Kinosternon baurii

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3-Striped mud turtles have the standard North American mud turtle form-factor; small oval-shaped turtle with a fairly well-developed & two-hinged plastron (more protection than a musk turtle at the cost of reduced mobility; like a musk there can be some skin between plastral seams in some) & a fairly large head (variable degree; useful for crushing snails). Overall coloration tends toward gray or black (skin & carapace coloration can vary widely), with about 3 variably distinct light stripes on the carapace. A pair of irregular horizontal yellow ‘lightning’ stripes run along the side of the face & head on each side. The top stripe runs past the eye out to the nose, like a stinkpot’s but unlike a Mississippi mud’s (which typically stop at the eye). Hatchlings’ carapaces have keels (somewhat like hatchling North American mud turtles), but lose this with age. Adult males have longer, thicker-based tails than females.

Size: ~ 3-4” SCL. Females are slightly larger than males.


Distribution information derived from interpretation of a range map in Peterson’s Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of East/Central North America2, Page 155. 3-Striped mud turtles occur throughout Florida (except northeastern FL), up through southeastern Georgia & penetrate slightly into southern South Carolina. This native range does not suggest they would be good candidates for hibernation (i.e.: year-round outdoor keeping in the cooler North). Turtles of the United States and Canada1 Page 177 states they’re active all year in Florida, both on land & in water.

  • Air Temperature:  Low to mid 80's
  • Basking Temperature:  High 80's to low 90's (the basking platform should be large enough to allow a range of temps).
  • Water Temperature:  Mid. To High 70’s for adults. Around 80º for hatchlings.

Hatchlings are delicate, have a fairly high mortality rate in captivity & require somewhat complex specialist care much more so than musk turtles. I strongly recommend only the most dedicated & prepare acquire hatchlings! At around 2-3” SCL they become quite hardy & from then on make fine beginner turtles.


In the wild mud turtles generally are predominantly opportunistic omnivores with a strongly carnivorous bent, preying mainly on invertebrates (including snails) & supplementing opportunistically on carrion & other foods. Mud & musk turtles lack the means to capture fish as a primary food source, but their powerful jaws can crush small snails. They are often reluctant to take in vegetable matter in captivity (although they will eat the Spirulina algae wafers sold for algae-eating fish).

Turtles of the United States and Canada1 Page 181 states in Florida natural foods include “…large numbers of the seeds of the cabbage palmetto (Sabal palmetto), juniper leaves, and other vegetable debris (including algae), small snails, insects and their larvae, and unidentified bone fragments.” The authors note theirs have accepted food out of water, and that on land the turtle may forage in cow dung (perhaps seeking insects).

In captivity 3-striped mud turtles eagerly consume insects (i.e.: feeder crickets & small grasshoppers - only collect from pesticide-free areas), earthworms (‘red wrigglers’ are small earthworms sized for small turtles, & can be chopped), fresh-killed small fish (crush small guppies for hatchlings), freshly thawed bloodworms, freshly thawed krill & other small shrimp, small crayfish, small snails (wild snails are known to be intermediate vectors of a number of indirect life cycle parasites affecting a range of animals, & snails of the genus Goniobasis are known to transmit lung flukes to loggerhead musk turtles. Therefore we recommend you avoid feeding wild-caught snails to turtles) & commercial turtles foods.

While persuading captive mud turtles to eat vegetation may be frustrating, at least periodically offer a range of healthy greens other turtles are known to eat, including Romaine lettuce, Anacharis, water hyacinth (not terrestrial hyacinth!) & perhaps duckweed (warning: duckweed propagates quickly & can get sucked into filter intakes). You can offer some vegetation-based fare via commercial tortoise & box turtle pellets (which mud & musk often enjoy).

If you don’t provide UV-B lighting, make sure the diet includes Vitamin D3 sources such as a brand name commercial food (i.e.: ReptoMin or Mazuri aquatic turtle foods).


Our standard recommendations would state for the first 6 months of life, feed commercial pellets or meaty foods such as earthworms or fish once daily, enough to diminish appetite but not gorge the turtle. After 6 months, switch to every other day feeding. Romaine lettuce & other leafy greens may be offered daily for graze at will (if yours is an odd-ball & likes plants). Over time adjust diet content & schedule accounting for growth, activity level & appetite. Overfeeding high-protein foods can cause rapid growth& is believed harmful to the liver & kidneys. That said, musk turtles don’t appear as prone to shell deformities (pyramiding) from over-feeding as basking turtles.

However, an experienced Florida breeder produces live food in an outdoor container (variety of organisms, including tiny native shrimp) & offers enough food daily that hatchlings may forage at will. He believes they do better with food available all the time. However, much of their intake will be very small food items, & live prey items include substantial indigestible chitin (exoskeleton) & are largely water, unlike nutrient-dense commercial turtle foods (like ReptoMin). That said, spreading the food over the course of the day is more natural so try giving hatchlings at least twice daily small feedings. This same breeder has noted better hatchling survival since adding Hikari vitamin-enriched frozen bloodworms to the diet (Hikari sells vitamin-enriched & not; use the former) so I recommend including some in the diet.

You may optionally feed hatchlings & young juveniles a few times daily, with the stipulation you exercise the discipline to spread the food supply over the day rather than increase it over what would be given once daily. For a dime-sized fresh hatchling, 1 or 2 baby ReptoMin pellets per day, a crushed half-grown male guppy or a 1 cm piece of red wriggler are reasonable. For nickel-sized month olds, a single adult ReptoMin pellet, crushed large male/small female guppy, half-grown feeder cricket or 1 inch piece of red wriggler per day are reasonable. If your turtle eats Romaine lettuce, it may eat all it wishes.


Turtles of the United States and Canada1 Page 177 states they’re most often found in quiet fresh waters at least 60 cm (2 feet) deep with a soft bottom such as swamps, sloughs, canals, ponds & Carolina Bays, & cites research by Dunson3 (1981) in stating they sometimes inhabit brackish water but require water less than 15 ppt salinity & prefer water where salinity is 8.5 ppt (25% sea water) or less. Note: just because the water body is at least 2 feet deep doesn’t mandate they spend most of their time at that depth! Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern/Central North America2 Page 156 states habitats vary from deep drainage canals, sloughs, ponds & ‘lettuce’ lakes in cypress swamps to wet meadows, ditches & other small, shallow bodies of water, & that they often prowl on land (even by day).

The Florida Breeder previously mentioned reports that in the wild hatchlings live in water anywhere from 6" to 6 ft deep in very thick grass, then as adults stay at the bottom more. The thick grass contains tiny shrimp (~1/8 inch long), small minnows, water bugs, every thing a hatchling needs to survive. They use the grass as a ladder to reach the top. A key point is that in captive enclosures hatchlings are a drowning risk & should be started out in very shallow water. The Breeder (who has a # of outdoor ponds & many 3-striped muds) said his adults don’t spend a lot of time on land (although they appear there occasionally) but sun themselves by climbing up on floating water hyacinth. Shawn Learmont once told me 3-stripes are not very good swimmers. A group he had and bred were collected in Florida, where he said adults can be found year round in no more than 3 inches of water, right in a ditch on the side of a somewhat busy road.

3-Striped mud turtles do aestivate. Eric B. of Empire of the Turtle reported that 3 months after construction of a large walled outdoor enclosure for another species, 3-striped mud turtles were found inside walking the perimeter. The only explanation is that they were aestivating beforehand. Interestingly, all of these were females. The Florida Breeder also noted gender differences; a fish producer producing African cichlids in large outdoor ponds uses lye in between ‘batches’ to eliminate all remnants of the prior population before starting a new project. Lye is harmful to the turtles, particularly their eyes, & 3-striped mud turtles evacuate – the overwhelming majority of these refugees are female! On a more formal note, Turtles of the United States and Canada1 Page 181 cites research by Wygoda4 (1979) stating the male to female ratio observed in Florida as 1:2 pond, 1:1 swamps & 1:7 road captures. No explanation was given. I speculate that wandering females seeking nesting sites would account for disproportionate road captures, but it’s not clear why they’d out-number males 2:1 in ponds.

While musk turtles are almost wholly aquatic save for basking, mud turtles as a group tend to spend substantial amounts of time on land & some (i.e. 3-striped & Eastern mud turtles) can aestivate, hibernate & some (i.e.: 3-striped) even feed on land. The relative time spent on land vs. water isn’t well-known to me for this species, but drawing on what we do know, I recommend captive habitat should be at least 2/3’rds water, moderately shallow to moderately deep for adults (at least 6 inches in the deep area, but at least part of the enclosure should be 4-6 inches & ideally offer a sloping bank), & offer a large enough land feature to get out & walk around on. The water section should have live or plastic plants & driftwood to provide cover & security. A soft bottom (i.e.: mud) would complicate filtration & maintenance beyond what most keepers can & are willing to handle.


For sub-adult & adult 3-striped mud turtles offer a palludarium-style enclosure (minimum 20 gallon long tank, & larger is better) with a medium-sized land area & spacious water section (ideally with a sloping bank), reaching about 6-8” deep to start & observe your animal for its preferences. Captives may feel stressed & seek the security of deeper water even if they’d normally choose shallower. You can offer deeper water in enclosures if you also offer a shallower section. Mud turtles as a class generally don’t have the agility & swimming skill of musk turtles & barren vertical-walled aquaria with only deep water are inappropriate. Important: deep water tanks with no structures to climb/rest on pose a fatigue & drowning hazard. Some plants, real or artificial, on the land section to provide some cover may be appreciated. Some floating live or artificial plants strong enough to bear the turtle’s weight (i.e.: water hyacinth) may be appreciated, but live water hyacinth are often difficult to maintain indoors & shed a lot of root fibers. Bare-bottom tanks are easiest to keep clean but afford little traction to bottom-walkers; a shallow layer of river rock offers traction & a more interesting terrain to explore. Caution: mud turtles may burrow under heavy objects on a gravel or sand bed & become trapped.

I asked our Breeder how he keeps his in Florida; his adults stay out side all year in a pair of 8’ diameter tubs with 1 ft of water & heavy plants (very heavy), 2 large rocks, & for a land section a 2’ by 3’ pan filled with 6” substrate (mostly sand & a little dirt) & ¼” holes for drainage. The pan is a few inches above water with a 2’ wide wooden ramp. It has straw and weeds partially covering it in the center. The turtles lay their eggs in the corners, usually as deep as they can (& almost never in the water!). He collects the eggs for artificial incubation. His seldom venture onto land but climb onto water hyacinth to bask, & they burrow into the pan’s substrate during winter.


For adults, plan water depths up to 1' deep with the stipulation a sloping bottom & supporting structures for rest (i.e.: driftwood, water hyacinth, etc...) be provided for deeper water habitat & a land section or at least large basking platform is provided. Hatchlings’ needs are far different; see the Hatchling Care section for details.


Mud & musk turtle species may or may not tolerate one another; it’s thought male-male mixes & mixing species who look a great deal alike (i.e.: 3-striped muds, stinkpots, Mississippi muds) may be riskiest, but no turtle is guaranteed to get alone with another. Worse, while any turtle can damage another, mud & musk have powerful jaws & damage can be swift and irreversible (they can literally bite legs clean off each other). Turtles generally are prone to males sexually harassing females (& males may attack unreceptive females, or females retaliate), which may necessitate separation. For the most part, 3-striped muds should get along with peaceful fellows with compatible enclosure needs. Spotted turtles & other mud turtle species are possible choices. The smallest basking species (i.e.: male southern painteds, male Texas maps) could work with adult 3-stripeds. Be warned mud & musk turtles grow much more slowly than basking species (i.e.: sliders & painteds), but adult mud turtles may prey on hatchlings of other species (literally biting hunks out of their shells, causing permanent disfigurement). Don’t mix hatchling 3-stripeds with other species, & insure all turtles in a mix are old enough to have hard shells.


  Per the Florida Breeder 3-striped mud turtle eggs don’t require diapause to develop & hatch, though they may enter diapause if needed (Note: Turtles of the United States and Canada1 Page 180 states once development resumes after diapause they don’t return to diapause even if eggs are returned to cooler temp.s). In the middle of his large pond he has a large 2’x 3’ pan filled with a mix (of mostly sand & a little dirt) and it has a ramp for the turtles, which makes it easy to find the eggs. 3-stripeds in this pond don’t lay in the water, & while some mud turtles have a reputation for sparsely (or not at all) covering their eggs, his dig down as deeply in the pan as they can to lay.  


My strong recommendation is to start with a 3-striped no smaller than SCL ~ 2”. Raising a fresh hatchling may sound like a ‘cradle-to-grave’ adventure but is demanding.


A critical part of hatchling 3-striped mud turtle care that varies with size. Unfortunately, there’s no one way everybody does it. The Florida Breeder explained to me that hatchling 3-striped husbandry is an evolving art & even he continues to try new techniques (so we can make no guarantees, just give good faith advice). Some hatchlings die & no one knows why. From discussion with him, here is one way to raise them:

  1. Insulated reptile room with room temp. 75-80ºF in winter.

  2. ~ Dime-sized fresh hatchlings are placed in a container (36x36” plastic pans with a ½” drain in the center with stand pipe) with water (I was told to start with 1/4" deep water & deepen slowly as they grow; you can go up to 2” deep when juveniles ~ 1" SCL), and a 4” mix of sand & sphagnum moss around the perimeter sloping toward the center (mix goes out to 2-3” then starts to slope; there's 2" of substrate above the water line).

  3. There’s a basking rock in the middle of the pan; UV-lighting & a low-watt red heat bulb are provided. They tend to spend most of their time the first 2 weeks of life burrowed into the sand/sphagnum moss mix, & are taken out & soaked in the water section by hand each day.

  4. ~ Nickle-sized month-olds may be kept in the same setup (if you deepen the water, don't go over ½” yet). The Breeder notes drowning is a big risk with 3-striped hatchlings & if they turn over they may not be able to right themselves (with other species we tend to think deeper water is protective that way, but with 3-stripeds it may not be).

  5. At ~ 1” SCL the Breeder offers ~ 2” deep water with grass at the water end.

  6. Once they reach ~ 2-3” SCL they are quite hardy sub-adults & enclosure needs are per adults.

  7. He uses a piece of a sulfa turtle block (i.e.: ‘Dr. Turtle’) sized for the water volume at hand (he breaks a piece off one) hoping to prevent disease.

For a different approach, in 9/02 Shawn Learmont said “I have been keeping them in about 4 inches of water jammed with plastic plants, and filtered with an undergravel filter,” & opined that 3-striped muds aren’t good swimmers. Note: plastic plants are stiffer & harder than many live plants (which are soft & flexible). If you use plastic plants, avoid those thick, stiff plants apt to trap hatchlings.

The Florida Breeder recently told me about an experiment he's tried. He put 6 hatchlings not 3 days old in a 5' diameter tub with a pile of gravel in the middle, the tub full of plants (including water lettuce), with rocks that come out of the water, wood, hide-boxes, & water at least 1 foot deep, in the (Florida) winter with no heat, & they've done fine & look good. They can't swim 6" without running into wood, rock or plants.

Setting up & maintaining a hatchling 3-striped mud enclosure is very challenging unless you have a room whose temp. stays warm 24/7. No commercial filter will work on ¼” water, unless you situate that ¼” water on top of a gravel bed with a shallow-water filter’s (i.e.: Duetto DJ-100) intake in the gravel bed; such a gravel bed will collect waste & encourage bacterial & fungal growth. Airstones don’t guarantee good water flow through an under-gravel filter (UGF) & even small powerheads may produce too strong a discharge. Therefore you’ll need to do frequent water changes (use a dechlorinator that also handles chloramines on the water first) the first couple of months.

The Florida Breeder has the most hands-on experience with 3-striped muds of anyone I know & his technique is real world-proven. That said, some keepers who acquire hatchling 3-striped muds may find maintaining temp.s or water quality too much to deal with. Some tips for people doing custom designs:

  • The Duetto DJ-100 & Ovation filters can handle shallow water, but neither can filter 1/4" deep water. By surrounding the filter with gravel substrate you might provide a water level of 3-4" for the filter but only 1/4'th to 1" 'actual' water above the substrate (for the turtle).

  • A submersible heater can be buried in a gravel substrate, but use a heater guard to reduce burn risk & ensure the water can circulate around the heater (so a gravel substrate works but not sand, & point your filter's outflow at the heater to provide flow). Be very wary water evaporation doesn't expose the heater to air!

  • Pack the water section fairly heavily with strands of Anacharis. Though we picture it upright in water, I’ve found under good lighting it flourishes horizontally, as long as the strands stay submerged/wet. Anacharis is fairly soft & should be supportive. It also has a reputation for drawing wastes out of the water.

  • If you change the water every 1-2 days instead of using a filter, use a dechlorinator that also handles chloramines on the water first.

  • I recommend you use the sulfa turtle block at least the first few weeks. A whole one intended for a 20 gallon tank will completely dissolve in a much smaller water volume, so break a piece off sized for your water volume (don't just put the whole thing in).

We don’t know exactly why hatchling 3-stripeds are such a drowning risk in captivity or why they are so delicate generally. Phil. Peak suspects Eastern & Mississippi muds, who are considered drowning risks even as adults, may become disoriented in the dark in straight-walled enclosures. Therefore I recommend (on theoretical grounds) ensuring the enclosure never goes completely dark the first few months of life (you could leave a fluorescent bulb on 24/7, or use a night-light in the room after dark).


Content same as adults, with feeding schedule covered under Recommended Feeding Schedule. Consider offering a # of very small meals a few times per day at first.


  Activity Cycle: I've seen no hard evidence on preferred time-of-day for activity. If there's enough light for my juvenile to see me, it comes begging for food.

Personability with Humans: Phil. Peak reports 3-striped muds have a more ‘out-going,’ stinkpot-like personality as opposed to the shyness common to young Mississippi mud turtles. My juvenile is quite eager to beg for food & eat from the hand, but also quick to reach around & try to bite if handled. That said, mud & musk typically aren’t as interactive, eager & fearless as the basking species (i.e.: sliders & painteds).

Basking: Mud & musk turtles bask much more than was historically supposed & 3-striped mud turtles do bask. Based on the Florida Breeder’s experience they may prefer floating objects with good cover to basking on the bank.

Availability in the Hobby: Somewhat commonly available at a few online vendors as adults. Hatchlings can be found with persistence. Tend to cost ~ $10-15 apiece.

3-Striped mud turtles are inexpensive at ~$10-15 apiece but much less common in the pet hobby than stinkpots. They can be had, but expect to do some looking & asking around.

Useful Online Resources:

Austin’s Turtle Page – Major online resource detailing the general care of aquatic turtles, with a range of care sheets, & increasing offerings relevant to box turtles & tortoises.

Turtle Forum – A leading online community focused on the advancement & enjoyment of turtle-keeping.

David Kirkpatrick, PhD’s 3-Striped Mud Turtle Care Sheet – offers a different lay-out/style than our care sheet & some different information.

Richard Lunsford – First Author.
Phillip Peak – wrote the original first generation ATP care sheet & turned me onto this species.
An experienced Florida Breeder (who prefers to remain anonymous) – consultation services.
Eric B. – consultation services.
Shawn Learmont – Past consultation via e-mail.

1.) Turtles of the United States and Canada – Carl H. Ernst, Jeffrey E. Lovich and Roger W. Barbour. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London. ©1994. (Possibly the preeminent natural history text of North American turtles – very highly recommended). 682 pp.
2.) Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern/Central North America – Peterson’s Field Guide Series – Roger Conant and Joseph T. Collins. 3’rd Ed., expanded. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, New York. ©1998.
3.) Keeping and Breeding Freshwater Turtles - Russ Gurley. Living Art Publishing, Ada, Oklahoma. ©2003. (Excellent advanced general care guide). 300 pp.
4.) Dunson, W. A. 1981. Behavioral osmoregulation in the Key mud turtle, Kinosternon b. bauri. J. Herpetol. 15:163-173.
5.) Wygoda, M. L. 1979. Terrestrial activity of striped mud turtles, Kinosternon baurii (Reptilia, Testudines, Kinosternidae) in west-central Florida. J. Herpetol. 13:469-480.
6.) Captive Husbandry of Striped Mud Turtles (Kinosternon baurii) - This article copyright © 1999 by David T. Kirkpatrick. Originally published in Reptiles, April, 1999, pg 70-78.