Plants and Animals

Clemmys guttata Spotted turtle

species photo
Jim H. Harding
species photo
species photo
Jim H. Harding
species photo
Jim H. Harding
species photo
Mr.& Mrs. Siebertz
species photo
species photo

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

US Status: No Status/Not Listed
State Status: T - Threatened (legally protected)
Global Rank: G5 - Secure
State Rank: S2 - Imperiled


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Allegan 14 2021
Barry 12 2023
Berrien 17 2021
Branch 2 2006
Calhoun 4 2010
Cass 11 2017
Clinton 1 1980
Eaton 1 1923
Genesee 1 1957
Gladwin 1 1998
Gratiot 1 2006
Huron 1 2023
Ingham 2 2023
Jackson 7 2022
Kalamazoo 21 2022
Kalkaska 1 2019
Kent 5 2023
Lake 3 2023
Lapeer 3 1995
Lenawee 9 2023
Livingston 8 2000
Macomb 3 1981
Manistee 2 2020
Mason 7 2023
Montcalm 1 2013
Muskegon 5 2022
Newaygo 2 2013
Oakland 7 2021
Oceana 1 1990
Otsego 1 1940
Ottawa 5 2005
Roscommon 2 2021
Saginaw 2 2006
Shiawassee 1 1980
St. Clair 3 2009
St. Joseph 5 2017
Tuscola 4 1997
Van Buren 16 2020
Washtenaw 7 2022
Wayne 2 1997

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.

Management Recommendations

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

Active from fourth week of March to third week of October

Breeding from fourth week of March to fourth week of May

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.

Visual encounter surveys

Survey Period: From fourth week of March to fourth week of May

Time of Day: Daytime
Cloud Cover: Clear
Air Temperature: Above 60 degrees
Wind: Light Breeze


Survey References

  • Karns, D.R. 1986. Field Herpetology: Methods for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles in Minnesota. Occ. Pap. No. 18. J.F. Bell Museum of Natural History, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Technical References

  • Belmore, B. 1980. The basic ecology of the spotted turtle Clemmys guttata (Schneider) in Massachusetts. Journal of Northern Ohio Association of Herpetologists 6:5-13.
  • Conant, R. 1951. The Reptiles of Ohio. Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame. 284pp.
  • Ernst, C.H. 1976. Ecology of the spotted turtle, Clemmys guttata (Reptilia, Testudines, Testudinidae), in southeastern Pennsylvania. Journal of Herpetology 10(1):25-33.
  • Ernst, C.H., J.E. Lovich, and R.W. Barbour. 1994. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. 578pp.
  • Harding, J.H. 1997.Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. 378pp.
  • Hunter, M.L., J. Albright and J. Arbuckle, eds. 1992. The amphibians and reptiles of Maine. Maine Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 838:188pp.
  • Kingsbury, B. and J. Gibson, eds. 2002. Habitat Management Guidelines for Amphibians and Reptiles of the Midwest. Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation. 57pp.
  • Lee, Y. 2000. Special Animal Abstract for Clemmys guttata (Spotted turtle). Michigan Natural Features Inventory. Lansing, MI. 4pp.
  • Minton, S.A. 1972. Amphibians and Reptiles of Indiana. Indiana Academy of Science, Indianapolis. 3: 346pp.
  • Smith, P.W. 1961. The amphibians and reptiles of Illinois. Illinois Natural History Survey, Carbondale. Bulletin No. 28. 298 pp.
  • Ward, F.P., C.J. Hohmann, J.F. Ulrich, and S.E. Hill. 1976. Seasonal microhabitat selections of spotted turtles (Clemmys guttata) in Maryland elucidated by radioisotope tracking. Herpetologica 32:60-64.

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