Added 25 April 2011.


Cooters and Red-Bellies

Like the Chrysemys and Trachemys turtles, the Pseudemys species are among the commonly seen basking turtles of North America. Also like the Trachemys, the exact relationships of some of the species are still subject to debate. The Reptile Database has more information on the different classifications that have been recently put forward for these turtles.

The subgenus Ptychemys has been proposed for those red-bellied turtles having a deep notch at the tip of the jaw with a relatively high cusp on either side and a reddish vertical bar on the second costal scute: this subgenus would include the species alabamensis, nelsoni and rubiventris.

Members of the genus are found in eastern USA from Massachusetts to Alabama, but particularly in the south.

Although Trachemys and Pseudemys are rather similar in appearance, one way of distinguishing them is by looking at the lower jaw; from the front it appears to be rounded in Trachemys but flattened in Pseudemys. Of course, this presumes that you can get close enough to the turtle(s) to do this.

P. alabamensis, Alabama Red-Bellied Turtle P. concinna, River Cooter P. floridana, Florida Cooter
P. gorzugi, Rio Grande Cooter P. nelsoni, Florida Red-Bellied Turtle P. peninsularis, Peninsula Cooter
P. rubiventris, Northern Red-Bellied Turtle P. suwanniensis, Suwannee River Cooter P. texana, Texas River Cooter  

Species Name Common Name Location Size Notes
P. alabamensis Alabama Red-Bellied Turtle USA (Mobile Bay drainage of Alabama) Avg 8-12" (20-30cm); max 13½"/33½cm Formerly considered a subspecies of P. rubiventris. Prefers areas with abundant submerged aquatic vegetation which forms its main food; fond of basking on logs. Seems to tolerate brackish water and has occasionally been found at Dauphin Island in the mouth of Mobile Bay. This is an endangered species due to its restricted range and it is therefore illegal for humans to remove one from the wild. Carapace: higher and more "humped" towards the centre than that of P. rubiventris. Coloration: carapace brown to olive in adults, greenish in young; yellow or red bar on 2nd costal scute; plastron usually red, orange or coral, at least around edges; light arrow at front of head [Conant & Collins]; head olive to black with few yellow stripes. Other: sharp notch at tip of upper jaw bordered on either side by pronounced cusp [ibid].
P. concinna River Cooter SE USA (N & S Carolina, Georgia, Florida (not peninsular), Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, E Texas, Oklahoma, SE Kansas, S Missouri, W Kentucky, SW Indiana, W Tennessee, Virginia) ?" The three subspecies intergrade over a large area, making exact identification quite difficult. Other groups nominated as subspecies are either no longer considered valid or have been elevated to species rank: see separate entries. Coloration: light C-shaped mark on second costal scute; dark markings on undersurfaces (plastron, bridge and marginals). [SOURCE: Conant & Collins]
P. c. concinna Eastern River Cooter SE USA (E Oklahoma NE to C Virginia) 9-12"/23-30½cm; max 12¾/32½cm Indigenous to the streams of the Piedmont plateau and thence to the Atlantic coast. Coloration: the light C-shaped mark may be difficult to distinguish in this subspecies; concentric circles are found on this and other scutes; 5 light stripes between the eyes; dark plastral pattern tends to follow interstitials of scutes; most if not all marginals have dark spots beneath them, some of which may touch the bridge. [SOURCE: Conant & Collins]
P. c. hieroglyphica Hieroglyphic River Cooter [D: Hieroglyphen-Schmuckschildkröte] S USA 9-13"/23-33cm; max 14¾"/37½cm  An inhabitant of the Tennessee River. Coloration: light C-shaped pattern and plastral pattern both distinct; 5 light stripes between eyes. Other: many individuals have shells with "pinched in" appearance in front of the hind legs. [SOURCE: Conant & Collins]
P. c. metteri Missouri River Cooter USA (S/C Missouri and adj. Kansas southwards via E Oklahoma, W Arkansas, NW Louisana and E Texas) Max 13¼"/34cm (f) Not now considered a valid subspecies by most authorities. Coloration: lacks postorbital spot and concentric whorls on 2nd costal scute; light C-shape may or may not be present; dark lines along seam of plastron. [SOURCE: Conant & Collins]
P. c. mobilensis   S USA (Texas), Mexico (Nuevo Leon) Up to 35cm Not recognised as valid subspecies by all authorities: not mentioned by Conant & Collins.
P. floridana Florida Cooter [D: Florida Schmuckschildkröte] SE USA (N & S Carolina, S Georgia, N Florida (not peninsular), S Alabama,) 9-13"/23-33cm; max 15½"/39¾cm An inhabitant of the Atlantic- and Gulf coastal plains. In the wild, often encountered in large groups of 20-30 individuals. Habitat is permanent bodies of water including rivers. In Florida its place appears to be taken by P. nelsoni The subspecies hoyi appears to be no longer recognised. Carapace: drops more steeply to the front, so that the highest point is reached before the centre. Coloration: plastron lightly marked or plain; extremities dark brown to black with yellow patterning; round dark rings or thick hollow ovals on underside of marginals; in young the carapace is marked with an attractive yellow patterning on each scute that disappears with age, giving way to a dark olive to black coloration, leaving only 1 or more vertical light stripes on the 2nd costal scute. [SOURCE: Müller]
P. gorzugi Rio Grande Cooter USA (Texas and S New Mexico), Mexico (Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas) 35cm /14"  Found in Rio Grande Valley from Gulf to Del Rio and in Pecos and Devil's rivers, plus isolated populations. Formerly considered a subspecies of P. concinna (eg by Conant & Collins). Coloration: 4-5 distinct concentric whorls on 2nd costal scute; whorls light yellow centres; plastron has dark narrow lines along anterior edge of seams and midline. [SOURCE: Conant & Collins]
P. nelsoni Florida Red-Bellied Turtle SE USA (Florida, extreme S Georgia)   Reproduction: may take place throughout the year [Dampier].
P. peninsularis Peninsula Cooter  USA (Florida peninsula)   Formerly considered a subspecies of P. floridana and still so by some authorities (eg Conant & Collins).
P. rubiventris Northern Red-Bellied Turtle     Coloration: plastron usually red, orange or coral, at least around edges; light arrow at front of head [Conant & Collins]. Other: sharp notch at tip of upper jaw bordered on either side by pronounced cusp [ibid].
P. r. rubiventris Redbelly Turtle       
P. r. bangsi   USA (Massachusetts)   Once recognised as a subspecies on the basis of a supposedly lower shell: since then equally low-shelled individuals have been found throughout the range of P. rubiventris. [SOURCE: Dampier]
P. suwanniensis Suwannee River Cooter  SE USA  9-13"/23-33cm; max 17¼"/43¾cm  Formerly considered a subspecies of P. concinna. This is the largest of the cooters and is found not only in streams and run-offs but in the turtle-grass flats and occasionally in the Gulf of Florida itself. Coloration: carapace dark, may appear plain black out of water; ventral markings distinct with marginal dark spots in contact with dark markings on bridge; head and legs dark, 5 head whitish- to greenish-yellow between eyes. Reproduction: hatchlings have dark grey blotches on pale grey background, but former change within days to brownish green separated by network of yellowish green; pale C-shaped marking clearly defined; plastron lemon-coloured and edged with greyish-brown. [SOURCES: Conant and Collins]
P. texana Texas River Cooter S USA (C Texas) Avg 7-10"/17½-25cm; max 12½"/31¼cm This species is mainly found in rivers, but also in ditches and cattle tanks. Its distribution reaches the Gulf coast. It differs from other Pseudemys species in taking little or no plant matter [Müller]. Coloration: light C-shaped mark on second costal scute; dark markings on undersurfaces (plastron, bridge and marginals); yellow head markings variable, with many lateral stripes, vertical bar on either side near the gape of the jaws, above which the lateral stripes curve; small round postorbital spot; 2nd costal scute contains 5-6 concentric whorls with dark centres. Old males are rather uniform in appearance, the pattern completely obscured by mottling, and some females approach this condition as well. Other: upper jaw has notch with a cusp on either side. [SOURCE: Conant & Collins]


"The Redbelly Turtles", Louis Dampier, Reptile & Amphibian Hobbyist 6:3, November 2000. Useful article on P. alabamensis, P. nelsoni and P. rubiventris, including husbandry details, discussion of the subgenus Ptychemys and consideration of hygiene and salmonella risk.


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