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Wood Turtle

Glyptemys insculpta

Family: Emydidae

COSEWIC status:
  • Threatened
SARA status:
  • Threatened
IUCN status:
  • Endangered


The Wood Turtle’s carapace (top shell) has a sculpted appearance, owing to the irregular pyramidal shape of the scutes (enlarged scales on the shell), and the rear of the carapace is serrated. The carapace has varying amounts of yellow, brown and black, often arranged into lines and patterns radiating from the raised part of each scute. The plastron (lower shell) is yellowish with a large dark blotch on the outside, posterior corner of each of scute. The head is black and usually has orange flecking, the legs and tail are brown on top and orange underneath, and the chin and neck are orange. Individuals can reach a carapace length of 23 cm. Hatchlings lack the sculpted shell and bright coloration of adults. Hatchlings have a carapace length of three to four cm and generally resemble the adults, but they lack the bright orange colouration on the neck and legs.

Similar Species

The plastron of the Blanding’s Turtle is similar to that of the Wood Turtle, but is hinged; the undersides of the legs are not brightly coloured and the carapace is not sculpted. Spotted Turtles are much smaller than wood turtles and have a smooth carapace with bright yellow spots.


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The Canadian range of the Wood Turtle extends from southern Ontario to Nova Scotia. This species occurs throughout the eastern United States from Maine south and west to Virginia and western Pennsylvania, as well as in northern Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.


Wood Turtles inhabit rivers and streams with moderate flow, typically those with a bed of sand or gravel, deep pools, undercut muddy banks, sand or gravel bars and a diversity of shoreline habitats. During the summer, Wood Turtles spend most of their time in terrestrial habitats and wetlands that are within a few hundred metres of the river. Females nest in sand or gravel bars along the river, or in other open-canopy areas that receive lots of sun and have sand or gravel substrate. Individuals overwinter in deep pools at the bottom the river.


In Canada, Wood Turtles are dormant during the winter and are typically active from April until late September or early October. Females nest from late May to early July and may travel several kilometres to nesting sites. Each clutch contains 3–20 oval eggs, which hatch in late August or September. Unlike most Canadian turtle species, the sex of Wood Turtle hatchlings is determined genetically, independent of incubation temperature. Wood Turtles do not reach sexual maturity until 14–18 years of age, and individuals can live for more than 50 years. Unlike other Canadian turtles, Wood Turtles forage primarily in terrestrial habitats, such as floodplains and forests, although wetlands are also important foraging habitats. Wood Turtles are omnivores and they eat both plants and animals, including fruit, leaves, mushrooms, slugs, worms and other invertebrates. Wood Turtles have large home ranges and can travel several kilometres along the watercourse. Individuals make extensive movements up and down their riverine habitat, and home ranges are typically several kilometres long.


Habitat loss and fragmentation (resulting from urban and rural development and the conversion of riparian habitats to agricultural use) is the primary cause of the ongoing decline of this species across much of its Canadian range. Since Wood Turtles are naturally long-lived and have low reproductive potential, increases in annual adult mortality on roads or from farm machinery is also a significant threat to this species. There is a high demand for Wood Turtles in the illegal pet trade, and poaching can be detrimental to this species because it can result in the loss of entire populations. Nest predation by subsidized predators (e.g. Raccoon, Skunk) may result in unsustainably high nest mortality rates in some areas, and climate change poses a potentially serious future threat to Canadian Turtles.

Additional Information About This Species In Canada