Photo Credit: Roger Birkhead
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Kinosternon subrubrum
STATUS: Common statewide in virtually all aquatic habitats except free-flowing creeks and rivers. Includes K.s. subrubrum (eastern mud turtle) and K.s. hippocrepis (Mississippi mud turtle), and intergrades between the two. Lowest Conservation Concern.
DESCRIPTION: The Eastern mud turtle is a relatively small aquatic turtle, usually averaging 3 to 5 inches in length. Its carapace (top part of the shell) is smooth and dome shaped. The sides of the carapace are straight. The carapace varies in color from yellowish to black. The plastron (bottom part of the shell) is brown to yellow in color. The plastron has a single gular scute (scute on the front of the plastron) and two well-developed hinges. The skin is brown to olive and may have a few markings. The head is medium sized and generally dark brown with yellow mottling. Two light stripes on each side of the face may be apparent on some individuals.
FEEDING HABITS: Eastern mud turtles eat a variety of insects, mollusks, carrion and vegetation. It is primarily a bottom feeder crawling along probing for food.
DISTRIBUTION: They range from New York, south to Florida, west along the Gulf Coast to Texas, north in the Mississippi Valley to Missouri, southern Illinois and southern Indiana. It is found throughout Alabama.
HABITAT: The Eastern mud turtle prefers slow moving bodies of water with soft bottoms. They are frequently found in ponds, swamps, marshes and road side ditches with abundant aquatic vegetation. They do not particularly like free flowing creeks and rivers. Coastal populations have shown a tolerance for brackish water. Often wanders on land and is frequently seen crossing roads.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: They frequent dry land, seldom bask, and are most active at night. They can dive to depths of 9 feet and may stay under water for about 20 minutes. They are able to absorb oxygen from both air and water.
During the winter months, individuals may hibernate in small holes dug into the water’s edge or even farther inland. During hot dry periods individuals may bury into the mud and go into a state of decreased metabolic activity until conditions improve.
Eastern mud turtles reach sexual maturity between 4 and 7 years of age. One to eight eggs are deposited in nests generally near the water’s edge. Sometimes eggs may be laid in piles of debris or old alligator nests. Eggs are laid in the spring and hatch in late summer. The hatchling carapace is shaped like the adult, but has a vertebral keel and two low lateral keels. Hatchlings are about the size of a thumbnail.
Eggs and hatchlings are most prone to predation by snakes, mammals and birds. The primary dangers facing adults habitat destruction and being struck by vehicles.
Mirarchi, Ralph E., et al. , 2004. Alabama Wildlife Volume One, A Checklist of Selected Vertebrates and Invertebrates. The University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, AL.
Ernst, Carl, et. al., 1994. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.
Mount, Robert, 1975. The Reptiles and Amphibians of Alabama. The University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, AL.
AUTHOR: Michael Bloxom, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries