Musk 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.

musk turtle care

Musk turtles can be a great addition to any home but should be cared for in a way that takes their specific needs into account.

Musk turtles can be found in many different places. They live in areas near the Canadian border to Florida and West to the Rocky Mountains.

The turtles have three ridges on their shell that go all the way down their back. Their plastron is small and narrow, shaped like a cross, with seven or eight scutes.

Musk turtles are wonderful pets that are fairly easy to care for, but there are a few things you should know before deciding to acquire one.

In this article, we’ll go through the typical maintenance needs of Sternotherus (musk turtles), which include five species.

The type of musk turtle you’re caring for determines whether or not specific information in this blog post is applicable.

It’s critical to do further research on the species of musk turtle you’re looking after to get the greatest results with your pet turtle.

RELATED READ: Mud Turtle Care

Overview on Musk Turtles

overview on musk turtles

Musk turtles and mud turtles are very similar. They both live in similar habitats and share many of the same characteristics. They also need similar care, which is why it can be difficult to tell them apart if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

Musk turtles can be found in many places. They live in the Southern border of Canada and they go all the way down to Florida. They also live in the Rocky Mountains.

These species of turtles are meat-eating. They eat mostly fish, snails, crustaceans, and insects. The razor-back musk turtle can get as big as 16 inches long. The much more common stinkpot only gets to be 3 – 4 inches long.

Musk turtles may be taken care of by most people. As long as they meet a few basic demands, individuals may easily look after them. The turtle must have a place to live, food, and water in order for these needs to be met.

Many of these breeds can now be purchased as hatchlings from captive-born stock, thanks to the success of breeders.

Please do not collect any of these species from the wild, as they are uncommon or endangered.

RELATED READ: How Much Does a Turtle Cost?

Physical Characteristics

Common Musk Turtle
Common Musk Turtle

The three turtles in the Staurotypinae subfamily (narrow-bridged musk turtle, Mexican musk turtle, and giant musk turtle) have three keels on their carapace, are larger than other turtles, and have an aggressive nature.

The narrow-bridged musk turtle can be identified by its two distinct cusps on its upper jaws. The giant musk turtle is distinguished from the Mexican musk turtle by its smaller size and also by its wider and more flattened carapace.

The Sternotherus genus includes four species of musk turtles.

The name “razor-backed musk turtle” is well deserved one. This turtle has a very sharply sloping carapace when viewed from the front, appearing to be triangular. The plastron of the flattened musk turtle only has ten scutes, as opposed to the other Sternotherus and Kinosternon species (mud turtle).

The flattened musk turtle is also appropriately nicknamed. It has a very broad, flat carapace.

The loggerhead musk turtle has a shell shape that is between the flattened and razor-backed musk turtles. Like the other turtles in this genus, the loggerhead musk turtle has a single weak hinge between the abdominal and pectoral scutes of the shell.

The stripe-neck musk turtle is different from the loggerhead musk turtle because it has strong stripes on its neck.

The most commonly known musk turtle is the common musk turtle, which is sometimes called a stinkpot. This turtle has a small plastron and two distinctive stripes on each side of its face, running back from the snout and going to either side of the eyes.

RELATED READ: Types of Pet Turtles


Males in the Staurotypus genus have longer, thicker tails than females. They also have rough scales on their thighs called vinculae. Males of narrow-bridged musk turtles have the same distinctions, and their tails are equipped with a horny tip.

Staurotypus turtles have different sex chromosomes.

Males have XY chromosomes, but females have XX chromosomes. However, the X chromosome is more developed than the Y chromosome, so the XY males are in between the more primitive form and the more developed XX females.

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

Types of Mud Turtles

Although musk turtles are found in the wild, there are several distinct species of them that may be kept as pets and others that aren’t so frequently.

Narrow-bridged musk turtle (Claudius angustatus)
Mexican musk turtle (Staurotypus triporcatus)
Giant musk turtle (Staurotypus salvinii)
Common Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus)
Creaser’s Mud turtle (Kinosternon creaseri)
Stripe-neck Musk Turtle (Sternotherus minor peltifer)
Loggerhead Musk Turtle (Sternotherus minor)
Flattened Musk Turtle (Sternotherus depressus)
Razor-Backed Musk Turtle (Sternotherus carinatus)

The most popular musk turtle you will find as pets are the common musk turtle and the striped neck musk turtle. The loggerhead musk turtle is also a popular pet, but it falls in between the common musk and striped neck in size.

RELATED READ: African Sideneck Turtle Care

Selection and Acquisition

Selection and Acquisition

If you are looking to have a musk turtle as a pet it’s really important that you buy it from a reputable breeder, as they are becoming increasingly popular.

It is illegal in some states to own a wild-caught musk turtle, so please be sure to check the laws in your state.

When selecting a musk turtle, it’s important to pick one that is active and has a healthy appetite. The carapace should be smooth and the plastron (bottom shell) should be free of any cracks or deformities.

The best way to acquire a musk turtle is to go through a reputable breeder. You can also find them at reptile shows but beware of pet stores as they may not have the best interest of the animal at heart.

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

  • It’s critical not to frighten them, since even brief captive periods may result in a lethal accumulation of internal worms.
  • It’s rarely a good idea to mix specimens from various locations (which increases the danger of disease transmission).
  • If a turtle appears to be sick due to an infection acquired in captivity, do not release it into the wild.

It’s important to remember that musk turtles can live for up to 50 years, so make sure you are prepared for the long haul before bringing one home.

Preventative Health Care

If you’re buying a musk turtle, make sure it has been checked by a veterinarian. This will assist in guaranteeing that the turtle is free of internal or external parasites.

There are three crucial things to consider while caring for a turtle:

  • Avoiding any minor infections.
  • If the turtle has any injuries, you should treat them.
  • Checking to see whether the turtle is consuming the appropriate food.

To prevent or cure accidental infections like respiratory illnesses, scute infections, or parasite infestations, their surroundings should be meticulously kept. Regular cleaning of your aquarium is a must.

Any new or sick turtles should be quarantined as well. Injuries can occur from things like jagged rocks or aggressive interactions with other turtles.

If one turtle is bullying another, it should be given its own tank. It’s a good idea to establish an enclosure for each turtle if they’re bullying one another. Check the turtles for injuries on a regular basis and address any issues you discover as soon as possible to avoid infection.

Clean any wounds with diluted iodine or betadine, or a combination of both, to prevent infections.

Not providing a full diet is the most common reason why turtles kept in captivity get sick. Turtles should not be fed only one food; instead, they should be offered a variety of foods. Even carnivorous turtles will occasionally consume vegetation.

RELATED READ: Why Do Turtles Bask?


musk turtle natural habitat
musk turtle natural habitat

The habitat for musk turtles varies depending on the species of turtle, but in general, they prefer slow-moving or still bodies of water.

Some musk turtles prefer to live in areas with soft, muddy beds that have a lot of aquatic plants. The reason they choose these locations can be complicated. It might be because of the way the habitat looks, or because of other factors like what other turtles are living there.

The intrinsic properties of a location, like the type of substrate, vegetation, and water flow, interact with other factors like the presence of local predators and alteration in the habitat.

This can be done either naturally or by human intervention. The local climatic conditions can also vary and have an impact on the habitat.

Some species of turtles will sun themselves on logs or branches near the water. If there is a spot available, they will take advantage of it.

Common musk turtles have been known to climb trees and then jump into the water below when they are disturbed. The loggerhead musk turtle behaves in a similar way.

Some species, especially those that live in drier regions, inhabit temporary bodies of water. In the dry season, the turtles will estivate in dried mud, waiting for rainfall to replenish the water supply.

RELATED READ: How to Set Up a Turtle Tank


Most turtle owners opt to keep their animals indoors as it’s easier to keep an eye on them. When housing your musk turtle, you will need to consider that he will have enough space to roam and swim.

Housing Musk Turtles Indoors

One of the best ways to house musk turtles is in an aquarium. This will allow them to easily walk around and breathe. Make sure to use shallow water so they can reach the surface easily.

I would suggest a water depth of 2 to 4 inches for hatchlings. Make sure to provide a dry basking spot with rocks so they can get out of the water if they want.

Some musk turtles do not bask very much, but adding a shelf close to the surface of the water will give them another option to get some sun. This way, they can stay in the water without having to leave it.

A reasonable-sized aquarium for a hatchling is a 20-gallon tank that is 30 inches by 12 inches (75 cm by 30 cm). As the turtle grows, the size of this habitat should be increased. The water depth is not as critical as they get older, but it should be remembered that they spend most of their time on the bottom so an exceptional depth may stress them.

A depth of 8 inches to 12 inches (20 cm to 30 cm) is good for adult turtles. In addition, a hiding place or cave under the surface of the water will be used and lower stress.

Make sure it’s made of stable rockwork that the turtle won’t be crushed by it. I’ve discovered that a half flowerpot is suitable for this purpose.


Water quality is critical. If you spend a bit of time and money planning and purchasing a good filtering system for your pets, you may avoid many aquatic turtle problems.

We advise using a canister filter for adult Musk turtles because they are easy to clean and provide good water quality.

For hatchlings, it can be more difficult to provide good filtration because of the depth of the water. A submersible foam filter or power filter is best for them, and you will need to change the water frequently.

Waste Management

By feeding your turtle outside of its enclosure, you can cut down or eliminate the majority of waste material.

Fill a plastic container with water and submerge the meal together with the turtle.

After the turtle has finished eating all it wants, replace it in its tank and discard the dirty water. This technique also aids in eliminating food particles from the aquarium. It also removes feces. Some turtles defecate immediately before or after eating.

RELATED READ: How to Keep Turtle Tank Clean?

Basking Area and Lighting

Some people think that you don’t have to give musk turtles a place to bask, but I disagree. I think it’s a good idea to give them a place to bask because it helps them act more naturally and keeps them healthy.

If you use live plants in your environment, you will need to provide lighting. In one corner of the environment, you should place a hardware store reflector clip light lamp to provide artificial basking facilities.

This should be positioned to provide a warm spot for your musk turtle to bask in. The spot should be about 90 degrees F (32 degrees C).

The habitat should also have a full spectrum fluorescent light. This will provide UVB, which is necessary for Vitamin D3 syntheses (needed in calcium metabolism).

You can use a Mercury vapor bulb to satisfy both the heat and UV requirements, but it might be better to spend the money on a better filter.

You can provide security and hiding places for your fish by using live or plastic aquatic plants.

RELATED READ: The Best UVB Light for Turtles

Housing Musk Turtles Outdoors

Predator-proof outdoor habitats offer many advantages over indoor accommodations and should be seriously considered as an option during warm weather.

For example, a child’s wading pool sunk into the ground in a secure enclosure makes for a serviceable outdoor habitat.

Additionally, larger ponds with advanced filtration can be used to provide a spectacular outdoor home for your musk turtle.


musk turtle diet

Be cautious not to overfeed your musk turtle.

Adult turtles should be fed only 2 to 3 times each week, and hatchlings every day or every other day.

Musk turtles are meat-eaters; crayfish, snails, insects, and worms may all form a substantial proportion of their diet.

The turtle’s diet also includes a variety of plant matter, such as duckweed. Duckweed is one type of plant that is fed to turtles.

Many of the commercially produced foods that are marketed today make good food for musk turtles.

Many prepared foods float, but turtles may not recognize them as food at first because they usually forage on the bottom.

To make sure the turtles get a chance to eat the food, let it sink and stay on the bottom for a while before cleaning.

Additional Supplements

Turtles will need calcium added to their diet.

Powdered calcium can be sprinkled on all types of food. If you keep your pet indoors, it’s recommended that you give it calcium that is supplemented with vitamin D3. If your pet lives outside, then it’s okay to give it calcium without D3.

It is also recommended that you provide a cuttlefish bone for your turtle to chew on. If you are not using a commercially prepared turtle diet or live fish, it is essential that you give your turtle multivitamins to help with fat metabolism.

The freezing process for fish destroys the vitamin E which is important for keeping a musk turtle healthy.

Some of these species hibernate in nature. After careful research of methods used to safely do this, some facilities may be set up to help those that hibernate.

RELATED READ: What Do Turtles Like to Play With?


Some species of musk 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 environmental conditions.

Turtles in the north usually hibernate for a while, but turtles in the south might stay awake during the hottest part of the year if there is no water.

Although musk turtles are usually aquatic, some species spend time out of the water. For example, the razor-backed musk turtle is active in the afternoon and can be found basking.

Most musk turtles are shy and retiring. However, the Mexican musk turtle and giant musk turtle are exceptions to this.

The narrow-bridged musk turtle has also been known to be aggressive when handled. Newly caught individuals of other species may also bite.


musk turtle handling

Musk turtles are easy to handle.

If you have a newly captured or stressed musk turtle, it will release a yellowish liquid from its glands under the shell. This liquid has a strong smell, which is why they’re called musk turtles.

Most captive individuals quickly lose this habit. Newly-hatched turtles can also produce musk if they are disturbed.

Some of the larger species can deliver a powerful bite, so be careful when handling them.

In particular, the two species of Staurotypus (Mexican musk turtle, giant musk turtle) are known to be aggressive and have a tendency to bite. For these reasons, it is best to handle these two turtles as little as possible.

Common Problems

Musk turtles are prone to two distinct sorts of issues:

  • Internal and external parasites are common in wild-caught turtles.
  • When you don’t look after your pet properly, there are a number of issues that can arise.

RELATED READ: White Film Over Turtles Eyes


In conclusion, caring for a musk turtle is about the same as caring for any other pet.

The most important thing you can do to ensure your new friend thrives and stays healthy is to provide it with clean water that has been treated with chlorine or chloramine; however, there are some additional factors that must also be considered when choosing how best to care for this animal.

For example, if you plan on keeping a captive-bred specimen in captivity long term without being able to release it into the wild periodically then you will want to supplement its diet by providing calcium (supplemented with vitamin D3) on all food items offered.

Likewise, if you live outside of the United States where these turtles likely originated from then they may not recognize any of the plants in your garden as food and will need to be fed a commercially prepared diet or live fish.

Remember, providing a cuttlefish bone for your turtle to chew on is always a good idea, as it helps keep their beaks trim and in good condition.

Last but not least, make sure to give your turtle multivitamins to help with fat metabolism as they will not be getting this from their diet if they are eating mostly plant matter.