The Hard-To-Spot Turtles

The spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) is a rare find in New York’s Adirondack region, so when we received one into our wildlife rehabilitation program in 2019, we were surprised. We went to work to save Spot, who luckily was not injured too badly by the car that hit her and was released in the late summer.

spotted turtle with taped injury

Our spotted turtle patient, Spot, healed from a vehicle strike and was released in 2019.

Spotted turtles are small freshwater turtles with yellow or cream spots on their black skin and shells. The pattern and number of spots change as these turtles age. Adult spotted turtles are 3.5 to 5.0 inches (9 to 12.7 cm) long.

Spotted turtles prefer small bodies or still water and live in marshy meadows, bogs, swamps, ponds, and even roadside ditches. Their coloring provides good camouflage in marsh vegetation. Unfortunately, these habitats have been disappearing and, as a result, spotted turtles are declining in numbers.

Spotted turtles are sensitive to pollution, toxicants, and poor water quality. Poaching for the pet trade is also responsible for significant loss of spotted turtles in the wild. Spotted turtles are considered a species of special concern in New York, and they have been protected in neighboring states Vermont and Massachusetts.

Small turtles that blend in are hard to spot on the road, putting spotted turtles at high risk for vehicle strikes during nesting season. Because turtles crossing roads are likely gravid female turtles in search of a nesting site and the reproductive rates of spotted turtles are low, deaths from vehicle strikes can be very detrimental for these at-risk turtle populations.

Find out more about spotted turtles and New York’s other turtle species in our Totally Turtles educational outreach program. If you are in northeastern New York and would like to bring a program to your school, library, club, or scout troop, please contact us.

Wonderful Wood Turtles

Wood turtles (Glyptemys insculpta) are a freshwater turtle species you might find in northeastern New York, but they have some unique characteristics. Wood turtles are found along the east coast of North America, from Nova Scotia in Canada to Virginia in the United States, and as far west as Minnesota, in and around flowing water in forests and woods.

wood turtle resting on top of a half log in a plastic tub

Our overwintering wood turtle patient likes to sun herself on top of her log hide for part of the day.

The wood turtle’s carapace, or upper shell, is rough with ridges in pyramid shapes. The ridges resemble tree rings, and the carapace is usually a dark mahogany color. The wood turtle’s neck and legs are splashed with orange, which creates a striking appearance.

Wood turtles are omnivorous and are the only freshwater turtle in the Adirondacks that can eat out of water. They eat beetles and other insects, slugs, and worms, and dine on some mushrooms, mosses, and grasses. They may also pick at carrion.

In New York, wood turtle numbers are declining, and they are considered a species of special concern. We do see some wood turtles in our wildlife rehabilitation program. We are currently overwintering a wood turtle who was hit by a car late last summer. We treated her for both a shell fracture and eye injuries. Because of they are more terrestrial and have different dietary requirements, we had to house the wood turtle differently than our fully aquatic patients.

We share information about wood turtles and the other turtles of northeastern New York in our educational outreach programs. We are looking for additional schools, libraries, clubs, and nature centers to host our programs. If you can recommend a place, please contact us.

Adirondack Wetlands

In an earlier post you learned about what wetlands are and why they are important. The Adirondack Park has marshes, peatlands, and swamps you can explore.


This marsh, which surrounds a pond, was the release site for a turtle hit by a car nearby.

Marshes are the deepest – up to six feet – and are the most biodiverse of the Adirondack wetlands. Marshes are found around ponds and lakes and along the slow-moving backwaters of rivers. Plants such as grasses, reeds, rushes, water lilies, and loosestrifes grow well in the nutrient-rich soil. Deer may be spotted along the edges of marshes and otters may be seen playing in the water, but there is an abundance of other life too. Turtles and frogs inhabit marshes. Many kinds of are found in marshes, too, including red-winged blackbirds and herons.

In peatlands, conditions are too cold and wet for plants to decompose; instead, they accumulate as peat soil. There are two types of peatlands in the Adirondacks: bogs and fens. Bogs are isolated from other water sources and are, therefore, dependent on rain. The peat in bogs tends to be acidic and nutrient poor. There are some plants that are happy in bogs, though, such as Tamaracks, Black Spruce, and Bog Laurel. Some orchids thrive there, as do pitcher plants and sundews, who have evolved to eat insects. And there are plenty of insects in bogs which bring in the birds, such as warblers and cedar waxwings, especially when they are feeding young. Some Adirondack bogs are over one thousand acres in size.

The other peatland you might find in the Adirondacks is a fen. Fens also have peat soil but get water from the surrounding watershed and are less acidic. Fens host a greater variety of plants than bogs. Wood frogs are often seen in and around fens.

The final Adirondack wetland is the swamp. Swamps are dominated by conifers and shrubs and are seldom more than a few inches deep. Because they are shady, plants like ferns and mosses are happy, as well as some shade-hardy wildflowers.

Interested in learning more about our Adirondack wetlands? Check out our Wild Wetlands educational outreach program. We would love to bring Wild Wetlands or one of our other programs to your school, library, or club. Contact us to find out how.