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What Is the Wood Turtle?

Wood turtles eat mosses and grasses, as well as small insects and worms.
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  • Written By: Anna Harrison
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2014
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The wood turtle, species name Glyptemys insculpta, is a medium sized reptile that lives only in North America, where it is most common to the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada. These omnivores can be found in a wide range of living environments where they have many predators including humans. As a result, these harmless turtles are in a rapid state of decline throughout their range. Similar to other turtles, they are often kept as pets, a practice which is actively discouraged.

While the wood turtle can be found wandering through fields and woody areas, it is seldom far from shallow running water. It prefers to live and feed both in and out of the water and can often be observed basking in the sun on a nearby rock. These types of turtles are diurnal, i.e., they are most active in the daytime.

Wood turtles are easily identified by the pyramid like design on their rough brown shells and by their forelegs which are red on the underside. Their heads range from gray to black in color and are often speckled with yellow. These turtles are fairly small, growing to just 5-1/2 to 8 inches (14 to 20 cm) long. Young wood turtles do not reach maturity until they are in their teens and often live for over 40 years.

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The wood turtle diet is omnivorous, consisting of both plants and invertebrates. They ingest grass and moss as well as slugs, beetles, and worms. Wood turtles have even been known to feed on carrion, or dead rotting animals. The turtles themselves are preyed upon by many different animals including beavers, porcupines, raccoons, foxes, and domestic cats and dogs.

In areas where winters are cold, the wood turtle hibernates, usually becoming active again in early spring. Mating season usually begins at that time, but can occur at any point throughout the year. The wood turtle almost always mates underwater, and mating can last for up to two full days.

The female turtle makes her nest in an area with loose soil that has plenty of sun exposure. She lays one clutch of eggs each year which ranges from just a few eggs to as many as 20. The baby wood turtles emerge from their eggs in mid summer to early fall. Like most other species of turtle, most baby wood turtles don't survive for long. They are preyed upon by many animals and are frequent accident victims, often hit by cars or run over by lawn mowers or tractors.

These turtle variants are also poached and sold as pets, although they are considered endangered in many areas. The majority of them that are removed from the wild are still young and will die in captivity. For this reason, the collection and sale of wild turtles as pets is illegal in many jurisdictions.

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