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Spotted Turtle Care Guide

The Spotted Turtle is a small, semi-aquatic turtle that is the only one of its genus, Clemmys. They are very beautiful with their dark coloring and fun, light spots on their carapace.

They are very well-suited to captivity and are an attractive choice for a pet due to their tiny size. They barely grow up to 5 inches.

However, they will need proper care in order to stay healthy meaning potential owners should really read up. Since they are also known to be an endangered species, you will want to take extra care to learning how you can give them a long and meaningful life.

Whether you are interested in getting one and want to learn how to care for one or just think they’re neat. Here are some things that you should know about the Spotted Turtle:

Spotted Turtle Facts

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Scientific Name: Clemmys guttata
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 3 to 5 inches
  • Weight: Around 8 ounces
  • Diet: Omnivorous
  • Lifespan: 26 to 50 years

Quick Facts About Spotted Turtles

  • These turtles like to hide under plants, sticking just their head out.
  • They are the last of the genus Clemnys, which was coined by obstetrician and naturalist Ferdinand August Maria Franz von Ritgen in the year 1828.
  • In 1792, the Spotted Turtle was again renamed Testudo guttata by taxonomist Johann Gottlob Schneider, who later claimed their current scientific name, Clemmys guttata, a mix between their original name and his own name for the species.

Spotted Turtle Appearance

Spotted Turtle
Spotted turtle on white background

The Spotted Turtle has a smooth carapace which is usually grey, black, or black with a blue tint in color. Their shells will have a number of small yellow or pale round dots on them.

Their plastrons, or undersides, are usually pale yellow with broad dark smudges. Some Spotted Turtles may have orange, or seemingly pink, or even red colorings on their undersides and face where they are not dark. 

This coloration will vary depending on the geographical region of the turtle. Another variation that might occur is yellow striping on their tail.

Orange Spotted Turtles will have distinctive orange and yellow spots on it’s back, which may spread onto their head as well. Their orange plastron seems to seep throughout their skin striping their legs and arms too.

These colorings may also look red or pink in some lights, but they are still considered Orange Spotted Turtles. 

Since Spotted Turtles is native to a disjunct range of places, we can’t really say where you can spot the ones with geographically determined colorings.

Spotted Turtles are not to be mixed up with the similar-looking, similarly-named Black Spotted Turtle, or the Geoclemys hamiltonii, which is a totally different species that are native all the way in South Asia.

While they are also light-spotted with dark coloring, they are actually a pond turtle from a totally different genus which have ridged carapaces rather than the smooth ones that Clemmys Guttata sport.

Spotted Turtle Location and Natural Habitat

Spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) on log basking
Spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) on log basking

You can find Spotted Turtles in Canada as well as the Northeastern parts of the United States.

They can be found in places like the Eastern regions of the Great Lakes from Ontario to Illinois and Michigan. They can even be found throughout the Eastern seaboard of Maine all the way down to Florida.

They inhabit U.S. states such as Arizona, Indiana, New Mexico, and Missouri. They are also found in the Northern and Southern regions of British Columbia as well as some parts of Fraser Valley too.

They like to spend their time in bogs, swamps, marshy meadows, shallow ponds, ditches, and small, still bodies of water in these areas.

While they can be found in lakes, streams, and rivers, it is usually for their winter hibernation, which will take place in the bottom of lakes or whatever riverbed they choose.

The Spotted Turtle habitat is usually around cooler, humid climates. They enjoy basking out in the sun often and for long periods of time.

Spotted Turtle Diet

In the wild, these turtles feed on snails, tadpoles, worms, fish, snails, insects, shrimp, crayfish, carrion, slugs, spiders, salamanders, frogs, and some aquatic plants.

While they are mainly carnivorous and a high-protein diet helps their brains develop efficiently, they do choose to eat an omnivorous diet with a preference for insects. They also really like eating duckweed, though.

Spotted Turtle Lifespan

The mortality rate has been steadily decreasing for these species. Normally, their average lifespan is around 25 years. It is estimated that they have undergone a drastic habitat loss of more than 50 percent.

In captivity, it is said that they can up anywhere up to 50 years and sometimes even more with proper husbandry, a balanced diet, enough lighting, and optimal temperatures.

Spotted Turtle Breeding Habits

Baby spotted turtle in enclosure
Baby spotted turtle in enclosure

Female Spotted Turtles may lay 2 to 3 clutches of anywhere from 3 to 12 eggs. She will usually try to find a good spot near water and vegetation to lay her eggs, covering them with soil or other debris to protect them from predators. 

They will typically breed during the summer months of June and July and hatchlings usually emerge around September to October.

Spotted Turtle Predators

Because they spend time both in water and on land, they are vulnerable to predation to land animals especially. Their predators include raccoons and muskrats, mostly. 

As for their eggs or hatchlings, they might fall prey to crows, badgers, raccoons, foxes, and sometimes dogs.

If this semi-aquatic turtle is frightened by an enemy, it will dive into nearby water and hide by burying itself in the mud in defense.

Spotted Turtle Legality

When it comes to turtles, North Carolina and South Dakota are the only two states that ban the buying, selling, trade, and bartering of all species of turtles. 

Check out the Department of Environmental Management’s website to see the list of legal species for your specific location, since it really is on a state-by-state basis.

In some states, you may need a license or permit to sell or partake in the reptile trade. Some states may even require you to have a permit just to keep them and you will always want to keep paperwork in order to prove that they are capture born (CB).

Check out our article to learn more about the legality of the turtle trade in the United States:

Where to Buy Spotted Turtles

There are many places online and reputable sites that sell captive-bred turtles.

The reason why you want captive-bred or commercial turtles is due to the ability to choose your turtle, the fact that your species choices won’t be limited to local or native species, you’re not involving in the depletion of the wild population, and captive-bred turtles will already be acclimated to captivity.

Spotted Turtle Care

Spotted turtle on grass near pond
Spotted turtle on grass near pond


A suitable Spotted Turtle tank will require at least 20-gallons of space with a lot of length since they need both a land area as well as an underwater area. 

You need to divide your tank in half with equal parts of a 3 to 6-inch water depth variation leading up to their land area.

There are tanks that have a separated part that is dedicated to staying dry, which will also allow for better water drainage so maybe look into those types of tanks if possible.


Turtles are messy and will produce a lot of waste that will dirty their water. If you want to keep your aquatic turtle tank clean, we have some advice for making your life a little easier for maintaining a tidy tank.

First off, you don’t want cleaning your turtle’s tank to be a chore, so make it easier on yourself by installing a filter to their tank. A canister filter will be more efficient in comparison to the usual aquarium filters since they have a larger water filtering capacity.

A powerful water filter is a prudent investment as it allows for adequate oxygen levels as well as keeps the water clean and clear.

Generally, you should clean the media of your canister filter at least once every two months.

In order to maintain a healthy environment for your turtle, make sure that you are removing any uneaten food and waste from the bottom of their tank. At least once a week, you should dedicate time to use a long-nozzled, BPA-free siphon to remove any debris in its tank.

Leaving these leftovers and waste at the bottom of its tank can cause a spike in ammonia and harmful bacteria which are toxic to your turtle. They can lead to illness or other health issues and can possibly kill your pet.

Try to vacuum your aquarium substrate with a siphon about three to four times per month. 

We also recommend that you get a home water test kit to check for pH, nitrates, and nitrites.

Another thing that can help maintain your turtle tank is aquatic plants, particularly the floating kind. Since floating plants have direct access to CO2, they will absorb fewer nutrients in the tank.

Aquatic plants will absorb ammonia as well as unwanted nitrates. However, some turtles see aquatic plants as a snack rather than a tank-cleaner. Mud turtles will not make lunch out of water lettuce, so we recommend trying that.

Besides plants, you can also add algae-eating shrimp or fish. Unfortunately, they will eventually become a snack for your turtle as well.

You should also be sterilizing your water with a UV water sterilizer in order to prevent free-floating pathogens, which can cause stinky, murky water. This cannot be done through your turtle’s UVB basking light; you must purchase a separate light for this job.

You can use your UV water sterilizer about once a week, but make sure to do so after feeding.

You should be performing dechlorinated water changes every other week. You don’t want ammonia or nitrates to be building up in your turtle’s home, and filtration systems will not do the job, so a quick fix would be to change their water.

You must dechlorinate your tap water before you put it into their tank. Some people might think that chlorine or chloramine is good for the tank since it kills bacteria, right?

Well, yes it will kill the harmful bacteria, but it will also kill the much-needed bacteria that will work on the ammonia and nitrate levels for you. This is why dechlorination is important in your water change. 

You can do this by simply adding a water conditioner into your tap water and letting it sit for about half a day. Then do a 30 percent water change when it’s ready.

Do this every other week and you’re good to go!

These steps will work for the aquatic side of the tank but as for the land area, all you need to do to keep it clean is to pick up any droppings or food that might have gotten in the substrate daily in order to prevent any infection or rot.


This little semi-aquatic turtle will want a sandy land area as well as sandy bottoms. Substrate options include sand, dirt, and small or medium-sized rocks.

You can use sand or dirt for their land area whereas the bottom of the tank can be sand or rocks, these should work fine.


A Spotted Turtle enclosure needs a basking area where they can completely dry under a UVB bulb and a heater.

Water temperatures should range from around 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit and their basking area needs to be a solid 88 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit at all times in order for them to properly regulate their temperature.

They like cooler water and will not go into the water if it is too hot for them.

Air temperatures below 70 degrees Fahrenheit may cause issues and make them go into hibernation if they cannot properly bask. Keep an eye on temperatures with thermometers carefully to make sure they don’t drop below 70 degrees.


You can use heat lights to warm up their enclosure keeping in mind the 3W per gallon rule. This will help keep the waters around the low 70s, a comfortable temperature for them.

A UVB light is crucial to their health, so you will definitely be needing them. Mount them about 8 to 12 inches above their basking area and leave them on for around 10 to 12 hours a day.


These species of turtles like slate or river rock, driftwood, and aquatic plants.

Some good aquatic plants to add to your tank include anachris, duckweed, mosses, aquatic ferns, sedges, sphagnum moss, pitcher plants, reindeer lichen, cattails, water hyssop, white water lily, spatterdock, watershield, floating pond weed, and frogbit.

Your turtle may or may not try to eat them, but if there are more plants than turtles, it should be fine and will serve as nutritional value to them.

Plants can be hard to keep in sand, but can grow more easily in soil. Do your research on these aquatic plants, take a look at them, and see if any of them are suitable for the aesthetic you are going for.


There really isn’t much of a rule when it comes to a feeding schedule for these guys. You really just need to offer as much as they can eat in the time span of about 20 minutes. 

Do this once every other day for adults, keeping track of their appetite. Hatchlings or young growing turtles need to be fed daily.

Female Spotted Turtles thrive well on a higher protein diet than males.

When feeding, you want to try to mimic their natural diet in the wild, which is mainly insects and vegetation.

While they are omnivorous, they actually enjoy a carnivorous diet more. However, variety in their diet proves to be better for them, lengthening their lifespan.

You will want to feed them more protein than vegetation, but both will allow for a well-balanced diet. High protein foods have shown necessary for their brain development.

You can feed them shrimps as well as insects like worms or crickets. They also enjoy eating snails and slugs.

You can also occasionally give them a piece of cooked beef or mutton. However, make this only a special occasion kind of treat as too much cooked food can affect their intestines.

Some Spotted Turtles might enjoy some fruits or leafy greens whereas others might just stick to duckweed. Some things they seem to like include apples, sweet potatoes, carrots, kiwi, melons, kale leaves, and butter lettuce.

Do not give them spinach or frozen lettuce since it can be a nutritional hazard, causing problems with their intestines.

You should try to give them a good mix of insects, vegetables, and fruit.

If your turtles have a preference for it, you can also include turtle pellets so that they get their much-needed Vitamin D3. You might even want to consider supplementing calcium if your turtle is indoors all the time.


These guys are known for being alert, active, and curious beings. They love to swim and move around, making them entertaining to watch.

Since they are semi-aquatic, you can watch them swim, climb, and waddle around in the sand with their cute little dark round bodies.

Their curious and active nature makes them even more charming and interesting to watch.


Spotted Turtles do not take too well to handling and will snap at you if they are feeling threatened.

Overhandling these turtles can also stress them out, which is why we recommend keeping contact to a minimum and only when absolutely necessary.

FAQ About Spotted Turtles

Spotted turtle on white background
Spotted turtle on white background

What do Spotted Turtles eat?

While they are mainly carnivorous, a high-protein omnivorous diet works best for them. They enjoy various insects and aquatic plants.

Why are Spotted Turtles endangered?

Spotted Turtles have been declared as an endangered species in the United States and in Canada. This is due to the loss of their habitat causing a huge reduction in their numbers.

Humans have caused a lot of their deaths through the pet trade, habitat destruction, and accidentally killing them with our cars as well as farming machinery.

The pet trade is also to blame since a lot of them die in captivity due to improper care.

If you are going to keep a Spotted Turtle, make sure you can give them a home that will benefit them since they can actually live up to be much older in captivity than they would in the wild.

Although, all in all, it is hard to understand their true population due to the fact that they live in groups spread out around random areas. This makes it hard to pinpoint how many are really left.

Where do Spotted Turtles live?

You can find Spotted Turtles in Canada as well as the Northeastern parts of the United States.

They can be found in places like the Eastern regions of the Great Lakes from Ontario to Illinois and Michigan. They can even be found throughout the Eastern seaboard of Maine all the way down to Florida.

They inhabit U.S. states such as Arizona, Indiana, New Mexico, and Missouri. They are also found in the Northern and Southern regions of British Columbia as well as some parts of Fraser Valley too.


Spotted Turtles are beautiful little, dark, dotted creatures that can absolutely make an interesting pet.

Keeping in mind that they are an endangered species, it is crucial that we, as turtle keepers, make sure that we are giving them a home that will bring them a longer, happier life than they would have out in the wild.

Their small size and interesting look can make them a great addition to any prepared home.

We hope that this article opened your eyes to some of the things you should know about the adorable, tiny Spotted Turtle and that maybe we convinced you to check them out.

Let us know in the comments below what you found interesting about these guys or maybe tell us about your Spotted Turtle if you own one!

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Monday 25th of May 2020

OMG! Love the cool facts about this adorable turtle turtles are like soo cool and i love this website!

Brock Yates

Tuesday 26th of May 2020

They really are cool! Do you have one?