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Wood Turtle

Glyptermys insculpta (LeConte)

Turtle lovers will tell you that this is the smartest, most alert turtle species in the province. Its carapace has a sculptured, woody look and its neck and legs are orange underneath. Wood turtles may be seen in slow-moving streams, woodlands, fields or along roadsides near streams. Some people call them mud turtles, because they bask in the sun on muddy river banks. They are omnivorous, eating plants, berries, worms and insects. In summer Wood Turtles will travel upstream in the tributaries. Females lay 8 to 10 eggs in nests dug in gravel banks in early summer. By October they return to the main stream to hibernate, at the side of the stream away from the main current.

Wood Turtles are listed as vulnerable in Nova Scotia. They are often illegally removed from their habitat by people wanting pets, then released in unsuitable habitats. There is concern about the Wood Turtle population of the province. They are most common in northeastern mainland Nova Scotia and southwestern Cape Breton Island, but turn up in particular river systems in other parts of the province also.

In 1996 the Wood Turtle was added to the "Vulnerable" section of the official list of species at risk of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. "Vulnerable" means the species is of special concern because of its sensitivity to human activities or natural events - in this case, habitat disturbance by people and livestock along riverbanks, and removal from the natural habitat by people seeking pet turtles.

Additional Facts and Details

Wood Turtles are in the family Emydidae, the largest family of turtles. There are 85 species world-wide, and 3 in Nova Scotia.

They were once sold as food in the United States, and called "redleg" because of the orange colour of the legs.

Size: carapace length of 23 males was 19.5 to 21.6 cm; of 14 females, 16.9 to 19.8 cm.

You can tell females from males by the shape of the plastron - it is flat in females, concave ("curved in") in males. This is helpful during mating.

In Canada, Wood Turtles are found in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, southern Quebec and southern Ontario. They extend south to the Virginias and west to eastern Minnesota.

In Nova Scotia, Wood Turtles are found in the northeastern mainland and southwestern Cape Breton Island. There are populations in some other river systems. It is likely many have been taken as pets and released far from their natural habitat (slow-moving, meandering streams with some sand or gravel banks for nesting).

Wood Turtles surface from their underwater hibernation sites and start to be seen in late April and early may, basking in the afternoon sun on river banks.

Nesting is during the last two weeks of June and first week of July. Females dig nests in sand or gravel banks and lay from 4 to 12 ellipsoidal eggs.

Females do not start to reproduce until age 15 years.

Hatchlings emerge from the nest in autumn, probably in October.

Here is a note, probably about Snapping Turtles and Painted Turtles, from Nicolas Denys, a French immigrant to Nova Scotia in the 1600s: "In the same ponds is taken the Tortoise. Some of them are found as large around as the circumference of a hat. The shell above is streaked with red, white and blue colours. It is a very good fish. Being boiled, the shell is removed; then it is skinned. It is cut into pieces and served as a stew or a fricassee with a white sauce. There are no pullets which are as good as this".

Fresh Water and Land Turtles

Eastern Painted Turtle

Wood Turtle

Common Snapping Turtle

Blanding's Turtle

Sea Turtles

Atlantic Leatherback Turtle

Atlantic Ridley Turtle

Atlantic Loggerhead Turtle

Turtle Information

Observing Nova Scotia Turtles