Eastern Musk Turtle

Eastern musk turtle (stinkpot)
Scientific Name
Sternotherus odoratus
Kinosternidae (mud and musk turtles) in the order Testudines (turtles and tortoises)

This is Missouri’s smallest species and one of the world’s smallest turtles. The stinkpot has a dark gray-brown to black, domed upper shell. The lower shell is reduced and usually yellow, brown, or grayish yellow, with brown mottling; the forward part is moveable. The fleshy parts are dark gray or black. There are normally two thin, yellow stripes on each side of the head and neck. Small projections of the skin called barbels are present on the chin and throat.

The name “stinkpot” refers to the odor given off by this species when captured. The odor is produced by musk glands in the skin just below the upper shell along the sides.

Other Common Names
Common Musk Turtle

Upper shell length: 2 to 4 ½ inches.

Where To Find
Eastern Musk Turtle Distribution Map

Occurs throughout most of Missouri except for the northwestern third of the state.

This species is most abundant in slow-current sections of rivers and larger streams of the Ozarks, the swamps, sloughs, and small ditches of the Bootheel, and in a few rivers in the northeastern part of the state. They can also be found in reservoirs. It favors shallow water but also basks on logs, rocks, or small, horizontal tree trunks.

A variety of small aquatic animals are eaten by this small reptile, including aquatic insects, earthworms, crayfish, fish eggs, minnows, tadpoles, algae, and dead animals.

In addition to applying precise scientific names in Latin, herpetologists apply formal common names to amphibians and reptiles. This species used to be officially named the common musk turtle and the stinkpot.

Life Cycle

Eastern musk turtles are active from March to November. Courtship and mating probably take place from late April through June. Eggs are laid in late June through August, with 2–5 eggs per female. Eggs hatch in 2 or 3 months, and upon hatching young turtles are less than an inch in upper shell length.

Anglers occasionally catch stinkpots on hook-and-line when using minnows, worms, or small crayfish for bait.

This turtle eats a variety of aquatic animals, helping keep those populations in check. Meanwhile, a variety of larger predators prey on the musk turtle, which accounts for the musky odor it gives off in defense when captured. As with many animals, the eggs and young are most vulnerable.

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Similar Species
About Reptiles and Amphibians in Missouri
Missouri’s herptiles comprise 43 amphibians and 75 reptiles. Amphibians, including salamanders, toads, and frogs, are vertebrate animals that spend at least part of their life cycle in water. They usually have moist skin, lack scales or claws, and are ectothermal (cold-blooded), so they do not produce their own body heat the way birds and mammals do. Reptiles, including turtles, lizards, and snakes, are also vertebrates, and most are ectothermal, but unlike amphibians, reptiles have dry skin with scales, the ones with legs have claws, and they do not have to live part of their lives in water.