Scientific Name: Clemmys guttata
Taxonomy Group: Reptiles
COSEWIC Range: Ontario, Quebec
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: November 2014
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status Criteria: C1
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This species has an unusually low reproductive potential, including late age at maturity and low fecundity, and occurs in small, isolated subpopulations. Although some subpopulations are in protected areas, there is evidence from extensive monitoring and projected calculated declines that even these populations are in jeopardy despite low exposure to anthropogenic threats. The main threats to the species are road mortality; collection for the pet, food and traditional medicine trade; and habitat loss due to invasive plants and development. There is no potential for rescue from outside populations.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Special Concern in April 1991. Status re-examined and designated Endangered in May 2004 and November 2014.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2005-07-14
Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.
Image of Spotted Turtle
The Spotted Turtle is a relatively small freshwater turtle. In adults, the carapace (upper part of the shell) generally measures less than 13 cm in length. This species can be recognized by its black carapace with orange-yellow spots. In young turtles, the plastron (ventral part of the shell) is black and orange, and occasionally becomes almost completely black with age. The head and limbs are also black with yellow spots, and the tail is occasionally striped with yellow. Both sides of the head are marked by a large orange spot that creates the illusion of ears. As is the case with many turtle species, males and females are different: for instance, in the female, the eyes and beak are orange, the plastron is flat and the tail is slender and relatively short, whereas in the male, the eyes and beak are buff-brown, the plastron is concave, and the tail is thick and longer.
Distribution and Population
The Spotted Turtle occurs only in eastern North America. Populations are located in southern Ontario and in the United States along the Atlantic Coastal Plain from Maine to central Florida, and westward from the south shores of the Great Lakes to northeastern Illinois. The species has also been observed in Québec, but no population is known to be established in that province. Over the past 30 to 40 years, 104 populations have been noted in Ontario. While these populations are concentrated around Georgian Bay and on the north shore of Lake Erie, there are also small isolated populations in southeastern Ontario. At least 36 of these populations are now considered extirpated or historic. According to some researchers, the virtual disappearance of this species from the province of Quebec and the decline of the Ontario population are due to the deterioration of the habitat and the capture of specimens for the pet trade. Of the handful of known populations, only a few are large enough to ensure long-term survival. In addition, most of these populations are small (all less than 200 individuals) and isolated. Over the last 30 to 40 years, Canadian populations of Spotted Turtles have declined by 35%. The population trend is declining. Moreover, the ongoing disappearance of wetlands in southern Ontario makes the continued decline of Spotted Turtle populations inevitable. Since the Spotted Turtle is a small turtle that is not very mobile and that inhabits a localized habitat, it is likely that its disappearance from a given site would be permanent. It is difficult to estimate the size of the Spotted Turtle population in Canada. However, summing all of the known populations indicates a total number of 1000 to 2000 individuals. While there may still be a number of undiscovered populations, particularly in the Georgian Bay area, 2000 seems to represent a reasonable estimate of the size of the adult Spotted Turtle population.
The Spotted Turtle prefers the shallow, slow-moving and unpolluted water of ponds, bogs, marshes, ditches, vernal pools and sedge meadows. It can also be found in the tranquil waters of woodland streams and near the sheltered shores of shallow bays. This species’ aquatic habitats are characterized by soft muddy soil, sphagnum moss, sedge tussocks, cattails, water lilies and water-loving shrubs. The Spotted Turtle uses various habitat types depending on the season; this includes terrestrial habitats at certain times in its annual activity cycle. Females dig their nests on land, on sites with sun exposure. In Georgian Bay region, these sites are often soil-filled crevices in the precambrian shield. In southern Ontario, they often nest in groups near man-made dykes, on muskrat nests and at the base of grass tussocks. The Spotted Turtle exhibits fidelity to its hibernation and breeding grounds, which are often communal sites. This aggregative behaviour for reproduction and hibernation makes the Spotted Turtle vulnerable to habitat destruction and capture for the illegal wildlife trade.
Spotted Turtles come out of hibernation from early to late April and then spend a great deal of time basking in the sun on tree trunks and plant tussocks. From May to early June, they gather in aquatic habitats to breed and they tend to return to the same site year after year. Nesting occurs from mid- to late June and is generally a nocturnal activity. Although clutch sizes range from three to seven eggs, the average clutch contains five eggs. Since most females do not lay eggs every year, the reproductive output of the Spotted Turtle is relatively low. Females dig a nest in shallow soil and cover it with lichen, moss and litter. Hatchlings emerge approximately 80 days after the eggs are laid. Some individuals in certain populations avoid the heat and aridity of summer by aestivating (burying in a torpid state); this behaviour generally occurs in a terrestrial site and lasts from July to September when the turtles go into hibernation. The Spotted Turtle survives the harshness of winter by hibernating in sites sheltered from the frost. They often hibernate in groups and return to the same hibernation site year after year. In Ontario, the Spotted Turtle reaches sexual maturity between 11 and 15 years of age. Some individuals that have been observed in Pennsylvania and Ontario were at least 30 years old. Based on recent data, the maximum longevity of a Georgian Bay population was estimated to be 110 years. Predators of the Spotted Turtle include raccoons, skunks, otters, muskrats, minks, Black Bears and Bald Eagles. Eggs are preyed upon by raccoons, Red Foxes, skunks and ants. Since the mortality rate for eggs and juveniles is high, the sustainability of Spotted Turtle populations depends heavily on the survival of adults.
The decline of the Spotted Turtle is attributable to multiple factors: excessive capture for illegal trade, habitat fragmentation and destruction, road mortality, predation by numerous species (particularly the raccoon), agriculture and pollution. The Spotted Turtle is particularly sensitive to habitat destruction and excessive collection in the spring when turtles aggregate for breeding and in the fall when they aggregate for hibernation. Due to its slow growth, the number of years it takes to reach maturity and the low survival rate of eggs and juveniles, the Spotted Turtle is particularly vulnerable to increased mortality and capture of adults and juveniles. Moreover, the Spotted Turtle is very sensitive to pollution and toxic products and succumbs rapidly to the degradation of water quality.
The Spotted Turtle is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.
In Ontario, a permit is required to collect wild Spotted Turtles. Quebec has similar laws that apply to all reptiles and amphibians. Approximately 25% of the current populations in Ontario are afforded a certain degree of protection by virtue of the fact that they are on land that is owned, at least in part, by a local nature conservation organization, or on land that is part of a provincial or national park, or a national wildlife reserve. Some populations are located in provincial nature reserves, provincial wildlife management areas or on provincial land or Crown land.
Provincial and Territorial Protection
Status of Recovery Planning
Recovery Strategies :
Name Recovery Strategy for the Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry
Contact Person for Recovery Planning
Québec: Unité de planification de la conservation - Service canadien de la faune - Chair/Contact -
Recovery Progress and Activities
Summary of Progress to Date Surveys across the province of Ontario suggest that approximately one-third of known Spotted Turtle populations are now gone. Many of these sites are in southwestern Ontario where wetland loss has been most extreme. Populations have even been lost from parks. Although there are historic reports of Spotted Turtles from Quebec, there are no known populations that still exist. For those populations left in Ontario (i.e. along the north shore of Lake Erie, Georgian Bay, and scattered locations throughout southern Ontario), a number of activities have taken place and are continuing to promote the recovery of this species. In Eastern Georgian Bay (EGB), the year of 2005 was exciting for the spotted turtle as 16 new turtles were observed and captured at four newly confirmed locations. Although a survey at an island in EGB indicated that one breeding site was modified by a beaver, perhaps having an impact on the metapopulation there, historical numbers of spotted turtles were still observed at other breeding sites on that same island. Potential impacts by the beaver are currently being investigated. In a wetland, two isolated populations have been identified; a larger one in the center drain area and one smaller one along the perimeter drain system. These two populations have become isolated over time due to anthropogenic activities including drain maintenance, and losses from animals captured for the pet trade. The perimeter population is in decline and the central population is estimated to be approximately 100 adults. Surveys in eastern Ontario have confirmed the presence of Spotted Turtles at four different sites. Spotted Turtles appear to be absent from at least a few historic locations. No previously unknown populations have been located despite extensive searches. Summary of Research/Monitoring Activities Mark and recapture studies are being conducted on an island in EGB in order to re-examine the demography and habitat use of a previously studied population of Spotted Turtles. Surveys of potential Spotted Turtle habitat along EGB also are being conducted. Turtle locations are marked using a global positioning system. Mark-recapture and radio-telemetry studies are being conducted along the north shore of Lake Erie in order to investigate life history traits, population dynamics, and habitat needs for the Spotted Turtle in lake marsh ecosystems. Additionally, surveys have been conducted within the Upper Thames River Watershed and in Lambton and Essex counties. Long-term mark recapture (1995 to present), radio telemetry, nest site protection, and winter habitat conditions research was conducted in another population. We have confirmed activity range, home range, mortality from agriculture mowing and coyote predation, and are currently preparing a habitat management plan for two species at risk populations that have overlapping niche requirements (Massasauga and Spotted Turtle). Demographic studies are underway at all four known sites with Spotted Turtles in eastern Ontario. One population has now been studied for over 20 years and a number of individuals first marked in the early 1980s are still alive. Two of the four populations appear to have sizeable populations but the other two appear to be relatively small. Radio telemetry has been used at three of the four populations in order to assess habitat use. These monitoring and research programs aid in the protection of Spotted Turtle by helping to identify critical habitat, focus research efforts, and assist in recovery planning. Summary of Recovery Activities The Eastern Georgian Bay population (and other populations) benefited from the Greater Georgian Bay Reptile Awareness Program (GGBRAP), which was integral in promoting a positive attitude towards reptiles, including the Spotted Turtle, resulting in stewardship efforts on the part of Canadians. The GGBRAP also participated in monitoring programs for the Spotted Turtle and other reptilian species at risk. The Rare Reptile Program based out of the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority provide for targeted education (i.e. to landowners) and public education on the natural history, distribution, status, and conservation needs of the Spotted Turtle and ten other reptile species. They inform and engage the public in stewardship activities essential for the survival and recovery of these reptiles. In addition to education activities, habitat enhancement activities have taken place within Thames River of the Lake Erie Lowlands ecosystem to benefit the Spotted Turtle and other endangered or threatened species. The Thames River Clean Water Project encourages rural stewardship to improve water quality throughout the watershed in order to benefit aquatic species at risk, including the Spotted Turtle. Other active community stewardship groups are working towards the conservation of aquatic habitat in various Thames River sub-watersheds. Reptile awareness programs have continued along the north shore of Lake Erie and within the Upper Thames River Watershed. The Spotted Turtle is one of many species included in the Carolinian Canada Species at Risk Outreach and Education Program. Posters and information booklets are distributed to the general public as an important part of their “Big Picture Road Show” (for more information on the show, visit the link at the bottom of the page). Recovery activities for another population include to date population and habitat monitoring, habitat protection, habitat enhancement and land stewardship, and outreach and education. A Spotted Turtle stewardship program was initiated in 2006. With the financial assistance of Environment Canada, work with the local agriculture community, Land Care Niagara, and Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority will assist in establishing a buffer wet meadow community around the perimeter of the wetland, restore the remnant moat system, and potentially reconnect the perimeter and central populations through a passive mechanism using wetland habitat enhancement. One site with Spotted Turtles in eastern Ontario has been protected by the Nature Conservancy of Canada. This wetland contains a number of other species at risk. The other three known sites in eastern Ontario are on federal or provincial land. Although previously unknown populations have been found in the Georgian Bay area, it is likely that few, if any, populations will be discovered in other areas of Ontario. The recovery team is working toward protecting the habitat of all remaining populations across Ontario to try and prevent further loss of populations. URLs Carolinian Canada’s Big Picture Roadshow:http://www.carol inian.org/Events.htm
PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.
28 record(s) found.
- Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation (2 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Status Reports (1 record(s) found.)
- Response Statements (2 record(s) found.)
- Recovery Strategies (1 record(s) found.)
- Action Plans (2 record(s) found.)
- Orders (2 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Annual Reports (2 record(s) found.)
- Permits and Related Agreements (12 record(s) found.)
- Consultation Documents (1 record(s) found.)
- Critical Habitat Descriptions in the Canada Gazette (2 record(s) found.)
- Recovery Document Posting Plans (1 record(s) found.)
Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation
COSEWIC Status Reports
Response Statement - Spotted Turtle (2004-10-22)This species occurs at low density, has an unusually low reproductive potential, combined with a long-lived life history, and occurs in small numbers in bogs and marshes that are fragmented and disappearing. Although some populations are in protected areas, they may have a low probability of persistence, especially because small numbers and isolation reduce population viability. The low frequency of juveniles in most studied populations suggests these populations are composed largely of remnant, aged cohorts with low reproductive success. Another clear threat is from collection for the pet trade. There is no rescue effect.
Response Statement - Spotted Turtle (2015-12-23)This species has an unusually low reproductive potential, including late age at maturity and low fecundity, and occurs in small, isolated subpopulations. Although some subpopulations are in protected areas, there is evidence from extensive monitoring and projected calculated declines that even these populations are in jeopardy despite low exposure to anthropogenic threats. The main threats to the species are road mortality; collection for the pet, food and traditional medicine trade; and habitat loss due to invasive plants and development. There is no potential for rescue from outside populations.
COSEWIC Annual Reports
COSEWIC Annual Report - 2004 (2004-09-16)2004 Annual Report to the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
COSEWIC Annual Report - 2014-2015 (2015-11-20)Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to "assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species". COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings in this reporting year (October, 2014 to September, 2015) from November 23 to November 28, 2014 and from April 27 to May 1, 2015. During the current reporting period, COSEWIC assessed the status or reviewed the classification of 56 wildlife species. The wildlife species assessment results for the 2014-2015 reporting period include the following: Extinct: 0 Extirpated: 1 Endangered: 21 Threatened: 11 Special Concern: 21 Data Deficient: 1 Not at Risk: 1 Total: 56 Of the 56 wildlife species examined, COSEWIC reviewed the classification of 40 that had been previously assessed. The review of classification for 24 of those wildlife species resulted in a confirmation of the same risk status as the previous assessment.