Sternotherus odoratus / Common muskturtle - Care

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Specification Description
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Suborder: Cryptodira
Family: Kinosternidae
Subfamily: Kinosterninae
Scientific name: Sternotherus odoratus
Dutch name: Gewone muskusschildpad
English name: Common muskturtle
Dieet: Carnivorous
Average length: 12cm
Distribution: U.S.
Lifestyle: Aquatic
Reproduction: oviparous / egglaying
Status: Non threatened
Cites: non

Sternotherus odoratus, (Latreille, 1801)

The musk turtle or stinky pot turtle is easy to care for and remains significantly smaller than many offered Trachemys and Pseudemys sp. They are very curious and active which makes them very suitable for both the beginner and the enthusiast and a pleasure to take care of.


General appearance:  Adult animals can be 14cm but often remain smaller. Difference in size between males and females is small. The males are identified by their thicker and longer tail, also the vent is located beyond the plastron where the cloaca of the females do not pass the carapace and is placed closer to the plastron. The name ‘odoratus' attributed to glands that are located on the bridge between the carapace and plastron. These glands secrete an unpleasant musky odour when disturbed and is intended to deter predators. So this is something the keeper will never notice or smell unless they fixate and grab the turtle, causing stress.


Origin and habitat:  This species naturally occurs in the United States on the border between the US and Canada to the south-eastern United States. Their habitat consists of small ponds and streams with slow flowing to stagnant water. They almost never bask and they spend most of their time foraging on the bottom of the streams looking for hiding places and food. Their specially adapted tongue can extract oxygen from the water by means of button-shaped cells. Enabling them to stay under water for a longer period them some other turtles.


Housing:  The small size of the musk turtle makes them a good alternative to the many Trachemys and Speudemys species that are offered which get a lot bigger, need more space and have a higher UVB requirement. In literature it is sometimes is stated an aquarium of only 60x30x30 is suited for the Sternotherus odoratus but this is actually too small for an adult specimen. They are active and like to walk around and they should be given the space to do so. For a single animal or couple an aquarium is requires of 80x40x30 or bigger. With a minimum water level as high as the shield length but preferably deeper. Please note that these are not very good swimmers so there should always be plenty of opportunities offered to reach the water surface. This can be done by means of Azalea or driftwood. Also offer underwater shelters and make use of floating plants and moss for example. As an underwater hideout you can for instance think of tropical roots, logs or half terracotta pots and the like. Use as a substrate soft (filter)sand. Sometimes one does not use a substrate in connection with hygienic reasons but because of the need of this species to forage and dig in the sandy bottom we would highly recommend to use a suitable substrate. Also add leaves (catappa) or sphagnum moss, these provide additional natural shelters and add to a natural decor. These materials also help reducing the acidity of the water and have an anti-bacterial and mould reducing ability.

Although these are not basking turtles, captive specimens are sporadically observed making use of an available solar spot or dry dock and therefore they should always provide a place where animals can dry completely get out of the water and dry. This can be done by means of a plateau or floating cork bark. The UVB requirement of this species is low. As reported these are not basking turtles and UV penetrates water barely so their natural UVB exposure is low. If you still want to offer UVB, using a UVB light fluorescent tube is best suited. Additional heating is in the average living room temperatures often not necessary as long as they have access to a small basking area.

Like all turtles these small stinky pots are polluters. Replace 10 to 50% of the water weekly and use a good filtration system. Moving and oxygenated water reduces bacterial growth but avoid a strong current.

This species can be very tolerant to other turtles. (not to males of the same species) and could therefore be combined with American species with the same temperature requirements. Offer in this case extra space and ensure that the animals can easily get out of the way of each other. Always keep a close observation on interactions between the occupants of the aquarium.

In the aquarium:  Why these animals are not suitable for a community tank? Both juveniles and adult Sternotherus also eat fish. They are not good swimmers and therefore they are nocturnal hunters. Around this time, many fish rest and sink to the bottom. So a fish may disappear because of your newly purchased musk turtle despite what you have been told at the local petstore. Often the temperatures are too high in the average community tank and especially adults can de-root many of your plants or feed on them. Also the current is often too strong. There are often no necessary opportunities for Sternotherus to sunbathe and get out of the water. Most fish aquariums don’t offer this possibility. If you want to combine then aim to setup an aquarium that is suitable for the musk turtle and find sturdy, fast fish that can live in the same conditions as the turtle. Please note that the fish may well serve as addition to you turtles diet.


Diet:  Young animals are mainly fed on small crustaceans and worms, bloodworms, mosquito larvae and (not dried) shrimp. As they get older you can add pieces of fish and mealworms to the diet. Adults can feed on larger prey like morio and mealworms, snails, earthworms, (pieces) smelt and other fish, shrimp, clam and composed pieces from various manufacturers. Pieces of beef heart can be offered as a supplement to the diet but this should not be a big part of their diet. Whole prey are always preferred over parts. The commonly offered dried gammarus shrimp may serve as nothing more than a extra. These add little or nothing to a complete diet for your turtle.

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