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  HABITAT AND DIET   

Habitat & Diet

Some turtle species are associated with specific habitats. For example, Illinois two terrestrial turtles, the eastern box (Terrapene carolina) and the ornate box (Terrapene ornata), are associated with woodlands and prairies, respectively. Rivers are the favored habitat of the smooth softshell turtle (Apalone mutica), alligator snapping turtle (Macroclemys temminckii), and common map turtle (Graptemys geographica). Blandings turtles (Emydoidea blandingii) are commonly associated with marshes. Mud turtles tend to frequent temporary ponds or wetlands, while the closely related common musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) resides in permanent water. The highly adaptable snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina), painted turtle (Chrysemys picta), slider (Trachemys scripta), and spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera) thrive in a variety of habitats and conditions.

Most Illinois turtles are opportunistic omnivores. Even a snapping turtles diet may include large amounts of plants along with the animal food it usually eats. A few species are chiefly carnivorous or herbivorous. Softshells are carnivores, feeding on aquatic invertebrates, such as aquatic insects. Map turtles feed on snails, clams, and some insects. Diets of certain species change with age. For example, young sliders are carnivores, feeding on insects. Adult sliders, however, mainly eat plants. River cooters (Pseudemys concinna) are mainly herbivorous as adults. Their diet consists of a mixture of algae and plants.

Few turtles have the speed or agility to catch fast-moving prey. Most search for food slowly along the bottom or over weed beds, grazing on vegetation and eating slow-moving animals. The occasional dead fish or fruit fallen from a riverside tree may attract large numbers of turtles. A few species catch fast-moving prey by ambush. Such turtles usually are colored to blend with their environment and have long, muscular necks that can strike out at prey from a distance. A snapping turtle with its long, bumpy neck, mud-colored body, and algae-covered shell, illustrates these characteristics well. The softshell turtles pancakelike shape allows for quick hiding beneath a thin layer of the sand bottom from where it can surprise its prey.

The alligator snapping turtle has a "lure" in its mouth to attract small fishes. As this turtle sits on the river bottom, it holds its mouth open and wiggles the pink lure on its tongue. A fish may move toward it in order to capture what appears to be a worm. Instead the fish becomes a meal for the snapping turtle!

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