Meet the Critters! The Yellow Mud Turtle

Our largest yellow mud turtle. You can see the webbing between his toes, which allows him to swim with ease.

This week, we’re meeting the yellow mud turtle!  The yellow mud turtle is an abundant resident of Cheyenne Bottoms, living in quiet, still water, preferably in areas with a muddy bottom.  They spend their days hanging out in the mud, hunting for food.  They are also well adapted to surviving droughts, they will burrow into the mud to avoid the baking heat.  During winter, they either burrow into the mud, or take up residence in muskrat dens.

The yellow mud turtles gets its name from the yellow markings on their chin, as well as the color of their shell.  They are small turtles, the state record for a yellow mud turtle in Kansas had a 5.75 inch long carapace.  We’re awaiting official measurements, but our largest resident mud turtle here at the KWEC may beat that record.  Yellow mud turtles are unique at Cheyenne Bottoms – they are the only resident aquatic turtle species to have two hinges on their shell.  This allows them to close their shell almost as well as a box turtle.

Yellow mud turtles are not picky critters – they’ll eat everything from insects, crayfish, snails, and worms to dead fish and aquatic vegetation.  Thanks to their sturdy shell, there are very few predators of adult yellow mud turtles.  Vehicles are the biggest danger to an adult mud turtle.  When alarmed, yellow mud turtles will emit a foul odor, called musk, that usually drives away any predators.  Nobody wants to eat something that smells like that!  Young mud turtles are on the menu for water birds, small mammals, other turtles, and snakes.

Our small yellow mud turtle in the process of demostrating his shell closing ability. This little guy could fit into the palm of your hand.

About Jean Aycock

Jean Aycock is an Educator at Ft. Hays State University’s Kansas Wetlands Education Center (KWEC) at Cheyenne Bottoms. Jean received a Bachelor of Science degree in Forestry - Wildlife Management from Mississippi State University, and a Master of Science degree in Wildlife Ecology from the University of Arkansas-Monticello, studying shorebird migration. Jean is a native of southeast Missouri, and an avid birder, hiker, and crafter.

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