The Western Pond Turtle is one of two native turtle species in Oregon. They appear either dark green or brown with dark or cream-colored striations along the face and neck. The underside of the shell (known as a plastron) is usually yellow. As omnivores, the turtles feed on a variety of foods, including insects, aquatic invertebrates, algae, roots and lily pads.
Females will lay clutches of eggs twice a year, often traveling considerable distance from the water and digging a shallow burrow. Once laid, the turtle will then disguise the clutch with dirt and plant material to protect it from predators. When the hatchlings are born, they may stay in the burrow until warm weather arrives. At this point, they will make the long journey back to the water where they can live for up to thirty years.
The turtle’s historical range is from Baja California, Mexico, to the Puget Sound area of Washington state. Their habitat includes wetlands, rivers, streams and ponds. They will often leave the water to nest or sun themselves. Unfortunately, the reduction and fragmentation of the turtle’s habitat has greatly impacted its numbers and the ability of populations to intermingle. As a result, genetic diversity is also being lost due to inbreeding. Most populations are now small and aging, with few young turtles reaching maturity.
The turtle’s population in Oregon is in decline due largely to habitat destruction and it’s currently on the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Sensitive Species List.
Photo credit: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife