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Canadian Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network - Réseau Canadien de 
Conservation des Amphibiens et des Reptiles

Glyptemys insculpta

formerly Clemmys insculpta

Wood Turtle / Tortue des bois


Wood Turtle

Description
The carapace of the Wood Turtle is highly sculpted with the scutes raised in irregular pyramidal shapes. The carapace is tan to dark brown in colour with raised lines radiating from a corner of each scute. The plastron is hinged and is yellow with a dark blotch in the corner of each scute. The head is black and may have faint yellow dots. The underside of the neck, throat, tail and legs is yellow, orange or red. Adults reach up to 24 cm carapace length.

Until recently, this species was considered to be a member of the genus Clemmys, along with the Spotted Turtle. DNA analyses indicate that these two species are not closely related and the Wood Turtle is now placed in a different genus.

Confusing Species
Wood Turtles are not easily confused with any other species in Canada. Blanding's Turtles have a similar plastron although it is hinged, but they lack the bright colour of the undersides and the sculpted carapace. Spotted Turtles are similar in colour of both the carapace and body, but they are smaller and the carapace is not sculpted.

Distribution
In Canada, Wood Turtles are found from Nova Scotia west to southern Ontario. In the United States they are found in the Great Lakes region and eastward as far south as Virginia.

Habitat
Wood Turtles, as the name implies, are our most terrestrial turtle. Although they hibernate in water and nest near the shores of rivers, they spend much of their time in upland forests and meadows.

Reproduction
Individuals may take 18 or more years to reach maturity. Nesting occurs in June and up to 18 eggs may be laid. Some females may not breed every year. Nests are typically dug on sandbars or river embankments. Hatchlings emerge from the nest in fall at 3-4 cm in length. Predation rates on nests are as high as 90% in some populations. Unlike most turtles, the gender of Wood Turtle hatchlings is independent of incubation temperature.

Natural History
Wood Turtles eat a wide variety of food including leaves, fruits and flowers, mushrooms, insects, worms, and anything else they can find. These turtles are considered to be extremely intelligent. Many individuals learn to "stomp" for worms by stamping their feet on the ground causing earthworms to come to the surface. They are also reputed to be able to climb chain-link fences and stairs. Individuals can live for 30 or more years.

Conservation Concerns
Because of their striking colouration and intelligence these turtles are prized by the pet trade. Collecting for pets has decimated many of their populations and it is now illegal to collect them in most of their range. The Wood Turtle is declining across much of its range, with many populations now isolated from each other. Traffic mortality, agricultural machinery and off-road vehicles also pose significant threats to this species. It is designated Threatened by COSEWIC.