River Cooter

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Species group:

Other common names: Eastern River Cooter

Scientific name: Pseudemys concina concina

The basics:
The River Cooter’s large range extends throughout much of the southeastern USA, from Maryland to eastern Texas and Georgia. It inhabits large rivers with powerful currents (as its name suggests!), but may also be found in lakes, marshes and canals. Largely aquatic, it spends much time basking on logs and rocks, plunging into deep water when disturbed. Like its relatives, the sliders, the River Cooter feeds only in water, and, except when nesting, rarely travels far from shore.

Appearance / health:
The River Cooter may be described as “typical” semi-aquatic turtle, with a streamlined shape, webbed feet and highly-alert demeanor. Females, the larger sex, sometimes top 12 inches in length, while males average 7-8 inches. The carapace is olive to bright green in color, and bears circular, light yellow markings; yellow stripes decorate the green skin of the neck and legs. The upper jaw is somewhat serrated and notched at the center.

Behavior / temperament:
River Cooters are as hardy and responsive as the more commonly-kept sliders, and are now being regularly bred by hobbyists. Although somewhat shy at first, most soon learn to rush over for food when approached. However, all turtles are capable of administering powerful bites and scratches when frightened, and must be handled with care. River Cooters can be aggressive towards other turtles, and must be watched carefully if housed in groups. Males often harass females with mating attempts, and may stress or bite them in the process; 2 males cannot be kept together, as they will usually fight.

These large, active turtles require spacious aquariums. While a 55-75 gallon aquarium might suit a small male, females, which grow larger, need tanks of 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: 72-80 F; Basking temperature: 90-95 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.

River Cooters begin life as carnivores but increasingly consume aquatic plants as they mature. Adults are almost entirely herbivorous...more so than the closely related sliders. The natural diet includes fish, tadpoles, snails, carrion, insects, frogs, shrimp, duckweed and a wide variety of other aquatic plants. Youngsters should be offered a diet comprised largely of whole animals such as minnows, shiners, earthworms, snails, pre-killed pink mice, crayfish, and prawn, along with kale, dandelion, zucchini, mustard greens, collard greens, apples and other produce. Adults should gradually be weaned to a largely vegetarian diet. Spinach and various cabbages cause nutritional disorders and should be avoided. Goldfish should be used sparingly, if at all, as a steady goldfish diet has been linked to kidney and liver disorders in other turtle species. Super mealworms, roaches, crickets and other insects may be used to add variety to the diet. A high quality commercial turtle chow can comprise up to 50% of the diet. A cuttlebone should be available to supplement the calcium provided by whole fishes and similar foods.

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 2-30 eggs may be incubated in moist vermiculite at 82-86 F for 55-80 days.

Written by Frank Indiviglio

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