Eastern Mud Turtles are tiny turtles that stay hidden most of the time

The Eastern Mud Turtle, kinosternon subrubrum, is the smallest full grown turtle we have here on the island.  And because of its preference for the mud layers of substrate at the bottom of the ephemeral ponds and freshwater wetlands, they aren’t seen very often.  I have only ever seen them when it was raining before yesterday, when Bill called that he’d moved one out of the road.

So I raced over there to see, and found this little one trying to retreat into its shell.  Mud turtles have hinged shells, but they can’t completely close the door like a box turtle: look at that little face peeking out!

I spent about two hours with this little turtle, and I ended up going home for a zoom lens because I was afraid my presence was stopping her from moving further across the road.  So I grabbed my big zoom and found her about 10 feet from where I’d left her.  This mud turtle might have been looking for a nesting site or moving in search of a new pond when one dried up.  It’s possible she’d been hibernating and just emerged with the higher temperatures.  As I watched, I expected movements to be slow and steady (like Aesop said) so I was surprised to see the mud turtle give a little hop forward, moving a distance about two times the body length.  And then I was really surprised when the turtle basically vanished in plain sight, sinking without visible effort into the leaf litter.

It may be that she was looking to lay eggs: I’ll keep an eye on that spot.

Like Diamondback Terrapins, mud turtles can tolerate brackish water, though they prefer fresh. The Virginia Herpetological society suggests they’ll eat aquatic insects, snails, and algae, and even feed on carrion.  Adults are preyed upon by eagles, crows, and raccoons, while the marble sized young (or eggs) are eaten by a variety of birds, snakes, and mammals.  Young that hatch in the nest will spend the winter in that nest, emerging in spring, so keep an eye out for the tiniest of turtles in the road.  (Check out this site at UGA to see these impossibly cute hatchlings!)

Rainy evenings are good times to look for reptiles and amphibians