Mississippi Mud Turtle: Ultimate Guide

Mississippi Mud Turtles are some of the most popular and cutest turtles and are a favorite with turtle lovers because of their small size. These animals are native to the ponds of the Eastern US, from New York down to Texas and seldom grow larger than 5 or 6 inches, making them very small when compared to some other species of turtle.

Although a turtle, which are of course the aquatic species not to be confused with the terrestrial tortoises, the mud turtle species is interesting because, as its name suggests, it’s actually semi-terrestrial.

They are also not known as a basking species, which makes them quite uncommon among most reptiles. They typically spend most of their time buried under leaves or hiding at the bottom of shallow bodies of water such as ponds, instead of lying out in the sunshine.

While their small size and relatively docile demeanor make them ideal pets, they are not suitable for younger pet owners because they actually require quite specific knowledge of terrarium and tank construction. The fact that they like to dwell in water also makes them an unsafe choice for very young pet owners.

Male vs. Female

Distinguishing mud turtles can be difficult for beginners, however, there are some key things that make the different sexes quite apparent if you know what to look for.

Male mud turtles are typically a little larger than their female counterparts and have larger heads, legs, and tails. The male mud turtle’s tail comes to a bony point towards the end, while the female’s tail does not. The male also has rough, scaly patches on the insides of the legs that female turtles don’t.


To some, turtles look a lot alike and it can be difficult to discern any key differences between species, however, there are some easy ways to figure out what species you’re actually dealing with.

For mud turtles, one popular method of identification is to count the plates or scutes it has on the shell. Most common turtles have 12 scutes, but mud turtles all have 11, both on upper and lower shells. Its also believed that mud turtles have a very particular odor, which, if you’re familiar with it, can make mud turtles instantly recognizable.

As a Pet

While mud turtles look very cute and their small size doesn’t betray any sort of viciousness, it’s important to never assume the temperament of a turtle. They have quite powerful and sharp beaks and will bite if they are provoked or feel threatened.

They can be on the grouchy side, that’s for sure. This makes it inadvisable to touch or pick up the turtle unnecessarily, which is another reason why they aren’t a great choice for young pet owners whose primary way of learning and communicating is through touch.

Its also known that mud turtles can emit a very foul odor, which can concern some pet owners who are unfamiliar with this species. However mud turtles are quite closely related to musk turtles and are capable of secreting a foul stench as a defense mechanism to scare off potential predators, and this can be a key sign that your turtle is feeling anxious and afraid.

Most mud turtles who are well socialized and well looked after won’t use this defense mechanism, but it’s important to be aware of it so you know what can happen, as well as how to avoid it.

There are also known to be some issues with salmonella and can pass this on to those who handle them, which can be very dangerous to children as they’re unlikely to wash their hands after handling turtles.


It’s hard to give a concrete figure about this and there are an array of factors and circumstances which can affect the longevity and health of turtles.

However, researchers estimate that most eastern mud turtles, including the Mississippi mud turtle, have lifespans of between 23 and 46 years. This makes them a very long-term companion and for people who are happy to make a very long-term connection with their pet, and commit to caring for it over such a long period, this can be a match made in heaven.

It is a serious commitment, however, and if you have doubts about the length of time you’ll be responsible for the animal, it’s best to consider a different pet altogether, for your sake and the sake of the animal itself.


These incredible animals have a range of special adaptions that make them very interesting and unique.

They actually have a very special respiratory system that allows them to breathe on land, and also under the water where it is able to stay submerged for up to 20 minutes.

Their webbed feet also give away their semi-aquatic, semi-terrestrial lifestyle, and of course, they have a slow metabolic rate like most turtles and tortoises which explains their relatively long lives and relaxed lifestyle. They also have the defensive scent capabilities of musk turtles that we mentioned earlier, so there are quite a lot of interesting quirks with these particular turtles.

Breeding Season

The breeding season for the Mississippi mud turtle extends from April through July, there individual females are capable of depositing several clutches of eggs. Females reach sexual maturity at an age of six to eight years and the eggs take 


The eggs are laid in a variety of places, from nests to burrows and sometimes just on the ground. The incubation period can be anywhere from three to three and a half months. Females will sometimes lay three clutches of eggs, but can also lay a single clutch or six clutches.

Growth Rate

These turtles aren’t very large and most will not exceed a size of around 5 inches, however, some large males can reach sizes of around 8 inches. For reference, hatchlings can be less than an inch in size, meaning that while small they do grow a fair amount and reasonable adjustments will need to be made to their enclosures to accommodate this.

Life Cycle

These turtles are common throughout, and can be found anywhere from small ponds, to the edges of lakes and even in roadside ditches and slow-moving streams. These creatures primarily forage on the bottom of their watery environments,  feeding on whatever animal and plant material they can find.


While exact population numbers aren’t known, these turtles appear to be in a relatively stable state and no known issues with population numbers have been reported. Their conversation status is at ‘least concern’ which makes them quite abundant and at no risk of extinction in the foreseeable future.


The diet of the mud turtle consists of worms, small fish, snails, and other pond based insects. They will also feed on green vegetation and will happily consume parsley, dandelion greens, and salad greens except for iceberg lettuce and romaine lettuce.

In captivity turtle pellets make a good supplement to these options and a calcium supplement should be given once a week, dusted over the main food.


There are quite a few predators who would gladly gobble up your beloved pet, so be on the lookout!

Raccoons, herons, and alligators are all known predators of the mud turtle in some capacity, so keep an eye on them.

Roaming Range

These creatures predominantly live in the eastern US, between Texas and New York. There are other variants such as the Florida mud turtle, but these are considered a totally separate species, while the Mississippi Mud Turtle is considered a subspecies of the main eastern mud turtle species.


Turtles can get all kinds of ailments, including respiratory diseases, vitamin A deficiencies, shell infections, shell fractures, parasites, and abscesses. Some signs of these issues may be obvious but in some cases, you’ll need to be more diligent. Some symptoms include nasal discharge, lack of appetite, and lethargy which are signs that your turtle isn’t feeling well.

Eye Color

The eye color of these turtles tends to be dark, ranging from black to brown.


Mud turtles do hibernate in the winter if they are in the wild, and typically hide from the cold by burrowing into the ground away from water sources, however, they do sometimes burrow into the beds of ponds also.

Can they Swim?

They are capable of swimming and they do this by using their webbed feet to propel themselves in the water. As previously mentioned, their respiratory systems are special and allow them to stay submerged for long periods of time, up to 20 minutes in some cases!


They do need quite a bit of care, and there are various health issues that can occur from dirty water, incorrect lighting, and inappropriate diet. Some of these issues are flaky shells, shell deformities, and even shell rot.

They can also be susceptible to ear infections, metabolic bone diseases, and intestinal parasites. Keeping them well looked after is usually enough to stop most of these issues, however.


Mud turtles tend to cost anywhere from 30 to 50 dollars, however, they need quite a lot of care and equipment which can make their actual cost much higher if you don’t already own the proper equipment to keep them healthy and comfortable.

Fun Facts

Unlike some species, these turtles love moving about, particularly after rainfall!