Flattened Musk Turtle: Ultimate Guide

The Flattened Musk Turtle, Sternotherus depressus, is one of five species of Musk Turtles. In the group are the Razorback Musk turtle, the Loggerhead Musk Turtle, the Stripe-Necked Musk Turtle, and the Common Musk Turtle.

What they all have in common as Musk Turtles is that, like skunks, if you scare them, you will know about it pretty quickly, because they release a truly hateful-smelling liquid from glands along their sides. So it’s extra-specially important to treat a Flattened Musk Turtle well, and to keep it calm at all costs.

Male VS Female

There is a slight size difference between the male and female Flattened Musk Turtle, but given their small size in any case, it’s not likely to be your best indicator of sex differentiation.

More straightforward is the fact that the males will have thicker, longer, spine-tipped tails, which females won’t have. Why won’t the females have it? Because it’s thought to have evolved as an anchor to keep the males in place during mating.


If you’re wondering whether what you have is a Flattened Musk Turtle, as opposed to any of the other members of the musk turtle family, an easy way to tell is to look at the carapace. If your turtle’s carapace has a keel on it – that’s not a Flattened Musk Turtle. In fact, that’s how it gets its name – from having no keel, but a flattened top to the carapace.

You should also notice some serrations on the back edge of the carapace.

Other clues to the Flattened Musk Turtle include the fact that all four of its feet are webbed, and it has two barbels on its chin.

Colorwise, you’re looking for anything from a dark brown to a yellow-brown, and even to an orange coloration. You might also get small black streaks or spots on the carapace.

The head and body will be generally an olive green, mottled with black, and the plastron of the turtle will be somewhere between a yellow and a pink.

As a Pet

Flattened Musk Turtles are a rarity in the pet trade, so you may have trouble finding one that’s both a) for sale, and b) for sale from a reputable breeder, who can guarantee the turtle was raised in captivity (and is therefore not reducing the wild population, where they are endangered).

Getting one raised in captivity is to your benefit too, as they will be more acclimated to human beings, and less likely to release their musk in random moments of human-fear.

Their natural habitat includes lakes and rivers with rocky or sandy bottoms.

You need to set up an aquatic environment in a tank that can hold 40 gallons or more. You’ll need at least 4 inches of water for new hatchlings, and between 8-12 inches of water for adults.

Beyond that, you only need sparse decoration of the tank – retreats and hiding spots are the key to ensuring calm and stress-free Flattened Musk Turtles.


Flattened Musk Turtles generally live to around their fiftieth year, barring accidents and give or take a handful.


The Flattened Musk Turtle is one fairly large adaptation all by itself. The compressed shell and flattened carapace is thought to be a distinctive adaptation that allows it to wedge itself into rocky crevices, both to hide from potential predators and to prevent it from being washed away during episodes of flooding.

Breeding Season

Breeding in the Flattened Musk Turtle takes place in the spring, with nesting season stretching from May all the way through to September.


The eggs of the Flattened Musk Turtle are around 1.5 inches long, and are usually only laid in clutches of 1-3 eggs, though there are likely to be two clutches per breeding season. This relatively small clutch number is an issue which has contributed to the endangerment of the species.

The eggs are oddly oblong, with brittle shells, meaning that hatching too is a precarious business, which can take anything from 12 hours to two full days.

Growth Rate

The hatchling of the Flattened Musk Turtle has a carapace of just over an inch in length. Growth from hatchling through the juvenile stage to maturity can take between 4-6 years for males, and 6-8 years for females. That said, fully grown Flattened Musk Turtles remain small, usually around 3-4 inches, a size they retain for their five decades of life.

Life Cycle

There are the usual three phases in the life of a Flattened Musk Turtle. They are considered hatchlings for the first two years of life, then juveniles for the next 2-6 years, depending on when their sexual maturity kicks in. Reaching maturity between 4-8 years, they are adults for the rest of their several decades of life.


Population numbers are currently uncertain for the Flattened Musk Turtle in the wild, but given its restricted natural habitat (it is native only to Alabama as far as is known), and the fact that it has lost 90% of that habitat to the likes of siltation, it is now on the critically endangered list.


In the wild, Flattened Musk Turtles will mostly feed on aquatic insects and molluscs. Adults will particularly look for aquatic snails, mussels and clams, while juveniles will usually restrict themselves to the easier food of aquatic insects. Naturally, in feeding your Flattened Musk Turtle at home, you should emulate this diet as much as possible.

As well as this diet, interspersed with non-toxic aquatic plants, there are commercial food pellets you can buy that will help your Flattened Musk Turtle get a more rounded diet.


As both hatchlings and juveniles in the wild, the Flattened Musk Turtle is vulnerable to attack from everything from wading birds and predatory fish. When they grow to adulthood, they can be an opportunistic snack for raccoons.

It is also likely that large common snapping turtles are a threat to both juveniles and adult Flattened Musk Turtles. That said, the activities of humans in changing the silt levels of some important wetlands and rivers is likely to be a more endemic threat to Flattened Must Turtles in the wild than natural predation.

Roaming Range

The Flattened Musk Turtle does not have a large roaming range. As a smaller turtle, it is generally limited to its local wetland area in Alabama. When translocated as a pet, it is unlikely to venture far into areas that do not resemble its natural aquatic and wetland habitat.


The Flattened Musk Turtle is extremely sensitive to waterborne diseases and to changes in the purity of its water source.

It is thought such diseases, delivered by industrial and mining run-off, have been highly detrimental to the species’ survival in the wild, so regular vet visits and a close monitoring of the filtration system on any pet environment for your Flattened Musk Turtle will be vital.

Eye Color

The Flattened Musk Turtle’s eyes have concentric rings of color, from dark brown and black at the outside, through lighter brown or orange, to what is usually a bright yellow ring surrounding a dark or black center.


Flattened Musk Turtles hibernate through the winter. To avoid the possibility of freezing in wintry wetlands, they usually burrow into the mud at the bottom of lakes and rivers, keeping their temperature regulated so they can safely emerge in the spring.

Can they swim?

Yes, they can. The Flattened Musk Turtle is a mostly aquatic and wetland breed of turtle, so swimming is one of its main methods of getting from A-B in its natural habitat – and any pet environment made to resemble that habitat.


The Flattened Musk Turtle is relatively low maintenance in terms of the care you need to take with it. Feed an adult Flattened Musk Turtle every two or three days. If you have a juvenile though, you will need to feed them either every day or at least every other day to make sure they’re getting enough nutrition for their growth phase. 


Due to their critically endangered status and their extremely limited natural habitat, it is not recommended that you purchase a Flattened Musk Turtle from an exotic pet store. The aim of conservation groups and conservation laws is to limit the trade in Flattened Musk Turtles so as to give them as much of a chance as a breed in the wild as is possible.

If you get one from a reputable source, the price will vary depending on local factors. Fitting out an environment for Flattened Musk Turtles should not be overly complicated or expensive – you’ll need a tank somewhere in the region of 40 gallons, so as to give them enough space for the resting places they prefer.

As they are a breed that is highly sensitive to changes in water purity, you will also need to invest in a filtration system if you want them to have the best chance of survival and thriving.

Fun Facts

The day you learn that the Latin name for a Flattened Musk Turtle is Sternotherus depressus is the day you want to give them a cuddle and tell them everything will be alright.

Similarly, the day you realize quite how endangered their natural habitat is, that’s the day you want to help make sure everything will be alright.