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What is a Map Turtle?

By S. Ashraf
Updated May 21, 2024
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A map turtle is a freshwater aquatic basking turtle found in North America. In early 2011, there were 12 recognized species of map turtles belonging to the genus Graptemys. Although map turtles look very much like other species of aquatic turtles, they are distinguished by a ridge that runs along the center of their shells; some species of this turtle have prominent spines or knobs that jut out from this ridge. In addition, a map turtle is recognizable by the thin map-like lines that mark its shell and give it its name. The average length of adult turtles is about 5 inches (12 cm) for males, and females are much larger and might be as long as 12 inches (30 cm).

Geographically, the map turtle is found only in the river systems of the United States and Canada. These turtles are widely distributed throughout the U.S. in the areas east of the Rocky Mountains and as far north as Quebec in southern Canada. Within the United States, they range from Minnesota and the Dakotas through Texas and the southeastern section of the country. The greatest concentration of members of map turtle species, however, is found in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.

For habitat, the map turtle prefers to be near water and close to where there is plenty of aquatic vegetation. Habitat does depend on the species, however, with some preferring lakes and ponds to rivers. Even species that occupy rivers have specific habitat preferences, with some liking slow-moving rivers and others preferring streams that have a moderate to rapid current. Regardless of the type of habitat, it is essential that abundant areas for basking are available, because basking is an important part of the everyday activity of these turtles. Map turtles like to bask on structures such as sandbars, snags of fallen trees and brush that is surrounded by water.

Generally, the map turtle is more carnivorous than other types of turtles. The percentage of its diet made up of different kinds of food varies not only from species to species but, sometimes, even from females to males within a given species. Although these turtles rely extensively on a diet of mollusks, crustaceans and snails, they are also known to eat insects, worms and vegetation.

During breeding season, females will lay several clutches of eggs in well-drained places such as open areas or sandy beaches. Clutches usually range in size from five to 16 eggs. The eggs hatch in about 60-75 days.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Map Turtle and how does it get its name?

Map turtles are a group of basking turtles from the genus Graptemys, named for the intricate, map-like patterns on their olive or brown shells. These lines resemble the contour lines of a map, which is how they earned their moniker. They are primarily found in freshwater rivers and streams in North America.

What do Map Turtles typically eat?

Map turtles are omnivorous, with diets varying by species and age. Juveniles tend to eat more protein-rich foods like insects and small fish, while adults may consume more vegetation. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, some species like the Northern Map Turtle prefer mollusks, especially snails and clams.

How can you differentiate between male and female Map Turtles?

Sexual dimorphism is pronounced in Map Turtles, with females often being significantly larger than males. Females can reach up to 10 inches in shell length, while males typically max out around 6 inches. Additionally, males have longer and thicker tails, and their front claws are elongated, which they use in courtship displays.

What is the conservation status of Map Turtles?

The conservation status of Map Turtles varies by species. While some are considered stable, others face threats from habitat destruction, pollution, and the pet trade. For instance, the Black-knobbed Map Turtle is listed as "Vulnerable" by the IUCN, highlighting the need for conservation efforts to protect these unique reptiles.

How do Map Turtles reproduce, and where do they lay their eggs?

Map Turtles mate in the water, and females lay eggs on land, often in sandy or soft soil near the water's edge. They can lay multiple clutches of eggs per season, with each clutch containing 4 to 20 eggs. Incubation periods vary but typically last several months, with hatchlings emerging in late summer or early fall.

What is the typical lifespan of a Map Turtle in the wild?

Map Turtles can live for quite a long time in the wild, with lifespans often exceeding 15 years. Some individuals have been known to live up to 30 years or more, provided they avoid predation and disease. Their longevity is aided by their hardy nature and adaptability to different freshwater habitats.

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