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.