Common Musk Turtle: The Complete Care Guide


If you are considering getting a common musk turtle as a pet, it is important to understand their unique care requirements. These aquatic turtles may be small, but they have big personalities and can make great pets for experienced reptile owners who are willing to take the time to properly care for them.

Introduction to Common Musk Turtles

Native to North America, common musk turtles are known for their strong musky odor, which they produce from scent glands on their bodies. They are also sometimes referred to as “stinkpots” for this reason. Despite their distinctive smell, these turtles have become popular pets due to their relatively small size and colorful markings.

Common musk turtles are fascinating creatures with a lot of interesting characteristics. Their unique scent is just one of the many things that make them stand out from other turtle species. In this article, we will explore some of the most fascinating aspects of common musk turtles, including their species overview, natural habitat, and lifespan and size.

Species Overview

Common musk turtles are a small species of aquatic turtle that typically grows to be around 3-4 inches in length. They have a dark shell with yellowish stripes or spots, and their skin is usually dark brown or black. Unlike many other turtle species, common musk turtles do not have webbed feet. Instead, they have long claws that help them to climb onto rocks and other surfaces in their natural habitat.

One of the most interesting things about common musk turtles is their ability to produce a strong musky odor from scent glands on their bodies. This odor is used as a defense mechanism to deter predators from attacking them. In addition to their unique scent, common musk turtles are also known for their hardy nature and adaptability to a wide range of temperatures and water conditions.

Natural Habitat

In the wild, common musk turtles are found in lakes, ponds, streams, and other bodies of water throughout North America. They prefer slow-moving water with lots of vegetation and mud or sandy substrate. Common musk turtles are excellent swimmers and spend most of their time in the water. However, they also need access to dry land to bask in the sun and regulate their body temperature.

Common musk turtles are omnivores and feed on a variety of foods, including insects, crustaceans, small fish, and aquatic plants. They are also known to scavenge for food and will eat carrion if it is available.

Lifespan and Size

With proper care, common musk turtles can live for up to 50 years or more in captivity. They typically grow to be around 3-4 inches in length, although some individuals may reach up to 5 inches long. Common musk turtles are relatively easy to care for and make great pets for both novice and experienced turtle keepers.

If you are considering getting a common musk turtle as a pet, it is important to provide them with a suitable habitat that includes both water and dry land. You will also need to feed them a balanced diet and provide them with proper lighting and heating to ensure their health and wellbeing. With proper care and attention, your common musk turtle can be a fascinating and rewarding pet for many years to come.

Setting Up the Perfect Enclosure

The key to keeping a common musk turtle healthy and happy is providing them with a suitable enclosure. Here are some important factors to consider when setting up their living space:

Choosing the Right Tank Size

A common musk turtle requires a tank that is at least 20-30 gallons in size. However, it is always better to opt for a larger tank if you have the space and budget. This will give your turtle plenty of space to swim and explore, as well as room for any necessary equipment like filters and heaters. It is important to remember that turtles can grow quite large, so a bigger tank will be beneficial in the long run.

Substrate Selection

The best substrate for a common musk turtle is a mix of sand and mud, which will allow them to burrow and help maintain good water quality. You can also add some river rocks to the bottom of the tank to provide a more natural look. Avoid using gravel or other sharp materials that could injure your turtle. It is also important to clean the substrate regularly to prevent the buildup of harmful bacteria and waste.

Water Filtration and Quality

Clean water is crucial for your musk turtle’s health. A good filtration system, such as a canister filter, will help keep the water clean and free from harmful bacteria. Additionally, you should use a water conditioner to remove harmful chemicals and metals from tap water before adding it to the tank. It is important to monitor the water quality regularly and perform partial water changes as needed.

Heating and Lighting Requirements

Common musk turtles require a basking area where they can dry off and warm up. This should be provided with a heat lamp that maintains a temperature of around 88-90 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also use a thermometer to monitor the temperature and adjust the lamp accordingly. Ultraviolet (UV) lighting is also important for these turtles, as it helps them metabolize calcium and stay healthy. You can use a UVB bulb to provide the necessary lighting.

Aquatic Plants and Decorations

Adding plants and other decorations to your musk turtle’s tank can create a more natural and stimulating environment. Live aquatic plants like java fern or hornwort are great options, as they can provide oxygen and help maintain water quality. You can also add some rocks, logs, or other decorations to provide hiding spots and climbing opportunities for your turtle. However, it is important to avoid overcrowding the tank, as this can lead to poor water quality and stress for your turtle.

Feeding and Care

In addition to providing a suitable enclosure, it is important to feed your musk turtle a balanced diet. They are omnivores and require a mix of animal and plant-based foods. You can feed them commercial turtle pellets, as well as live or frozen foods like bloodworms, brine shrimp, and earthworms. It is also important to provide them with a calcium supplement to prevent shell deformities and other health issues.

Regular health checkups with a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles are also important to ensure that your musk turtle stays healthy and happy. By following these guidelines, you can create the perfect enclosure for your common musk turtle and enjoy many years of companionship with your aquatic friend.

Feeding Your Common Musk Turtle

In the wild, common musk turtles are omnivores that eat a variety of foods including insects, small fish, and plant matter. In captivity, you can mimic their natural diet with a combination of the following:

Nutritional Requirements

Common musk turtles require a balanced diet that includes both protein and plant matter. Protein should make up about 50% of their diet, while the other half should be made up of vegetables, fruits, and leafy greens. It is important to note that the exact nutritional requirements of your musk turtle may vary depending on factors such as age, size, and activity level.

Protein is essential for growth and development, and can be obtained from a variety of sources. In addition to earthworms, mealworms, crickets, and prawns, you can also offer your musk turtle small pieces of cooked chicken or turkey. It is important to avoid feeding your turtle raw meat or meat that has been seasoned or cooked with oils or spices.

Plant matter is also important for your musk turtle’s health. Leafy greens such as kale, collard greens, and dandelion greens are a great source of vitamins and minerals. Other vegetables such as carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes can also be offered in small amounts. Fruits such as strawberries, melon, and papaya can be offered as occasional treats.

Types of Food

Good protein sources for musk turtles include earthworms, mealworms, crickets, and prawns. They also enjoy small pieces of fish or shrimp. Vegetables like kale, collard greens, and carrots, as well as fruits like strawberries and melon, can also be offered as occasional treats.

It is important to vary your turtle’s diet to ensure they are getting all the nutrients they need. You can rotate between different protein sources and vegetables to provide a balanced diet. Avoid feeding your turtle the same thing every day, as this can lead to nutritional deficiencies.

Feeding Schedule and Tips

A good feeding schedule for musk turtles is to offer small amounts of food once a day, either in the morning or evening. Avoid overfeeding, as this can lead to obesity and other health issues. Always remove any uneaten food after an hour or so to maintain good water quality.

In addition to a balanced diet, it is important to provide your musk turtle with clean, fresh water at all times. You can also offer a calcium supplement to help support healthy bone growth.

By providing your musk turtle with a varied, balanced diet and proper care, you can help ensure they live a long and healthy life.

Health and Wellness

Like any pet, musk turtles can experience health issues from time to time. However, with proper care and attention, you can help your turtle stay healthy and happy for years to come. Here are some common issues to watch for, and tips on maintaining your turtle’s overall health:

Common Health Issues

Respiratory infections are a common health issue for musk turtles, especially if their enclosure is not kept clean and well-maintained. Signs of a respiratory infection may include wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Another common issue is shell damage, which can occur if your turtle is dropped or if their enclosure is not properly set up. Eye infections can also occur, especially if your turtle’s enclosure is not kept clean.

If you notice any signs of illness in your musk turtle, such as lethargy, loss of appetite, or abnormal behavior, it’s important to seek veterinary care right away. With proper treatment, many health issues can be successfully treated.

Preventative Care

The best way to keep your musk turtle healthy is to provide them with proper care from the start. This includes maintaining good water quality, providing a balanced diet, and keeping their enclosure clean and well-maintained. Musk turtles are aquatic creatures, so it’s important to provide them with a large enough tank or pond to swim in. The water should be kept clean and well-filtered, with regular water changes to keep the water quality high.

Musk turtles are omnivores, so their diet should consist of a mix of animal protein and plant matter. Offer your turtle a varied diet that includes commercial turtle pellets, as well as fresh vegetables and insects. Avoid feeding your turtle too much protein, as this can lead to health issues such as shell deformities.

Regular veterinary checkups can also help catch any potential health issues early on. Your vet can perform a physical exam, check your turtle’s overall health, and offer advice on any necessary changes to their care routine.

Signs of a Healthy Turtle

A healthy musk turtle should be active and alert, with clear eyes and a smooth, well-shaped shell. They should also have a healthy appetite and be able to swim easily without any signs of distress. Keep an eye on your turtle’s behavior and appearance, and seek veterinary care if you notice any changes or signs of illness.

With proper care and attention, your musk turtle can live a long and healthy life. By providing them with a clean and comfortable environment, a balanced diet, and regular veterinary care, you can help ensure that your turtle stays happy and healthy for years to come.

Handling and Socialization

Musk turtles can be social creatures, and may enjoy interacting with their owners from time to time. Here are some tips for safely handling your turtle and encouraging socialization:

How to Safely Handle Your Turtle

When handling your musk turtle, be sure to do so gently and without squeezing or pinching. Supporting their body with both hands is key, and you should avoid lifting them by their limbs or tail. Always supervise any interaction between your turtle and other pets or young children.

In addition to handling, it’s important to provide your musk turtle with a comfortable and stimulating environment. This can include a variety of hiding spots, basking areas, and aquatic plants. A well-equipped tank can help your turtle feel safe and secure, which can in turn encourage socialization.

Socialization with Other Turtles

If you have multiple musk turtles, they may enjoy socializing with each other in their tank. However, be sure to monitor their interactions to ensure they are getting along and not showing signs of aggression or stress.

It’s also important to note that different species of turtles may not get along, so be sure to do your research before introducing a new turtle to your tank. In general, musk turtles tend to do well with other musk turtles, but may not be compatible with other species.

Interaction with Humans

Musk turtles may not be as social with humans as some other pet species, but they can still enjoy bonding with their owners. Talking to or gently stroking your turtle during feeding or maintenance time can help them feel more comfortable and build trust with you.

It’s also important to provide your turtle with a varied and nutritious diet, as this can help keep them healthy and happy. In addition to commercial turtle food, musk turtles may enjoy small amounts of cooked vegetables, fruits, and even insects.

Overall, with proper care and attention, musk turtles can make great pets and enjoyable companions. By providing a comfortable environment and gentle handling, you can encourage socialization and build a strong bond with your turtle.

Breeding Common Musk Turtles

If you are interested in breeding common musk turtles, it is important to do so responsibly and with proper planning. Here are some basic tips for getting started:

Determining Gender

Males and females can be difficult to tell apart in young turtles, but as they mature, males will usually develop longer and thicker tails, as well as larger claws on their front feet. Additionally, males tend to have a concave plastron, while females have a flat plastron. It is important to correctly identify the gender of your turtles before attempting to breed them.

Creating the Ideal Breeding Environment

When breeding musk turtles, you will need to provide a separate breeding tank with plenty of plants and hiding spots. The water level should be shallow enough for the female to easily lay her eggs, which should then be removed to an incubator for hatching. It is important to maintain a consistent water temperature of around 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as a basking area with a heat lamp for the turtles to warm up in between swimming sessions.

It is also important to ensure that the turtles are in good health before breeding. A veterinarian can perform a check-up and provide advice on any necessary adjustments to their diet or living conditions.

Egg Laying and Incubation

The female musk turtle will usually lay between 1-5 eggs at a time, which will need to be carefully removed and incubated in a separate container. The container should be filled with damp vermiculite or perlite, and the eggs should be buried about halfway into the substrate. It is important to keep the substrate moist and maintain a consistent temperature of around 80 degrees Fahrenheit for successful hatching.

During the incubation period, it is important to regularly check the eggs for any signs of mold or fungus, which can be harmful to the developing embryos. If any eggs show signs of mold or fungus, they should be removed immediately to prevent contamination of the other eggs.

Incubation can take around 8-10 weeks, after which the hatchlings can be carefully removed and transferred to their own tank. The hatchlings should be fed a diet of small, live foods such as brine shrimp or bloodworms, and their tank should be kept clean and well-maintained to ensure their health and growth.


Breeding common musk turtles can be a rewarding and educational experience, but it is important to approach it with care and responsibility. By providing a suitable breeding environment, correctly identifying the gender of your turtles, and carefully incubating and caring for the eggs, you can help to ensure the success of your breeding efforts and the health of your hatchlings.

Conservation and Legal Considerations

As with many reptile species, common musk turtles face threats in the wild from habitat loss, pollution, and overcollection for the pet trade. It is important to understand the challenges faced by these turtles and take steps to protect them.

Habitat Loss

Common musk turtles are found in a variety of aquatic habitats, including streams, ponds, and wetlands. Unfortunately, many of these habitats are under threat from human activities such as urbanization, agriculture, and resource extraction. When their habitats are destroyed or degraded, musk turtles may struggle to find suitable places to live and reproduce.


Water pollution is a major threat to common musk turtles, as they depend on clean water to survive. Pollutants such as pesticides, fertilizers, and industrial chemicals can harm turtles directly or indirectly by killing the plants and animals they rely on for food. Additionally, plastic waste can be mistaken for food and ingested by turtles, causing serious health problems.

Overcollection for the Pet Trade

Common musk turtles are popular pets due to their small size and ease of care. However, overcollection for the pet trade can have serious consequences for wild populations. When turtles are taken from the wild, it can disrupt their natural behaviors and reduce their chances of survival. To prevent contributing to the decline of wild populations, be sure to only purchase common musk turtles from reputable breeders or adopt them from rescue organizations.

Threats to the Species

It is important to be aware of the threats facing common musk turtles and take steps to help protect them. Additionally, avoid releasing captive turtles into the wild, as this can introduce new diseases or compete with local populations. By being responsible pet owners, we can help ensure the survival of this species for generations to come.

Responsible Pet Ownership

As with any pet, owning a common musk turtle comes with a lot of responsibility. These turtles can live for several decades and require specialized care to thrive. Here are some tips for responsible pet ownership:

  • Provide a suitable habitat: Common musk turtles need a tank or pond with clean, filtered water and a basking area where they can dry off and regulate their body temperature.
  • Feed a balanced diet: Musk turtles are omnivores and require a varied diet that includes both animal and plant matter. Commercial turtle pellets can be supplemented with fresh vegetables, fruits, and protein sources such as insects or small pieces of meat.
  • Handle with care: While musk turtles can be handled, they are not as social as some other pet reptiles and may become stressed or agitated if handled too frequently. When handling your turtle, be gentle and avoid picking it up by the tail.

Legal Requirements and Permits

Depending on where you live, you may need to obtain permits or follow specific regulations for keeping a common musk turtle as a pet. Some states or countries may prohibit ownership of this species altogether. Check with your local wildlife or pet import/export agencies to ensure you are following all necessary guidelines. By following the rules and regulations, we can help prevent illegal trade and protect wild populations of common musk turtles.


Keeping a common musk turtle as a pet can be a rewarding experience for both the animal and the owner, but it is important to do so responsibly and with proper care. By following the guidelines outlined in this care guide, you can help ensure your musk turtle stays happy and healthy for years to come.

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