Wild Profile: Meet the wood turtle

Published: April 6, 2021

An adult wood turtle resting on rocky ground By Jay Ondreicka/Shutterstock

You’ve probably heard of the wood frog, but have you heard of the wood turtle? Sadly, this species—they live in patches of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick—is endangered, and possibly in rougher shape, numbers-wise, than other Canadian turtles.

The wood turtle is distinct from other turtle species. For one thing, you can’t miss those orange-red legs or that high-domed upper shell. And unlike most turtles, these guys spend most of the warmer months on land once they come out of hibernation in April. They’re also smart; researchers have tested them in maze-solving abilities. The results? Wood turtles can navigate a maze as skillfully as a rat—and rats are considered pretty clever mammals.

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Most turtles periodically shed portions of their shells (called “scutes”). It’s a little like old, dry skin peeling from your feet, or damaged skin peeling after a bad sunburn. This adaptation is protective for the turtle—it prevents against infection, or helps heal injuries. (The shell regenerates after peeling; the turtle’s body is getting rid of damaged cells and replacing them with new, healthy ones.)

Oddly, wood turtles don’t do this. This means that their shells look more and more gnarled, ridged, and scaly as they age. Wood turtles can live as long as 60 years, but, in the wild, of course they don’t. They face the same threats as all amphibians and reptiles: habitat loss, animal predation, human capture, and road mortality.

 

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