How To Tell The Age Of A Musk Turtle?

musk turtle age

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Are you confused about how old your pet musk turtle turned this year? Being an owner, knowing the age of your pet turtle is important. It is because the care sheet of the musk turtle varies depending on the age. So, how to tell the age of a musk turtle?

Some popular methods to determine a musk turtle’s age are counting rings on the shell, comparison to the size chart, blood sample test, bone examination, etc. Most of these techniques do not give you an accurate result, but you will surely get an age range where the musk turtle belongs.

In the following article, you will get to know all the methods for finding out the age of your pet musk turtle. So, do not forget to read to the end.

How To Tell The Age Of A Musk Turtle?

Being a turtle owner, you have every right to find out your musk turtle’s age. But unfortunately, there is no definitive way to determine it. However, over time, researchers and experts have introduced us to a variety of methods that can help make a fair guess at the musk turtle’s age range.

Here are some effective methods to find out the approximate age of your pet musk turtle:

1. Count From The Beginning

The only way to know the exact age of your pet musk turtle is to be present when it hatches. Count from day one, and you will be able to track down its whole life.

While buying a musk turtle from the store, ask the seller how old the turtle is. The shopkeeper may provide you with an approximate age range.

2. Ring Counting Method

Musk turtles have a flat carapace that ranges from brown and black to gray. The scutes of the shell contain rings like most other turtle species. Some experts believe that the oval bands within scutes can be a fair way of making an educated guess at the musk turtle’s age.

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Each scute on the musk turtle’s shell contains two types of rings, thicker ones, and thinner ones. In case you do not know, scutes are the plate-like scales on the turtle’s carapace.

Most turtles have 13 scutes on their carapace. You do not want to count these small plates as they do not represent anything. Instead, concentrate on the rings within the scutes.

The two different kinds of rings on the musk turtle’s scutes develop over a year and serve different purposes. For example, the thick rings indicate summertime or the period when the turtle got enough food to eat. On the other hand, the narrow ones represent scarcity of food or winter.

A pair of thick and thin rings are considered as one year of the musk turtle’s life. It means if your musk turtle has 20 rings, the pet is 10 years old.

In simple terms, you have to divide the total number of rings by 2, and you will get the result. The rings within the scutes may alternate between colors too.

Most researchers are not a fan of this method and refer to the estimated age as a rough guess. Why do they find this technique unreliable? Here is your answer.

In captivity, musk turtles undergo a fast change due to the well-balanced meals. Also, most pet owners do not put their pet musk turtles for hibernation. The turtles get a hearty meal in the winter too. Hence, the thick and thin rings within the musk turtle scutes form faster than usual.

Again, no one can say for sure that a musk turtle will get proper meals in the summertime in the wild. The turtles can experience slow growth due to any illness or heredity. For all these reasons, experts suggest not to trust the result blindly.

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The experienced owners advise to minus 2 to 3 years from the final result. They believe it will give a close age assumption for the captive musk turtles.

However, this method will not work when your musk turtle crosses its first 15 years. After that period, the rings come closer, and it becomes difficult to count them separately.

3. Size Comparison Method

Musk turtles are smaller than most other turtle species. Also, the species grow slowly over the years and reach full size. These two characteristics make the tracking of their carapace length more challenging.

Here is a growth chart of a male musk turtle:

Must Turtle AgeCarapace Length
0 to 6 months1 to 2 inches
6 months to 2 years3 to 5 inches
2 years to 4 years5 to 7 inches

The female musk turtles are slightly (about 10%) smaller than the male ones. They gain their sexual maturity when they are around 10 years old. Hence, the female musk turtles may undergo a slower growth than the males.

However, not all musk turtles reach the carapace length of 7 inches. The average size of these turtles is 4 to 5.5 inches at best.

In the size comparison method, you have to measure the length of your pet musk turtle and compare it to the chart. You will have a close estimated age for the first two years. After that, these turtles grow at such a slow rate that you can hardly notice any changes.

The size comparison method is not very effective for musk turtles. It is because these turtles are well fed and may have a fast growth for the first 10 months. The increased size can give you a false age impression.

Also, after the first two years, the turtles grow slowly. And so, comparing the musk turtle’s size to the chart may provide an unreliable result.

4. Blood Test

Many experts claim that it is possible to estimate a musk turtle’s age by observing its metabolic profile. Also, it is assumed that the PVC (packed cell volume) in the blood is higher and plasma AST concentration is lower in adult turtles. To conduct the test, you will need to collect your pet turtle’s blood sample.

See also  Musk Turtle Diet & Feeding Guide For Beginners

Like all the methods, this one is not accurate either. You will get a rough estimate of the age limit of your musk turtle.

The test and experiment may cost you around $50 to $200. It is pretty much costly just to find out the age group of your musk turtle. However, conducting a blood test has some advantages too. For example, the vet can identify any illness the musk turtle has.

musk turtle age visual signs

5. Read Visual Signs

The shell of an old musk turtle has a few differences from the juvenile and young ones. Congested or overlapping thick and thin rings, faded shell color, and rough plate surface indicate that the turtle is old.

This visual sign method only works on the old musk turtles. A musk turtle lives around 40 to 60 years. So, when the species crosses its mid-30s, it is actually growing old.

However, do not keep high hopes from this technique. It is not necessary that only old musk turtles will have faded shells. Improper diet and shell diseases can make the turtle’s carapace rough and bumpy.

6. Skeletochronology

Telling a musk turtle age by examining its bone is only possible when the turtle is dead. The experts observe the developed growth rings on the arm bone of the turtle. The whole process is known as skeletochronology.

This technique is expensive, and only a few labs conduct this experiment. You will get the most accurate age result with this method.

Determining The age of a turtle: infographic

If you want a printable version of this infographic, click here!


The care sheet of a musk turtle depends on its age. Most age determining methods are unreliable and offer a rough estimation. I, personally, prefer tracking the turtle age from the day it hatches. Apart from this, asking a vet will be helpful to find out how old your musk turtle is.

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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