Pearl River Map Turtle Care Sheet

Pearl River Map Turtle

Scientific Facts

Common Name:Pearl River Map Turtle
Scientific Name:Graptemys Pearlensis
Life Span:More than 20 years
Length: 3.5 to 4.5 inches (males); 9 to 10.5 inches (females)
Clutch Size:4 to 8 eggs
Habitat:Edges of rivers and streams
Country of Origin:United States

Physical Description

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Pearl River Map Turtles are medium to large map turtles, with most turtles bigger in size. Female turtles usually reach about 9 to 10.5 inches, while the male turtles stay smaller at around 3.5 to 4.5 inches. They have a dark carapace, with olive to brown color, moderately keeled, and high-domed. 

Hatchlings usually have stronger keel with dark spines, which become smaller as they continue to age. They also have a black dorsal that is usually completed in all five of their marginal. The posterior end of the turtles’ carapace is quite serrated, which every pleural scute is containing yellow or orange marks. 

The dorsal surface of every marginal feature a wide bar of the same color, usually lacking the obvious concentric circles. Any of the concentric marks are usually muted. The 12th marginal comes with a pigment that extends usually less than half of the scute toward the last one. 

The plastron is yellow with some dark pigments right after the seams. The ventral surface of the marginal also features dark pigments, especially the first to the fifth one. The skin is also brown to olive, with some light yellow to yellow-green blotches and stripes. 

The head pattern features a huge interorbital blotch that is attached to a pair of postorbital blotches. These blotches most likely form a trident above the nose. The females also usually end up having a bigger head as they continue to age. The head of the male turtles stays proportional to their size. 

The male turtles usually have wider and longer tails with their cloacal opening at ½ to 2/3 of the way down to their tail, with a younger-looking appearance. Females, on the other hand, have narrower and shorter tails, with a much bigger build, with broader heads. 


Pearl River Map Turtles used to be a cryptic species, as they were previously considered as part of a different species (G.pulchra) before 1992, and a part of the G.gibbonsi until 2010. Pearl River Map Turtles are known for their sexual dimorphism, which means that adult females have larger carapace compared with adult males. 

In the 1960s to 1970s, Pearl River Map Turtles were found commonly in higher abundance compared with the G.oculifera species, which has been federally listed. Due to habitat degradation, however, along with the precipitous decline of mollusks in nature. The current status of this species in the IUCN Red List as Endangered. Still, as of this point, very little is understood about the ecology and natural history of this species, which will make the efforts on conservation challenges. 


As suggested, these turtles are endemic to the Pearl River System in the Western Part of Mississippi and Eastern Louisiana. Among the rivers that they inhabit include the main stem of the Pearl River, Yockanookany River, Bogue Chitto River, and the Strong River. 

Native Habitat

The habitat of Pearl River Map Turtles includes the main channel of creeks or rivers. Other features of their habitat also include sand or gravel bottoms, swift currents, logs or snags, sandy beaches, and other areas where they can bask. 


There is little information regarding the behavior of Pearl River Map Turtles. They are mainly diurnal, and they have been observed to bask throughout the entire day. The peak time for basking is from midday to late afternoon. There is voluntary parasite release which has been observed on the female turtles, as their carapace ends up becoming hot enough of leaches to detach on their own. Usually, foraging for food is typically done in the daytime. Their night hours are usually spent underwater, as they love hanging on branches of tree limbs underwater, especially those that are just below the surface of the water. 

Care in Captivity

Despite being adaptable and resilient animals, wild turtles can find it challenging to adapt to life in captivity. A Pearl River map turtle that is captive-bred is often preferred over one that is secured from the wild. Turtles that are captive-bred are well-adapted to captive conditions right from the very moment when they hatch. 

The likelihood of these turtles to harbor parasites, or being prone to disease is minimum, and they have the tendency to become more docile compared with the ones that are wild-caught. Pet turtles can be housed in different ways, though certain requirements are needed if they need to remain active and healthy. Care requirements are also similar in all phases of their life. 

Hatchling and juvenile Pearl River map turtles can be set up with something that is as simple as mortar tubs. This means that plastic totes, glass aquariums, and other plastic or steel stock tanks are well-suited for turtles, regardless of their gender, size, or age. 

The maximum size of the tank is unlimited since these turtles are excellent swimmers. Any furnishings for your tank need to be fixed in place securely in order to prevent the turtles from accidentally shifting them. Even though they are energetic and active, adult female turtles can still get stuck beneath any heavy object and drown, unfortunately.

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This turtle is known for its adult size, which means that a large size is required for them. A recommendation from keepers is using a Waterland turtle tub, installing it outdoors. For those who live in colder locations, it would be better to have an indoor enclosure. An alternative enclosure is a roomy glass aquarium that measures around 5 feet (length) by 2 feet (width and height). 

Having this size of the enclosure is enough for two adult turtles. This kind of tub also provides the option of installing a nesting area. This, however, can be difficult to prepare in an aquarium that does not have a modification. Regardless of the enclosure option that you choose, other factors are just basic. 

Even though Pearl River Map Turtles can naturally cohabitate with other turtles, especially those of similar species, there is always a possibility of a conflict happening inside the enclosure. This species of turtles are particularly vigorous and active. 

These turtles can intimidate less energetic or moss passive species if they are being housed together. This means that if you are indeed planning to house them together, the introduction needs to be supervised carefully in order to make sure that these problems do not happen unnecessarily. 


Pearl River Map Turtles are not sensitive to the items inside their enclosure. They do not require substrates. All you need to place basking sites inside the aquarium, as it will allow your turtle to haul out easily, enjoying being dry if they want to. 

However, if you do opt to use substrates, it should be the type that can be easily cleaned. Among the acceptable materials are river pebbles, crushed coral, and sand. Note, however, that abrasive and rough stone objects are not good materials. 

You can easily use commercial turtle basking floats, bricks, cinderblocks, as well as other similar items that are convenient for you. When stacking rocks, bricks, and other items, make sure that they will not easily fall over, possibly injuring your turtle. Aside from protecting your turtle, it is also important to prevent the possibility of cracking or causing damage to your aquarium. 

Heating and Temperature

In order to ensure the heating and temperature inside the enclosure, you can place a heat lamp over one of the installed haul outs. This will create a spot with a temperature that is about 90 degrees Fahrenheit. You can simply leave the other haul unheated. 

This will give your turtle the option of whether they want to bask in a cooler or warmer area. You may also want to prepare a UVB lamp over the entirety of the enclosure. This lamp, along with the other heat lamp, should be installed with 12 hours on and 12 hours off schedule. 


Pearl River Map Turtles are aquatic turtles, which means that they can also be messy. With this in mind, preparing a reliable water filtration system is necessary, which includes using a canister filter. The option on the type of canister to use highly depends on the amount of water that you need to filter, and how dirty the water is. The number of turtles in the enclosure also needs to be considered. 

Make sure to select a water filtration system that is powerful enough to deal with the job at hand. Dirty water is ranked as the primary problem that often results from shelling rot, as well as other similar conditions. Having clean water at all times is essential to the health of your turtles. 

Feeding and Diet

In the wild, females usually eat mollusks, particularly clams. Other favorite foods include crustaceans and snails. On the other hand, males, as well as juvenile females, eat mainly insects. In captivity, on the other hand, Pearl River Map turtles eat fish, whether dead or alive. They also eat worms, insects, as well as other commercial turtle diets. They also love eating mixed vegetables and greens. Bigger turtles will also eat entire mice of enough size. Other favorites also include mollusks and clams. 


The nesting season for Pearl River Map Turtles usually runs from late April through early August. It is just normal for these turtles to lay several clutches every year, usually with 4 to 8 eggs in every clutch. The female turtles usually need to be at least 7 inches in length in order to be sexually mature. The smallest sexually mature male recorded was 3.5 inches. 

Conservation and Threat

Pearl River Map Turtles are currently becoming scarce these days. This is often a result of water pollution, which has a big impact on the population of mollusks, which is their food. In fact, the population of these turtles has declined by up to 98% since 1950, with water pollution as the main reason behind it. 

The good news is that captive breeding is getting popular. However, because of its demand, the price of captive-bred turtles has also increased. As demand continued to outpace production, Pearl River Map Turtles have become more challenging to find. At times, they can be found at reptile stores, reptile shows, as well as the Internet. 

FAQ Section

How long can Pearl River Map Turtles stay out of water?

These turtles can most probably last even out of water for several hours, even days at a time. Factors that may affect this include species, temperature, and humidity. In captivity, though, they should not be kept out for over 30 minutes. Make sure that you monitor them all the time. 

Do Pearl River Map Turtles need heat lamps?

If the enclosure of your turtles is indoors, a full-spectrum UVA/UVB lighting, along with supplemental heat lights are needed. Pearl River Map Turtles do not need very warm temperatures but are expected to be more active, eating better if they are comfortable with the temperature of their room. 

What common conditions do Pearl River Map Turtles experience?

Pearl River Map Turtles are usually afflicted with shell problems. In captivity, this is common if they are not provided with natural sunlight or indoor lighting. They may end up having to deal with a mild type of fungal infection. While this condition may not be as complicated as ulceration, the infection appears as gray or white patches, which will spread over most parts of the carapace when untreated.

Can Pearl River Map Turtles live in cold water?

Pearl River Map Turtles are aquatic turtles. As such, they need the water to be at the right temperature so as to survive. If the water is too cold, the turtles might get sick. However, if the water is too warm, they may not come out of the water to bask enough, which is also dangerous for them. 

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