Wood Turtle

Associated Smithsonian Expert: George R. Zug, Ph.D.

Zoologist George Zug takes a break from his fieldwork studying reptiles and amphibians while in Myanmar.

Courtesy of Jeremy Jacobs

Dr. George R. Zug is an emeritus research zoologist in the Department of Vertebrate Zoology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and one of the world's foremost experts on reptiles and amphibians of the Pacific. His current research focuses on the biology and systematics of Asian and Pacific amphibians and reptiles. He first became interested in herpetology as an undergraduate when a professor asked him to join a herpetological expedition to Cuba [pre-Castro]. He majored in biology at Albright College and then went on to obtain a master's degree in zoology at the University of Florida and a doctorate degree in zoology at the University of Michigan. The thing he likes best about studying reptiles and amphibians is excitement of discovery, whether new species or aspects about a species' biology.

Meet our associated expert

This image was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. The image or its contents may be protected by international copyright laws.

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Bog turtle (Glyptemys muhlenbergii) fitted with a radiotransmitter
Courtesy of Pete Pattavina, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, public domain

About Pond Turtles (Emydidae): Habitat

The Emydids are the largest, most diverse family of living turtles, with about 100 species in Europe, Africa, and the Americas. Their use of habitat is equally diverse. A few are terrestrial, living on land, such as box turtles and wood turtles. Most are aquatic, living in ponds, streams, or lakes. However, new scientific techniques have revealed that many aquatic Emydids spend a lot of time on land. Turtles are secretive and well-camouflaged, so it is tough to find them. Recently, scientists began gluing small signal-emitting devices (radiotransmitters) to turtles and then followed them for months or years using an antennae to detect the signals. While it was already known that aquatic turtles nest on land, radio-tracking revealed that they may also hibernate for the winter on land, travel over land to other bodies of water with better food supplies, or even just warm up while buried under leaves in a sunny spot.

Red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta) turtles basking
Courtesy of Drew Avery, via Flickr, CC-BY

About Turtles (Testudines): Turtle Activity Pattern

The body temperature of a turtle changes with the temperature of its environment, making cold-blooded a misnomer. The blood temperature of a turtle sitting on a rock in full sunshine may be quite warm. Its dependence on outside temperatures, or ectothermy (ecto= outside; thermy= temperature) compels turtles to seek places with desirable temperatures. Every turtle species has a preferred temperature range for digestion and other metabolic processes. To get within range, some turtles need to sit in the sun (bask) for at least part of the day. Basking also dries out a turtle's shell, which might inhibit growth of algae or drive away other parasites that need moisture. A typical pattern is to bask in the morning until its body temperature gets high enough for a turtle to be active. Time spent seeking food (foraging) competes with basking. A turtle often alternates basking with foraging during the daylight hours.