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False Map Turtle, Graptemys pseudogeographica

Two subspecies are recognized in TN: Mississippi Map Turtle (G. p. kohnii) and False Map Turtle (G. p. pseudogeographica). False Map occurs in the Mississippi River in the northwestern corner of the state, while Mississippi Map Turtle occurs in the western section of the Tennessee River and the entire stretch of the Mississippi River in TN.

Description: A medium-sized, aquatic turtle (males 3.5 to 5.75 inches; females 5.0 to 10.75 inches in length) with a prominently keeled brown or olive carapace (upper shell) and yellow lines on the head, neck, and legs.   False Map subspecies has a backward, yellow “L” mark behind eye with narrow, yellow neck stripes touching the edge of each eye.

Mississippi Map subspecies has yellow crescent behind eye and neck stripes do not touch edge of eye.  Carapace is covered with intricate yellow lines resembling roads or waterways on a map and dark smudges on the scutes (plates). Rear of carapace is very serrated.  Plastron is dull yellow with dark markings.

Similar Species: Ouachita Map Turtle has larger and more rectangular patch behind eye and higher keel. Northern Map Turtle has smaller and less rectangular shaped spot behind eye, and less prominent knobs on keel.  Painted Turtle has unkeeled shells.  Eastern River Cooter has dark, donut-shaped markings under the marginal plates.  Pond Slider has larger red (or sometimes yellow) ear patch and leg stripes.

Habitat: Found in large rivers with slow currents and backwaters; also in lakes, ponds, sloughs, and oxbows.  Prefers water with aquatic vegetation and numerous places to bask.

Diet: Omnivorous; insects, worms, crayfish, snails, dead fish, and aquatic vegetation.

Breeding information: Mating occurs in the water during the spring.  Females dig nests in open, sandy areas and deposit between 8-22 eggs per clutch during the summer; females can lay 2-3 clutches. Young emerge after 69-75 days.

Status in Tennessee: Populations appear to be stable. Vulnerable to water pollution and collection for pet trade.

Fun Facts:

  • False Map Turtles will over-winter at the bottom of lakes and sloughs, in muskrat dens, or under rocks and logs.

Best places to see in Tennessee: Fallen logs in the backwaters or bays of the Mississippi River.

Sources:

Conant, R. and Collins, J. 1998. Peterson Field Guides: Reptiles and Amphibians (Eastern/Central North America). Houghton Mifflin Company, New York. 616pp.

Johnson, T.R. 2006. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri. The Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, MO.

False Map Turtle