The stinkpot and some ways to get involved in turtle conservation

The stinkpot a.k.a. Eastern musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus):

The stinkpot, or the Eastern Musk turtle is definitely one of the smallest turtles out there.  At most, it can reach about 13 cm, the average sized female is 8 cm (33).  You may be curious as to where the “stinkpot” got its charming nickname from.  Well, you probably guessed it, but the stinkpot emits a funky, musky odour from glands at the bottom of its shell.  If you are familiar with our furry black and white friend, the skunk, you also probably know not to go near it.   Same idea applies here, the stinkpot’s scent is emitted when it gets stressed out and scared.  Stinkpots are usually very dark in appearance, as seen in the above picture.

They’re very shy creatures, so that makes them a bit hard to research.  I tried to post a video of these turtles, but all I could find were videos of dark circles zipping around in murky water.  They are nocturnal, meaning that they usually go about their business at night.  During the day they prefer to hide out in the mud.  The stinkpot prefers to live in areas with quiet, shallow waters.  They will walk along freshwater bottoms and go probing for food with their heads.  These turtles are highly aquatic and don’t really do too well on land since they can dry up easily (33).  Their distribution in Ontario can be found below:

Females mature at around 8 to 9 years of age, and then tend to lay eggs in June or July, although they don’t always do this every year.  Adult survival of this species is pretty high, but its eggs are vulnerable to being drowned, as I discussed yesterday.  One of the biggest conservation issues with these turtles (like many other species) is habitat loss (7)(33).  The wetlands that they prefer to live in are being converted through shoreline development.  The stinkpot was last assessed as “Threatened” by both COSEWIC and SARA in 2002.  In Ontario, this turtle is protected by the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.  This makes it illegal to hunt, trap, hold in captivity, sell, or purchase them without a government permit (33).

What can I do?

Now that we’re nearing the end of turtle week, I hope that you have developed some interest in these wonderful creatures!  If you are considering becoming active in turtle conservation, I have listed some organizations that may interest you:

Society for Conservation Biology
If you live in the Kingston area, join the SCB!  The goal of the SCB is to “educate students, faculty and members of the Kingston community on issues pertaining to the conservation of biodiversity, and to work to reduce the loss of biodiversity.”  If you don’t live near Kingston, join the international chapter.

Urban Turtle Initiative and Ontario Turtle Tally.
This is a program run by the Toronto Zoo and Rouge Park in Toronto.  Their mission statement is to “determine the population size, distribution and habitat usage of turtle species in the Rouge Valley, in order to make recommendations for the conservation management of these species.”  In the past, this program has worked with the snapping turtle, the Blanding’s turtle and Northern map turtle.  Now, they are interested in finding the critical habitats of the elusive stinkpot as well.  You can help this program by participating in the Ontario Turtle Tally and reporting your turtle sightings!

Kids for Turtles
If you know any young kids and wish to get them excited about turtles, this is a great program.  Kids for Turtles is an organization that works within Simcoe County and in the Muskoka region.  Their mission statement is to bring “turtles and children (past and present) together in an organized forum through public outreach and awareness efforts to facilitate a promising future for our environment.”  Time to indulge in a cliche: children are our future!  Make sure that they are aware of Ontario’s turtle conservation issues, too.

Kawartha Turtle Trauma Center

The Kawartha Turtle Trauma Center is a group that is actively involved in rehabilitation of injured or sick turtles.  Become a member today!  You can volunteer if you live in a nearby region of Peterborough, or support them through donations.

Turtle S.H.E.L.L. Tortue
Turtle SH.E.L.L. Tortue is “a registered Canadian charitable organization dedicated to turtles Safety Habitat Education Long Life”.  This group maintains a Turtle Care Center in Rockland, ON and their goal is to “encourage community involvement and to assist educational authorities in developing programs to reach the public and students of all ages”.  This site is particularly great because it provides a list of where you can bring injured turtles from anywhere in Ontario.

If you are interested in more groups, check out the Canadian Wildlife Service’s Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk in Ontario.


I’m sad, but turtle week has finally come to an end!  I hope you guys have enjoyed all my posts, and I really hope that I’ve convinced you that turtles are wonderful little creatures that need our help.  Turtles are awesome!  I’d be really happy if everyone has come away from this with a new piece of knowledge.  As you can see, sometimes the issues affecting conservations are highly complex.  Through this week alone, I have gone through several conservation issues, and all of them have varying effects on the species that I have discussed.  These conservation issues aren’t mutually exclusive either, as each individual species can be affected by a combination of many.  I have talked about many concepts that I really hope you will remember; including habitat fragmentation, habitat loss, global climate change, overexploitation etc.  Although I have chosen to focus on Ontario’s species alone, these problems that I have mentioned are prevalent all over the world.  It becomes easy to lose hope since we know that we can’t save the whole world by ourselves.  However, if we each contributed our little bit to conservation efforts, you’d be surprised as to how far we could go.  As one of my T.A.s would say, “Think globally, act locally!”

Thanks everyone.

Why don’t we end off this week with a good-natured turtle dance? 😀

Credit YouTube user: chestercheato



One thought on “The stinkpot and some ways to get involved in turtle conservation

  1. “They are nocturnal, meaning that they usually go about their business at night. During the day they prefer to hide out in the mud.”

    Finally, a turtle I can relate to, in addition to being shy, I am also nocturnal. During the day I prefer to hide in UW. SNAP

    “The stinkpot prefers to live in areas with quiet, shallow waters.”

    Sweet, I can’t swim.

    “These turtles are highly aquatic..”

    Comparison ends here.

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