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Wood Turtle

State Threatened

Wood turtles (Clemmys insculpta) are a very fascinating and rare turtle. Found only in a few northern counties in Virginia, this turtle is listed as state threatened. Some specimens can obtain a length of nearly 10 inches. A distinguishing characteristic is the raised rings found on each scute of the carapace that give it a sculpted or textured look. The neck and forelimbs of these turtles are usually bright orange to red.

Wood turtles are terrestrial during the wet summer months where they cross through bogs, woods and open fields foraging for food. During drier times, they will move into permanent bodies of water where they will feed on algae, berries, insects, fish, mollusks, tadpoles and worms.

Mating takes place in spring, and 10-12 eggs are deposited by the female into a freshly dug hole in the soil. The young hatch a few months later and begin their independent lives. Sometimes they may even overwinter inside of the egg and emerge the following spring.

Perhaps one of the most intelligent turtles, wood turtles in some northern populations have exhibited a fascinating behavior termed “worm stomping.” Worm stomping is believed to entice worms to the surface by simulating raindrops. Wood turtles have been observed to alternately stomp each front leg on the ground at approximately one second intervals. As the worms emerge, they are devoured by the turtles. Some sessions have been observed for over 15 minutes!

Wood turtles are at serious risk of becoming endangered in most of their home range. This is due in part to over collecting wild individuals for the pet trade, habitat loss and wetland degradation.

Wood Turtle information from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries

Biology of the North American Wood Turtle