Musk Turtle Care and Breeding Guide

There are aquarium hobbyists who prefer to keep turtles rather than other common aquarium pets such as fish or amphibians. Indeed turtles can make a nice addition to the aquarium so long as basic care is given to them and food offered as per recommendations. There are usually two types of turtles a hobbyist can opt to keep in his/her turtle tank. There freshwater turtles and saltwater turtles so it is up to the hobbyist to choose they like. The Musk Turtle is a freshwater turtle that is native to the eastern part of the United States of America.

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The freshwater turtle is not known to grow large thus making it a perfect fit for your home aquarium. It gets its name the musk turtle for the characteristic pungent smell it produces when it is disturbed. The turtle is slow and not aggressive and is known to spend much of its time relaxing in water although it occasionally comes out of the water to stroll in dry land. Scientifically is also known as the Sternotherus odoratus although there are some other people who commonly refer to the turtle as the ‘Stinkpot’ perhaps due to the odor it produces when disturbed.

Appearance of Musk Turtle

musk turtle

The turtle does not grow big and is known to grow just to a maximum of length of between 4 to 4.5 inches long. The males are usually visibly slightly larger than the females in size. The young ones of the turtle which have just been hatched are usually the smallest young of all North American turtles usually the size of a penny. The turtle has got a small oval-shaped upper shell and exhibits a dull coloration, a color trait that helps to remain well camouflaged thus keeping it out of view of possible predators.

Native range/Geographic Distribution in the wild

The Musk Turtle is a freshwater variety and is known to inhabit slow moving streams and rivers. It is also found living naturally in freshwater ponds and small lakes. Geographically it is native to the North American continent particularly on the eastern coast. In the wild it is found from Florida to as far north as Ontario in Canada while spreading far west to Texas and Wisconsin.

In the wild, the turtle will spend most of its time staying in water although it occasionally comes out of the water strolling on land but will not take long before going back to water.

General Care/Tank Requirements

The general care for the Musk Turtle is usually not complicated and even a beginner can easily get one from the pet shop and keep one. It spends most its time in the water although it occasionally needs to come out of water.

The ideal tank dimensions; because the turtle does not grow so big in size, a small tank will suffice and by this it means a tank that is at least 20 gallons or more. The tank should have a submersible canister water filter. Please note that if you wish to keep a pair of the turtle that is a male and female, you may need to have a tank that is at least 50 gallons or more if you can manage.

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You may need to keep a keen eye on the animals in the tank especially if you are keeping them as a pair. Sometimes males have a tendency of showing too much interest in the female when they are caged together and this is something that definitely harass the female. Harassment of the female can lead to stress and if not well checked can lead to depression with disastrous results.

Ensure that the water in the tank is not chlorinated and the depth of the tank must also allow the animal to be able to stretch its legs they way it enjoys better. But ensure the water is not too deep to deny the animal from reaching the surface to breathe in air.

Also provide an area within the tank that the turtle can easily come out of the water to bask. The species rarely comes out of water but it should be given an optional place it can use to get away from water when it desires to.

Lighting and temperature control

For the proper health maintenance of the turtle, light should be provided to it should it want to bask. The basking area temperature can be set to about 90 degrees Fahrenheit. You can for instance use a heat emitter together with a metal dome clamp light which can help to raise the temperature of the enclosure air to about 80°F.

For the bulbs to use in the tank it is recommended that you use UVB bulbs of very high quality. You can purchase these in pet shops that specialize in reptile pet supplies. Turtles rely on light to help them metabolize calcium so that they cannot suffer vitamin A or vitamin D3 scarcity.

You will also have to install a submersible heater that will be used to heat the water temperature. Basically the ideal water temperature should be controlled to be between 72 and 78 degrees Celsius.

As for the substrate with turtles it is not a requirement but if you prefer to have your tank fitted with substrate using mid-sized gravel can just do the work for you.


The turtle eats a variety of small animals when it is in the wild and some of the small animals include; small snails, crayfish, and mollusks. It also feeds on other small aquatic insects such as damselfly nymphs, and dragon fly. The turtle is also known to chase small tadpole including terrestrial insects that fall into water.

The turtle also feeds on plants which include duckweed and Elodea making it a complete omnivore.

In captivity it can be fed pellet turtle food, cricket, bloodworms, fish that have been cut up, and shrimp.


The female Musk Turtle is known to be able to lay between two and eight eggs when the environment is a little bit warmer. They prefer to lay their eggs in logs of tree found in the water in the wild. This therefore means that you may need to put cave-like structures for the females when it is time for breeding.

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