Clemmys guttata
Spotted turtle
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Photo by Jim H. Harding 

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Key Characteristics

The Spotted Turtle is a small turtle with adult carapace (i.e., top shell) lengths ranging from 3.5 to 5.4 inches. This turtle can be easily identified by the small, round yellow spots on its broad, smooth, black or brownish black carapace, although spots may fade in older individuals and some individuals are spotless. The plastron (i.e., bottom shell) is hingeless and is usually yellow or orange with a black blotch along the outer margin of each scute or scale. Hatchlings average about 1.14 inches in carapace length and usually have a single spot on each plate of their carapace. Their plastrons are yellowish orange with a central dark blotch.

Status and Rank

  • State Status: T
  • State Rank: S2
  • Global Rank: G5


County NameNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
St. Clair32009
St. Joseph41997
Van Buren152016
Distribution map for Clemmys guttata

Updated 5/15/2018. Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


Spotted Turtles require clean, shallow bodies of standing or slow-flowing water with muddy or mucky bottoms and aquatic or emergent vegetation. Although Spotted Turtles are considered fairly aquatic, they are frequently found on land in open habitats, especially during mating and nesting seasons. In early spring, Spotted Turtles spend a great deal of time basking on logs, muskrat houses and grass or sedge hummocks. At night and during hot weather, they burrow under vegetation or into the soil or muddy bottoms of the wetland or crawl into mammal burrows. They overwinter in shallow water in the mud or in mammal burrows or lodges.

Natural Community Types


For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.


Spotted Turtles are characterized by late sexual maturity and low reproductive potential, suggesting that high annual survivorship of adults and juveniles is critical for maintaining a stable population. Extant populations and suitable wetland and nesting habitats should be protected and maintained. Increased protection of small, non-contiguous wetlands is important for maintaining sufficient habitat. Implementing minimum development setback distances, leaving buffer zones during agricultural and land management operations, maintaining good water quality and hydrologic integrity, minimizing the construction of roads in or near suitable wetlands, and minimizing the use of road salt near wetlands would be beneficial to this species. Maintaining suitable open upland nesting areas (e.g., through woody vegetation management) also would benefit this species. Altering the timing of land use activities (e.g., working in upland habitats during the winter between November and March when Spotted Turtles are hibernating in the water or wetland) could help minimize the potential for adverse impacts to this species. Predator control and on-site protection of nest sites may be warranted to increase reproductive success. Minimizing road mortality and removal/collection of turtles from the wild also would benefit Spotted Turtle populations. Providing connectivity among populations to allow for genetic exchange also is vital for preserving the long-term viability of this species.

Active Period

Breeding from fourth week of March to fourth week of May

Active from fourth week of March to third week of October

Nesting from first week of June to fourth week of June

Survey Methods

The best time to survey for this species is in early spring during the mating season, from March through May, before the vegetation gets too tall and/or dense. The best way to survey for this species is to conduct visual encounter surveys which would consist of first searching suitable wetland habitats from a distance with binoculars or a spotting scope and scanning for individuals swimming in the water or basking in or along the wetland. This would be followed by slowly walking around the habitat, looking for turtles in the water or basking in or on vegetation or woody debris.

Page Citation

Michigan Natural Features Inventory. 2007. Rare Species Explorer (Web Application). Available online at [Accessed Sep 23, 2018]

More Information

See MNFI Species Abstract


Survey References

Technical References

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