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Reptiles of Washington

Actinemys marmorata, Western pond turtle

Description. This is a medium-sized turtle. It is brown or slightly greenish-brown with small dark flecks or streaks on the shell.

Distribution (GAP Analysis map). In Washington, the western pond turtle occurs in only a few small populations in the Columbia River Gorge. It used to occur widely in the southern Puget Sound lowlands, but is now extinct there. Major reasons for local extinctions of this turtle probably include loss of nesting beaches around streams and ponds due to human development, and perhaps predation on young turtles by introduced predators such as bullfrogs. Outside Washington, the western pond turtle occurs in western Oregon and California. 

Habitat. These turtles live in ponds, lakes, and streams. They bask on floating logs and vegetation, and on pond and river banks. They nest adjacent to ponds and streams on sunny patches on land with soft soil.

Cool Biology Facts. Male western pond turtles have longer tails, and a more concave plastron (an indented belly). Hatchling turtles have flexible shells, and are easily eaten by predators such as birds and raccoons; in the wild, they hide in aquatic vegetation and are extremely difficult to find.

Conservation status. The few remaining populations of western pond turtles are strictly protected, and are being monitored by Washington Fish and Wildlife biologists. Young turtles are raised in captivity until they grow large enough for their shells to harden, which makes them less susceptible to predation. These young turtles have had excellent survivorship after being released into the wild.

Actinemys marmorata, Western pond turtle
Actinemys marmorata, Western pond turtle
Photograph by Brad Moon.