The razor-backed musk turtle grows to approximately 6 inches in length. It has a brown-colored shell, with black markings at the edges of each scute. The shell has a distinct, sharp keel down the center of its length, giving the species its common name. The body is typically grey-brown in color, with black spotting, as is the head, which tends to have a bulbous shape to it. It has a long neck, short legs, and a sharp beak. Males can usually be distinguished from females by their longer tails.
They are almost entirely aquatic, spending most of their time in shallow, heavily vegetated, slow-moving creeks or ponds. The only time they typically venture onto land is when females lay their eggs. When a razor-backed musk turtle feels threatened, it will release a foul odor, similar to a skunk's. Their diet consists primarily of aquatic invertebrates, including freshwater clams, crayfish, snails and various insects. They also feed on fish and carrion. Its relatively small size, and ease of care makes it a more attractive choice as a pet turtle for many keepers.