Map Turtle Care Sheet

Map Turtle

Scientific Facts

Common Name:Map Turtle, Northern Map Turtle, common map turtle
Scientific Name:Graptemys geographica
Life Span:15 to 20 years, some 30+ years
Size:Males 3.9 to 6.3 inches, females 7.1 to 10.6 inches
Habitat:Ponds, rivers, and lakes
Country of Origin:North America

Physical Description

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The northern map turtle or map turtle was so-called because of the markings found on its shell. The markings look like the contoured lines of a map. The lines are usually yellow, orange, or tan and have dark borders. The rest of the shell is greyish brown or olive green. 

Young map turtles have brighter carapaces while older ones look dull, but when the shells are wet, the map-like markings appear. The shell has a hydrodynamic look and comes with a broad area with a moderate low-keel.

The back of the shell has a central dark mark or plastral figure, which runs along the sutures of the plastral scutes. These marks fade as the turtle age, and sometimes this mark totally vanishes when the turtle turns to an adult. 

The map turtle’s head, neck, arms, and legs are dark olive, black, or brown and come with thin yellow and green bands. You’ll find an oval or a triangular area behind the eyes. Just like other map turtles, it is easy to distinguish the male from the female. 

Males are smaller and are lighter, with the largest growing up to 6.3 inches while females are7.1 to 10.6 inches long. Males are lighter at 150 to 400 grams, while females can weigh up to 5.5 pounds. Also, females have a wider head than males, and because of this, there are stark differences in feeding between genders. Males have the narrower backside of the carapace, narrower head, and thicker and longer tails. In males, the opening along the rear, known as the cloaca, also varies in genders. Females have a cloaca that is near the rear side of the carapace. 

Meanwhile, young map turtles come with a pronounced dorsal keel while hatchlings have grayish-brown carapaces at .98 inches long.

Map turtles are known as a specialist in habitat living and populations of this turtle in an area may be replaced by a new tolerant species if their habitat is altered. Human interference by way of allowing boating and recreational businesses on shores of lakes and other bodies of water. These activities can greatly contribute to the decline of wild map turtle species. Experts say that the population of northern map turtles will decline unless something is done to save this species.                                                                                                   


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Almost all species of Graptemys are riverine; some may seek land to find more prey and to expand their range, including ponds and lakes. Subspecies vary in color and diet. 

Northern map turtle or the G. geographica

This has a wide range and extends from the southern part of Quebec, Canada, and southward near the western areas of the Appalachians to central Alabama, going west to Tennessee and central Arkansas. The wide range of the G. geographica also extends up to the east of Kansas, north through the eastern part of Iowa and to the southeastern parts of Minnesota and back to the east to the states of the Great Lakes. There are also small populations of northern map turtles in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Also, northern map turtles are seen in rivers, lakes, streams, and ponds in the mentioned areas.

Mississippi map turtle or the G. p. kohnii

It has a crescent-shaped band found along the posterior part of the eye. Pure Mississippi map turtles come with unmarked irises and have enlarged heads. 

Ouachita map turtle or the G. ouachitensis

It is a subspecies of map turtles that are found in the Ouachita River Basin in waterways and tributaries. It is similar to the G. pseudogeographica and was considered the subspecies of the false map turtle. 

Sabine map turtle or the G. sabinensis

It is a subspecies of map turtle found in the Sabine River in flowing waterways near the Texas – Louisiana border. The color is similar to the pseudogeographica and G. ouachitensis. The most striking characteristic is the small head. Males don’t grow larger than 5 inches and have elongated fore-claws. Meanwhile, females do not grow larger than 8 weeks.

Texas map turtle or the G. versa

It is a native of the areas near the Colorado River and the river’s tributary streams and nearby lakes. This is small and brown, with males smaller than 5 inches and females just over 8 inches. These subspecies have a minimally-keeled shell with markings with yellow lines while the plastron is clean. You’ll find a J-shaped mark behind each eye plus three round spots on the chin. Males have elongated claws and have a narrow head. On the other hand, females have large heads. 

Cagle’s map turtle or the G. caglei

It is native to Guadalupe, San Marcos, and San Antonio rivers and nearby waterways located in South-central Texas. The turtle’s shell and carapace are green and crème with yellow stripes. You’ll find a crescent-shaped stripe behind the turtle’s eye. It has a yellow belly with dark scutes plus a transverse bar under its chin. Females have large heads despite this species having narrow heads. 

Life Span 

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Map turtles may live from 10 to 20 years. Like other turtles, tortoises and terrapins, map turtles lay eggs. The three stages of growth of map turtles are as follows:


Hatchlings come out of their eggs after 50 to 70 days. The sex of the hatchlings will depend on the temperature during incubation. The temperature of 25 degrees Celsius can produce more males, while incubation temps of 30 to 35 degrees Celsius will breed more females.  

Hatchlings have an egg tooth, and this is what they use to break open the egg. This is the only purpose of this tooth, and this falls off after use. The hatchlings may stay inside the egg despite the shell already open, or they may already come out to check their surroundings.

When the hatchlings are ready, these will head to the water. It may take weeks for the hatchling to move from the nest to the water. Hatchlings have a round and grayish-brown shell and are about 2.5 cm long. 

Young/ Juveniles

Young turtles have a voracious appetite and will eat any small aquatic animal or plant. Juvenile map turtles have a pronounced dorsal keel. 


Mature map turtles are larger and heavier. As mentioned, males are smaller when it comes to size and weight to females. The distinct marks of a map turtle may already be seen in adults, and usually, these are not as bright as juveniles or hatchlings. Map turtles will start to look for mates after a few years, and soon, these will be ready to produce. 

Eating Habits

Map turtles are carnivorous, and if vegetation is consumed, it is usually by accident as it eats its regular carnivorous diet. Adult female map turtles have wide heads, powerful jaws, and wide alveolar crushing areas in their mouths. The turtle uses these structures to eat hard mollusks, insects, and crayfish.

Just like most aquatic animals, map turtles eat in water, and these may also poop in water as well. All the more reasons why you should change the water inside the map turtle tank or enclosure. 

Experts say that in aquatic areas where invasive snails and mollusks are found like the zebra mussels and the Asian clams, northern map turtles can reduce the population of these invasive animals and save the ecosystem.  

Sleeping Habits

Map turtles will feed in the morning and remain energetic until the afternoons. Turtles retire at night, and thus it’s best to place its tank in a quiet area in your home. This aquatic turtle may live, eat, and sleep in the water, but it will constantly come up for air. 

This turtle may also nap as they bask in groups on land. In the wild, you can see several of these turtles as they try to catch some sun. 


Since this is an aquatic turtle, you need a deep terrarium or enclosure where they can dive and swim. Turtles like the map turtle can hold their breaths for a long time, and thus, because of this, they can live almost completely in water. 

If you decide to keep a water feature in the tank, use a water filter to efficiently remove waste and dirt in water, Use only non-chlorinated water.                                                                                                                     

Development and Reproduction

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Breeding happens in the spring and the fall. Map turtle nesting happens from late May to the middle of July. The map turtle eggs hatch during the late summers. However, hatchlings will delay their emergence from the egg until it’s too late during the wintertime.

Map turtle nests area created on sandy beaches or in sandbars than in woodland areas. But no matter where these eggs are deposited, these are not far from a water source. The way eggs are laid can take for many hours and usually starts at nightfall and till early in the morning. 

Northern map turtles mate during spring and fall. This takes place in deep waters. Eggs will be deposited in unshaded sites with sandy soil. The female digs the nest using her hind feet 

The clutch can have 10 to 12 eggs, and females usually deliver 2 to 3 clutches in a year. Incubation happens in around 75 days. The temperature of ovulation determines the gender of the clutch. Warmer temperatures will result in more females, and cooler temperatures will produce more males.

Males reach sexual maturity around 4 to 6 years of age while females will take 10 years to become mature. 

Common Health Problems

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Map turtles are healthy but may occasionally suffer from some health issues. Remember that for any health issue, consult an exotics vet for prompt treatment. Here are common health problems encountered by map turtles.

Vitamin A Deficiency

Vitamin A deficiency is mostly due to an incorrect diet. A diet lacking vitamin A can cause skin changes, poor appetite, swelling of the eye and the lids, swelling of the ears, respiratory problems, and lack of energy. 

Respiratory Infections 

Map turtles can have respiratory conditions because of bacteria and vitamin A deficiency. Signs of respiratory infection include lethargy, open-mouth breathing, wheezing, poor appetite, and lack of energy. Take your map turtle to the vet at once if you suspect respiratory infections.

Shell Problems

Shell problems are common in turtles and terrapins and are usually due to bacterial or viral infections. This can also be due to fungi. If you spot changes in the shell color and health, take the turtle to the vet for treatment right away because this can lead to shell fractures and can be fatal for the turtle.


Abscesses can be any swelling, tumor-like growth on any part of the turtle’s body. The most common area where abscesses grow is the opening of the ear. Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of abscesses, and this is mostly true for almost all turtles. 


If you notice diarrhea and weight loss, then suspect parasites. Roundworms are the most common parasite, and this should be treated as soon as possible. Usually, turtles don’t show any signs, only diarrhea, and weight loss.


As turtles move around, this makes it at risk for many kinds of accidents. Map turtles may try to go down the stairs and fall and break its shell. It may also suffer from serious cuts and injuries. If you see any injuries, take this to the vet at once.

If you notice any injury on the eyes, nose, or the head and swelling and blood, visit the vet ASAP. Any vomiting or loose stools in an hour can lead to dehydration and dangerous metabolic problems. Your pet should be taken to the vet right away for treatment. Stop any bleeding with a bandage. Wrap the turtle with a clean/sterile bandage as you wait to be taken to the vet.

Preventing Illness

The best way to prevent illness is to maintain cleanliness inside its snake tank. Change the water in the tank or use a water filter to effectively clean it. Remove the turtle from the tank when you clean the enclosure. 

Use a good disinfectant and warm water to clean the tank. Thorough cleaning is a must regularly. You must change the water frequently to avoid bacteria growth in the tank. You must remove any food remnants and feed your turtle only the right amount of food. 

Take the map turtle to the vet for regular checkups. And if you need help with nutrition, consult a reptile vet. 

Finally, always maintain the right temperature inside the tank to avoid illness related to poor tank temperature maintenance. Make it a habit to monitor the humidity, temperature, water quality in the tank.  

Use only non-chlorinated water in the tank. After filling it up, don’t place the sliders in yet. Wait for at least half a day to allow the dirt and other heavy metals to settle before placing the turtles in. 


A guide on how to take care of turtles won’t be complete without highlighting Salmonella. Reptiles such as map turtles can transfer Salmonella and other bacteria to humans and other animals. Be aware of this risk and take the correct ways to prevent this. 

Consider that the sale of turtles that measure less than four inches is illegal in the United States due to the spread of Salmonella. Children are most vulnerable because kids may play with turtles and forget to clean or wash their hands.

The best way to prevent salmonella is to wash your hands with warm water and anti-bacterial soap after handling a turtle. Wear gloves when maintaining their tank.


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Hatchlings Behavior

Hatchlings emerge from their eggs, and as soon as this happens, these will quickly move downstream to look for places to remain during the summertime. Hatchlings start to develop a wide palate as they try different kinds of food or prey. 

No vegetation in diets

Adults are very active in the morning as they look for prey. They will feed on snails and other mollusks, crayfish and other aquatic insects. These turtles don’t eat plants, and in case this is found in their diets, this may be the result of accidental ingestion. 


Map turtles bask for a long period daily. They may do this after eating as much as humans rest for a while after a meal, or they may bask right after emerging from their dens. Basking is a social activity for some turtles as they are seen with other turtles on large rocks, logs, and any basking areas near the water. 

Annual Movement Pattern

Adults have this annual movement pattern that happens in the late spring and the summertime. During this time, the males check out various locations that are farther away from their overwintering grounds. 


Map turtles hibernate during the wintertime. They do so in deep, pools, and impoundments. This way, they are more exposed to predators than buried in deep mud. The most common predators of map turtles are skunks, raccoons, river otters, and foxes. Raccoons are very persistent predators that will not just prey on juvenile turtles but also map adult turtles.

Turtles Can Drown

Turtles can live underwater for a very long time; however, these can also drown. These creatures need to come up for air to breathe, but if they don’t do so, they can drown. 

If you think that the map slider has drowned, do not place it in an upside-down position. These turtles may still have air inside their lungs, and this can reduce their chances of living. To revive a drowning turtle, place this on a flat surface and provide turtle CPR. 

How to do turtle CPR

Gently hold the two front legs and push these in and out the shell. If there is water in the lungs, you’ll be able to remove water out. Water will come out of its mouth and nose. After this, take your pet to the vet at once.


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A map turtle will be able to get along other map turtle species and possibly with other turtle species as well; there is always a possibility of conflict. All species of Graptemys are very active and will eat vigorously. A map turtle can intimidate passive, less energetic species if these are kept together. 

Despite being an adaptable species, wild map turtles may be difficult to adapt as a captive turtle. A captive map turtle is more preferred to be a pet than a turtle that has been taken from the wild. 

Captive-bred map turtles will adapt to captive conditions from the time these hatches. Also, wild turtles may harbor pests and maybe vectors of disease. These pets are more docile compared to their wild counterparts.

Pet turtles may be placed in tanks or terrariums; however, some conditions are needed so that turtles remain healthy and active. All the husbandry requirements are the same from the hatchling to the adult phase. 

Hatchlings and juvenile turtles can be placed in something as simple as a tub or a terrarium. These are perfect for map turtles of any sex, size, and age. The maximum size of the tank is unlimited because you want to give map turtles areas to swim. Experts recommend at least 100 gallons or more.  

Clean water is necessary and frequent changes using a strong filter to prevent waste build up inside the tank. An effective water filter will also stop the growth of bacteria and fungi. You must use live or plastic plants, or you can use both to improve the appearance and the overall quality of the enclosure. 

A big part of the tank set up is the basking area so that the turtles will remain healthy. Basking enhances the turtle’s metabolism and improve digestion and enhance the immune system. Basking will also dry up the skin and for the scutes to shed well.

Whatever type of basking area you plan to make, secure the structure using natural materials. Use driftwood or plastic basking docks. Create caves and hiding areas underwater and on top of the water. Make sure that your turtle can move through these accessories.

Lighting and Temperature

Heat lamps will regulate air, and temperatures inside the map turtle’s terrarium. Aquarium heaters will help heat the water as well. Heating lamps must be installed no closer than 12 inches from the turtle to avoid burns and overheating. 

Water temperature must be at least between 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The basking spot should be 90 to 100 degrees. The temperature may be allowed to drop 5 degrees at night and around 5 degrees during winter. Under natural conditions, wild turtles can tolerate temperatures that are beyond their range. 

There is no substitute for direct sunlight to make a basking spot. But if this is impossible, a wide variety of light bulbs are available like UV bulbs to enhance the production of vitamin D3. This vitamin is needed in the production of calcium to keep bones and turtle shells strong. The ideal lighting bulb should provide ample UVB range. UVA bulbs are inadequate. 

Measure water temperature as well as temperature and humidity. Keep the entire tank clean and at the right temperature, especially during the cold winter season. 

Use a reliable filter to clean the tank water. The tank water can become dirty, especially if you have more than one turtle in the tank. Have a backup filtration unit, in case of power outages. 

Tank Accessories

Keep the tank simple and avoid any décor that can only affect your pet’s health and safety. A map turtle needs water, soil, sand, and possibly a few rocks where the turtle can bask on. When it comes to housing females with eggs, your tank will need more loose soil so it can lay eggs safely. Avoid anything that can fall on your turtles or any kind of décor, which may cause electrocution. 


Always keep the tank clean to prevent the spread of Salmonella. Conduct a general cleaning of the tank monthly, especially when you’re taking care of more than one turtle. Use a strong disinfectant to clean the tank thoroughly. Use warm water and rinse everything well. 

Availability – Where to Get One?

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Map turtles are available in online exotics pet shops, but you need to wait to have your order processed because it is a very unlikely exotic pet to order. The cost of buying a map turtle depends on the supplier. Usually, it may cost $100+ depending on gender, age, and design markings. 

How to Care for a Map Turtle?

Here are some tips on how to care for a northern map turtle:

  • Monitor the temperature of the room where you’re in. Use a bright lamp in case there’s no sunlight. Your pet needs to bask daily.
  • When handling map turtles, always wash your hands completely and use disinfectant to avoid the spread of Salmonella and other diseases.  
  • Turtles don’t like being handled too much, so don’t drop them or put them in a cold place.
  • Map turtles will simply be contented to be inside their tanks, but if you want to take your pet outdoors, place it in a small cage that may be taken anywhere. Have a portable lamp, water, and some turtle food with you. 
  • Always monitor your snake for any problems such as breathing problems and any skin or shell conditions. 
  • Be sure to feed your turtle the right kind of food and to add supplements to prevent deficiencies and infections. 
  • Keep your pet map turtles healthy by taking it to an exotics vet at least two times a year. Do this most especially after hatching and when your turtle is an adult.  
  • Map turtles need deep water inside the tank so it can swim, feed, and breed. Use a large tank or use a custom-made tank. 

FAQ Section

How long does a map turtle live?

A map turtle may live from 15 to 20 years, but some people say that there are turtle species that can live 30 years or more. Map turtles will live longer when in captivity rather than in the wild because of environmental concerns and predators. 

How long can map turtles live out of water?

You can take a map turtle out of water for half a day. This turtle is aquatic, and it needs water to live; if you keep it out of water longer, then there is a chance that your turtle may get sick or die.

Can map turtles live out of water?

Yes, map turtles can live out of water because these turtles have lungs. These turtles can survive hours out of the water, and these even need to surface for air. But don’t let your turtle out of water for a day; otherwise, this can get sick and maybe even die.

How much water does a map turtle need?

Map turtles need deep water to swim, eat, and mate. If you were to keep one in captivity, use a deep tank to hold it. It needs places to sit and bask, so use rocks, tree branches, and ledges to mimic its natural environment.

Do map turtles need light at night?

Yes, they still need light to warm the water, where they mostly sleep or rest. But the light should be kept low to cool the water temperature of at least two to three degrees lower. 

Can you place fish inside the map turtle tank?

Yes, your pet map turtle may play with fish, but it has to be fish smaller than its size. You may also add prawns, frogs, and other small amphibians and crustaceans to mimic its natural environment. 

Can you place a map turtle in a fish pond?

Yes, you can do this, but make sure that the water is clean and that a tank water filter is in place. The tank water should be clean and well-maintained. Because a fish pond is harder to spot check, and to monitor a map turtle, breeders prefer to use a tank instead. 

Do you need a water filter to clean the water inside your fish tank?

Yes, you need to clean the water inside the tank, and the only way to do this automatically is to use a water filter. Invest in an efficient water filter that can remove dirt and debris inside the tank. Spot check for poop and debris on the surface as well. 

Can you use regular cleaners to clean a turtle tank?

Yes, as long as this cleaner cleans and disinfects the tank, then you’re good. And whether you’re using a regular cleaner or an expensive cleaner, follow the directions on how to use the cleaning product and rinse this well before placing your turtles inside the tank.

How do you tell if a map turtle is a male or a female?

You can tell by the size of the turtle and the shape of the head and tail. Males are smaller in weight and size and have a small head and tail. Females are bigger and heavier plus have a bigger head and tail. 

How do you take care of baby turtles?

Taking care of baby map turtles is similar to taking care of adult ones. Use a large tank per turtle and place clean water; maintain good water and tank temperature plus water and tank humidity.

How can you tell if the turtle is ready to lay her eggs?

You can tell that the female map turtle is ready to lay her eggs when she won’t go in the water and when she won’t eat. She will be noticeably listless and wants to be in soil or sand to lay her eggs. 

Can you successfully breed map turtles in captivity?

Yes, you can successfully breed map turtles even in captivity when you follow strict instructions on how to keep the tank, how to feed it, and when to expect hatchlings. Many have done this, and you can as well.

Can you keep map turtles with other turtles in one tank?

Yes, you can do this because map turtles are non-aggressive BUT pick turtles that won’t be as aggressive as well. Make sure that all the turtles are captive-bred to guarantee that they are in good health. 

Can turtles become lonely?

No, turtles don’t feel lonely, and in fact, these are not social animals and hence won’t feel these emotions. Some turtles will love basking with the company of other turtles but won’t mind being alone.

How can you tell how old a turtle is?

Experts say to count the turtle scutes. The scutes are the markings on the turtles back; counting these like counting the rings of trees is the way to find out how old a turtle is.

Will a northern map turtle mate with other map turtles?

No, northern map turtles and other turtles know their kind and won’t mate with other kinds even when it’s a turtle that looks similar to their species. Also, different turtles have different mating habits, and behavior, and these are often considered when mating or breeding.

Can turtles recognize their owners?

Some breeders say yes, their pets can recognize them as they enter the room. Most breeders who have pet turtles say that their pets can recognize their handlers and their names.

Do map turtles play? 

Yes, they can play with each other while some may play with other animals inside its tanks like breeder fishes, prawns, and small crustaceans. They will play with them, swim, and then hunt them.

Will turtles feel anything on their shells?

Turtles will feel something on their shells. Experts say that this feeling is not the same as the feeling that the turtles have on the skin on their heads, arms, and legs.

Can turtles feel pain?

Yes, turtles feel pain, even pain inflicted on their shells. Therefore, you must not tap or knock on the shell of your pet.

Do map turtles like to be touched?

Yes, map turtles love to be touched, petted like a puppy or cat. It can feel pats on the head or scratches on the neck, according to expert breeders. 

How do you keep a pet map turtle happy?

You can keep a turtle happy by maintaining the temperature and humidity inside the tank. Give your turtle deep water to swim in and food that it likes to keep it happy and contented.

Do turtles poop in the water?

Yes, turtles can poop in the water and the land. This is why you must keep the quality of the tank water perfect for your pet.

Why do map turtles hiss?

Turtles don’t make any sound. The hiss that you hear is air when it is retracting into its shell. 

Can turtles make noises?

No, turtles don’t make any noise. The hissing sound comes from its head retracting into its shell.

Is it okay to use tap water as tank water?

No, tap water has chlorine, and this can harm your pet. You should use drinking water or distilled water instead.

Is a map turtle good as a beginner turtle? 

Yes, it can be a good beginner pet, but you must do all you can to learn from your pet. 

Can a child hold and handle a map turtle?

Yes, a child may hold and handle a map turtle BUT with adult supervision, of course.

Will map turtles bite?

Yes, a map turtle can bite if this is threatened. So don’t threaten your pet turtle; be gentle when handling it, and it will be happy to be handled by you.

Are turtles aggressive?

No, map turtles are not aggressive. These will love to be petted and handled as long as you’re careful. 

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