Razor-Backed Musk Turtle: Ultimate Guide

These turtles have the scientific name of Sternotherus carinatus. They are very distinctive and easy to care for, making them an ideal pet. 

Male vs Female

Males of this species tend to have thicker and longer tails than their female counterparts. They more commonly have rough scales on their hind legs and thigh regions. The males may also be slightly larger than the females. 


These turtles are relatively small and easily identifiable. Their shells measure between 5.1 and 6.3 inches long. Some have been known to grow up to 8.3 inches long. 

They have a strong and pronounced dorsal keel or ridge along the back of their shell. This is where their name comes from. It is clearest in young turtles but can still be seen easily in older ones. 

The colors of Razor-back Musk Turtles range from olive green to gray to tan. You will often notice darker spots or lines on their head, carapace, and feet. A carapace is the hard upper shell of the turtle. 

As a Pet

These turtles are fairly docile and make an ideal pet for a novice turtle owner. 


These turtles are known to live in excess of 25 years with the proper care. Most turtles of this species will live somewhere between 30 and 40 years, although some have been known to live to the age of 50. The length of their lifespan depends on the quality of their environment and the care that they receive. 


These turtles have evolved to be able to survive in deepwater habitats. They do not need to bask too frequently and are very docile. 

Breeding Season

The breeding season for these turtles is during the spring. They then enter their nesting season between the months of May and June. In more southern regions of their habitat, the nesting period can sometimes begin earlier. 


Female Razor-back Musk Turtles will lay 2 or 3 clutches annually. Each clutch can contain up to 7 eggs. In order for these eggs to hatch, you will need to maintain a temperature of 84 degrees and a high humidity level. It is advised that you use an incubation medium to enhance the chances of success. 

Growth Rate

These turtles have a fairly fast growth rate. This will vary depending on their environment and the level of food and care they receive. 

Life Cycle

The turtles will reach reproductive maturity between the ages of 4 and 8. At this time they tend to measure between 3 and 4.7 inches. 


There are no specific figures available on the population of wild Razor-back Musk Turtles. That being said, they have been evaluated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature to categorize how endangered they are as a species.

There are abundant numbers of this turtle and the population figures appear to be stable. This means that they are in the category of least concern. 


Razor-back Musk Turtles eat mainly animals that can be found in the water. Popular food choices include fish, snails, crustaceans, aquatic insects, and clams.

They are omnivorous by nature, meaning that their diet should contain some plants as well as animals. Commercial turtle pellets are a good food source as they have been formulated to allow your pet to receive the optimal levels of nutrition. We advise complementing this with dark green leafy vegetables, water lettuce, and anacharis. 

You can also feed them sliced carrots and squash, earthworms, goldfish, and shrimp as treats. Many turtle owners opt to have a separate feeding tank as these turtles are very messy eaters. You will need to feed your turtle once every day.


Natural predators of these turtles are birds of prey, skunks, raccoons, bullfrogs, and the largemouth bass. The eggs are eaten by raccoons and skunks, and the other predators eat the young turtles. Adult Razor-back Musk Turtles are commonly predated by alligators. 

Roaming Range

These turtles are most commonly found in streams and rivers with a sandy or gravelly substrate. They also like areas with dead wood deposits, as this provides a great spot for hiding and basking. 

You are likely to see them in the middle of Texas, Arkansas, southern Mississippi, and southern Oklahoma. They can be found all across North America. 

They tend to be most active during the daytime and like to spend time basking in the sun. 


Common diseases seen in aquatic turtles include respiratory issues, abscesses, shell infections, shell fractures, Vitamin A deficiencies, and parasites. 

A Vitamin A deficiency will present as a lack of energy and appetite. As well as this you may notice their eyelids swelling and leaking pus. The ears may also begin to swell, they will exhibit symptoms of a respiratory issue (such as excess mucus and wheezing), and their kidneys will start to fail. 

If you notice hard swellings with thick, dry, cottage cheese-like pus oozing out, this suggests they have an abscess. Other signs of illness in your turtle include nasal discharge, lack of appetite, and lethargy. 

If you notice your turtle acting in any way differently, we strongly advise that you take them to your vet for a checkup. It can be hard to tell from looking that they are ill but turtles can decline quickly. 

Eye Color

Razor-back Musk Turtles have yellow eyes.


Razor-back Musk Turtles are known to hibernate. Towards the south of their natural habitat, you will find turtles that go through a period of aquatic hibernation. This means that they escape the frost and freezing temperatures by hibernating on the base of the water. This area of water is denser and therefore less likely to freeze. 

Some other species are terrestrial hibernators. This means that they bury themselves deep in the soil and gradually move closer to the surface as the temperatures begin to increase. 

Can they swim?

Yes, Razor-back Musk Turtles are an aquatic species. This means that they can swim with no problems. They are cold-blooded animals and use the water to assist with temperature regulation. 


At a minimum, you will need a tank that provides 10 gallons of water per inch of shell length on your turtle. You will need a glass or acrylic walled aquarium tank for this. We recommend purchasing a tank that is large enough to accommodate your turtle when it is fully grown.

This tank should also have a screen or a cover that fits tightly over the top of the tank. This will prevent your turtle from escaping and from objects falling into the tank. 

This tank will need a flat area for the turtle to bask on, and easy access to this. Good basking platform ideas include cork bark, smooth rocks, stable platforms, and driftwood. 

The air temperature inside the tank needs to be 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If your home is cooler than this we advise investing in a UV light to keep the temperature up.

The basking area should be hotter than this, at about 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The water temperature should fall between 75 and 85 degrees. We recommend investing in a thermometer to allow you to closely monitor these temperatures. 

The UV light should be mounted at a distance of about 18 to 24 inches from where your turtle is. Ensure there is no possibility that the light will fall into the tank, as this could kill your turtle. 

You will need to change and replace the water inside your tank regularly to ensure it stays clean. Dirty water can cause your turtle to become unwell. When you replace the water it is advised that you use a de-chlorinating treatment as faucet water can contain dangerously high levels of chlorine for your turtle. 

If you choose to feed your turtle in their tank, we advise you to change the water once per week. If you opt to use a separate feeding tank, the water will need to be changed twice per month. 


Razor-back Musk Turtles are likely to cost you about $120 to purchase as a hatchling. This is a fairly decent price for a turtle but is not the only cost that you need to consider.

You will need to invest in a decent-sized tank along with substrate materials, a basking area, and some tank decorations. You will need a filter, a UV light, and a cover for the tank too. As well as this, you will need to purchase food, monitoring equipment (such as pH and nitrate testing kits), and dechlorinating tablets.

You should consider all of these factors, plus the costs incurred by vet trips, before purchasing a turtle. If you do not have the financial freedom to purchase these things, you should probably not get a Razor-back Musk Turtle. 

Fun Facts 

These turtles are also sometimes called stinkpot turtles. This is because they have glands on the corners of their plastron (the protective layer over their chest). These are known to emit awful smells and an orange liquid.