Today, most turtle species are threatened or endangered. Turtle populations are threatened by pollution, busy roads, destruction of the habitat and the pet trade.
At the EcoTarium
The EcoTarium is home to a variety of turtle species.
Our Blanding's turtles live in the Pond section, our spotted turtle lives in the Marsh section, our musk turtle lives in the Swamp section, and our softshell turtle lives in the Lake section of the Freshwater exhibit, in the lower level of the museum.
Our wood turtles live in the City Science: The Science You Live exhibit and our Eastern box turtle lives in the Thinking Globally exhibit, both located in the middle level of the museum.
You can also find turtles living in our upper and lower ponds!
Turtles have been living all over the world in the water and on land relatively unchanged for millions of years. Like other reptiles, turtles are ectothermic, which means that their internal body temperature varies with the environment and they lay leathery eggs. What makes turtles special is their protective shell, which is developed from their ribs and attached to their backbone. Because it is part of their skeleton, turtles cannot remove their shells. Many species can withdraw their heads and legs into their shell for further protection.
In America, the word “turtle” usually refers to a water-dwelling species, while “tortoise” refers to species that live on land. The usage and exact meaning of these words varies between English-speaking countries. Besides having different names, land and sea turtles also tend to have differently shaped shells. Land tortoises have heavy, high-domed shells for protection, while freshwater and sea turtles have flatter, more streamlined shells for better swimming.
Blanding’s turtles are semi-aquatic and prefer to live in wetlands. An omnivorous turtle, they eat crayfish, insects, berries and plants. Blanding’s Turtles are identified by their yellow chins and speckled shells. They are particularly vulnerable to habitat destruction and fragmentation.
The spotted turtle is named for the small yellow spots scattered across their black shells. They are omnivores, are most active during the daytime and live in shallow freshwater habitats. Spotted Turtles have been lab tested for intelligence and have performed as well as mice do in mazes.
The common musk turtle lives in slow-moving freshwater habitats and is primarily carnivorous. When disturbed, the Musk Turtle secretes a foul-smelling fluid, for which it is named. Like many other species of turtles, the incubation temperature of their eggs determines the sex of the offspring.
The Eastern spiny softshell is a freshwater aquatic turtle with a flat, flexible shell. It has a long neck and pointy nose that allow it to breathe without surfacing. Spiny Softshells will often dig themselves into the sand with only their head and neck sticking out, looking very much like a sea snake.
Eastern box turtles live in woodlands scattered throughout New England. They are named for their ability to pull into their shells and close them in front, a trait allowed for by a hinged plastron (lower shell). Younger box turtles are mostly carnivorous, yet older turtles are mainly herbivorous, a behavior that is shared by several other species of turtles.
Wood turtles are semi-aquatic omnivores native to New England. They are frequently observed “earthworm stomping”. Individuals stomp the ground with their front feet or hit it with their plastron (lower shell) in rhythmic patterns. This mimics the vibrations of rain, and causes earthworms to come up from the ground, providing an easy meal.
The common snapping turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in New England. They are widely thought of as aggressive since they “snap”, or bite, when threatened on land. When underwater, they rely instead on swimming away and hiding among plants. Snapping Turtles cannot pull into their shell for protection since their lower shell (plastron) is too small. They have a distinctive appearance, with jagged ridges, a large head and a long tail.