Common Musk Turtle (Stinkpot): Species Profile

Common musk turtles, also known as eastern musk turtles or stinky pots, are a popular pet choice because of their size and relative ease of care. They are a terrapin from eastern North America. If they feel threatened, they release an unpleasant musky smell, which is why they got another name, Stinkpot. They may be small, but these turtles can reach a mature age of 30 to 50 years, and they are also very active. They are not a promise to take lightly.

Variety Overview

Common name: Common Musk Turtle, Oriental Musk Turtle, Stink Pot

Scientific name: catfish

Adult size: 3 to 5 inches

Life expectancy: up to 50 years

Common behavior and temperament of musk turtles

Musk turtles are the most popular of all aquatic turtles due to their small size. However, you should not underestimate the amount of care they need.

Male stinky pots have longer tails with distinct spikes and are prone to sex with this species. They rarely grow beyond five and a half inches.

They have a brown, grey, or black carapace (upper shell) that is highly domed on young turtles, but flattens with age. They also have two very distinct yellow stripes running from the nose to the neck, although these also fade with age.

While they do spend most of their time in the water, they tend to stick to swimming in shallow water because they are not particularly strong swimmers. They are also naturally nocturnal and can be more active at night.

They get their name because their scent glands emit a strong, repulsive, unpleasant odor if they feel threatened. They are also known to be quite brave and will scratch and bite if they feel uncomfortable. They have a long, flexible neck, which also makes it easier to grab their targets.

All turtles should be treated with care and respect. To make sure you don’t end up at the end of a nasty nip, you should take extra care if you have to handle a Stinkpot. It helps to pick them up from the back of the shell.

Terrapins are at risk of carrying salmonella.You must wash your hands after handling them. If you have children, you need to supervise the interaction to make sure they don’t put their hands in their mouths before washing their hands.

The Stinkpot is a water turtle that is best observed rather than subjected to a lot of physical contact.

House Common Musk Turtle

Stinkpots need a suitable tank so they can swim easily. Unlike some aquatic varieties, they do not require deep water or a substrate (like gravel) at the bottom of the tank. This also makes the tank easier to clean. If you really want a more attractive looking tank, you can use medium sized gravel. The water depth should be shallow so that the turtle can touch the bottom of the tank and still reach the surface without having to paddle all the time.

They don’t need tanks as large as some of their larger species relatives. In general, it is still recommended to design a tank that can hold at least 30 gallons for a turtle, as they are an active species. If you’re going to have a man and a woman living together, you need to watch out for men becoming overly eager and harassing women. If this happens, you should be prepared to separate them. Two males should not be housed together.

While Stinkpots spend most of their time in the water, you should still make sure to provide a suitable area for them to come out of the water to bask and rest. They dehydrate quickly, so it’s not uncommon for them to be out in the sun for extended periods of time. Structures that provide basking and support plants also provide additional enrichment and exploration opportunities.

A water filter compatible with shallow water is required to keep the turtle habitat clean. Without it, you will have to empty the tank frequently to clean it. Stinkers are dirtier than some other turtles due to their high protein diet, so a strong filtration system is recommended.

In addition to an efficient, continuously running filtration system, you should also thoroughly clean your tank at least every few months, and sometimes sooner. You can purchase kits to test the cleanliness of the water to make sure your turtle doesn’t become unsafe in the water.

Whenever you put new water in the tank, make sure it has been dechlorinated. Chlorine in tap water can affect filter efficiency and turtle health.

If you have a dog or cat, make sure you have a suitable tank cover to keep your turtle safe.


While they are not prolific sunbathers, they should have a warm area to allow them to choose, and the temperature in these areas should be around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The water temperature should remain around 80°F. If you are using a water heater to maintain this temperature, be very careful to ensure that the water does not evaporate and be exposed to the water heater. This can cause overheating and can be dangerous for your turtle.


UVB-Lighting is recommended to ensure your turtles are getting enough vital vitamin D3 to help them metabolize calcium properly. While this is usually added to commercially available pellets, lighting will ensure they stay in better health if they don’t get enough food through their diet. It is worth noting, however, that the common musk turtle is more capable of synthesizing vitamin D3 than other turtles.

food and water

In the wild, the common musk turtle will eat a wide variety of aquatic fish and insects. They are mainly carnivorous, although they sometimes eat certain algae. In captivity, providing a varied diet will help ensure they stay happy and healthy. Commercial turtle balls that are fed with high-protein foods like earthworms, crickets, fish, and shrimp are a good choice. Some stinky pots may also like to graze on leafy greens, but don’t be offended if they scoff at them.

common health problems

Musk turtles are generally considered a healthy little species. However, like all terrapins, they may develop certain health conditions that are cause for concern. Some of these include:

Vitamin A deficiency: This is when your turtle is not getting enough vitamin A in their diet. It can cause swollen eyes and breathing problems, which can lead to further complications. This can be treated by providing vitamin supplements and can be avoided by making sure your turtle gets a balanced diet. If you find pellets they like, this will help ensure they get a good balance.

infectious disease It is a relatively common problem in terrapins, and the severity of these problems can vary. This helps minimize the risk of problems by making sure your turtle lives in clean water.

Parasites: It is not uncommon for even healthy terrapins to have certain parasites, such as nematodes or flagellates, in their systems. If their numbers become too large, or if they contract a parasite such as a tapeworm from another host, this can affect their health. You may see weight loss, lethargy, or diarrhea. This helps ensure things are under control by organizing an annual stool check by an exotic, expert veterinarian.

Choose Your Common Musk Turtle

When looking to own a stink pot turtle, it’s important to make sure you seek out a reputable breeder or rescue organization. Your turtle should be captive-raised to ensure the protection of wild populations.

In the United States, there is a law that prohibits the sale of sea turtles with carapaces smaller than 4 inches. This means you won’t find a newly hatched Stinkpot through most breeders.

It is usually best to go to a small professional breeder rather than a general pet store. A reputable expert will not only have more assurances about where the turtles were sourced and how they were raised, but they will generally provide better expert advice.

Why not consider adopting a common musk turtle that needs a new home? There are many rescues that save reptiles and amphibians as well as some professional sea turtle rescue organizations. A good place to start your search is through

species similar to the common musk turtle

If you are interested in learning about other terrapins and whether they are suitable for living in your home, you may wish to consider:

Alternatively, you can check out our other terrapin profiles to help you choose your next pet.


Common Musk Turtle (Stinkpot): Species Profile
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