Found in all major river systems across Tennessee. One subspecies, Eastern River Cooter (P. c. concinna), occurs in Tennessee.
Description: A large, aquatic turtle (9.0 to 12.0 inches in length) with a wide, brown to nearly black carapace (upper shell) showing a reticulate pattern of orangish-yellow lines. Marginal scutes (plates) have wide, yellow borders. Numerous yellowish stripes on head, neck, and chin (5 between the eyes). Dark, donut-shaped markings under the marginal plates. Adult males have longer claws (middle 3) on the front legs and longer tails than females. Young are more brightly colored than adults.
Similar Species: False Map Turtle has a backward, yellow “L” mark behind eyes. Mississippi Map Turtle has yellow crescent behind eye. Northern Map Turtle has small spot behind eye. Painted Turtle has red coloration on shell. Pond Slider has large red (or sometimes yellow) ear patch and leg stripes. Ouachita Map Turtle has large rectangular patch behind eye and has a keel.
Habitat: Prefers large rivers and lakes, but frequently uses ponds, floodplain river pools, and wetlands. River Cooters are usually associated with water that has abundant aquatic vegetation and rocky bottoms.
Diet: Mostly herbivorous including eelgrass, pondweed, and algae; but also insects, snails, tadpoles, and crayfish.
Breeding information: Adults court and mate in the water during spring. Females will dig a nest in sandy soils close to the river and deposit 9-29 pale pink, leathery eggs. Hatchlings emerge from their eggs in 2-3 months, but usually remain in the nest until the following spring.
Status in Tennessee: Locally abundant, but population numbers have declined. Vulnerable to water pollution, consumption by humans, automobiles, and sport killing.
- River Cooters are so fond of basking in the sun that if space is limited they will stack 2 or 3 on top of each other.
Best places to see in Tennessee: Basking on logs, fallen trees, or the banks of major rivers or lakes.
For more information:
Atlas of Reptiles in Tennessee
Conant, R. and Collins, J. 1998. Peterson Field Guides: Reptiles and Amphibians (Eastern/Central North America). Houghton Mifflin Company, New York. 616pp.
Jensen, J. B., Camp C. D., Gibbons, W., and Elliot, M. J. 2008. Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia, University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA. 575pp.
Johnson, T.R. 2006. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri. The Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, MO.