Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: Primarily from southwestern New Mexico, Arizona, to extreme southeastern California, south to northwestern Chihuahua and northeastern Sonora, Mexico. A sighting of a mud turtle at Pyramid Canyon, Clark County, Nevada, may have been this species (Stebbins 1985). From near sea level to about 6700 feet.
Distribution: USA (Arizona, New Mexico), Mexico (Sonora, NW Chihuahua) longifemorale: USA - Mexico border region in the upper Sonoyta River basin, in the vicinities of Lukeville.
Type locality: "Tucson, in Sonora," (=Tucson, Pima County), Arizona, U.S.A.
Length: 17 cm
Arizona Mountains Forests Habitat
This taxon is found in the Arizona Mountain Forests, which extend from the Kaibab Plateau in northern Arizona to south of the Mogollon Plateau into portions of southwestern Mexico and eastern Arizona, USA. The species richness in this ecoregion is moderate, with vertebrate taxa numbering 375 species. The topography consists chiefly of steep foothills and mountains, but includes some deeply dissected high plateaus. Soil types have not been well defined; however, most soils are entisols, with alfisols and inceptisols in upland areas. Stony terrain and rock outcrops occupy large areas on the mountains and foothills.
The Transition Zone in this region (1980 to 2440 m in elevation) comprises a strong Mexican fasciation, including Chihuahua Pine (Pinus leiophylla) and Apache Pine (P. engelmannii) and unique varieties of Ponderosa Pine (P. ponderosa var. arizonica). Such forests are open and park-like and contain many bird species from Mexico seldom seen in the U.S.. The Canadian Zone (above 2000 m) includes mostly Rocky Mountain species of mixed-conifer communities such as Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), Engelmann Spruce (Picea engelmanni), Subalpine Fir (Abies lasiocarpa), and Corkbark Fir (A. lasiocarpa var. arizonica). Dwarf Juniper (Juniperus communis) is an understory shrubby closely associated with spruce/fir forests. Exposed sites include Chihuahua White Pine (Pinus strobiformis), while disturbed north-facing sites consists primarily of Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta) or Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides).
There are a variety of mammalian species found in this ecoregion, including the endemic Arizona Gray Squirrel (Sciurus arizonensis), an herbivore who feeds on a wide spectrum of berries, bark and other vegetable material. Non-endemic mammals occurring in the ecoregion include: the Banner-tailed Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys spectabilis NT); Desert Pocket Gopher (Geomys arenarius NT). In addition, there is great potential for restoring Mexican Wolf (Canis lupus) and Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) populations in the area because of its remoteness and juxtaposition to other ecoregions where these species were formerly prevalent.
There are few amphibians found in the Arizona mountain forests. Anuran species occurring here are: Red-spotted Toad (Anaxyrus punctatus); Southwestern Toad (Anaxyrus microscaphus); New Mexico Spadefoot Toad (Spea multiplicata); Woodhouse's Toad (Anaxyrus woodhousii); Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens); Chiricahua Leopard Frog (Lithobates chiricahuensis VU); Madrean Treefrog (Hyla eximia), a montane anuran found at the northern limit of its range in this ecoregion; Boreal Chorus Frog (Anaxyrus woodhousii); Western Chorus Frog (Pseudacris triseriata); and Canyon Treefrog (Hyla arenicolor). The Jemez Mountains Salamander (Plethodon neomexicanus NT) is an ecoregion endemic, found only in the Jemez Mountains of Los Alamos and Sandoval counties, New Mexico. Another salamander occurring in the ecoregion is the Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum).
A number of reptilian taxa occur in the Arizona mountains forests, including: Gila Monster (Heloderma suspectum NT), often associated with cacti or desert scrub type vegetation; Narrow-headed Garter Snake (Thamnophis rufipunctatus), a near-endemic found chiefly in the Mogollon Rim area; Sonoran Mud Turtle (Kinosternon sonoriense NT).
- C. Michael Hogan & World Wildlife Fund. 2013."Arizona Mountains forests". Encyclopedia of Earth, National Council for Science and the Environment, Washington DC ed.Mark McGinley.
- John A. Murray. 1988. The Gila Wilderness. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press
Habitat and Ecology
Kinosternon sonoriense are preferentially carnivorous, including plant matter in their diet only when the availability of animal food, such as benthic insects, snails, small crustaceans and carrion, is limited (Ernst and Lovich 2009).
Females may reach 17.5 cm carapace length (CL), males no more than 15.5 cm CL Females may reach maturity at five to nine years of age, at CL 9.3-10.6 cm or more (Hulse 1982, Rosen 1987, in Ernst and Lovich 2009, van Loben Sels et al. 1997). Males mature at 7.6-9.8 cm CL and 4-8 years of age (Hulse 1982, Rosen and Lowe 1996, in Ernst and Lovich 2009). Several females produce at least two clutches per year. Clutch size averages 6.7 eggs (range 2-11). (van Loben Sels et al. 1997) Hatchlings measure 25-27 mm CL (range 19-34 mm) at 1.8-3.3 grams (review by Ernst and Lovich 2009). A generation time of 12 years and a net replacement rate of 1.6 have been calculated (Rosen and Lowe 1996, in Ernst and Lovich 2009). Longevity may exceed 40 years in the wild.
Comments: Habitat includes streams, springs, ponds, and pools in intermittent streams, in areas of oak and pinyon-juniper woodland, ponderosa pine and Douglas fir forest, foothill grassland, or desert (Stebbins 1985). In southeastern Arizona, approximately 90% of the individuals were initially captured in stock tanks, 5% in stream pools, and 5% on land (van Loben Sels et al. 1997). In Arizona, this turtle is reported to be highly aquatic; individuals converge on available aquatic habitats during drought (Ernst et al. 1994, van Loben Sels et al. 1997). In New Mexico, individuals frequently moved overland between stream pools and a stock pond (Stone 2001); a large stable population existed in a canyon that was completely dry in some years (Stone 2001); individuals engaged in terrestrial estivation for periods of 11-34 days; estivation sites were 1-79 meters (mean 19 meters) from a dry streambed (Ligon and Stone 2003). Eggs are buried in soil on land.
Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.
Locally Migrant: No. No 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.
Terrestrial movements exceeding 1,000 m have been documented (Stone 2001).
Comments: Insects, crustaceans, snails, fish, frogs, and some plant material (Stebbins 1985).
In New Mexico, a local population in an intermittent stream and stock pond averaged 212 individuals; maximum densities exceeded 3,000 individuals/ha, among the highest values recorded for a freshwater turtle; intensive sampling never yielded more than 31 percent of the marked population (Stone 2001).
May aggregate at water holes during dry spells (Behler and King 1979).
In New Mexico, K. sonoriense sometimes appears at farm ponds up to 8 km from permanent water (Degenhardt and Christiansen 1974), but these turtles mostly are restricted to permanent water, do not migrate very far, and probably have small home ranges (Ernst et al. 1994). However, in a multi-year study in New Mexico, 13 individuals moved distances of at least 1 km; individuals occasionally moved more than 2 km since their last capture, but usually less than 2 km (Stone 2001).
Life History and Behavior
Comments: Inactive in cold temperatures.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
In southeastern Arizona, of 573 individuals captured alive, 18.5% were classified as juveniles, 35.8% as adult males, and 45.7% as adult females; hatchlings were captured in early August; the youngest gravid female was 5 years old; a minimum of 23% of the adult females produced at least 2 clutches in a single year; clutch size averaged 7 (2-11) (van Loben Sels et al. 1997; see also Hulse 1982).
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Kinosternon sonoriense
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
The Sonoyta Mud Turtle (subspecies longifemorale), restricted to a small and heavily impacted area, likely qualifies in one of the Threatened categories and warrants separate evaluation.
Kinosternon sonoriense was listed as Vulnerable in the 1996 Red List; with increasing research and survey efforts it was subsequently found to be more widespread and locally abundant than previously considered, making retention at VU inappropriate.It is therefore listed as Near Threatened.
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N4 - Apparently Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G4 - Apparently Secure
Recorded population densities in suitable habitat are as high as 750 to 3,000 animals per hectare (Hulse 1982, Stone 2001). A large stable population persisted in a canyon that fell completely dry in some years (Stone, 2001).
The species is rated as Apparently Secure in Arizona, Vulnerable in New Mexico, introduced in Nevada and Possibly Extirpated in California (NatureServe, 2004). No population data are available concerning Mexican populations.
Population of the ssp. longifemorale is less abundant; the population at Quitobaquito Oasis (in Organ Pipe Cactus NM) has declined from several hundred in the late 1950s to about 100 in the early 1980s; habitat improvements increased the population to about 130 turtles in the early 1990s, but indications are that the oasis has since declined in water inflow. The Quitobaquito population has continued to remain stable, and continued maintenance and improvements are being made to the pond. The mudturtle population in the Rio Sonoyta just across the US-MX border persists in semi-permanent pools resulting from artificial dams and waste water effluent in the town of Sonoyta. Turtles also persist within seasonal pools along the Rio Sonoyta further west in the Reserva de la Biosfera El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar. There is a possibly introduced population found farther south in the city of Quitovac (Rosen et al. 2010).
Introduced bullfrogs and freshwater crayfish represent additional, alien predators on juveniles (Ernst et al. 1994, NatureServe 2004)
Water diversion, groundwater pumping and habitat degradation are particularly severe in the range of the Sonoyta Mud Turtle (ssp. longifemorale). Conservation efforts here are complicated by narcotics smuggling and human trafficking in the area.
Comments: Schwendiman (2001) documented attempted predation on a juvenile mud turtle by a non-native crayfish (Orconectes virilis) at Cottonwood Creek, Yavapai County, Arizona. Fernandez and Rosen (1996) found evidence of low recruitment of K. sonoriense that probably resulted from predation impacts of O. virilis on small juvenile turtles (Sycamore Creek, Maricopa County, Arizona).
The species inhabits a number of protected areas in each country of occurrence, including the Catalina Mountains, Montezuma’s Well, and Organ Pipe Cactus NM in Arizona. Nevertheless, these areas’ protected status does not necessarily safeguard the habitat and species from groundwater loss and climatic change impacts.
Currently the Arizona Game and Fish Department, National Park Service, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, and the Phoenix Zoo have been working together to maintain an assurance colony of Sonoyta Mud Turtles and improve habitat at Quitobaquito Oasis (Riedle et al. 2009).
Range-wide population assessments, further natural history studies, and confirmation of the occurrence of secure populations in protected areas in Mexico would be desirable. Intensive efforts will be needed to safeguard and restore remaining habitat of the Sonoyta Mud Turtle, both at the only site in the United States (State and partner efforts in place and ongoing) and in the Rio Sonoyta in Mexico (cross-border partnership public-NGO developing in recent years).
Sonora mud turtle
- Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group 1996. Kinosternon sonoriense. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 29 July 2007.
- LeConte, 1854 : Description of four new species of Kinosternum. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, vol. 7, p. 180–190 (integral text).
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Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Iverson (1981) supported retention of sonoriense and hirtipes as full species. See Iverson et al. (1991) for a phylogenetic analysis of kinosternine turtles.