The Wood Turtle in Michigan
July 3, 2008
Updated September 30, 2008: LuckyGus captured this photo on the Betsie Valley Trail in Benzie County. Below you can read about TurtleGate ’08, which was touched off when I misidentified this turtle as a common snapping turtle. My Ranger Rick Top Terrapin Tagger badge has been repossessed and sources tell me that a number of zoologists are “keeping an eye on me”.
The Michigan DNR’s page on the wood turtle (which should have helped me identify it) says that:
As its scientific name, Glyptemys insculpta, implies, the shell of the wood turtle is one of the most ornate of the turtles in Michigan. A noticeable keel running down the back of the carapace and the pointed edges of the scutes along the back edge add to its sculpted appearance. The yellow on the underparts of its neck, legs, and stomach, plus the highly visible deep circular growth rings of the scutes on the brownish carapace help with identification. The adult carapace length is 6.3 to 9.4 inches (16 to 24 cm)
Wood turtles live in rivers with sandy-bottomed streams and rivers. They spend most of their time in the river from September to May, but in summer can be found foraging in woods, swamps, and meadows in the upland areas edging the stream or river. Logs or banks near water and sunny woodland openings are often utilized for basking.
These turtles are omnivores eating a variety of plants and animals and carrion found in and along the river. Wood turtles employ a unique technique to hunt earthworms. Using either an alternating foot stomp, or by lifting and dropping its shell on the ground, they create vibrations in the ground. These vibrations will cause earthworms to surface where they are quickly snatched for a meal. Anglers seeking bait can employ a similar technique. A stick stuck in the ground and wiggled back and forth to create vibrations will cause earthworms to leave the ground.
Michigan’s wood turtle population has declined in recent years and it’s considered rare in the northern Lower and Upper Peninsulas. More about wood turtles can be found at Wikipedia’s Wood Turtle entry, woodturtle.com and from the MSU Museum’s “critter guy”, James Harding who notes that They may not be taken from the wild or possessed without a scientific collector’s permit issued by the DNR.
You can also check out What’s Up With the Wood Turtle? from MyNorth.com for a look at fieldwork being done in Northern Michigan on the wood turtle.
(from July 2008) TurtleGate Update: A Nation in Slow, but Very Real Peril
I have finally gotten back to this to find out if I am indeed a dirty, no-good turtle mis-indentifying so-and-so or merely guilty of the litany of other things that I may or may not be guilty of per the comments. From the Michigan DNR Turtle page I was able to learn:
- The eastern box turtle appears to not look like this turtle at all.
- The wood turtle appears to have a black face, but this photo looks sort of similar.
- However this snapping turtle’s shell looks very similar.
- I am forced to conclude that I don’t know the answer.
- I’ll end with a shout-out to a herpetologist or other expert to set me straight.