LRP - Licenses

LRP - Regulations

LRP - Permits

Recreation - Everyone

Recreation - Trapping

Recreation - Fishing

Recreation - Hunting

Education - Everyone

Education - Kids

Education - Educators

To sign up for updates or to access your subscriber preferences, please enter your contact information below.

Share your observations

Share your observations of plants or non-game animals with the Natural Heritage Inventory.

Eagle license plate

Help care for rare plants and animals by ordering an Endangered Resources plate.

Natural communities
Explore Wisconsin's natural communities.
Rare plants
Learn about plants on the Natural Heritage Working List.
Rare animals
Find rare and non-game animals.
Other features
Discover unique resources.
Contact information
For information on Wisconsin's rare animals, contact:
Rich Staffen
Conservation Biologist

Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta)



Wood turtles (Clemmys insculpta), a Threatened species in Wisconsin, prefer rivers and streams with adjacent riparian wetlands and upland deciduous forests. This species often forages in open wet meadows or in shrub-carr habitats dominated by speckled alder. They overwinter in streams and rivers in deep holes or undercut banks where there is enough water flow to prevent freezing. This semi-terrestrial species tends to stay within about 300 meters of rivers and streams but exceptions certainly occur, especially within the driftless area of southwestern and western Wisconsin. This species becomes active in spring as soon as the ice is gone and air temperatures reach around 50 degrees in March or April. They can remain active into mid-October but have been seen breeding under the ice. Wood turtles can breed at any time of year, but primarily during the spring or fall. Nesting usually begins in late May in northern WI and early June in southern WI and continues through June. This species nests in sand or gravel, usually very close to the water, although it is known to nest along sand and gravel roads or in abandoned gravel pits some distance from water. Hatching occurs in 55-75 days (August) depending on air temperatures. This species does not overwinter in nests, unlike other WI turtles. See the species guidance document for avoidance measures and management guidance from the Natural Heritage Conservation Program.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - both state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where this species has been found to date and is not meant as a range map.

Documented locations of Glyptemys insculpta in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusTHR
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS3
Global RankG3
Tracked by NHIY

Species guidance

This document contains identification and life history information for Wood Turtle. It also describes how to screen projects for potential impact to this species, lists avoidance measures, and provides general management guidance.

Wood Turtle Species Guidance Document [PDF]




Wood Turtle  [Photo #22786]

Juvenile Wood Turtle

Photo © A.B. Sheldon.

Wood Turtle  [Photo #22787]

Wood Turtle

Photo © A.B. Sheldon.

Wood Turtle  [Photo #22788]

Wood Turtle plastron

Photo © A.B. Sheldon.

Wood Turtle  [Photo #22789]

Wood Turtle

Photo © A.B. Sheldon.

Wood Turtle  [Photo #22790]

Wood Turtle

Photo © A.B. Sheldon.

Wood Turtle  [Photo #13701]

Wood Turtle in Alder Thicket, Moore's Creek in Monroe County.

Photo by Eric Epstein, WDNR.

Wood Turtle  [Photo #1026]

Photo © A.B. Sheldon.

Wood Turtle  [Photo #24162]

Wood turtle at nesting site

Photo by Rich Staffen, WDNR.

Wood Turtle  [Photo #24165]

Wood turtle capture along road

Photo by Rich Staffen, WDNR.

Wildlife Action Plan

Note: the information presented here comes from the 2005 Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan. The Wildlife Action Plan is currently under revision, so this page will be updated with new information before the end of 2015.

Native community (habitat) associations

The table below lists the natural communities that are associated with Wood Turtle. Only natural communities for which Wood Turtle is "significantly" (score=3) or "moderately" (score=2) associated are shown. Please see the Wildlife Action Plan to learn how this information was developed.

Ecological landscape associations

The table below lists the ecological landscape association scores for Wood Turtle. The scores correspond to the map (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None). For more information, please see the Wildlife Action Plan.

This map shows the probability of Wood Turtle occurring in each of Wisconsin's Ecological Landscapes.  Actual scores can be found in the table to the left.

Back to Top

Landscape-Community combinations of highest ecological priority*

Ecological priorities are the combinations of natural communities and ecological landscapes that provide Wisconsin's best opportunities to conserve important habitats for a given Species of Greatest Conservation Need. The 10 highest scoring combinations are considered ecological priorities and are listed below. More than 10 combinations are listed if multiple combinations tied for 10th place. For more information, please see the Wildlife Action Plan.

Ecological LandscapeCommunity
Central Sand Plains Pine Barrens
Central Sand Plains Sand Prairie
Central Sand Plains Oak Barrens
Central Sand Plains Alder Thicket
Central Sand Plains Floodplain Forest
Central Sand Plains Shrub Carr
Forest Transition Northern Mesic Forest
Forest Transition Warmwater rivers
Forest Transition Warmwater streams
Forest Transition Coolwater streams
Forest Transition Coldwater streams
North Central Forest Alder Thicket
North Central Forest Northern Mesic Forest
North Central Forest Submergent Aquatic
North Central Forest Coldwater streams
North Central Forest Warmwater rivers
North Central Forest Warmwater streams
North Central Forest Coolwater streams
Northeast Sands Pine Barrens
Northeast Sands Bracken Grassland
Northeast Sands Coolwater streams
Northeast Sands Coldwater streams
Northeast Sands Warmwater rivers
Northern Highland Coolwater streams
Northern Highland Warmwater rivers
Northern Highland Warmwater streams
Northern Highland Submergent Aquatic
Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Shrub Carr
Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northern Mesic Forest
Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Warmwater rivers
Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Warmwater streams
Northwest Lowlands Warmwater rivers
Northwest Sands Pine Barrens
Northwest Sands Coolwater streams
Northwest Sands Oak Barrens
Northwest Sands Coldwater streams
Northwest Sands Submergent Aquatic
Northwest Sands Warmwater rivers
Superior Coastal Plain Great Lakes Barrens
Superior Coastal Plain Coldwater streams
Superior Coastal Plain Warmwater streams
Superior Coastal Plain Submergent Aquatic
Superior Coastal Plain Coolwater streams
Western Coulee and Ridges Dry Prairie
Western Coulee and Ridges Sand Prairie
Western Coulee and Ridges Oak Barrens
Western Coulee and Ridges Warmwater rivers
Western Coulee and Ridges Coldwater streams
Western Coulee and Ridges Floodplain Forest
Western Coulee and Ridges Coolwater streams
Western Coulee and Ridges Shrub Carr
Western Coulee and Ridges Submergent Aquatic
Western Prairie Warmwater streams
Western Prairie Coldwater streams
Western Prairie Coolwater streams
Western Prairie Warmwater rivers

* Ecological priority score is a relative measure that is not meant for comparison between species. This score does not consider socio-economical factors that may dictate protection and/or management priorities differently than those determined solely by ecological analysis. Further, a low ecological priority score does not imply that management or preservation should not occur on a site if there are important reasons for doing so locally.

Back to Top

Conservation actions

  • Allow natural stream erosion and deposition processes to operate (which provide nesting sites), protect riparian buffer zones, and manage streams overall for best water quality practices.
  • Control recreational access to communal breeding sites during nesting season.
  • Education is needed where wood turtles are being harvested for food.
  • Long term monitoring is needed to evaluate population status and track trends of representative populations. Nest site monitoring is the most feasible.
  • Minimize sediment pollution and pesticide loading throughout the watershed to improve aquatic habitats and water quality.
  • Permanent protection of important communal breeding sites and surrounding habitat is needed.
  • Permanent protection of shorelines and buffers is needed throughout the range.
  • Research is needed to determine effective ways to protect nests and improve recruitment rates.
  • Three general wood turtle conservation recommendations are: a) protect wood turtles from exploitation (for food, biological supply, and pets); b) accurately determine and monitor distribution and status, especially of nest areas; and c) incorporate wood t
  • Wildlife habitat in general is poorly represented in zoning and planning and major strides are needed in policy and education here.

Back to Top

Threats and issues

  • Dams can impede natural erosion and deposition processes in streams and negatively impact nesting opportunities by stabilizing banks and sand bars.
  • Habitat loss and degradation from shoreline and other development in riparian corridors are a threat to this species.
  • Clear cutting and development within 50 meters of streams can damage primary habitat and stream water quality.
  • Over-collecting prior to Threatened-species designation and poaching appear to be locally significant sources of mortality.
  • Invasive plants such as reed canary grass and giant reed grass may decrease shoreline habitat suitability.
  • Invasive aquatic animals such as zebra mussels and bythotrephes change productivity pathways and food web dynamics in aquatic systems.
  • A variety of potential problems related to water quality and aquatic invertebrate communities are poorly studied. Mercury, acid rain, road salt, and nutrient loads could all impact wood turtle prey availability.
  • Recreation can disturb nesting, especially trout fisherman and canoeists utilizing sand bars and eroded banks in June.
  • Road mortality can be locally significant where nesting on or along sandy roads occurs.
  • Increased nest predation rates for this communal denning species may be seriously limiting population maintenance and recovery, resulting from unnaturally high populations of human subsidized predators (coyotes, raccoons, skunks, fox, etc.).

Back to Top

Last revised: Tuesday, August 11, 2015