Musk Turtle as Pets: Ultimate Guide to Caring for Common Musk Turtles

Are you thinking of getting a musk turtle as a pet? Having turtles as pets is becoming a widespread hobby, with more and more people buying different breeds of turtles. If you also have your mindset to bring a musk turtle in your home, then prepare yourself and learn everything about them in this guide.

With this guide, we will introduce you to these fascinating little turtles and their general lifestyle. Read about them here and learn what you can do to make their stay in your home fulfilling and happy.


What are Musk Turtles? – Species Profile

Musk Turtle

Also known as Eastern Musk Turtle or Stinkpot, this species has become one of the most popular choices for pets due to their small size and ease of care. These aquatic animals are found in the Eastern American region, along with Southeastern Canada. Now, you must be wondering why the name Stinkpot?

Well, that’s because these turtles release a foul and musky odor from its scent glands to drive the predators away.

In the wild, they are often under risk of getting eaten by other animals and have to keep releasing the odor that stinks. Hence, they got their name “Stinkpot.”

The scientific name Sternotherus Odaratus, Musk Turtles, belongs to the Kinosternidae family. Even in adulthood, they grow about 3 to 5 inches and have a life expectancy of over 50 years. So, if you get this turtle as a companion during childhood years, it is most likely to reside with you for a long time.

Due to their small size, many people think it’s easy to care and provide for them. But, mark our words; musk turtles are not a commitment that you should be taking lighting. They are feisty creatures that can make your life more enjoyable.


Learn about Stinkpot’s Behavior and Temperament

Common Musk Turtles are currently the top choice among aquatic turtle species. However, you must not underestimate the amount of care these pets require. Even though they rarely grow larger than five and a half inches, they can still be a nuisance sometimes.

Considering the fact that they are not strong swimmers, they tend to stay in the shallows and prefer spending most of their day in the water. They are nocturnal beings. Hence, you are most likely to see them active when the sun is down.

Musk turtles are very sensitive, and they feel threatened very quickly. That’s why; Mother Nature has provided them the way to escape the predators by using the strong, repelling, and foul smell. Besides that, they are spunky creatures and often scratch or bite if they feel uncomfortable around you.

No matter the behavior, turtles must be handled with care and respect. And to make sure that you don’t get bit by them, you must learn the technique to pick them up from the rear of the shell.

One thing every turtle owner must know is that aquatic animals often carry the salmonella bacteria. So, after you get them from a store, make sure that you wash your hands each time after handling them.

In case there are children in the house, it’s better to stand guard while playing with the turtles. Remember that Stinkpots are aquatic animals that are good for observation. Rather than having physical contact with them, leave them be and see them swimming around.


How to get a Musk Turtle?

Musk Turtle Facts

The best place where you can find musk turtles is from turtle breeders. Captive-bred turtles are suitable as pets instead of wild ones. Living in their natural habitat, musk turtles often get nasty.

So, if you bring the wild ones into your home, they won’t be happy about it and might try to bite you frequently. To prevent such circumstances, buy the well-bred turtles as they are kept with humans since birth.

Breeders often keep turtles that can lay eggs to ensure that people get pets that are cute and easy to care for. A musk turtle can lay around one to nine eggs at once, which takes 60 to 80 days to hatch.

The breeders take care of the eggs and the hatchlings from the day they are born. So, you won’t have to get one from the wild.


How to create an ideal house for the Musk Turtles?

As the average size length of musk turtles is not that big, creating a housing area for them is not a big hassle. Hatchling turtles are not bigger than the thumbnail. However, despite their small size, they require significant care and grow up healthy as long as their needs are met.

Tank and Aquarium Considerations

If you are buying a young turtle, you won’t need a large aquarium in the beginning. You can keep them in small containers and observe them from a distance as long as they are 6 to 12 months old. Another minute detail that you should pay attention to is that musk turtles dwell at the bottom, also called bottom walkers.

Getting an oval or round aquarium or container will limit their walk. So, purchase a flat-bottom tank and fill it with underwater debris and food. It’ll not only be easier to clean but lend them enough space to walk around and explore.

Get a 30 gallons tank and keep them in it. Sometimes, people tend to buy a couple of turtles to ensure that their pets don’t feel lonely during their time in captivity. We would say that you house turtles with same-gender instead of keeping the opposite ones.

Male musk turtles are often too-eager and tend to harass the female. To prevent the harassment from happening, you’ll need to separate them or keep them in different tanks.

Now, we’ll get to the habitat inside the tank. As stinkpot releases the foul smell (a lot of bad smell), you will have to clean the tank more frequently than you realize. Hence, install a strong filter to keep the water clean and odor-free.
Plus, they love high-protein diets (we will discuss the food later).

Due to this, it gets relatively messier as compared to other turtles. So, a strong water filter is essential. Moreover, you must manually clean the tank every month.

Ask your local pet store for a water testing kit to know the cleanliness levels of the water. Keep an eye on the levels of unsafe water; if it gets overboard, clean the tank ASAP.

Furthermore, they might prefer living in water, but they need a little room to sit out of water. So, make sure that you install some structures inside the container and plants to enrich the water and give them space to explore.


Temperature Control

Since they are recognized as nearly aquatic animals, the common musk turtles will like to come out for basking occasionally.

They need to get some light almost every day. To help them do this, keep a rock on the top of the aquarium or nearby, ensuring that it is out of the water.

Inside the room, you may need to customize the temperature so that they are better adjusted to the surroundings.

  • Outside the pool, there are two things that you need to take care of, the basking temperature and air temperature. The basking temperature 82℉ to 90℉ is ideal, whereas the air temperature to complement basking must be 75℉ to 85℉.
  • Secondly, we have the water temperature. The baby and adult common musk turtles are bred under different temperatures conditions. For the babies, the water temperature must be kept between 74℉ to 79℉, and the same for adults must be between 68℉ to 73℉.



Wild common musk turtles will get enough light exposure from the sun, and they will self-learn to adjust their bodies to get the optimal amount of light for vitamin D3.

But the turtles bred in captivity need to be given an appropriate amount of light if you want them to stay active and have strong bones. The solution is UVB lighting, and it can be bought with different configurations.

Light is essential to break down the Vitamin D3. Although the pelleted diet can cover the amount of calcium required by the turtles, artificial lighting fixes everything that may be missed by the pellets.


Eating Habits and Preferences

Common musk turtles love aquatic foods and a few types of meat-based products. Plus, eating live food is also not a big thing for these small yet spunky reptiles. Moreover, if live food is not available, dried foods and other packet-based foods will also work.

But take care that the dried foods can be shrimp or meat protein. No, they do not like to eat dried vegetation in any case.

What do common musk turtles love to eat?

Crickets. Yes, the stinkpots like to eat crickets. Out of all the species, the brown and black crickets are their favorite. This is because crickets are nothing but a breathing and flying bar of proteins brimming with all sorts of amino acids essential for their growth.

Other than crickets, your pet turtle will also love to eat Dubia cockroaches and locusts. We already know that they like to eat shrimps. Among the fishes, they want salmon the most.

Furthermore, small mice and chicks are also a good source of protein for the turtles. So you can also include these in the diet. But not always. Keep it occasional.

Live aquatic insects are a staple for the common musk turtles, apart from their favorite, crickets, they like earthworms, snails, mollusks, and other aquatic insects.

Pro Tip – Do not give live aquatic food, especially snails, to the turtles that were bred in captivity. This is because snails carry some diseases which may be more harmful and deterring for the captive turtles than the wild ones.

Out of the plants, you can give them duckweed and elodea frequently. If you are keeping your musk turtle in a natural pond that has fishes and some aquatic life too, don’t worry, the turtle won’t eat them.

Just keep the fish that is more conducive to an artificial pond. Moreover, the common musk turtles will keep the habitat clean by eating the insects and other pesky aquatic beings.

Can I give them pellets?

Yes, the stinkpots can also eat pre-made protein pellets, especially the bred captives. Find out the best type of pelleted for the common musk turtles available in your region, and you are good to go.


What to do if the turtle refuses to eat anything?

Turtles may be slower or lethargic sometimes, but this is not why they must not be eating. They love to eat crickets and other insects, so if your common musk turtle is not eating anything, no matter what you give to him, it raises some red flags.

There are a few things that you must check before coming to conclusions.

Check the Temperature – Common musk turtles have body sensitivity to coldness, the turtle won’t eat if the temperature of the pool tank is lower or cold. So, keep a check on the temperature inside the pool and outside.

Change the Food – Some common musk turtles are really picky about their food. So, if you have changed their food to try something new in the past, don’t do that. This might have spooked them, and now they won’t eat anything. Feed their favorite food again (it does not have to be shrimps or crickets necessarily). Just give it what the turtle ate the most before this behavior.

Illness – The refusal to eat food may not always be behavioral or thermal; sometimes, a health issue or disease can also dissuade them from eating at all. So, as an owner, you must first learn the common signs and symptoms of illness or disease. Any turtle which is feeling a bit difficult to breathe, or wheezes and sneezes a lot can be ill.


Added to this, swollen and irritated eyes, along with nasal discharge, is yet another reason for you to worry and judge their illness. Furthermore, any sort of discoloration on the shell, absence of feces, and worms in feces are the signs of one or the other disease.

Lastly, female turtles may be suffering from dystocia if they are not eating. Dystocia implies that the female turtle is not able to lay eggs. She may seem well at the beginning. However, things can get bad very quickly, including a lot of weight in a lot less time.

So, if you experience any of these symptoms with regards to the turtle, take it to the vet immediately.


Some General Health Problems Troubling your Turtle

Since we are on the topic of illnesses, let’s also look at the general health issues that irritate your turtles and force them to behave erratically.

Infections – Bacterial and viral infections are common in turtles, especially those who have lived in captivity since birth. This is because they have been given a pristine environment to live from the beginning. Thus, even a slightest of discrepancy in their diet, habitat, and surroundings can lead to problems.

Diet is one of the biggest sources of all types of infections troubling the turtles. Especially the live food. Processed and dried foods are cleaned and treated to make them safer for the turtles. But the live food is eaten just as Mother Nature had intended them to be.

Hypovitaminosis A – Hypo implies “Less.” This is a condition associated with less than the required amount of vitamins in the turtle’s body. Especially Vitamin A, lower amounts of vitamin A leads to the optic and respiratory issues. And this may only be the beginning of a series of complications arising due to lack of vitamin.

However, tackling hypovitaminosis A is simple. Feed vitamin supplements to the turtle that will ensure that they are getting enough amount of the macronutrient for a healthy body.

Parasites Induced Problems – There are many parasites already thriving within the body of aquatic animals. Most common are nematodes and flagellates. These worms do not affect the turtle’s health as much as the tapeworm would do. Some signs of the other more dreaded form of parasites include weight loss, fatigue, and diarrhea.

However, to confirm the presence of the worms, you may need to take the common musk turtles to the vet for a fecal exam. You can also conduct a fecal exam at home, provided you can get your hands on the turtle’s stool that is excreted in the last 6 hours.


Please think before you buy as they need commitment

After going through the detailed guide, you must have realized that the common musk turtles are very sensitive animals who are also easily threatened. You need to love the captive ones more than the wild ones.

As the former are not habitual of the wild wild world out there. They are born into captivity and have not seen the fiery wilderness or swam in a river or pond full of threats.

So, do not rush with anything. If you buy a common musk turtle, rest assured that you are in for the long run.



Can I give a mixed diet to my turtle? Yes, even though the common musk turtles are a bit choosy about what they eat, giving them a combination of different kinds of foods can work. For best results, add 40% of meats (live or dried) with 20% of vegetables and 40% of pellets.

How often shall I clean the tank? Taking the average size of the tank as 40 gallons, it will be great if you can clean it up, end to end once a month.


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