Mississippi Map Turtle: Species Overview & Care Guide

These vibrantly patterned Mississippi Map Turtles have markings on their shells and skin reminiscent of the branching rivers of their hometown.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • What are Mississippi Map Turtles?
  • How do you properly care for them?

Species Summary

Mississippi Map Turtles (also called cooters) are a vibrantly patterned species of turtle native to the river deltas and large streams of Mississippi. They are one of many subspecies of Map Turtles native to the Southeastern United States, Gulf States, and in deltas of Alabama. 

They inhabit fast-moving streams and large river systems and feed on a variety of aquatic crustaceans. Females are significantly larger than males and eat more protein than males given their strong jaws and crushing power. Males will consume slightly more plant material but still prefer snails, clams, and other protein sources. 

Map Turtles get their name from the lines and markings on their shell and skin, which look like a map in some ways. Map Turtles have similar care to red-eared sliders but require higher water quality given the locations they come from and inhabit normally. 

Their range extends from Nebraska and Illinois to Texas and Mississippi, which is where their name originates. Mississippi Map Turtles are bred regularly in captivity and can be very rewarding pets if given the right amount of space and care. 

Map Turtles can become friendly and even eat from your hand if enough trust is built! Male Mississippi Map Turtles can make ideal pets given their smaller size however, make sure you have enough space prepared for adult females, which can get very large.

Appearance & Colors

Mississippi Map Turtles are often light brown, grey, or olive green in base coloration. They then have significant patterns and lines across their skin that continue onto the carapace (top) of the shell, along the scutes, and even on the plastron (bottom). 

These brown lines and patterns are often yellow or partially orange and are where Mississippi Map Turtles get their name, as they resemble the many varying lines of a map. 

Mississippi Map Turtles also have black knobs running down the back of their shell, giving them a “spikey” appearance. These knobs give the turtle a more streamlined look and help them swim faster through the water to avoid predators. The knobs on their shell reduce in size and become more flat as the turtle grows, and are therefore less pronounced on females. 

Pro-tip ⚡ 

The head of the Mississippi Map Turtles is a key to identifying them against other map turtle species. On the sides of their head, a yellow crescent-shaped blotch will appear underneath their eyes. A single line also runs down the top of their head, which distinguishes the two lines on the sides. 

Average Size

In most turtle species, males are smaller than females. This is very apparent in Mississippi Map Turtles, as males reach much smaller sizes than their female counterparts. 

Females can reach a whopping 10 inches if fully grown and old, and males only get about 4-5 inches. The large size of the females helps them store more eggs to increase reproduction rates. Females also have larger heads, leading to stronger crushing power. With this evolved ability, females eat almost exclusively hard-shelled freshwater mollusks in the wild. 

As mentioned before, male Mississippi Map Turtles are significantly smaller than females. With smaller heads and less developed jaws, they are more likely to consume plant material such as nuts or berries, as well as the usual prey females consume. 

Males will not have significantly larger nails such as in sliders or painted turtles, but their nails are stronger than the average female. Males will also have a large, thick tail compared to females for mating purposes.    

Lifespan

Mississippi Map Turtles, like most species of turtles, can live for an extremely long time if well cared for. They are known to reach ages of 15 years old, but can likely reach 30 years old or more. 

Mississippi Map Turtles will reach sexual maturity based on size rather than age, however, most individuals are mature at about 3-4 years of age. Mississippi Map Turtles will reproduce for the duration of their lives as long as they have the ability to do so. 

Behavior and Temperament

Mississippi Map Turtles, like other Map turtle species, are known for being a bit shyer than other species. This is a generalization and individuals can vary greatly, however most Mississippi Map Turtles are skittish and will avoid human interaction. 

In the wild, they will flee their basking spots to escape into the water and swim away as quickly as they can to the bottom of their environment if they sense danger. In captivity, they will do the same and frequently jump off of their basking platform when a person or animal enters the room. 

They will also likely retract into the water and quickly make a break for their preferred hiding spot if startled or approached quickly. Some Mississippi Map Turtles can be friendly though and will beg for food much like a slider or painted turtle. When handling a Mississippi map turtle, they can open their mouths in a defensive behavior and bite if provoked. 

How To Care For Mississippi Map Turtles

Housing the Mississippi Map Turtle

Mississippi Map Turtles are excellent swimmers and will appreciate as much space as you can provide for them. As hatchlings though, it is suggested to provide plenty of aquatic plants, cover, and decorations so they can use them to climb to the surface for air. Avoid creating spots where the hatchling can get stuck and make a drowning hazard. 

They may consume some of the aquatic vegetation provided, such as water lettuce or duckweed, which will supplement the hatchling’s diet.

Mississippi Map Turtles are strong swimmers and enjoy swimming, therefore they need a spot in which they can fully emerge from the water and dry off. This spot can be made of stacked rocks, floating platforms, or driftwood and must support the entire weight of the turtle. 

Hatchlings will do well in a 20-gallon aquarium until they reach 3-4 inches when they should be upgraded to as large of an enclosure as possible. The turtles will utilize the depth and entire area of their habitat, so plenty of swimming space is needed for them. 

An adult male will do well in a 75-125 gallon tank however, an adult female will need a minimum of 125 gallons. At these sizes, a Rubbermaid stock tank or horse trough will work very well as an indoor pond for these turtles. They are more sturdy and significantly less expensive than aquariums however, they only allow a top-down view of the turtles. 

Substrate is not required, but river rock and sand will mimic a more natural enclosure and also looks pleasing. Gravel or small pebbles will eventually trap material and waste, diminishing water quality. If you use gravel, just be aware it will cause slightly more maintenance than sand or no substrate at all. Washed play sand or pool filter sand also works very well for Mississippi Map Turtles. 

Heat

Mississippi Map Turtles, like most turtles, require heating in the water as well as above. A submersible heater should be used to keep the water of hatchlings around 78-82 ˚F. For adults, this temperature can be reduced to about 72-78 ˚F. 

📚 Read More >> Best Turtle Tank Heaters

Room temperature enclosures can work and exist without a heater, so long as the ambient temperature is above 72 ˚F. A cold turtle will not eat as much and may bask more than normal, and can lower the functioning of their immune system. 

Mississippi Map Turtles can handle cold temperatures however, when operating below 60-65 ˚F, they will enter a state of reptile hibernation known as “brumation.”

Caution

Brumation can be dangerous for your turtle if you are not knowledgeable about this topic and intend to force them into brumation which is physically exhausting for your turtle. Brumation does not really have any advantages to captive turtles except maybe females during their reproductive cycle.

Basking temperatures should reach the high 80’s to low 90’s, and the basking space should allow for a small range of temperatures. These turtles will warm themselves by basking to increase their body temperature. 

Light

The basking area for your Mississippi map turtle should be a source of light and heat. In order to sufficiently warm themselves, a heat bulb is required which can be purchased online or at most local pet stores. The distance of the lamp from the basking platform should be far enough to provide the ample temperature mentioned in the previous section. 

This area should also have a source of UVB radiation, which is required for turtles to synthesize vitamin D3 and produce calcium. This is especially important for hatchlings and to ensure shell strength in this species. 

Mercury vapor bulbs provide both heat, light, and UVB and are therefore a favored choice among most keepers. Otherwise, a fluorescent UVB light can be used along with a regular heat lamp. It is important to note your turtle will not receive UVB radiation if underwater, as it does not penetrate far beneath the surface.

Food and Water

Mississippi Map Turtles are omnivores and are opportunistic feeders. They will eat a variety of food options presented to them including bivalves and freshwater mollusks. 

Males are known to eat seeds and fruits they can find, as they are not able to eat the same prey items as females with stronger jaws. As adults, Mississippi Map Turtles are more carnivorous compared to when they are hatchlings. 

Map Turtles can be easily overfed, so it is recommended for hatchlings to feed daily until they are about 3-4 inches, and adults should be fed 3 times per week. Mississippi Map Turtles can be fed commercial turtle pellets as a staple, but supplemented with crickets, worms, mealworms, shrimp, romaine lettuce, and a variety of leafy greens like parsley or spinach. Feeding a variety of food items is very important to ensure the health and long-term well-being of the Mississippi Map Turtle.

Keeping high water quality is necessary for keeping a healthy Mississippi map turtle. Make sure that you utilize a strong filter to avoid health issues in the future. Using a strong filter rated for 2-3 times the size of the aquarium or enclosure will also reduce the number of water changes you need to do. Maintenance will also lessen if you invest in a more powerful and better filter. 

Fun Fact

Mississippi Map Turtles are from high flowing riverine systems in the United States, compared to a species that enjoys ponds or drainage ditches such as the Peninsula Cooter in Florida. This is why higher water quality is necessary to keep Mississippi Map Turtles healthy.

If you fill the enclosure using tap water, make sure to remove the chlorine from the water by any method possible. Chlorine can irritate the eyes of a Mississippi map turtle. A dechlorinator made for reptiles specifically, turtles will work well to accomplish this. 

Also, leaving the water in a container for 24 hours will allow the chlorine gas to dissipate out of the water. Water changes are necessary to ensure high water quality and avoid health problems preemptively. A good rule of thumb is to change 25% of the total water volume per week. This will remove nitrates, which can build up and become toxic to life in the aquarium or enclosure as well as prevent the growth of bacteria such as salmonella which is harmful to both turtles and humans. 

Common Health and Behavior Problems

Poor water quality can lead to a variety of illnesses in Mississippi Map Turtles, as with many other species. They are less tolerant than others to poor water quality because they come from such high-flowing systems in the wild. Respiratory infections are common in turtle setups that are too cold, or if cold air is flowing directly at your turtle (from an air conditioning unit or window). 

Shell rot can occur if your Mississippi map turtle does not have a proper basking spot to fully dry off and sun itself. Skin or fungal infections can occur in animals that are not in clean and fresh water, or in turtles that don’t have a basking area to dry off fully. Puffy eyes, a sign of infection, are also common in unsanitary conditions. Ensuring you keep up with water changes and filter maintenance will reduce the likelihood of most of these mentioned illnesses and conditions. 

Tips For Handling

Mississippi Map Turtles can be shy, and therefore will not like to be handled often. These turtles should only be handled for health checks or to take outdoors for natural sunlight. The backs of the shell of these turtles may be semi-serrated, so be careful when holding them from the back. 

The Mississippi map turtle can bite if threatened, so avoid placing your hands near or around the mouth of the turtle. Lift the turtle, preferably with two hands for a better grip, and hold tightly onto your turtle. They have strong and powerful back legs for swimming, so they will push with a large amount of force on your hand if they attempt to escape. Sometimes, the Mississippi map turtle will simply retract into its shell, and you can pick it up with ease.

Can More Than One Mississippi Map Turtle Live Together?

In short, a Mississippi map turtle with ample swimming room can be housed with another turtle. The species are not particularly friendly, and aggression may occur if you do not provide at least half the current space additionally for each turtle added (another turtle added to a 40-gallon aquarium will need a 60-gallon tank). 

More space is recommended if possible to reduce the risk of aggression, and adding plants or driftwood to break the line of sight will also help maintain peace in the tank. Being a generally shy turtle, they are less likely than other turtle species to be aggressive towards one another however, it is not unheard of for them to become territorial. 

Females during nesting season, with particular changes in hormones, may become agitated as well at turtles she would otherwise get along with. 

How To Choose A Mississippi Map Turtle

Signs Of Good Health

A healthy Mississippi map turtle will be a strong swimmer and is reactive to its environment. A turtle that is aware of its surroundings and quick to act is a good sign of a strong turtle to choose. Eating in front of people is also a very good sign. Lethargic, slow, or sluggish turtles should be avoided, as they may have an underlying condition.

Shell Condition

The shell of a Mississippi map turtle should be strong to the touch and hard as a juvenile. Hatchlings may have softer shells than adults, but they should not have any dents, divots, or chips in their shells. Breaks or discolorations are a bad sign of an unhealthy or poorly taken care of turtle. 

Shell rot will appear as pits in the shell and will be white or a different color, and smell bad. The turtle’s shell should be strong, solid, and hard, and not able to scratch or be scraped at and anything really comes off, except for maybe some algae. 

Eyes & Skin

The eyes of a Mississippi map turtle should be clear and alert. They should be reactive to movement and their surroundings and inquisitive of potential food items. The skin of this turtle species should be clear as well, without any discoloration or anything coming off of them in the water. 

While Mississippi Map Turtles do shed their skin/scutes, this will appear as a wispy sort of film that will fall off in the water and is normal, not to be confused with a fungus. A fungus may be yellow or white, and will not easily come off of your Mississippi map turtle. 

FAQs

Are Mississippi Map Turtles aggressive?

Mississippi Map Turtles are not generally considered an aggressive species. They can become defensive if threatened or taken out of their enclosure, and will bite to protect themselves. Some turtles will simply retreat into their shells and will not emerge for a few minutes until they feel the danger has left. 

They can be aggressive towards one another or other species of turtle but are often timider and not as violent. They can often get along with species that are more friendly, such as Diamondback Terrapins or even Painted turtles!

How big does a Mississippi map turtle get?

Female Mississippi Map Turtles will get upwards of 10 inches and can be huge. Males will be significantly smaller and may only reach a size of 4-6 inches at maximum. A female Mississippi map turtle will require a much larger space compared to a male, so try to either find an adult male available or a hatchling whose sex is guaranteed by the breeder.

Can you hold a Mississippi map turtle?

If you are careful, you can hold your Mississippi map turtle. They have powerful legs and powerful jaws and claws and can do a small amount of damage if you are not careful. However, some will be more submissive and simply retract into their shells. 

Handling your turtle will stress it out, so it is not recommended to do it often. Handling your turtle should only be done if working in their enclosure, performing a health check, or taking them outdoors for natural sunlight.

Do Mississippi Map Turtles bite?

Mississippi Map Turtles can bite, and will if they feel threatened. It is important to avoid the mouth of these turtles, as their jaws can be powerful, especially females. Males will likely be more passive however, this is not guaranteed. Anything with a mouth can bite!  It is simply a matter of how much it would hurt. I have had a juvenile red ear slider break skin, I imagine a Mississippi map turtle would perform similarly in bite force.

Dan Roselli

Dan Roselli

Dan has raised, cared for, and rehabilitated turtles for over 10 years. His most recent turtle project involves two rare spotless white Ornate Diamondback terrapins!

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Dan Roselli

Dan Roselli

Dan has raised, cared for, and rehabilitated turtles for over 10 years. His most recent turtle project involves two rare spotless white Ornate Diamondback terrapins!

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