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Eastern Mud Turtle Care Guide

Eastern Mud turtles are a small semi-aquatic species that make popular pets. Also known as Common Mud turtles, they can live for up to 50 years and are incredibly fun to watch as they explore their enclosures.

While they aren’t the most handleable turtles, they are small and relatively manageable. While they need a larger tank than you’d expect, they are still good pets for beginners who have some experience with water tanks.

This Eastern Mud turtle care guide will cover everything you need to know about owning these little characters. We’ll also some key facts and health advice for these turtles.

Eastern Mud Turtle Facts

Eastent mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum) also known as common mud turtle on forrest floor with legs retracted in shell
Eastent mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum) also known as common mud turtle on forrest floor with legs retracted in shell
  • Experience level: Beginner
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Scientific name: Kinosternon subrubrum
  • Other names: Common Mud turtle
  • Adult Male Size: 3 to 5 inches (7.5 to 12.5 cm)
  • Adult Female Size: 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 cm)
  • Lifespan: Up to 50 years
  • Average Price Range: $40 to $100

Eastern Mud turtles aren’t fantastic swimmers, so they will often walk along the bottom of rivers or enclosures.

Eastern Mud turtles are closely related to Musk turtles and can also produce a foul-smelling defensive musk if they feel threatened.

In colder months, Eastern Mud turtles will hibernate by burrowing into some mud. They will often do this if their home pond dries up.

What does an Eastern Mud turtle look like?

Eastern Mud turtles have smooth, oval-shaped carapaces that range from brown to green to yellow. Their shells lack any clear markings and slope slightly at the front but drop quite abruptly at the back and sides. They have larger brown or yellowish-brown plastrons and their dark gray skin is often covered with mottled markings.

How big do Eastern Mud turtles get?

Eastern Mud turtles are a small species that doesn’t get any larger than 5 inches (12.5 cm). Males and females are relatively close in size. On average, most Eastern Mud turtles will measure between 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 cm).

Where do Eastern Mud turtles live?

Eastern Mud turtles are native to southern parts of the United States. You can encounter them in the following states:

AlabamaMississippi
DelawareNew Jersey
FloridaNew York
GeorgiaNorth Carolina
IllinoisSouth Carolina
IndianaTennessee
KentuckyTexas
MarylandVirginia

What kind of habitat do Eastern Mud turtles need?

Eastern Mud turtles inhabit shallow, slow-moving waters in bogs, swamps, and other wetland habitats with dense aquatic vegetation. This gives them good cover to hide away from predators as well as hunting down their prey. They also need clear water.

How long do Eastern Mud turtles live in captivity?

With the proper care and enclosure conditions, Eastern Mud turtles can live for up to 50 years in captivity. Always bear this in mind before deciding to get an Eastern Mud turtle.

What do Eastern Mud turtles eat?

Eastern Mud turtles are omnivores, mainly eating small fish and mollusks. They will also eat aquatic vegetation occasionally, but they have a mostly carnivorous diet.

How do Eastern Mud turtles breed?

Eastern Mud turtles will breed in the early spring months. Eggs are laid from May to June in groups of between two and five. The eggs will then incubate for between 50 and 90 days before hatching.

What predators do Eastern Mud turtles face?

Eastern Mud turtles can be vulnerable to larger aquatic turtles such as Common Snapping turtles or snakes. Eggs may be stolen and eaten by birds or mammals such as raccoons.

Conservation/Threats

The eastern mud turtle is considered to be of Least Concern by the IUCN. Their population is said to be stable and the turtles are abundant throughout their geographical range.

Eastern Mud Turtle Care sheet

Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum) close up in leaves by Patrick Coin
Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum) close up in leaves by Patrick Coin

Enclosure

Eastern Mud turtles are one of the smallest turtles in the US, but because they are so active they need a surprisingly large enclosure. For a single specimen, a 25-gallon tank is the minimum. You can house more than one turtle in a tank, but you’ll need a larger size – around 40-gallons – and you’ll need to avoid keeping multiple males together.

Eastern Mud turtles like a tank that is mostly water, with a basking spot above the surface. Logs and large rocks can add some enrichment. Aquatic plants or artificial ones are also excellent to add.

The water needs to be kept clean and clear, so a good filtration system is a must. Eastern Mud turtles can be slightly messy if they eat in the water, which makes a powerful filter even more essential. Both a heat lamp and UVB light should be provided in the basking spot.

There are a few recommended basic products that can make taking care of your Eastern Mud turtle much easier. Here’s a comprehensive list:

Cleaning

Keeping the water in your Eastern Mud turtle’s tank is crucial to a healthy and happy life. For this, you’ll need a strong filtration system.

Ideally, choose a filter that can process at least three times the water capacity of your tank. So for a 40-gallon tank, you’ll need a filter that can cycle 120-gallons. Choose a filter that can be submerged under the water.

You’ll also need to perform partial water changes regularly, around once a week, to help keep the water fresh. Use dechlorinated water to avoid any health problems to your turtle. Drain and clean the tank thoroughly once every couple of months.

Substrate

With enclosures that are mostly aquatic, a substrate isn’t technically necessary. Many substrates will simply create more work for your water filter. While you can use aquarium or river gravel, larger flatter rocks can make a natural-looking substrate that is easy to clean. The easiest setup to clean is a bare bottom tank.

Temperature

There are a few temperatures to bear in mind with aquatic turtles, including Eastern Mud turtles. The main one is the water temperature, which needs to be kept between 70 to 75ºF. A water heater can be used if necessary.

The basking spot needs to be maintained at around 90ºF. Ambient air temperature within the enclosure should range somewhere between 75 to 85ºF.

Humidity

Humidity isn’t necessarily a major concern with aquatic tanks because the water handles most of this for you. Somewhere between 40% and 50% is ideal if you want to monitor it with a hygrometer.

Lighting

Like most reptiles, Eastern Mud turtles need both a basking bulb and a UVB bulb for optimal health. The basking spot should be positioned above a basking ramp or small land area of the tank. Alongside the basking bulb, a UVB must be provided to allow your turtle to absorb key nutrients such as Vitamin D.

All lights must be kept on a 12-hour day/night cycle to simulate a natural day. Change UVB bulbs every six months to keep conditions optimal.

Accessories

Creating a fantastic and enriching environment for your Eastern Mud turtle is a lot of fun. Large river rocks add a naturalistic substrate. Eastern Mud turtles like dense cover from aquatic vegetation, so adding natural or artificial plants to the aquarium helps to create a natural environment.

A basking ramp or basking log is also crucial, positioned under the heat and UVB bulbs to provide somewhere for your turtle to bask.

Feeding

Eastern Mud turtles have a mostly carnivorous diet in the world, and thankfully this is easily replicated in captivity. Commercial turtle pellets, insects, mollusks such as snails and worms, strips of freshwater fish, and dried shrimp are all great choices.

These protein-based foods should be supplemented with some dark leafy greens for vegetation. Collard greens and dandelion greens are more than suitable. These should be dusted with calcium supplements once per week.

Don’t rely on feeding one type of food every time. Eastern Mud turtles benefit from a varied diet. Here’s a list of foods to use:

  • Aquatic snails
  • Black Soldier Fly larvae
  • Bloodworms
  • Canned snails
  • Cockles
  • Collard greens
  • Commercial turtle pellets
  • Crickets
  • Dubia roaches
  • Duckweed
  • Earthworms
  • Small feeder fish
  • Freshwater fish strips (Salmon, Trout, etc)
  • Krill
  • Mealworms
  • Mussels
  • Mustard greens
  • Shrimp

To avoid extra mess while feeding, it’s good practice to move your Eastern Mud turtle to a smaller enclosure. Schedule feedings for every other day, providing food until the turtle starts to slow down.

Temperament and handling

Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum) in Francis Marion National Forest, I'On Swamp Trail, South Carolina by Dave Huth
Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum) in Francis Marion National Forest, I’On Swamp Trail, South Carolina by Dave Huth

Are Eastern Mud turtles good pets?

Eastern Mud turtles are great pets to observe in their tank. They’re incredibly active and fun to watch when feeding or swimming around. However, they don’t like being handled and will try and bite with their beak-shaped jaws, which can be painful if they manage to nip you. Only handle your turtle when necessary.

Because they aren’t very tolerant of handling, Eastern Mud turtles aren’t great pets for children. They are best for interested reptile keepers who are familiar with or have put the research in to handle an aquatic setup.

If you do handle your Eastern Mud turtle, thoroughly wash your hands afterward to prevent the risk of salmonella.

Signs of good health

A registered breeder selling captive-bred Eastern Mud turtles is going to be the best buying option for finding a healthy specimen. When looking at any turtle, always perform some basic health observations yourself.

The shell of the Eastern Mud turtle should be smooth, without any strange bumps or flaking of their skin or scales. Their eyes should be clear, bright, and alert. If the turtle seems lethargic when moving around or doesn’t wriggle when you pick it up, this can be a sign of health problems.

Always ask to watch the turtle feed. Healthy turtles should enthusiastically gorge themselves. Ignoring or avoiding food can be a sign of health problems.

Health concerns

Eastern Mud turtles are relatively hardy despite their small size. That said, any animal, especially reptiles, is always vulnerable to health conditions. These are mainly caused by incorrect living conditions.

All turtles need UVB to promote strong shell growth and to allow them to get vital nutrients. A lack of UVB can lead to problems such as Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). This can cause deformed growth and is very painful. MBD can often be indicated by signs of pyramiding – where the turtle’s shell starts to grow strange protrusions.

Other shell problems include shell rot and flaking shells. Keeping your turtle tank clean with clean water adequate UVB lighting and good filtration will go a long way. If shell problems are persistent, you should see a herp vet.

Overfeeding– If the turtle is overfed it can also cause deformitties and make the turtle fat. Having a food schedule is helpful for maintaining a healthy weight.

Respiratory infections can also become a problem if the humidity and temperature levels are not well-maintained. Respiratory infections can be identified by slow or lethargic movement, a reduced appetite for food, mucus running from the turtle’s nose, or watery eyes.

Nutrient deficiency – Vitamin A deficiency can lead to respiratory problems, while vitamin D3 deficiency can also lead to metabolic bone disease. You can prevent these issues by providing the turtle with a good diet.

Cuts and scratches should also be kept abreast of. Turtles may injure themselves when swimming into parts of their tank, such as unguarded heaters or rocks that are too sharp. If you’re communally housing these turtles, that may also cause injuries.

Infection – Freshwater turtles can suffer from infections especially if their enclosure is unclean. Infections can manifest as bumps on their ear, and skin.

Always take your turtle to a specialist vet if your specimen develops any of these conditions.

Video about the difference between Mud, Musk and Stinkpot turtles

Eastern Mud Turtle Hatchling Care

Like most turtles, Eastern Mud turtle hatchlings require slightly different care requirements than adults. They’ll need smaller enclosures to begin with, something like 5 or 10-gallons. Water levels should be kept about as shallow as the length of the hatchling’s shell to prevent drowning until they get used to swimming.

The hatchlings will also need slightly warmer temperatures until they get bigger. In terms of food, the diet for juveniles should focus on protein, although vegetation is still needed. Food should be cut up into smaller strips or chunks to make it easier for the babies to digest it.

Frequently Asked Questions about Eastern Mud turtles

Is the Eastern Mud turtle endangered?

Eastern Mud turtles aren’t classed as endangered. They are relatively common throughout their native range and are listed as Least Concern in many areas.

Can Mud turtles live with fish?

Mud turtles in general make ideal tankmates for some types of freshwater fish since they are such small turtles. While they will eat smaller feeder fish, they can happily live alongside larger fish in a communal aquarium. Eastern Mud turtles aren’t brilliant fish hunters, so won’t be a danger to their tankmates.

Conclusion

So that’s the end of our Eastern Mud turtle care guide. These small aquatic turtles might not like being handled, but in all other respects, they make excellent and entertaining pets. They are best suited for beginner or intermediate reptile keepers who ideally have some experience with aquariums.

When trying to buy an Eastern Mud turtle, always check your state’s local laws to check that they’re legal. Try and adopt a specimen from a local animal shelter if you can. If not, always go through a registered breeder selling captive-bred individuals.

If you enjoyed this care guide, don’t hesitate to leave a comment down below!

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