Musk Turtle: Care Guide, Diet, Breeding, and Tank Mates

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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Musk Turtle Overview

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.

Information ChartMusk Turtle/ Common Musk Turtle
Scientific Name: Sternotherus Odoratus
Family: Kinosternidae
Care Level: Easy beginner level
Temperament: Mild, peaceful
Color: Dull and brownish in color
Lifespan: 30 to 50 years
Size: 3 inches to 5.5 inches
Diet: Pellets, small aquatic insects
Minimum Tank Size: 20 to 25 gallons
Temperature: 80-to-90-degree Fahrenheit (basking) 72 to 78 Fahrenheit (water)
Water Conditions: Clean, shallow, low current
Tank Mate Compatibility: Compatible with other musk turtles, not small fishes

Musk Turtle Appearance

musk turtle

The turtle does not grow big and is known to grow just to a maximum 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.

Types Of Musk Turtles

There are many types of musk turtles in nature. For example, the most common and popular type of musk turtle is the stinkpot turtle. Other types include the loggerhead musk turtle and the razor-backed musk turtle. Another type of musk turtle is the flattened musk turtle. All the types of musk turtles are native to North American countries. 

Stinkpot Turtle

The stinkpot turtle is also the common musk turtle or the eastern musk turtle. The turtle is called a stinkpot because it can release a foul odor and smells musky. The odor glands are situated at the edge of its shell. The turtle uses this odor to avoid detection by predators. The common musk turtle is probably the smallest in the family. The common musk turtle makes a good water pet if you plan to get one. 

Razor-Back Musk Turtle

The razorback musk turtle is the largest in the musk turtle family. The razor-back musk turtle has a lifespan of around 20 years. The turtle species has a brown carapace with a sharp keel down the center of it. The sharp keel gives the turtle its common name. The body of the razorback musk turtle is grey, brown. The head shape of this turtle is bulbous. A male razorback musk turtle has a longer tail than the female razorback musk turtle, which gives it a characteristic to differentiate. 

Out of the many types of musk turtles, the most preferred pet is the common musk turtle. 

Lifespan Of Musk Turtle

The typical lifespan of a healthy musk turtle is 30 to 50 years. However, some musk turtles live beyond the 50-year mark with proper care. Therefore, buying a musk turtle as a pet is a long-term investment. You will never feel alone if you have a musk turtle as a pet. 

Musk Turtle Size

The typical musk turtle grows up to 3 inches on the lower end and 5.5 inches on the larger specimens. The small size of the musk turtle makes it an ideal pet for any size of tank. The musk turtle has a size of barely 1 inch in length at birth. The growth cycle is slow, and they do not exceed the 5-inch mark.

Natural Habitat and Origin

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 the water.

These turtles are mostly found in the wetlands and the littoral zones. They like to inhabit shallow water bodies with a low current flow that suits their tiny bodies. The turtle is also capable of slow climbing, which is why you can see it on fallen, submerged trees in its natural habitat during basking. These inhabit wetlands with coarse woody debris because basking is very important for their health. The turtles take up the shoreline and shift to the land for nesting. Since it is an extension of the mud turtle family, it hibernates under the mud at times.

The musk turtle, particularly the common musk turtle, is found in the North American wetlands of southern Ontario, Southern Quebec, Maine, and Texas. The turtle was first scientifically described in 1801 by the French taxonomist Pierre André Latreille. The first specimen of the musk turtle was collected from South Carolina. Twenty-four years later, the turtle was given its own genus Sternotherus.

Musk Turtle Care & Tank Set-Up

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 of 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 turtle that is 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 harasses 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 the 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 where the turtle can easily come out of the water to bask. The species rarely comes out of the water but it should be given an optional place it can use to get away from water when it desires to.

Tank Size and Specifications

The tank size for the musk turtle does not have to be too large, but it needs a capacity range of 20-40 gallons. The tank or enclosure must be shallow enough for the turtle to touch the bed. This is because the musk turtles are bottom feeders. The tank needs to have a filter because they need clean water to thrive. The water, however, should not be chlorinated. It is better to use a filter that is apt for shallow water filtration for frequent cleaning.

Optimum Tank Size for Musk Turtle

The optimum tank size for a musk turtle is 20 to 25 gallons.

Tank Shape for A Musk Turtle

The tank or enclosure can be square, rectangular or circular.

Filter Type

The filter type is very important for the maintenance of the water. Musk turtles are very messy, which is why you need a high-performance filter that cleans the water regularly. However, do not go for a power filter because such filters are not compatible with a low current aquatic environment. For the size of the tank, you need double the capacity of the filter. For example, you need a 50-gallon filter for a 25-gallon tank.

Moreover, you need a filter that stays silent and does not clog often. A loud filter will only disturb you and the turtle. When using the filter, always give your turtle tank a thorough cleaning every month.


The substrate you choose does not need to be too high maintenance. The musk turtle does not need something very fancy on the bed. It is more important to keep the water non-chlorinated and clean. Do not choose a substrate that can choke your turtle up. If you want, you can go with a bare bottom. A bare bottom poses no choking hazards and is easy to clean. 

If you still want to put a substrate on the bottom of the tank, it is better to go with medium-sized gravel as a substrate. However, this will always be optional. The gravel will add a very natural feel to the enclosure. Instead of the substrate, you can add a basking area for your turtle.

How Many Turtles Are In 50 Gallon Tank?

Keeping two musk turtles in one enclosure needs space of 40 to 50 gallons.

Water Parameters for Musk Turtle

Water Temperature

The water inside the tank needs to be warm and clean for the Musk Turtle’s comfort. The water temperature needs to be at nearly 25 degrees Celsius at all times. You can use a water heater to maintain the temperature.

Water Flow Rate

The water level should be around 7 inches for the adult musk turtle. The water needs to be shallow and low current.

Water pH Level

The perfect water pH level for musk turtle is 6.5 to 7.5.

Water Hardness Level

Since the natural habitat of these turtles is lakes or rivulets, the tank water should not be too hard. Soft water is ideal for musk turtles.

Musk Turtle Tank Landscape

Lighting for Musk Turtle Tanks

For the proper health maintenance of the turtle, the 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 raise the temperature of the enclosure air to about 80°F.

For the bulbs to use in the tank, you should 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, not to 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 is not a requirement, but if you prefer to have your tank fitted with the substrate using mid-sized gravel can just do the work for you.

Basking Area

A basking area for your turtle is a must because the turtles bask nearly every day in their natural habitat. The absence of basking can cause fungal infections in the turtle’s body. Basking is also necessary to keep all the vitamins and micronutrient levels up in the body as it helps in assimilation. A musk turtle tank or enclosure needs a basking area for this reason.

Setting up the basking area is very easy. You have to put a raised platform in the enclosure simply.

Do not worry about the small turtle climbing onto the platform; these animals are climbers. The platform has to be above water. The platform needs proper UVB lighting to create a simulation of natural sunlight. You can also use a heat bulb. You do not have to worry about the heat bulb drying up the turtle; turtles are very different from fish. The raised platform can be of different designs and layouts, but it needs to be stable for the turtle to bask on. The basking area can be decorated with grass or leaves to create a nature-like look. You can make a basking area from a wooden platform or buy one from any pet shop. Make the little guy feel at home, and it will thrive.

Feeding Musk Turtle

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 dragonflies. The turtle is also known to chase small tadpoles including terrestrial insects that fall into the water.

Best Diet for Musk Turtle

The turtle also feeds on plants which include duckweed and Elodea making it a complete omnivore. They even eat fruits (select ones), insects, and pellets. If you want to provide a very balanced meal to your beloved pet turtle, provide it with a meal of pellets, dried insects, and occasional fruits and vegetables. However, fruits and vegetables packed with phosphorus are not good for musk turtles.

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

When giving meat to your turtle, it is better to offer cooked meat. While all meats are usually safe for a musk turtle to eat, the meat should not contain high-fat levels. Moreover, when cooking meat for the turtle, do not add any condiments to it. No seasoning like salt or pepper is needed. Turtles cannot know the taste of spices. Instead, it harms them to an extent. 

While musk turtles are easy to feed, you should avoid feeding them processed foods. The musk turtle is not used to processed food in its diet. You should avoid food items such as cheese, salami, and bread. You might think that pellets come packaged and are a type of processed food; they are safe for turtles because they are designed for them. However, you have to choose a good brand of pellet as feed for your turtle. 

How often should you feed Musk Turtle?

You can easily feed your turtle using the 15-minute rule. The 15-minute rule is to give a lot of food to your turtle and let it eat it freely for the next 15-minutes. Once 15 minutes are up, you remove the food from the enclosure. However, since musk turtles are opportunistic feeders, you have to be very careful of how much food you put in the enclosure. Another method of feeding the musk turtle is to give it the same amount of food that would be the size of its head.

Musk Turtle Behavior And Temperament

Turtles, in general, are not social, and musk turtles are no exceptions. Musk turtles usually like their own space and do not interact with other turtles. Although these turtles are not always silent, they are also not entirely social.

Are Musk Turtles lone or societal in nature?

The musk turtle is a calm animal because it spends most of its time underwater. It will only search for the land area when it needs to lay eggs. The turtle can also climb driftwood that is partially submerged in water. That is why you can decorate its tank with driftwood. Although the musk turtle spends a lot of time in the water, it is a poor swimmer. The species is more known as a walker.

One of the most highlighted behaviors of the musk turtle that makes it different from other turtles is its ability to release a liquid with a musky fragrance as a defense mechanism. You have to carefully handle the stinkpot turtle if you do not want to be a bit or get a bad stink from their release.

Musk Turtle Tank Mates

Ideal Musk Turtle Tank Mates 

Small fishes are not ideal tank mates for the Musk Turtle. However, intelligent and slender fishes like Tetras, zebras, or yellow cichlids are ideal tank mates for musk turtles.

Bad Tank Mates for Musk Turtle

Musk Turtles are very territorial and introverted. Therefore, they get cranky around males of their species. Keeping a pair of male musk turtles is usually not recommended. On the other hand, if female musk turtle and male ones are kept close, the male turtle may harass her a lot. Moreover, tropical fishes like goldfishes are not ideal tank mates for musk turtles.

Breeding Musk Turtles

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 trees 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.

Musk Turtle Common Diseases and their Treatment

While musk turtles are easy to care for and hardly suffer from diseases, some diseases may occur in a pet turtle. For example, fungal infections are common if the turtle is not given enough space for basking. On the other hand, cuts and bruises on the body of a musk turtle are also common if there is décor with sharp edges. Sometimes housing a musk turtle with a more aggressive species can lead to cuts and bruises on its soft body. Respiratory issues and swollen eyes also arise from the lack of vitamins in the feed. Therefore, the lighting and feed for musk turtles have to be very specific. 

Facts About the Musk Turtle

  • The musk turtle is considered a terrapin.
  • The musk turtle is a native species of the North American ecosystem .
  • The musk turtle belongs to the Kinosternidae family of reptiles. 
  • The common musk turtle releases a certain musky odor giving it an alternative name of Stinkpot.
  • The natural habitat of the Musk turtle is freshwater bodies.
  • The age of maturity for a musk turtle is usually 3 to 4 years.
  • The shell of the turtle is usually 3-5 inches long.
  • Musk turtles are hardly 1 inch in length at birth.

Are Musk Turtles Right for You?

The musk turtle is a good pick if you are not shy of keeping someone else other than fishes in your aquarium. These small reptiles are a good pick for mixed aquariums. The musk turtle is the perfect option if you want to introduce diversity into your aquascape. 


What Is Another Name for The Musk Turtle?

There are multiple types of musk turtle, and the name for the musk turtle also varies according to the type. The most common musk turtle has an alternative name of stinkpot turtle. It is also called the Eastern Musk turtle because it is found in the eastern parts of the USA. Other types of musk turtles are called loggerhead musk turtle and razorback musk turtle. 

Can The Musk Turtle Be Aggressive?

Yes, the musk turtle can be aggressive if it feels threatened or attacked. Though small, the turtle will scratch you or bite you if it feels attacked. Therefore, it is very important to make them feel at home. Always try to pair them with compatible tank mates and décor to keep the aggressive streak in check. 

What Is the Conservation Level for Musk Turtles?

Only the flattened musk turtle is on the critically endangered list. All other musk turtles are kept under the least concern category in the IUCN Red List. Despite the threats, adoption and other conservation efforts are to save this beautiful aquatic animal. 


The musk turtle is a much-loved pet around the world. The pet is easily found in pet shops and aquarium shops. The musk turtle is small in size and easy to care for. An aquatic enthusiast at the beginner level can keep a musk turtle with a little effort. Moreover, these reptiles can live for more than 50 years when cared for properly. Therefore, these small turtles can be your lifelong friends. You don’t have to worry about your pet bereavement if you adopt one. The bottom line of this care guide is that the musk turtle needs a comfortable and safe habitat to thrive in.

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