Mud Turtle Care

TheCritterCove is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. See more here.

mud turtle care

Mud turtles are great pets because they’re easy to care for and there’s a variety of species to pick from.

Mud turtles are a type of aquatic turtle that can be found in North America and can be distinguished by their two strong plastral hinges.

Mud turtles make great pets and are easy to care for, but there are a few things you should know before you decide to own one.

In this post, we’ll go through the standard care requirements of the genus Kinosternon (mud turtles), which includes at least fifteen species and a number of subspecies.

Since this article is comprised of information that fits mostly all types of mud turtles, it’s critical to conduct a further study for the species of mud turtle you’re caring for, in order to have the best results with your pet turtle.

Overview on Mud Turtles

eastern mud turtle
Eastern mud turtle

The mud turtles, which are one of the most numerous turtles in terms of the number of species, can be found from the Canadian Southern border to central South America and are a part of the subfamily of Kinosterninae.

They can be identified by having ten or eleven scutes on the turtle carapace.

Many of these species are more carnivorous than most turtles because they eat primarily fish, snails, crabs, and insects in their natural diets.

The popular mud turtle, the Kinosternon subrubrum (Eastern Mud turtle), has a maximum length of 5 inches (12 cm) in the wild. In nature, however, some species of mud turtles can grow up to 9 inches (22 cm).

Mud turtles are also popular in the aquarium hobby for their distinct coloring, docility, and eating habits. With plenty of research and knowledge on hand, mud turtles are simple to maintain as long as a person is willing to provide some basic needs.

It’s now feasible to acquire many of these species as hatchlings from captive-born stock due to the breeders’ success with them.

Note: Many of the species are endangered or threatened in nature; they should not be removed from the wild.

RELATED READ: Types of Pet Turtles

Physical Characteristics

3 Striped Mud turtle
3 Striped Mud turtle

In the United States, five species of mud turtles exist.

The striped mud turtle is one of the most readily recognized. This turtle measures only a few inches in length and is small even for mud turtles. It has two powerful plastral hinges, as do all mud turtles.

The common mud turtle, often known as the eastern mud turtle, lives in the same general region as the striped mud turtle. This animal is tiny yet does not have a carapacial stripe.

The markings on this subspecies are generally faint and inconspicuous, with the exception of yellow mottling or faint stripes on the head, especially in mississippi mud turtles. This subspecies is frequently mistaken with the striped mud turtle because of its resemblance to it, although it has a carapacial striping.

The yellow mud turtle is found further to the west. The carapace is a drab olive or brown, while the skin is yellow and can range to grey.

Two additional species have just been documented in the United States: the rough-footed mud turtle and the sonoran mud turtle. The Sonoran mud turtle is a mid-size mud turtle that is somewhat elongated and has an olive-brown carapace with darker markings.

The only subspecies of the mexican mud turtle that enters the United States is the rough-footed mud turtle, which lives in Texas. This species has three carapacial keels, whereas the skin is dark and has a fine reticulated pattern on the head.

The majority of mud turtles can be found in Mexico, Central, and South America.

Herrera’s mud turtle, narrow-bridged mud turtle, dunn’s mud turtle, and creaser’s mud turtle have only been barely documented, with little information on their natural history.

The white-lipped mud turtle and the scorpion mud turtle are two of the more unusual mud turtles.

The white-lipped mud turtle has a black carapace with a yellow plastron. The jaws’ edges are cream, although they may be marred by dark smudges, according to its name.

The red-cheeked mud turtle is a member of the scorpion mud turtle family (there are six recognized subspecies). These turtles are medium-sized and have three keels on their carapaces. The carapace is yellowish, with an orange tint to the plastron. Most significantly, the side of the turtle’s head can be red or orange, giving it its popular name.

Many of the mud turtle species appear quite similar to the untrained eye. The presence in wild populations of individuals who are intergraded or hybrids between different populations and species adds to the confusion.

Obtaining information on a single turtle may be difficult without a confirmed identification.

RELATED READ: How to Take Care of a Baby Turtle



The males of all species in the subfamily Kinosterninae have a longer, thicker tail than the females. Many also have vincular and horny tails.

Some species, on the other hand, lack these elements, or both females and males possess them (for example, as with the yellow mud turtle, herrera’s mud turtle, and oaxaca mud turtle).

In certain species (dunn’s mud turtle, alamos mud turtle, rough-footed mud turtle, mexican mud turtle, and white-lipped mud turtle), the male is larger than the female. However, females are larger in tabasco mud turtle, narrow-bridged mud turtle, and sonoran mud turtles.

Some species have other sexually dimorphic characteristics. For example, the male narrow-bridged mud turtle has an enlarged snout.

Finally, the plastron of the male in a few species has a slight concavity.

RELATED READ: Do Turtles Fight and Why?

Types of Mud Turtles

Mud turtles are found in the wild, but there are several different kinds of mud turtles that are frequently kept as pets and some that are not that often kept.

Tabasco Mud Turtle (Kinosternon acutum)
Alamos Mud turtle (Kinosternon alamosae)
Narrow-bridged Mud turtle (Kinosternon angustipons)
Striped Mud turtle (Kinosternon baurii)
Creaser’s Mud turtle (Kinosternon creaseri)
Dunn’s Mud turtle (Kinosternon dunni)
Yellow Mud turtle (Kinosternon flavescens)
Herrera’s Mud turtle (Kinosternon herrerai)
Rough-footed Mud turtle (Kinosternon hirtipes)
Mexican Mud turtle (Kinosternon integrum)
White-lipped Mud turtle (Kinosternon leucostomum)
Mud Turtle (Kinosternon longicaudatum)
Oaxaca Mud turtle (Kinosternon oaxacae)
Scorpion Mud turtle (Kinosternon scorpioides)
Sonoran Mud turtle (Kinosternon sonoriense)
Eastern Mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum)
Kinosternon – the Mud turtles

Selection and Acquisition

baby mud turtle
baby mud turtle

Find a mud turtle breeder if you wish to keep the turtle as a pet. They do exist, and more herpetoculturists are using tiny turtles like mud turtles on a daily basis.

Captive-born turtles are the most disease-free and easy to maintain. Purchase a turtle from the local area or at least within the United States if captive-born turtles aren’t available.

Because of their greater habitat use, North American mud turtles have received considerably more study than other types of mud turtles. This has made it simpler to design an appropriate enclosure and give a suitable diet for them when having them as pets.

When caring for mud turtles, keep the following in mind:

  • It’s important not to scare them, since even brief captive periods might produce a deadly accumulation of internal parasites.
  • Mixing specimens from various locations (which increases the risk of disease transmission) is not a good idea.
  • If a turtle appears to be sick because of an illness acquired in captivity, do not let it go in the wild.

It’s important to inspect the turtles before buying, looking for injuries, general conditions, and sex. After purchasing the turtle, check it for parasites both internally and externally.

RELATED READ: How Much Does a Turtle Cost?


mud turtle habitat
mud turtle habitat

The habitat for mud turtles varies depending on the species, but they prefer still or slow-moving water bodies.

Soft-bodied beds are frequently found in preferred areas by them, which include sand or mud and provide a plentiful amount of aquatic vegetation.

Even among turtles from the same species or subspecies, particular habitats might be utilized because of a complex interplay of elements. The intrinsic qualities of the surroundings, such as ground type and vegetation cover, interact with other aspects including a plentiful local predator population, habitat change (either naturally or by human intervention), and shifting local climatic conditions.

Basking sites aren’t required, but they do come in handy for some species. Some turtle, especially those who live in dry climates, prefer to dwell in temporary bodies of water.

The turtles will estivate in the dried mud during the dry season, waiting for the rain to replenish the water supply.


3 striped mud turtle
3 striped mud turtle

If proper care is taken to address the needs of mud turtles in captivity, they may be kept as pets.

Outdoor Housing

Part or all of the year, outdoor maintenance may be required based on the species and local climate. Animals kept outside will require access to a water area as well as some sort of land space.

Turtles should be prevented from entering or passing through the regions by means of a fence that is built in such a manner that they cannot get through or under it.

It’s possible that mud turtles are preyed on by large birds or climbing animals like raccoons, necessitating the whole enclosure to be covered to prevent losses.

Outdoor care has the benefit of providing a more natural setting for the turtle, but it does not always allow the keeper to carefully watch for symptoms of illness.

A mud turtle’s outdoor enclosure should be both aesthetically appealing and safe for the animal. Larger ponds with advanced filtration may be utilized to create a beautiful outdoor home for your mud turtle.

Indoor Housing

These days, indoor maintenance of a turtle is the norm. With the majority of mud turtles being tiny animals, common aquariums may be used to create suitable conditions.

Smaller mud turtles, such as striped mud turtles or eastern mud turtles, may be kept in a 20 or 40-gallon aquarium, whereas the larger species require greater space.

chewy product

Top Pick

Glasscages Turtle 45 Gallons Tank with Platform & Ramp

If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Many of the bigger mud turtles may grow to be big enough to demand more space. Although many mud turtles are known as being largely aquatic in nature, several will go on land and might profit from having a land area in their enclosure.

If breeding is planned or may occur, a sandy dirt area of sufficient depth is needed to allow egg-laying.

Silicone aquarium sealant may be used to build land areas in aquariums by lining off a section of the tank with it and fitting the right-size pieces of glass or plastic.

amazon product

Top Pick

Aqueon Aquarium Silicone Sealant

If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Making a suspended “island” in the tank with three pieces of plastic: two stacked vertically and one running horizontally parallel to the bottom but hanging a few inches above it is another approach to save space.

Rocks, cork floats, or plastic ramps can be used to provide access to the ground space. The land area may be open on both ends, but turtles can still pass beneath it.

An underwater ‘cave’ is formed if the land ‘island’ is put at one end of the tank. Many mud turtles benefit from naturally occurring undersea shelters created by rocks or tree roots and employ the machined cave in a similar manner.

RELATED READ: How to Set Up a Turtle Tank


Filtration is required for most aquatic turtle installations. The larger a filtering unit is, the simpler it is to take care of and the cleaner the water will be.

Underwater canister filters, sometimes known as surface-mounted or hanging filters, are a popular choice. Undergravel filters may be clogged with the waste matter in small aquariums.

When designing the enclosure, keep in mind the rate of water exchange. Some mud turtle species prefer still or sluggish-moving water, and they may be harmed if placed in a system with a lot of water movement.

amazon product

Top Pick

Penn-Plax Cascade 600 Fully Submersible Internal Filter

If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

RELATED READ: Best Filters for Turtle Tanks

Water Temperature

The temperature of the water will be determined by the specific species of mud turtle once again.

Some turtles from the northern part of the family’s range, such as the eastern mud turtle, may not need much heating. They might benefit from a cooling off or hibernation period in the winter. Other turtles from the southern part of the range may require supplemental heating all year.

amazon product

Top Pick

KASANMU Aquarium Heater

If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Submersible heaters that can be set to the desired temperature work well in mud turtle enclosures. The heater should be protected from accidental breakage, but it is important that water flow around the heater is not restricted.

The digging and uprooting habits of most mud turtles must also be taken into account.

RELATED READ: The Best Turtle Tank Heater


Different types of mud turtles have different lighting needs. Some mud turtles are active at night, and others during the day.

But even for those that aren’t, many don’t bask in the sun very often, so they won’t need to use a basking lamp often.

You don’t have to use full-spectrum bulbs in your turtle’s enclosure. However, if you have any plants in the enclosure, they will grow better with full-spectrum light. And it’s not bad for the turtle if you do provide it with full-spectrum light.

If you keep your turtle in a room with windows, you will need to provide lights that turn on and off at regular times so the turtle can have a normal day/night cycle. This is especially important if the turtle’s native environment has a different day length than your home.

Different types of turtles have different amounts of seasonal variation in day length.

RELATED READ: The Best UVB Light for Turtles


You can choose to have a lot or a little decoration in your turtle tank, depending on what you want. But it’s important to remember that different types of turtles come from different environments, so try to keep the decorations natural looking.

If you want to see how the turtle behaves in its natural habitat, you might need to set up your tank in a way that is very similar. On the other hand, if you want an easy-to-maintain tank, you might choose a minimalistic setup instead.

The bottom of the tank could be a layer of sand, gravel, or silt. You could also choose to leave it bare. You can also provide rocks, logs, or cork-bark floats.

Broken clay pots are ideal for creating underwater caverns.

Tank decorations can make it hard to keep the water clean because they provide areas where dirt can accumulate.

The turtle’s habitat must be carefully planned. If the turtle can’t get out of the water, it will drown. The plants in the habitat must be replaced every so often, or the turtles will eat them.

Finally, because most mud turtles are foragers, they will dig up or otherwise disrupt aquarium decorations or plants while seeking food.

RELATED READ: Do Turtles Eat Rocks?


mud turtle feeding

Mud turtles are omnivores or carnivores depending on the species, that will consume a variety of foods, depending on what they may find in their surroundings.

Different food items will be eaten by turtles in this subfamily, depending on their environment and the species of turtle. If there are other turtles around, they may compete for food and change what the turtles eat.

Mud turtles in captivity eat many of the same things they eat in the wild. They like to eat insects, earthworms, and fish. For turtles that are omnivorous, it is important to offer them vegetables on a regular basis.

Commercial turtle foods and trout chows can be accepted by most mud turtles, but they may need time to get used to the new food.

Turtles should not be restricted to a certain food; their diet should include a variety of foods to ensure that they get all of the nutrients they require.

Taking vitamins and calcium supplements regularly may help prevent deficiencies if they are not getting enough of these nutrients from their diet.

Captive turtles like to eat calcium blocks that have been combined with vitamin and calcium powder. In addition to getting the benefits of the extra nutrients, the blocks also help keep a turtle’s jaws worn down.

It is important to be careful when feeding your turtles. Some aggressive species have been known to bite their tank mates, which can sometimes lead to loss of limbs.

RELATED READ: Best Turtle Foods


turtles matings

Courting and mating has been described in detail for a number of species in the subfamily Kinosterninae, especially the North American forms

In general, the kinosternids subfamily turtles do not have an elaborate courtship procedure, although there are a number of variations depending on species.

A male will regularly follow a female, smelling at her cloaca and sometimes the connection between the carapace and plastron, in what is known as courtship. This is occasionally followed by a head-on battle or nudge from the male. If the female flees, the male will give up. If she remains, the turtles may copulate.

The male approaches the female from behind or the rear, grasping her shell with all four feet. The male may move backward or upward at an angle to the carapace during actual copulation, depending on their relative sizes and species.

The timing of egg-laying varies considerably according to species and even among individuals in the same species. Some turtles choose to bury their eggs, whereas others prefer to set them in bushes or hidden places.

The breeding season lasts from April until the first week in June. Mud turtles lay several clutches of eggs throughout a single year, with a low number of eggs deposited each time (on average, one to five).

The eggs of mud turtles hatch anywhere from three to five months after being deposited, depending on local conditions and the species involved. Temperature-dependent sex determination is exhibited by mud turtles; males are generated at an intermediate temperature range, whereas females are produced at temperatures higher or lower than this range.

Eggs should be kept moistened in a wet medium (sphagnum moss or a damp/vermiculite combination, for example) at temperatures ranging from 77 to 86 degrees F (25 to 30 degrees C).

Incubation times range from three months to more than six months depending on the temperature and species of turtle.

RELATED READ: African Sideneck Turtle Care

Growth and Development

turtles sitting on top of each other

Some of the smaller mud turtle species produce hatchlings that are among the tiniest in the world.

For example, the size of striped mud turtle hatchlings can vary depending on the size of the eggs. This in turn depends on the size of the female laying the eggs.

Mud turtle hatchlings look a lot like adults, but they have some differences. Some species have more markings that are very different from adults.

The growth rates of hatchlings and juveniles depend on local conditions. This includes the amount of food that is available, how long the year is (so they can feed), and other variables.

Some mud turtles don’t reach their breeding size for up to a decade, especially in regions where the weather is bad or there isn’t much to do. However, mud turtles can live for a long time.

Some turtles have been known to live more than 20 years.

RELATED READ: How Big do Red-Eared Slider Turtles Get?


A number of the species of mud turtles are active at night or during twilight.

This may make it harder to observe their behavior in captivity. Their activity patterns may also change over the course of the year, depending on the environment’s conditions.

Turtles from the northern part of their range usually hibernate for a portion of the year, while turtles in hot, dry regions estivate during the hottest portion of the year, especially if there is no water nearby.

Mud turtles usually live in water, but some species live on land for a while. The eastern mud turtle and striped mud turtle are two examples of mud turtles that spend more time on land.

Most mud turtles are shy and retiring, but they can also be aggressive if they feel threatened. They might bite you if you’re not careful.


turtle handling

Mud turtles are easy to handle.

Some of the larger species in the mud turtle family can deliver a strong bite, so be careful when handling them. These turtles can be dangerous if they are not handled carefully.

They can be very temperamental and their anger does not lessen over time. For these reasons, it is important to handle these turtles with care.

Waste Management

You can reduce or eliminate most waste material by feeding the turtles outside of their enclosure.

To feed your turtle, fill a plastic container with water and place the food in it together with the turtle.

After the turtle eats all the food it wants, place the turtle back in its enclosure and get rid of the dirty water.

This method also helps to get rid of food pieces in the aquarium. It also gets rid of fecal material. Some turtles will poop right before or after they eat.

Exterior feeding lets you watch how much each turtle eats, and it also helps you keep track of the turtles’ health.

RELATED READ: How to Clean a Turtle Tank in 15 Steps

Preventative Health Care

health checkup

If you are buying a turtle, it is important to have it checked by a veterinarian. This will help to make sure that the turtle does not have any internal or external parasites. Mud turtles can carry a wide range of parasites, including leeches, roundworms, tapeworms, and protozoans.

There are three main things to think about when taking care of a turtle:

  • Preventing any incidental infections
  • Treating any injuries the turtle might have
  • Making sure the turtle is eating the right food

Their environment should be carefully monitored in order to prevent or control incidental infections, such as respiratory illnesses, scute infections, or parasite infestations.

You should clean your aquarium regularly, including water changes. You should also quarantine any new or sick turtles. Injuries can occur because of things like sharp rocks or aggressive interactions with other turtles.

If one turtle is harassing the other turtles, they should be given their own enclosure.

You should check the turtles for injuries often and take care of any injuries you find as soon as possible. This will prevent them from getting infected. Clean any wounds with diluted iodine or betadine, or a mixture of both.

The failure to provide a full diet is the most significant source of illness in turtles kept in captivity.

The turtle should not be fed only one food; rather, it should be given a variety of foods. Even carnivorous turtles will take plant material on occasion.

Periodic vitamin and calcium supplementation, usually in the form of a powder sprinkled on food or a liquid injected into a favorite prey item, is beneficial.

Common Problems

There are two types of problems that are usually seen with mud turtles:

  1. Many wild-caught turtles have health problems such as internal and external parasites.
  2. Problems that can happen when you don’t take care of your pet the right way.

RELATED READ: White Film Over Turtles Eyes


Mud turtles are great pets because they’re easy to care for and there’s a variety of species.

To provide the best environment, make sure you have plenty of land space with plants that your turtle can eat or rest on.

Make sure also to clean their enclosure regularly by doing water changes and check them often for injuries or parasites.

If you take good care of your pet mud turtle, it should live about 20-30 years!