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What is the Western Pond Turtle?

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  • Written By: Angie Bates
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2016
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Also called the pacific pond turtle, the western pond turtle is a type of turtle found in the pacific coastal areas of the United States. These turtles live primarily in wetlands, streams, and lakes. Once abundant in Washington and Oregon, the western pond turtle is now commonly seen only in California. The scientific name for the western pond turtle is Actinemys marmorata.

With yellow or brown skin, a western pond turtle weighs between 1 and 2.4 pounds (0.4–1 kg) and reaches lengths of 6 to 8 inches (15.2–20.3 cm). The top of its shell, called the carapace, is an olive green with patterns of darker radiating lines. The lower part of the shell, which covers the turtle's underside, is called the plastron and is pale. In males, the plastron is concave. These turtles usually live about 40 years, though they can reach up to a maximum age of 70.

Primarily diurnal, the western pond turtle is active during daylight hours. In the summer, however, when temperatures are very high, it will become more active at night. The average day for a western pond turtle consists of questing for food and basking on either rocks or in shallow waters. Like all turtles, they will pull their heads, arms, and legs into the their shells when the feel threatened.

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Omnivorous, western pond turtles eat insects, plants, invertebrates, and even some frogs and fish. They may chose a meal that is alive or already dead, but they will always eat it underwater. Both sight and smell are used in finding food.

When females reach between 10 and 15 years, they will be ready to mate. Mating season is in late spring. Nests are made in May through July and are just hard-packed soil that is within 109 yards (100 meters) of a water source. Females lay around six eggs, which are incubated for 80–130 days. Newly hatched turtles are about 1–1.2 inches (2.54–3 cm) long.

The western pond turtle is one of three common species found in California. The other two, the red-eared slider and the western painted turtle, both look similar to the western pond turtle. Unlike those species, however, the pond turtle has no red coloring on its shell or skin.

Though not yet threatened in California, the western pond turtle has suffered serious declines in both Washington and Oregon, where it is considered endangered and threatened respectively. The introduction of new predators which prey on juvenile turtles, such as the bullfrog, is the major cause for these turtles' decline. Habitat destruction and disease are other contributors.

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