Figure 1. Meet the Spotted turtle, Clemmys guttata. This one is a female (orange eyes and light colored chin).

How long do they live? Spotted turtles may be able to attain lifespans of 110 years or more [1]. This is where I remind you that I’m fairly certain most turtles and tortoises exhibit negligible senescence, meaning they do not display the typical signs of aging (or they age extremely slowly and it’s unknown how long they can really live). Like other long-lived species, Spotted turtles may not be around much longer and it is imperative that they get some conservation attention. The value of this species is not just for understanding human aging, but also because almost every single organism on this planet is essential for a healthy ecosystem.

Where are they found? Mostly around the Great Lakes, but Spotted turtles can be found in small populations all the way down to Northern Florida. Sadly, it’s tough to find them anymore due to habitat destruction and reasons discussed in the conservation section. See figure 2 for the range of Spotted turtles.

Figure 2. Spotted turtle range.

What do they eat? Anything small enough to fit in their tiny mouths: algae, leaves, seeds, worms, mollusks, eggs, and carrion (dead things) [2].

What do they look like? The carapace (shell) of Spotted turtles usually only get about 4.5 inches long, so they are tiny. Based on their name and the picture above, you probably already figured out that they have spots. As they age their spots fade and may disappear completely. A male will usually have brown eyes, whereas a female has orange eyes and the males generally have darker colored chins compared to the lighter chins of the females [2]. See figures 1 and 3.

Figure 3. A male Spotted turtle. You can tell by the darker eyes.

How do they reproduce? They reach sexual maturity between 7 to 14 years old [3] and females usually produce two clutches of 3 to 5 eggs per year [4]. Not much is known about reproductive senescence in this species, although it seems that females live longer than males [1].

How do scientists know how old they are? Lots of statistics based on survivorship and longevity estimates [1]. Perfect? Nope, but keep in mind that knowing the exact age of turtles and tortoises requires knowing when it hatched. In other words, it’s not an easy job and I highly respect anyone out there doing these kinds of studies since these researchers are desperately needed and rarely acknowledged for their massive efforts.

So what are we lacking? An exact measurement of longevity using molecular methods that don’t exist yet. There’s also no genome information for Spotted turtles on the NCBI website or reproductive senescence information that I can find.

Conservation status: Endangered and declining. I could stop there, but then how would you know how awful humans can be?

Spotted turtles are small and easy to pick up, so they get plucked out of their lovely wild homes and placed in an aquarium where they won’t survive long because there’s no way in hell that’s better than the wild. I like to call these people names, but we’ll stick with poachers because this is a semi-kid friendly website. The main killer of all species including Spotted turtles is habitat destruction. If you noticed, humans are not declining and humans like a world without trees and wildlife. Thanks to habitat destruction these little turtles find their ways onto roads where they get smashed (sometimes intentionally [5]) and they also make their way onto lawns where a 4.5 inch creature is hard to see and becomes a mower fatality in the most gruesome way you can imagine.

I’ll just stop here because I can’t top that horrifying mental image.

 

  1. Litzgus, Jacqueline D. “Sex differences in longevity in the spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata).” Copeia 2006.2 (2006): 281-288
  2. Animal Diversity Web. Clemmys guttata. Accessed 5/9/2017 http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Clemmys_guttata/#food_habits
  3. Ernst, C. 1970. Reproduction in *Clemmys guttata*. Herpetologica, 26: 228-232
  4. Zug, George R., Laurie J. Vitt, and Janalee P. Caldwell. Herpetology: an introductory biology of amphibians and reptiles. Academic Press, 2001
  5. Some Drivers Intentionally Run Over Turtles Student Finds. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/27/drivers-intentionally-run-over-turtles-college-experiment_n_2371485.html