tennessee, both of which are well south of their current range.[6] After the receding of the ice, wood turtle colonies were able to re-inhabit their customary northern range[14] (areas like New Brunswick and Nova Scotia).[6]

Ecology and behavior[edit]

This turtle is sitting on an elevated log that is lying horizontal. It is facing the right of the screen.
Lying on a log, basking in the sun

During the spring, the wood turtle is active during the daytime (usually from about 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.)[13] and will almost always be found within several hundred metres of a stream. The early morning and late afternoon are preferred foraging periods.[13] Throughout this season, the wood turtle use logs, sandy shores, or banks to bask in sunlight.[15] In order to maintain its body temperatures through thermoregulation, it spends a considerable amount of time basking, most of which takes place in the late morning and late afternoon. The wood turtle reaches a peak body temperature of 37 °C (99 °F) after basking. During times of extreme heat, it has been known to estivate. Several reports mention individuals resting under vegetation, fallen debris and in shallow puddles. During the summer, the wood turtle is considered a largely terrestrial animal.[3] At night, its average body temperature drops to between 15 and 20 °C (59 and 68 °F)[16] and it will rest in small creeks or nearby land (usually in areas containing some sort of underbrush or grass).[13]

During warmer weather, the wood turtle stays in the water for a larger percentage of the time.[16] For this reason, during the winter months (and the late fall and early spring) it is considered an aquatic turtle.[3] November through February or March is spent in hibernation at the bottom of a small, flowing river. The wood turtle may hibernate alone or in large groups. During this period, individuals bury themselves in the thick mud at the bottom of the river and rarely move. During hibernation, it is vulnerable to flash floods. Emergence does not occur until March or sometimes April, months that mark the beginning of its activation period (males are typically more active than females at this time).[16]

Males are known to be aggressive, with larger and older turtles being more dominant. Larger males rank higher on the social hierarchy often created by wood turtle colonies. In the wild, the submissive turtle is either forced to flee, or is bombarded with physical abuses, which include biting, shoving, and ramming. Larger and more dominant males will sometimes try to remove a subordinate male while he is mating with a female. The defender will, if he does not successfully fight for his position, lose the female to the larger male. Therefore, among males, there is a direct relationship between copulation opportunities and social rank.[17] However, the outcome of encounters between two turtles is more aggression-dependent than size-dependent. The wood turtle that is more protective of his or her area is the victor. Physical bouts between wood turtles (regardless of gender) increases marginally during the fall and spring (times of mating).[18]

The wood turtle is omnivorous, feeding mainly on plant matter and animals both on land and in water. It eats prey such as beetles, millipedes, and slugs. Also, wood turtles consume specific fungi (Amanita muscaria and Leccinum arcolatum), mosses, grasses, various insects, and also carrion.[19] On occasion, it can be seen stomping the ground with alternating hits of the left and right front feet. This behavior is thought to imitate the sound of falling rain, sometimes causing earthworms to rise to the surface where they quickly become easy prey.[15] When hunting, the wood turtle pokes its head into such areas as dead and decaying logs, the bottoms of bushes, and in other vegetation. In the water, it exhibits similar behavior, searching algae beds and cavities along the sides of the stream or river.[19]

Many different animals are predators of or otherwise pose a threat to the wood turtle. They include snapping turtles, porcupines, raccoons, otters, foxes, and cats. All of these species destroy unhatched eggs and prey upon hatchlings and juveniles. Several animals that often target wood turtle eggs are the common Raven and coyote, which may completely destroy the nests they encounter. Evidence of predatory attacks (wounds to the skin and such) are common on individuals, but the northern populations tend to display more scarring than the southern ones. In addition to these threats, wood turtles also suffer from leech infestations.[20]

Movement[edit]

The wood turtle can travel at a relatively fast speed (upwards of 0.32 kilometers per hour (0.20 mph)); it also travels long distances during the months that it is active. In one instance, of nine turtles studied, the average distance covered in a 24 hour period was 108 meters (354 ft), with a net displacement of 60 meters (197 ft).[21]

The wood turtle, an intelligent animal, has homing capabilities. Its mental capacity for directional movement was discovered after the completion of an experiment that involved an individual finding food in a maze. The results proved that these turtles have locating abilities similar to that of a rat. This was also proved by another, separate experiment. One male wood turtle was displaced 2.4 kilometers (1.5 mi) after being captured, and within five weeks, it returned to the original location. The homing ability of the wood turtle does not vary among genders, age groups, or directions of travel.[18]

Life cycle[edit]

On a small rock ledge, this turtle is leaning over, readying to go for a swim.
Individual preparing to enter the water

The wood turtle takes a long time to reach sexual maturity, has a low fecundity (ability to reproduce), but has a high adult survival rate. However, the high survival rates are not true of juveniles or hatchlings. Although males establish hierarchies, they are not territorial.[3] The wood turtle becomes sexually mature between 14 and 18 years of age. Mating activity among wood turtles peaks in the spring and again in the fall, although it is known to mate throughout the portion of the year they are active. However, it has been observed mating in December.[22] In one rare instance, a female wood turtle hybridized with a male Blanding's turtle.[23]

The courtship ritual consists of several hours of 'dancing,' which usually occurs on the edge of a small stream. Males often initiate this behavior: starting by nudging the females shell, head, tail, and legs. Because of this behavior, the female may flee from the area, in which case the male will follow.[22] After the chase (if it occurs), the male and female approach and back away from each other as they continually raise and extend their heads. After some time, they lower their heads and swing them from left to right.[15] Once it is certain that the two individuals will mate, the male will gently bite the female's head and mount her. Intercourse lasts between 22 and 33 minutes.[22] Actual copulation takes place in the water,[15] between depths between 0.1 and 1.2 meters (0 and 4 ft). Although unusual, copulation does occur on land.[22] During the two prominent times of mating (spring and fall), females are mounted anywhere from one to eight times, with several of these causing impregnation. For this reason, a number of wood turtle clutches have been found to have hatchlings from more than one male.[17]

Nesting occurs from May until July. Nesting areas receive ample sunlight, contain soft soil, are free from flooding, and are devoid of rocks and disruptively large vegetation.[17] These sites however, can be limited among wood turtle colonies, forcing females to travel long distances in search of a suitable site, sometimes a 250 meters (820 ft) trip. Before laying her eggs, the female may prepare several false nests.[23] After a proper area is found, she will dig out a small cavity, lay about seven eggs[15] (but anywhere from three to 20 is common), and fill in the area with earth. Oval and white, the eggs average 3.7 centimeters (1.5 in) in length and 2.36 centimeters (0.93 in) in width, and weigh about 12.7 grams (0.45 oz). The nests themselves are 5 to 10 centimeters (2.0 to 3.9 in) deep, and digging and filling it may take a total of four hours. Hatchlings emerge from the nest between August and October with overwintering being rare although entirely possible. An average length of 3.65 centimeters (1.44 in), the hatchlings lack the vibrant coloration of the adults.[23] Female wood turtles in general lay one clutch per year and tend to congregate around optimum nesting areas.[15]

The wood turtle, throughout the first years of its life, is a rapid grower. Five years after hatching, it already measures 11.5 centimeters (4.5 in), at age 16, it is a full 16.5 to 17 centimeters (6.5 to 6.7 in), depending on gender. The wood turtle can be expected to live for 40 years in the wild, with captives living up to 58 years.[19]

Conservation[edit]

Despite many sightings and a seemingly large and diverse distribution, wood turtle numbers are in decline. A large number of deaths caused by humans result from: habitat destruction, farming accidents, and road traffic. Also, it is commonly collected illegally for the international pet trade. These combined threats have caused many areas where they live to enact laws protecting it.[5] Despite legislation, enforcement of the laws and education of the public regarding the species are minimal.[24]

For proper protection of the wood turtle, in-depth land surveys of its habitat to establish population numbers are needed.[25] One emerging solution to the highway mortality problem, which primarily affects nesting females,[12] is the construction of under-road channels. These tunnels allow the wood turtle to pass under the road, a solution that helps prevent accidental deaths.[5] Brochures and other media that warn people to avoid keeping the wood turtle as a pet are currently being distributed.[25] Next, leaving nests undisturbed, especially common nesting sites and populations, is the best solution to enable the wood turtle's survival.[26]

References[edit]

  1. ^ van Dijk, P.P. & Harding, J. (2011). "Glyptemys insculpta". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 14 November 2011. 
  2. ^ Fritz Uwe; Peter Havaš (2007). "Checklist of Chelonians of the World". Vertebrate Zoology 57 (2): 185. Archived from the original on 2010-12-17. Retrieved 29 May 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Bowen 2004, p. 4
  4. ^ a b c d e f Bowen 2004, p. 5
  5. ^ a b c d Ernst 2009, p. 262
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Ernst 2009, p. 251
  7. ^ Ernst 2009, p. 252
  8. ^ a b c d e f NHESP 2007, p. 1
  9. ^ a b c COSEWIC 2007, p. iv
  10. ^ a b c d Bowen 2004, p. 6
  11. ^ Ernst 2009, pp. 252–253
  12. ^ a b Bowen 2004, p. 8
  13. ^ a b c d Ernst 2009, p. 253
  14. ^ Ernst 2009, p. 250
  15. ^ a b c d e f NHESP 2007, p. 2
  16. ^ a b c Ernst 2009, p. 254
  17. ^ a b c Ernst 2009, p. 258
  18. ^ a b Ernst 2009, p. 256
  19. ^ a b c Ernst 2009, p. 260
  20. ^ Ernst 2009, p. 261
  21. ^ Ernst 2009, p. 255
  22. ^ a b c d Ernst 2009, p. 257
  23. ^ a b c Ernst 2009, p. 259
  24. ^ Bowen 2004, p. 17
  25. ^ a b NHESP 2007, p. 3
  26. ^ Bowen 2004, p. 19
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Molecular data and morphological evidence indicate that the genus Clemmys (sensu McDowell 1964) is paraphyletic (see Bickham et al. 1996, Holman and Fritz 2001, Feldman and Parham 2002). Based on morphological data, Holman and Fritz (2001) split Clemmys as follows: Clemmys guttata was retained as the only member of the genus; Clemmys insculpta and C. muhlenbergii were placed in the genus Glyptemys (as first reviser, Holman and Fritz gave Glyptemys Agassiz, 1857, precedence over the simultaneously published genus Calemys Agassiz, 1857); and Clemmys marmorata was transferred to the monotypic genus Actinemys.

Genetic data support the basic features of this arrangement. An analysis of emydid relationships based on molecular data (Feldman and Parham 2002) identified four well-supported clades: Terrapene; Clemmys guttata; C. insculpta and C. muhlenbergii; and Clemmys marmorata, Emys orbicularis, and Emydoidea blandingii. Feldman and Parham retained Clemmys guttata as the only member of that genus; regarded Clemmys marmorata, Emys orbicularis, and Emydoidea blandingii as congeneric (in the genus Emys, which has priority); and placed C. insculpta and C. muhlenbergii in the genus Calemys. However, Feldman and Parham were unaware that Holman and Fritz (2001) had given Glyptemys precedence over Calemys, so the correct generic name for these turtles under the arrangement of Feldman and Parham is Glyptemys. In contrast to Holman and Fritz (2001), Feldman and Parham (2002) argued that placing Clemmys marmorata in the monotypic genus Actinemys would unnecessarily obscure its phylogenetic relationships, and they recommended that marmorata be included in the genus Emys.

See also McDowell (1964), Merkle (1975), Lovich et al. (1991), and Bickham et al. (1996) for information on relationships among turtles of the genus Clemmys (sensu lato).

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