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Kinosternidae

Kinosternidae is a family of mostly small and a few moderately sized turtles and includes musk turtles and mud turtles. Kinosternids are endemic to North America and South America and are commonly referred to as American mud and musk turtles.

Kinosternidae can be found within the kingdom Animalia, the phylum Chordata, the class reptilia, and the order Testudines. The family Kinosternidae was first named and described by Swiss-born American biologist Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz.

This family includes about 24 species placed under four genera. The exact number of species will vary from one source to another as some subspecies may be considered to be separate species by different sources.

In this article, the source used is the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), which is the global authority on the conservation of species within the natural world. 

Kinosternids are generally small reptiles with carapace lengths of 4 to 6 inches. Most of these turtles are highly domed with a single keel down the middle of the shell.

The largest members of the family are those found within the genus Staurotypus. Species within this genus can reach lengths of 12 inches which is impressive for these turtles.

Kinosternids have a lifespan of 15 to 50 years depending on the species. 

Kinosternids can be found within slow-moving freshwater bodies such as streams, lakes, and ponds. The habitats where they live generally have a lot of vegetation and muddy substrates. 

All species of the family Kinosternidae are predominantly carnivores and feed on fish, amphibians, annelids, mollusks, insects, crustaceans, and carrion. They are known to ingest small amounts of aquatic vegetation. 

The yellow mud turtle is the only turtle species that care for its offspring, specifically the eggs. Yellow mud turtles are known to urinate on eggs weeks after nesting. This keeps the eggs moist. 

Genera Sternotherus and Kinosternon exhibit temperature-dependent sex determination. This is where the sex of the offspring is determined by the incubating temperature of the nest where the eggs are laid. 

Genera Staurotypus and Claudius have genetic sex determination. Species in these two genera exhibit kinosternid sex determination.

Table of Contents

  1. Species in the Family Kinosternidae
    1. Genus Claudius 
    2. Genus Staurotypus
    3. Genus Kinosternon 
    4. Genus Sternotherus
  2. FAQ
  3. Conclusion

Species in the Family Kinosternidae

Genus Claudius 

1. Narrow-bridged Musk Turtle 

Narrow-bridged Musk Turtle (Claudius angustatus) on a rocky surface near water in Yucatan, Mexico
A Narrow-bridged Musk Turtle (Claudius angustatus) on a rocky surface near water in Yucatan, Mexico. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Claudius angustatus
  • Length: 6.5 inches (16.5 cm)
  • IUCN Red List Status: Near Threatened

Claudius angustatus is a species endemic to Mexico and Central America. This chelonian is the only extant species under the genus Claudius. The species is endemic to Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize. 

The species can be found at low elevations from Belize to northern Guatemala and northwards to northern Oaxaca and central Veracruz (both in Mexico). The species cannot be found on the Yucatán Peninsula.

The species is found inhabiting shallow freshwater bodies with muddy bottoms such as small streams, ponds, and marshes.

The species can also be found in seasonally flooded grasslands. The turtle is semiaquatic and can be seen on land and aestivating during the dry season. 

The carapace of the species is yellowish-brown to dark brown with black seams. The plastron is yellow. The species have a large head with a protruding snout and a hooked upper jaw. 

With this season nesting begins in November and ends in February. Incubation of eggs takes about 95 to 230 days. Hatchlings have dark carapaces and yellowish plastrons.

The species is predominantly carnivorous and feed on fish, amphibians, insects, snails, and worms. 

The wild specimen are vicious and will bite when approached. However captive specimens including captive-bred individuals are calm and do not bite when handled.  

Genus Staurotypus 

2. Mexican Giant Musk Turtle 

Mexican Giant Musk Turtle (Staurotypus triporcatus) swimming in clear water in Peten, Guatemala
A Mexican Giant Musk Turtle (Staurotypus triporcatus) swimming in clear water in Peten, Guatemala. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Staurotypus triporcatus
  • Other Common Names: Northern Giant Musk Turtle, Mexican musk turtle, narrow-bridged musk turtle
  • Length: 15 inches (38 cm)
  • IUCN Red List Status: Near Threatened

S. triporcatus is quite large. It is much larger than other musk turtles.

The species is capable of reaching a carapace length of 14 to 15 inches. The chelonian is endemic to Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize.

S. triporcatus is usually found in low elevations usually less than 300 m. they are found from central Veracruz in Mexico to the Yucatan peninsula, Guatemala, Belize, and finally to western Honduras. In Mexico, the species can be found in Veracruz, Tamaulipas, Tabasco, Quintana Roo, Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Campeche. 

S. triporcatus is commonly found in slow-moving freshwater bodies such as marshes and lakes. 

S. triporcatus is a large turtle with adult females being much larger than adult males. The carapace of S. triporcatus is green, black, or brown.

The carapace also has yellow seams. the plastron is yellow. The carapace has three keels which are located lengthwise.

Although males are smaller, they have longer thicker tails.  

Although omnivorous, the S. triporcatus consumes mostly small invertebrates such as crustaceans, snails, clams, worms, and aquatic insects. It also consumes vertebrates such as small mammals, other turtles, tadpoles, and fish. Plant matter that S. triporcatus has been recorded to consume is seeds.

The species closely resembles the Staurotypus salvinii, however, the carapace of S. triporcatus is longer and higher than that of Staurotypus salvinii.

S. triporcatus is vicious and will bite when provoked. 

3. Pacific Coast Giant Musk Turtle 

Pacific Coast Giant Musk Turtle (Staurotypus salvinii) being held by someone in Chiapas, Mexico
A Pacific Coast Giant Musk Turtle (Staurotypus salvinii) being held by someone in Chiapas, Mexico. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Staurotypus salvinii
  • Other Common Names: Chiapas Giant Musk Turtle, Mexican giant musk turtle, giant musk turtle
  • Length: 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 cm)
  • IUCN Red List Status: Near Threatened

S. salvinii is a large turtle that can be found in Central America and parts of Mexico. 

The species is endemic to the pacific coast of Chiapas and Oaxaca to Guatemala and El Salvador. Its geographic range and description give this turtle its common name.

The species can be found in slow-moving freshwater bodies with a lot of vegetation and a muddy bottom such as rivers and reservoirs.

S. salvinii is a large turtle that can reach a carapace length of 15 inches. Females are much larger than males.

S. salvinii has a green, black, or brown carapace with three keels that run lengthwise. The plastron is yellow. The tails of the males are longer and thicker than that of the females. 

The tail and limbs are brownish-gray. The carapace of S. salvinii is wider and flatter than the S. triporcatus.

The species is predominantly carnivorous and feed on small invertebrates such as crustaceans, snails, clams, worms, and aquatic insects. It also consumes vertebrates such as small mammals, other turtles, and fish.

Unlike S. triporcatus, S. salvinii hasn’t been seen consuming plant matter.  

These turtles are vicious and will bite you when handled.   

Genus Kinosternon 

4. Alamos Mud Turtle 

Alamos Mud Turtle (Kinosternon alamosae) on some light-colored pebbles in Sonora, Mexico
An Alamos Mud Turtle (Kinosternon alamosae) on some light-colored pebbles in Sonora, Mexico. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon alamosae
  • Length: 3.7 to 5.1 inches (9.5 to 13 cm)
  • IUCN Red List Status: Data Deficient

K. alamosae is endemic to Mexico, particularly Sinaloa and Sonora. The species can be found on the coastal lowland of the pacific from Hermosillo in Sonora to Guasave in Sinaloa. K. alamosae is named after the sierra de alamos where they can be found up to an elevation of about 1000 m. 

K. alamosae is found in temporary ponds. They can be found in ditches and arroyos.

These habitats dry up during the dry season. During this time the turtle aestivate. The species is active from July to September and aestivate for the rest of the year.

K. alamosae has been found in aquatic habitats with temperatures of 108 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures that are scalding to the touch. 

K. alamosae is relatively smaller than other species within the genus Kinosternon. regardless of this, it is still a moderately sized freshwater turtle. Males of the species are generally larger than the females by a few inches. 

The carapace is olive to brown with black seams. The plastron is double hinged and yellowish with brown seams. The scutes on the plastron display growth annuli. There are two yellow barbels loaded on the chin. 

The species is predominantly carnivorous feeding on frogs, toads, scorpions, centipedes, clams, shrimps, and insects. The species also feed on seeds. 

5. Arizona Mud Turtle 

Arizona Mud Turtle (Kinosternon arizonense) on gravel and pebbles in Sonora, Mexico
A Arizona Mud Turtle (Kinosternon arizonense) on gravel and pebbles in Sonora, Mexico. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon arizonense / Kinosternon flavescens arizonensei / Kinosternon stejnegeri 
  • Other Common Names: Arizona yellow mud turtle
  • Length: 6 inches (16 cm)
  • IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern
  • National & State/Provincial Statuses: S2 (Arizona), N3(United States)

Kinosternon arizonense is used for two species. The first species is considered extinct and is prehistoric. The other species are not extinct.

This extant species is also known as Kinosternon stejnegeri and is sometimes considered to be a subspecies of Kinosternon flavescens. The species can be found in southwestern United States (which is southern Arizona) to northwestern Mexico in a small portion of the Sonoran Desert.

The species is now more abundant in recent times than it was historically. This is down to the increase in the number of water reservoirs for cattle. 

The species can be found in roadside ditches and tanks, ponds, and other permanent stagnant water. Kinosternon arizonense cannot be found in permanent rivers and streams. It prefers shallow waters only. 

The species will aestivate most of the year and is active from early July to middle August when there are rains. Kinosternon arizonense is mostly carnivorous.

6. Central Chiapas Mud Turtle 

Central Chiapas Mud Turtle (Kinosternon scorpioides abaxillare) in wet leaves in Chiapas, Mexico
A Central Chiapas Mud Turtle (Kinosternon scorpioides abaxillare) in wet leaves in Chiapas, Mexico. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon abaxillare / Kinosternon scorpioides abaxillare 
  • Spanish Name: Casquito Pardo
  • IUCN Red List Status: Vulnerable 

Kinosternon abaxillare is sometimes considered to be a subspecies of Kinosternon scorpioides. Kinosternon abaxillare is considered Vulnerable on IUCN Red List because over the past three generations the population of the species has decreased by 30 percent. 

The species is endemic to the Central Depression of Chiapas where it gets its common name and in a small range in northern Guatemala. 

The chelonian can be found in temporary, semipermanent, and permanent aquatic bodies within low to medium elevations. Similar to most mud turtles, Kinosternon abaxillare prefers small ponds to large water bodies such as rivers and lakes. 

Although the species is predominantly carnivorous, it also feeds on plant matter such as grass and fruits. 

7. Creaser’s Mud Turtle 

Creaser's Mud Turtle (Kinosternon creaseri) climbing a mossy rock in Quintana Roo, Mexico
A Creaser’s Mud Turtle (Kinosternon creaseri) climbing a mossy rock in Quintana Roo, Mexico. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon creaseri
  • Length: 4.7 inches (12 cm)
  • IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern

The species is endemic to the Yucatan Peninsula and can be found in the northern Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Yucatan. All of these are states in Mexico. Although the species may be endemic to Belize, this is unconfirmed. 

Although the species is endemic to an arid region with no surface streams, the northern Yucatan peninsula, the species is found in areas with a moderate amount of humidity such as cenotes which are natural deep-water sinkholes. They also inhabit temporary pools. 

Kinosternon creaseri feeds mostly on snails, insects, and larvae. Similar to other mud turtles, Kinosternon creaseri is active only during the wet season. Here this is June to October. The species aestivate the rest of the year. 

Kinosternon creaseri is moderately sized and dark in coloration. The carapace is dark-brown and oval while the plastron is brownish yellow with black seams. 

Kinosternon creaseri from different localities have different physical attributes. males from Yucatan have longer plastrons and seams on the plastron than males from other localities do.

Also, specimens from Quintana Roo are darker in coloration. They also have yellow markings on the head and neck.  

8. Dunn’s Mud Turtle

Dunn's Mud Turtle (Kinosternon dunni) walking around in mud
A Dunn’s Mud Turtle (Kinosternon dunni) walking around in mud. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon dunni
  • Length: 7 inches (17.5 cm)
  • IUCN Red List Status: Vulnerable

This turtle is also known as the Colombian mud turtle as it is native to Colombia. The species have only been found in  Department del Chocó where it inhabits streams.

The carapace of this species is dark brown and is relatively flattened.  The plastron of cc is narrow and double hinged. The plastron itself is yellowish with dark brown seams. 

While the diet of the species is unknown, remains of mollusks have been found in its digestive system. 

9. Durango Mud Turtle 

  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon durangoense
  • IUCN Red List Status: Data Deficient

The species is endemic to eastern Durango where it gets its common name,  western Coahuila, and Bolsón de Mapimí & lower Río Nazas of the Chihuahuan desert.

The species is brown in coloration. 

10. Eastern Mud Turtle 

Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum) in the grass in Dare County, North Carolina, USA
An Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum) in the grass in Dare County, North Carolina, USA. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon subrubrum
  • Length: 3 to 5 inches (7.6 to 12.3 cm)
  • Mass: 3.1 to 9.3 oz ( 0.088 to 0.263 kg)
  • Lifespan:  38 years
  • IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern
  • National & State/Provincial Statuses: S1 (Pennsylvania, new york, Indiana), S3 (Kentucky), S3S4 (Illinois), S4 (District of Columbia), S5 (Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, north carolina, Missouri, Mississippi, Maryland, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, Delaware, Arkansas, Alabama), SNR (South Carolina, Oklahoma, New Jersey)

This species is sometimes called the common mud turtle. This turtle is endemic to the eastern united states from New York to Texas. 

Similar to most mud turtles, Kinosternon subrubrum is a weak swimmer and as such can normally be found in shallow waters such as cypress swamps, bayous, marshes, ponds, wet meadows, sloughs, and ditches, to name a few. 

The species are known to overwinter by burrowing about 1.3 to 3 cm in wetland wedges. 

The carapace of Kinosternon subrubrum is smooth, oval, and flattened. The carapace is dark in coloration. The plastron of the species is yellow, orange, or reddish with black blotches. 

There are three subspecies of Kinosternon subrubrum. These include the K. s. subrubrum, eastern mud turtle, which is endemic to Connecticut and New York to Illinois and Indiana; K. s. hippocrepis, Mississippi mud turtle, which is endemic to Mississippi valley in eastern Texas and Louisiana to Kentucky and Missouri; and finally K. s. steindachneri, Florida mud turtle, which is endemic to the Florida Peninsula.

The species is primarily carnivorous and feed on bugs and insects such as arachnids, and June beetles. butterflies, and moths; small invertebrates such as snails and earthworms; and plant material such as algae and seeds. 

11. Herrera’s Mud Turtle 

Herrera's Mud Turtle (Kinosternon herrerai) in grass
A Herrera’s Mud Turtle (Kinosternon herrerai) in grass. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon herrerai
  • Length: 6 to 6.7 inches (15 to 17 cm)
  • IUCN Red List Status: Near Threatened

The Kinosternon herrerai is endemic to mexico from veracruz to tamaulipas, to san luuisa potosi, hidalgo, puebla, and queretaro. The species occurs within the Atlantic-Caribbean drainage basins. The species is quite common within its geographic range. 

The species can be found in permanent freshwater bodies with abundant vegetation and muddy substrate. While the species is omnivorous, it is predominately carnivorous.

The species is known to breed annually, laying several clutches containing about 3 eggs. 

The species is collected for food and use in traditional medicine within the southern portion of its geographic range. Within the northern portion, diversion of water for agriculture is a major threat. Road mortality is also considered a substantial threat.  

The species is named after Alfonso Luis Herrera, a Mexican biologist. 

12. Jalisco Mud Turtle 

Jalisco Mud Turtle (Kinosternon chimalhuaca) on a rock in Jalisco, Mexico
A Jalisco Mud Turtle (Kinosternon chimalhuaca) on a rock in Jalisco, Mexico. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon chimalhuaca
  • Length: 6 inches (15.7 cm)
  • IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern

Kinosternon chimalhuaca is endemic to the pacific coast from Rio San Nicolas and Rio Tuito to Rio Chuatlan. The species have also been sighted in Puerto Vallarta. 

The species can be found in stagnant freshwater bodies such as pools and ponds. They are can be found in muddy and clear water with or without riparian vegetation.

Since they are weak swimmers, they are absent from flowing rivers. The species is predominantly carnivorous and feed on crustaceans, insects, mollusks and even decaying plant material. 

Kinosternon chimalhuaca is a recently described species. Its carapace is flattened, elongated, and oval in shape. The carapace is olive or dark brown with patterns of dark stains. The plastron is brown to yellow with black seams.

13. Mexican Mud Turtle 

Mexican Mud Turtle (Kinosternon integrum) on a rock near water in Jalisco, Mexico
A Mexican Mud Turtle (Kinosternon integrum) on a large rock near water in Jalisco, Mexico. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon integrum
  • Maximum Length: 8 inches (20 cm)
  • IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern

The species can be found throughout Mexico. It can be found from western Tamaulipas and Sonora to Oaxaca.

The species has been distributed widely throughout Mexico by humans. The species is widespread within its geographic range and commonly encountered. 

Males are generally a few inches larger than females. Females are known to nest once to thrice a year and lay three to twelve eggs. 

Kinosternon integrum is moderately sized and has a carapace with a graduate posterior slope. this carapace is dark brown to yellowish-brown.

Individuals with yellowish-brown carapaces may have dark markings on them. The plastron is brown to yellow with black seams.

The species is omnivorous and feed on insects, algae, and seeds.

14. Narrow-bridged Mud Turtle 

Narrow-bridged Mud Turtle (Kinosternon angustipons) relaxing on a wooden log-like surface among leaves
A Narrow-bridged Mud Turtle (Kinosternon angustipons) relaxing on a wooden log-like surface among leaves. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon angustipons
  • Length:  4.7 inches (12 cm)
  • IUCN Red List Status: Vulnerable

This turtle is endemic to Central America and as such is referred to as the central American mud turtle. This turtle can be found in Panama, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. 

The species have a brown carapace that is flattened and lack any keels. The plastron of the species is yellowish.

The species is found in shallow stagnant water bodies from Rio San Juan on the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border to Bocas del Toro in Panama. 

The species is known to be omnivorous and is known to eat plant matter and insects. 

Kinosternon angustipons is similar in appearance and behavior to Kinosternon dunni.

15. Oaxaca Mud Turtle 

Oaxaca Mud Turtle (Kinosternon oaxacae) in fallen leaves in Oaxaca, Mexico
An Oaxaca Mud Turtle (Kinosternon oaxacae) in fallen leaves in Oaxaca, Mexico. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon oaxacae
  • Length: 7 inches (17.5 cm)
  • IUCN Red List Status: Data Deficient

Kinosternon oaxacae is endemic to Oaxaca in Mexico but has only been found in the Rio Tonameca and Rio Colotepec basins. 

Kinosternon oaxacae inhabits permanent flowing freshwater bodies such as streams in the uplands, but near the coast, the species inhabits semi-permanent water bodies. Upland floods sometimes carry the turtle to the coastal plans. 

Kinosternon oaxacae is quite large. The species’ carapace is dark in coloration while the plastron is yellowish with dark seams (these are the lines between the scutes).

Males are generally larger than females by a few inches. There are about three or four pairs of barbels on the chin of the species. 

The species is omnivorous feeding on plant matter as well as fish, beetles, shrimps, and amphibians.  

16. Rough-footed Mud Turtle 

Rough-footed Mud Turtle (Kinosternon hirtipes) on a wet log by water in Distrito Federal, Mexico
A Rough-footed Mud Turtle (Kinosternon hirtipes) on a wet log by water in Distrito Federal, Mexico. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon hirtipes
  • Length: 7 inches (18.2 cm)
  • IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern
  • National & State/Provincial Statuses: S1(Texas), N1 (United States)

Kinosternon hirtipes is endemic to Texas in the United States and several species in Mexico. There are six recognized subspecies. These subspecies are named after their geographic locations. 

The subspecies are Kinosternon hirtipes hirtipes (Valley of Mexico mud turtle), K. h. chapalaense (Lake Chapala mud turtle ), K. h. magdalense (San Juanico mud turtle), K. h. megacephalum (Viesca mud turtle), K. h. murrayi (Mexican Plateau mud turtle), and K. h. tarascense (Patzcuarco mud turtle).

The carapace of the species is relatively elevated when compared to other mud turtles and has three keels that run lengthwise. The carapace is usually olive to light brown.

Some specimens have black to dark brown carapaces as well. The plastron of the species is yellowish with dark seams. 

Kinosternon hirtipes is found in freshwater bodies in arid grasslands. They inhabit rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, marshes, stock ponds, and even temporary pools. 

17. Sonoyta Mud Turtle 

Sonoyta Mud Turtle (Kinosternon sonoriense longifemorale) climbing out of water onto some long grass in Pima County, Arizona, USA
A Sonoyta Mud Turtle (Kinosternon sonoriense longifemorale) climbing out of water onto some long grass in Pima County, Arizona, USA. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon sonoriense longifemorale
  • Length: 7 inches (17.5 cm)
  • IUCN Red List Status: Near Threatened
  • National & State/Provincial Statuses: S3 (New Mexico), S4 (Arizona), SH (California), SNA (Nevada)

The species is a moderate-sized turtle with an olive-brown carapace with dark seams. The plastron of the turtle is yellowish with dark seams as well.

Some specimens have three keels that run lengthwise while others do not. Males generally have shorter plastron than females. 

The species can be found in the Gila River and the Colorado River in New Mexico and Arizona to Rio Casas Grandes basin to the west, and the Rio Yaqui basin to the south. 

There are two subspecies. These are Kinosternon sonoriense sonoriense, commonly known as Sonoran mud turtle, which is endemic to Sonora (its namesake), Arizona, New Mexico, and chihuahua; and K. s. longifemorale, commonly known as  Sonoyta mud turtle, which is endemic to Rio Sonoyta basin (its namesake) in Sonora and Arizona. 

18. Striped Mud Turtle 

Striped Mud Turtle (Kinosternon baurii) being held by someone by a body of water at Delray Beach, Florida, USA
A Striped Mud Turtle (Kinosternon baurii) being held by someone by a body of water at Delray Beach, Florida, USA. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon baurii
  • Length: 4.7 inches (12  cm)
  • IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern
  • National & State/Provincial Statuses: S3S4 (North Carolina), S4 (Virginia, Georgia), S5 (Florida), SU (South Carolina)

Kinosternon baurii is a small mud turtle. Its small size means that it is commonly kept as a pet.

Kinosternon baurii is easily identified by the three yellow to orange stripes that run lengthwise on its carapace which is dark in coloration. The plastron on the other hand is yellow. 

The species can be found in the Florida Keys through the Florida peninsula to Virginia. The species have been found in brackish ponds in the Florida Keys, forested areas, marshes, wet meadows, drainage canals, ponds, sloughs, and cypress swamps. 

The species are known to eat insects, dead fish, crayfish, snails, algae, juniper leaves, and cabbage palm seeds. 

19. Tabasco Mud Turtle 

Tabasco Mud Turtle (Kinosternon acutum) sitting in some aloe vera in Veracruz, Mexico
A Tabasco Mud Turtle (Kinosternon acutum) sitting in some aloe vera in Veracruz, Mexico. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon acutum
  • Local Name: pochitoque 
  • Length: 4.7  inches (12 cm)
  • IUCN Red List Status: Near Threatened

Kinosternon acutum is endemic to Belize, Guatemala, Veracruz, and Tabasco. The latter two locations are in Mexico. 

In Tabasco, the species is culturally significant. It is an essential ingredient in the cuisine of the people, especially among the Chontal people. This turtle is also a major character in some folklore of the people. 

The species can be found in humid forests, temporary pools, streams, and lakes at low altitudes. 

20. Yellow Mud Turtle 

Yellow Mud Turtle ( Kinosternon flavescens) in dry sand and gravel in Putnam, Kansas, USA
A Yellow Mud Turtle ( Kinosternon flavescens) in dry sand and gravel in Putnam, Kansas, USA. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Kinosternon flavescens
  • Length: 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm)
  • Mass: 14 oz ( 391 g)
  • Lifespan: 15 years
  • IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern
  • National & State/Provincial Statuses: S1 (Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Colorado, Arizona), S4 (New Mexico), S5 (Texas, Kansas), SNR (Oklahoma, Nebraska)

The species is normally found in water bodies with sandy or muddy bottoms. These include flooded fiends, oxbow lakes, and marshes.

The species can be seen traveling on land. It may bury itself in mud on land and underwater.

The species is known to hibernate on land in Missouri, Lowa, and Illinois. After emerging from hibernation in April, the turtle moves to a freshwater body from May to July.

From July to August, the species leaves its aquatic habitat which would have dried up by now. The species aestivate in August and continues into hibernation until the following April.

In wet years, however, the species will emerge in August or September when the rain falls. 

The species is predominantly carnivores and feed on amphibian larvae, crustaceans, mollusks, and insects such as dragonfly larvae, and beetles. Kinosternon flavescens eats aquatic plants occasionally.

Kinosternon flavescens is called the yellow mud turtle because of its yellowish limbs, head, and neck. This turtle is commonly kept as a pet. 

Genus Sternotherus 

21. Eastern Musk Turtle 

Eastern Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) in some wet dirt near Ottowa River, Quebec, Canada
An Eastern Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) in some wet dirt near Ottowa River, Quebec, Canada. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Sternotherus odoratus
  • Length: 3 to 5 inches (8 to 14 cm)
  • Lifespan:  55 years
  • IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern
  • NatureServe Global Conservation Status: G5 (Secure)

The eastern musk turtle is also known as the common musk turtle and the stinkpot turtle.

This turtle can be found in the eastern United States. It is called the stinkpot because of the foul order it produces when stressed or threatened. 

Sternotherus odoratus can be found from Quebec to Texas. This species prefers permanent water bodies such as rivers, lakes, ponds, and streams. 

This is a medium-sized turtle with a black or brown carapace which is oval, smooth, and elevated. The skin is olive to black. 

The species is omnivorous but generally eats aquatic invertebrates. It also feeds on fish, carrion, amphibians, and plants. 

22. Flattened Musk Turtle 

Flattened Musk Turtle (Sternotherus depressus) on sand and greens in Alabama, USA
A Flattened Musk Turtle (Sternotherus depressus) on sand and greens in Alabama, USA. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Sternotherus depressus
  • Length: 3 to 4 inches (7.5 – 10 cm)
  • Lifespan:  years
  • IUCN Red List Status: Critically Endangered
  • NatureServe Global Conservation Status: G1 (Critically Imperiled)

The flattened musk turtle is endemic to Alabama, specifically the Black Warrior River watershed, this is the only place that the species can be found. This turtle is often found in streams in the watershed. 

The species has a flat carapace compared to the other three musk turtle species. This carapace is brown while the plastron is yellowish or pinkish.  

The species is known to be inactive during winter. 

The species is an invertivore and as such feeds mostly on invertebrates such as clam, crayfish, isopods, arachnids, and insects. Flattened musk turtles are commonly kept as pets. 

23. Loggerhead Musk Turtle 

Loggerhead Musk Turtle (Sternotherus minor) at the vegetated bottom of Rainbow River, Dunnellon, Florida
A Loggerhead Musk Turtle (Sternotherus minor) at the vegetated bottom of Rainbow River, Dunnellon, Florida. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Sternotherus minor
  • Length: 5 inches (13.5  cm)
  • Lifespan:  23 years
  • IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern
  • NatureServe Global Conservation Status: G5 (Secure)

This species can be found from Virginia to Louisiana. There are two subspecies which are S. m. minor (Loggerheaded musk turtle) and S. m. peltifer (stripe-necked musk turtles).

 S. m. minor is endemic to Alabama, central Georgia to Florida. S. m. peltifer is endemic to Alabama and Tennessee to Mississippi. This subspecies has stripes on the neck and head. 

The species can be found in freshwaters such as oxbow lakes, swamps, rivers, and sinkholes. They prefer habitats with rich vegetation. The species is aquatic and doesn’t come out to bask if conditions are ideal. 

S. m. minor feeds mostly on invertebrates such as millipedes, bugs, and beetles. They will become more molluscivorous as they reach adulthood, feeding on clams and snails. 

S. m. peltifer feeds mostly on insects and aquatic species such as clams and crayfish. 

24. Razor-backed Musk Turtle 

Razor-backed Musk Turtle (Sternotherus carinatus) climbing a stick of wood by water in Liberty County, Texas, USA
A Razor-backed Musk Turtle (Sternotherus carinatus) climbing a stick of wood by water in Liberty County, Texas, USA. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Sternotherus carinatus
  • Length: 4 to 4.6 inches (10 to 12 cm)
  • Lifespan: 29 years
  • IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern
  • NatureServe Global Conservation Status: G5 (Secure)

Sternotherus carinatus can be found from Alabama to Texas. The range is mostly within the Gulf Coastal Plain.

The species is endemic to freshwaters with slow-moving water and sandy or muddy substrate with rich vegetation. The species hibernate close to their aquatic habitats. 

The species is moderately sized. The carapace of S. carinatus is brown or orange.

There is a single but prominent keel on the back. Similar to most musk turtles, the carapace is domed. The carapace is yellowish. The plastron is small and weakly hinged. 

The species is omnivorous but primarily feeds on animal foods including carrion, amphibian larvae, mollusks, crustaceans, and insects. They also ingest small amounts of aquatic vegetation. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do kinosternids make good pets?

Mud and musk turtles are commonly kept as pets and for a reason. While not the easiest to care for, kinosternids are quite simple to keep as pets and as such make excellent pets.

Some kinosternids commonly kept as pets are  the Florida mud turtle, eastern mud turtle, and the eastern musk turtle

Is it legal to own Kinosternids as pets?

This depends on your locality. However, most kinosternids are legal to keep as pets in most parts of the United States. If you decide to acquire a kinosternid, it is best to acquire a captive-bred specimen. 

What other families is Kinosternidae closely related to?

The family most closely related to the Kinosternidae is the Dermatemydidae. The only species within this family is the hickatee, also known as the  Central American river turtle.

Hickatee looks very much like mud and musk turtles. They have several skeletal characteristics such as their cervical vertebrae shape. 

Which kinosternids are endangered?

According to the IUCN, the only endangered kinosternid is the flattened musk turtle. This species is also listed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as a threatened species.

Conclusion

Kinosternids include mud and musk turtles. These turtles are native to the Americas and are sometimes called the American mud and musk turtles. Kinosternidae includes four genera and 24 species.

 Most of these species are small in size with carapace lengths of less than 7 inches for most of the species. The genus Staurotypus can, however, reach a carapace length of 12 inches or 1 foot. 

Members of Kinosternidae are freshwater reptiles that can be found in slow-moving freshwater bodies such as ponds and streams. As carnivorous ambush predators, the species prefer water bodies with dense vegetation and a muddy substrate. 

Kinosternids are commonly kept as pets. Although predominantly carnivorous, mud and musk turtles will accept vegetables. 

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