Species Profile

Wood Turtle

Scientific Name: Glyptemys insculpta
Other/Previous Names: Clemmys insculpta
Taxonomy Group: Reptiles
COSEWIC Range: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: November 2018
COSEWIC Status: Threatened
COSEWIC Status Criteria: A2cd+3cd+4cd
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This turtle is declining across much of its range, where it occurs in small, increasingly disjunct subpopulations, many of which are separated from each other by distances greater than the species can be expected to disperse. It has strong site fidelity, often returning to restricted nesting and overwintering areas for decades. Although it requires both aquatic and terrestrial habitats, it is more terrestrial than other freshwater turtles, making it vulnerable to road kill, land use practices, and collection for the pet trade. Its ‘slow’ life history, characterized by delayed maturation and extreme longevity, requires exceedingly high adult survival to maintain stable populations. Any chronic increase in adult or juvenile mortality, or a catastrophic adult mortality event, is destabilizing and unsustainable. Increased exposure to traffic on paved and unpaved roads, agricultural activity (particularly mowing and tilling), and expanding populations of subsidized predators, as well as changing regimes in watersheds, have increased mortality and placed subpopulations at risk.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Special Concern in April 1996. Status re-examined and designated Threatened in November 2007. Status re-examined and confirmed in November 2018.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Threatened
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2010-02-23

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.

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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Other Protection or Status | Recovery Initiatives | Recovery Team | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Wood Turtle

Wood Turtle Photo 1

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Description

The Wood Turtle is a medium-sized freshwater turtle with a broad flat shell measuring from 16 to 25 centimeters long. The upper shell, or "carapace," is a grayish-brown, sometimes having dark lines and dots. Each scute has pyramidal concentric rings (growth lines), giving the carapace a sculptured appearance. In older turtles, the ridges on the scutes may be worn flat. The shell's underside, or "plastron," is yellow with black splotches and does not have a hinge. The plastron is flat in females and concave in mature males to facilitate mating. Males are slightly larger with a broader head and longer and thicker tail than females. The skin is generally brown, and the legs and neck often a distinctive yellow, orange or reddish colouring. They have strong claws. The upper jaw forms a beak, arched downward over the slightly shorter lower jaw.

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Distribution and Population

The Wood Turtle is distributed throughout northeastern North America. It has a discontinuous range from Nova Scotia west through New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and Minnesota and south to Virginia and Maryland.   Populations are distributed in around 13 drainage basins in Ontario, 16 in Quebec and 12 in Nova Scotia. In New Brunswick, the number of populations is unknown but they are believed to occupy several watercourses.     Although the total number of Wood Turtles in Canada is unknown, several quantitative studies completed from 2005 to 2007 provided a very approximative estimate of the Canadian population of between 6 000 and 12 000 adults. Populations in areas difficult to access may be stable, but many Wood Turtle populations accessible by road are in decline and the general trend over the past three generations, or more than 100 years, supports this. The decline is clearly significant in certain parts of Ontario and Quebec.

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Habitat

Like all freshwater turtles, the Wood Turtle needs water for many of its vital functions, including mating, hibernation and temperature regulation. It generally hibernates at the bottom of the water, spends spring and fall in or near water and summers on the ground. However, it is considered a semi-aquatic turtle because it spends a great deal of time on land, although it rarely strays farther than 300 meters from water. This species is associated with rivers and streams with sandy or gravely-sandy bottoms and prefers clear meandering watercourses with a moderate current. The Wood Turtle's natural nesting sites are found on sand or gravel-sand beaches and banks. Although they prefer riparian areas with diverse, patchy cover, females also lay in gravel holes, at the edges of roads and railways, in utility right-of-ways, in farming fields, pastures and former fields – any sunny and easily dug spot.   Other habitats used less frequently by the Wood Turtle include bogs, marshy pastures, beaver ponds, shrubby cover, meadows, coniferous forests, mixed forests, hay, and agricultural fields and pastures.   Even though quantitative historic and contemporary data on changes in the area of available and suitable habitat for the Wood Turtle do not exist, it is evident that this habitat is declining over much of the species' range.

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Biology

At the start of spring, the Wood Turtle emerges from the watercourse where it spent the winter alone or with other members of its species or with other turtle species. It remains near the water and gradually moves father away as the summer progresses. Wood Turtles reach sexual maturity between 11 and 22 years of age, but maturity depends more on size than age. Mating usually occurs in water, in spring and fall, but can happen at any time between April and September. At the end of spring, females move to the same nesting sites that they use year after year. The female Wood Turtle generally digs her hole in sandy or gravelly riverbanks, beaches or other open areas near water. The female Wood Turtle has only one clutch per year, but not every turtle necessarily reproduces every year. Clutches can contain from 1 to 20 eggs, but usually contain 8 to 12 on average. For Wood Turtles, sex determination is independent of incubation temperature, unlike other turtles. However, temperature has a direct impact on the rate of embryonic development. The eggs hatch at the end of August, in September, or the beginning of October. The Wood Turtle does not incubate its eggs. The sun's heat ensures incubation.   On land, Wood Turtles mainly eat forest berries, young leaves from shrubs (especially alder), flowers, fiddleheads and mushrooms, as well as invertebrates such as insects, slugs and earthworms that the turtle attracts by stomping on the ground. In water, it eats dead fish, snails, tadpoles, insect larvae and algae.   The main predators of adults and juveniles are raccoons, coyotes and foxes. These and other mammals eat the turtle's eggs as well. Various mammals, fish and birds prey on hatchlings.   Although a Wood Turtle's life span is unknown, it is reasonable to believe that it can live more than 50 years in the wild.

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Threats

Threats to most Wood Turtle populations include increased mortality of adults because of road traffic and modern agricultural machinery, and the destruction of nests by recreational vehicles such as all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and snowmobiles.   The Wood Turtle is also threatened by lost nesting habitat and hibernacula due to watercourse bank alternations, flooding and shoreline stabilization.   Aside from lost habitat, increased predation of nests by raccoons and possibly coyotes and other mammals is a primary cause of nesting failures.   Turtle collection, for personal or commercial purposes, as a pet or for food, is a growing threat. Recently, various anonymous sources have noted large-scale private collections of Wood Turtles for food purposes and the existence of a network providing native turtles and other wild animals to southern Ontario restaurants. The Wood Turtle is particularly vulnerable to collection, especially in the spring, when it suns and feeds itself along watercourses and the vegetation does not yet camouflage it. Therefore, the semi-aquatic turtle is easy to find and capture because it is not aggressive and cannot escape on land.   In addition, the construction of new forest roads could increase the potential for collection, as previously inaccessible areas become readily accessible and are more often travelled by recreationists. Moreover, roads and bridges could provide new nesting locations that are less than ideal given the presence of vehicles.   Pollution of watercourses used by this species is clearly one of the lesser threats.   Overall, the Wood Turtle is exceptionally vulnerable to increasing access to its habitat by people.   Lastly, with the adults' longevity, late sexual maturity and very low number of juveniles being added to the population each year, the species is vulnerable to any increased adult mortality.

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Protection

Federal Protection

The Wood 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.

The Wood Turtle has been listed as "endangered" under the Ontario Endangered Species Act and is in the process of being regulated. It is also listed as a "specially protected reptile" under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act (prohibits hunting, possessing, selling, purchasing or taking of any listed amphibian or reptile for educational or scientific purposes except under the authority of a licence and subject to the regulations) and is protected by the same prohibitions under the Act respecting the conservation and development of wildlife. In New Brunswick, the species is not protected by any provincial legislation. In Nova Scotia, it is protected under that province’s Endangered Species Act. Since 2005, the species has vulnerable status in Quebec under the Act respecting threatened or vulnerable species. The species is also protected during forestry operations through an agreement between Quebec’s Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement, de la Faune et des Parcs and the Ministère des Ressources naturelles. In Ontario, Wood Turtle populations mainly live on Crown lands protected under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). However, some portions of three populations are found in provincial parks. In Quebec and New Brunswick, part of one population is found in a national park, where the species is protected under the Canada National Parks Act. In Nova Scotia, a small population is found in a national park and the others are on Crown lands.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Other Protection or Status

The Wood Turtle is also listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which governs international trade of species that are or could be threatened by commercial exploitation.

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Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) in Ontario
Status Review/consultation complete

Name Recovery Strategy for the Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry

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Recovery Team

Contact Person for Recovery Planning

  • Québec: Unité de planification de la conservation - Service canadien de la faune - Chair/Contact -
     Send Email

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Documents

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.

17 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) in Canada (2019-10-09)

    Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) is a medium-sized freshwater turtle, with adults weighing about 1 kg and having a carapace (upper shell) length of 16 - 25 cm. The carapace ranges from greyish-brown to yellow and is broad and low. Each scute (scale-like section) has pyramidal concentric ridges (growth lines), giving the carapace a sculptured appearance; in older turtles, the ridges on the scutes may become worn smooth. The plastron (bottom shell) does not have a hinge, and is yellow with black blotches on the outer posterior corner of each scute. The plastron is flat in females and juveniles, and becomes concave in males as they reach maturity. Males are slightly larger than females, have a broader head, and longer, thicker tails. The skin is generally brown, but the legs and neck often have yellow, orange or reddish colouring. Note: This COSEWIC assessment was received by the Minister on October 15th, 2018.
  • COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Wood Turtle Glyptemys insculpta in Canada (2008-08-28)

    The Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) is a medium-sized turtle with adults weighing about 1kg and having a carapace (upper shell) length of 16-25cm. The carapace ranges from grayish-brown to yellow and is broad and low. Each scute (scale-like section) has pyramidal concentric ridges (growth lines), giving the carapace a sculptured appearance. In older turtles, the ridges on the scutes may become worn smooth. The plastron (bottom shell) does not have a hinge, and is yellow with black splotches on the outer posterior corner of each scute. The plastron is flat in females and juveniles and becomes concave in males as they reach maturity. Males are slightly larger than females and have a broader head. The skin is generally brown but the legs and neck often have yellow, orange or reddish colouring.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Wood Turtle (2008-11-26)

    This species is declining across much of its range, and occurs in small, increasingly disjunct populations. It is more terrestrial than other freshwater turtles, which makes it extremely vulnerable to collection for the pet trade. It has a long-lived life history typical of turtles, so that almost any chronic increase in adult and juvenile mortality leads to a decrease in abundance. Such increased mortality is occurring from increased exposure to road traffic, agricultural machinery and off-road vehicles, collection for pets, commercial collection for the pet trade, and, perhaps, for exotic food/medicines. Increased level of threat is associated with new or increased access to the species’ range by people.
  • Response Statement - Wood Turtle (2020) (2020-01-07)

    This turtle is declining across much of its range, where it occurs in small, increasingly disjunct subpopulations, many of which are separated from each other by distances greater than the species can be expected to disperse. It has strong site fidelity, often returning to restricted nesting and overwintering areas for decades. Although it requires both aquatic and terrestrial habitats, it is more terrestrial than other freshwater turtles, making it vulnerable to road kill, land use practices, and collection for the pet trade. Its ‘slow’ life history, characterized by delayed maturation and extreme longevity, requires exceedingly high adult survival to maintain stable populations. Any chronic increase in adult or juvenile mortality, or a catastrophic adult mortality event, is destabilizing and unsustainable. Increased exposure to traffic on paved and unpaved roads, agricultural activity (particularly mowing and tilling), and expanding populations of subsidized predators, as well as changing regimes in watersheds, have increased mortality and placed subpopulations at risk.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) in Canada (2020-12-23)

    The Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency is the competent minister under SARA for the Wood Turtle and has prepared this recovery strategy in accordance with section 37 of SARA. To the extent possible, it has been prepared in cooperation with the Department of National Defence, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, the Quebec Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP), the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources and Energy Development, the Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forestry, and the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, and any others as per section 39(1) of SARA.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada and associated National Historic Sites of Canada (2016-11-22)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada and associated National Historic Sites of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the four sites: Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada (KNP) and other land managed by Parks Canada in the Northern New-Brunswick Field Unit offering adequate habitat for the species targeted in this action plan (Fort Beauséjour – Fort Cumberland National Historic Site of Canada (NHS), Beaubassin – Fort Lawrence NHS, Grand-Pré NHS). The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA) (s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in KNP and associated NHS.

Orders

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2007 - 2008 (2008-08-28)

    2008 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
  • COSEWIC Annual Report 2018 to 2019 (2019-10-09)

    Over the past year COSEWIC assessed a total of 56 wildlife species, 2 of which were assigned a status of not at risk. Of these 56, COSEWIC re-examined the status of 25 wildlife species; of these, the majority (80%) were reassessed at the same or lower level of risk. To date and with the submission of this report, COSEWIC’s assessments now include 799 wildlife species in various risk categories including 356 endangered, 189 threatened, 232 special concern, and 22 extirpated (that is, no longer found in the wild in Canada). In addition, 18 wildlife species have been assessed as extinct, 59 wildlife species have been designated as data deficient, and 199 have been assessed as not at risk.

Permits and Related Agreements

  • Explanation for issuing permit(#SARA-AR-2011-0176), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2011-06-16)

    Undertake surveys for wood turtles and mark any turtles found. Turtles will be held on site for less than 5 minutes and will be marked via a 2 mm deep notch filed into their scutes. This species is regulated under the Species at Risk Act. This location is a federal land. Any dead turtles encountered on CFB Gagetown will be collected and sent to the New Brunswick Provincial Veterinarian and / or to the Veterinary School at the University of Prince Edward Island for necropsy.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#SARA-OR-2010-0151), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2010-06-22)

    This survey represents a first step in a comprehensive species at risk study for the CRL Site. The results will provide empirical data regarding the presence and location of any species at risk within the boundaries of the CRL property. The survey results will provide information which will be useful in developing management strategies. The proposed survey is anticipated to provide information on: presence or absence of various species at risk turtles; habitat selection and range of turtle species; provide details on age, sex and health of individual specimens. Surveyors will adhere to the established site protocols with respect to observational, capture and release methodologies. No animals will be injured, killed or removed. Nests and eggs will be left intact and undisturbed.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#UGMOQ-000301), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2016-08-01)

    Two new parking lots will be added to the infrastructures of St-Mathieu-du-Parc to meet customer needs and ease congestion during peak hour at the main parking lot. The main interventions consist of tree clearing, removal of a pit privy for its replacement by a holding tank system, blasting rock, excavation and backfilling, slopes remodelling and leveling, compaction and installation of an inorganic or paved surface.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species (2009-01-30)

    As part of its strategy for protecting wildlife species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Please submit your comments by March 20, 2009 for species undergoing normal consultations and by March 19, 2010 for species undergoing extended consultations.
  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species January 2020 (2020-01-07)

    COVID-19 and the consultations on the listing of species at risk As a result of the ongoing COVID 19 situation, it is not possible to have in-person meetings. Taking this into consideration, please note that consultation closing dates have been set for both the Normal and Extended consultations for the terrestrial species considered in this document. We will work to ensure that all the known, potentially affected parties have the opportunity to contribute to the consultations and that the consultation process is flexible and sensitive to the current context. If you wish to contribute, please submit your comments by April 2, 2021 for species undergoing normal consultations and by September 2, 2021 for species undergoing extended consultations. You may provide comments by email, letters, or through the online survey. The Government of Canada is committed to preventing the disappearance of wildlife species at risk from our lands. As part of its strategy for realizing that commitment, on June 5, 2003, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species provided for under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species on Schedule 1 benefit from the protection afforded by the prohibitions and from recovery planning requirements under SARA. Special Concern species benefit from its management planning requirements. Schedule 1 has grown from the original 233 to 622 wildlife species at risk. Please submit your comments by May 7, 2020, for terrestrial species undergoing normal consultations and by October 7, 2020, for terrestrial species undergoing extended consultations. For a description of the consultation paths these species will undergo, please visit the Species at Risk (SAR) Public Registry website at: The Minister of the Environment's Response to Species at Risk Assessments. To respond to survey questions, please go to the survey page.

Critical Habitat Descriptions in the Canada Gazette

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada's Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan (2016-07-06)

    Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan identifies the species for which recovery documents will be posted each fiscal year starting in 2014-2015. Posting this three year plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency to partners, stakeholders, and the public about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s plan to develop and post these proposed recovery strategies and management plans. However, both the number of documents and the particular species that are posted in a given year may change slightly due to a variety of circumstances. Last update September 1, 2019
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