Common Map Turtle

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Peter Paplanus

Species group:

Other common names: Northern Map Turtle

Scientific name: Graptemys geographica

The basics:
Named for the unique patterns of lines that decorate the plastron, Map Turtles make great pets for novice and advanced keepers. Their needs are similar to those of the ever-popular Red-eared Slider, and like them Map Turtles grow quickly and need spacious aquariums.

The Common Map Turtle is native to central and eastern North America, where it may be found from southern Quebec, New York, and Vermont to Arkansas and Georgia. It is favors large rivers and their associated streams and oxbow lakes. The Common Map Turtle feeds only in water, and, except when nesting, rarely travels far from shore.

Appearance / health:
The Common Map Turtle has a streamlined shape, webbed feet and alert demeanor. Females, the larger sex, sometimes top 30 cm (11 inches) in length, while males average 12-15 cm (5-6 inches). The carapace is brown to olive green, and bears yellow marks along its edge. Numerous fine yellow stripes decorate the skin, and trademark black “map lines” span the plastron.

Well-cared-for Map Turtles are quite hardy, often reaching age 30+. Metabolic bone disease is common in animals that are not provided with ample calcium and/or UVB exposure. Sub-optimal temperatures, an inappropriate diet, or poor water quality can lead to fungal/bacterial infections of the shell, skin, and eyes.

Behavior / temperament:
Although somewhat shy at first, most Map Turtles soon learn to rush over for food when approached. However, all turtles are capable of biting and scratching when frightened, and must be handled with care. Common Map Turtles can be aggressive towards other turtles, and males often harass females with mating attempts, and may fight with other males.

These large, active turtles require spacious aquariums. While a 30-55 gallon aquarium might suit a small male, females need tanks of 75-100 gallon capacity, or commercial turtle tubs and ponds. Bare-bottomed enclosures are preferable, as gravel greatly complicates cleaning. The aquarium should be equipped with a dry basking site, UVB bulb, heater, and powerful filtration. Ambient water temperature: 70-78 F; Basking temperature: 90 F

Turtles are messy feeders, and quickly foul even well-filtered aquariums. Removing your pet to a plastic storage container at feeding time will lessen the filter’s workload and help to maintain good water quality. Partial water changes (i.e. 50 % weekly) are also very useful. Filters designed specifically for turtles, if serviced regularly, are usually preferable to those marketed for use with tropical fish. Some folks find it easier to maintain their aquatic turtles in plastic storage containers that can easily be emptied and rinsed.

Common Map Turtles favor freshwater snails and clams, but also take fish, tadpoles, carrion, insects, crayfish, shrimp and aquatic plants. Pets should be offered a diet comprised minnows, earthworms, snails, crayfish, prawn, and small amounts of kale, dandelion, and other produce; a steady goldfish diet has been linked to kidney and liver disorders. Commercial turtle chow can comprise up to 50% of the diet. A cuttlebone should be available to supplement the calcium provided by whole fishes.

A clutch of 6-20 eggs is deposited from May-July. Gravid (egg-bearing) females usually become restless and may refuse food. They should be removed to a large container (i.e. 5x the length and width of the turtle) provisioned with 6-8 inches of slightly moist soil and sand. Gravid females that do not nest should be seen by a veterinarian as egg retention invariably leads to a fatal infection (egg peritonitis). It is important to note that females may develop eggs even if unmated, and that captives may produce several clutches each year. The eggs may be incubated in moist vermiculite at 82-86 F for 65-80 days.

Written by Frank Indiviglio


backyard pond, aquatic habitat, low key companion, fun alternative


inactivity, predators, boring


heat lamp, hibernation period, green vegetation, sun bathe, Turtle pellet food

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