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Coastal Plains Cooter

Coastal Plains Cooter also known is a subspecies that is endemic to Florida and throughout the Southeastern Coastal Plain. As such, they are also known as Florida cooters.

Cooters are a genus of turtles found in North America. These turtles are herbivores and can grow to be quite large. They can grow to lengths of 13 inches. This is over a foot long. For those who wish to keep these turtles as pets, the large size of these turtles means that they require large enclosures.

They can coexist with other North American turtles such as map turtles, stinkpots (musk turtles), sliders, and even painted turtles.

Coastal Plains Cooter Facts

Physical Appearance

Coastal plains Cooter (Pseudemys concinna floridana) on log basking
Coastal plains Cooter (Pseudemys concinna floridana) on log basking

P. c. floridana is a rather large freshwater turtle that reaches lengths of 13 inches. The size range is 9 to 13 inches (23 to 33 cm). These turtles measure 5.5 lb to 7.7 lbs (2.5 kg to 3.5 kg) in terms of weight. The largest specimen ever recorded is a female with a length of 16 inches.

These turtles closely resemble slider turtles, although P. c. floridana has flatter elongated shells. The carapace has a dark color with black, brown, yellow, or green patterns. The plastron on the other hand has no markings. Unlike with the peninsula cooter, the yellow stripes on the Florida cooter’s head do not form hairpins.

It is easy to confuse P. c. floridana with other cooters as they look very alike.

The scientific name of the coastal plains cooter is Pseudemys concinna floridana, although they are sometimes referred to as Pseudemys floridana.

Natural Habitat & Geographic Range

These turtles are called coastal plains cooters because they are found throughout the southeastern coastal plain. They are also called the Florida cooter as they are prominent throughout Florida. They can be found from southeast Virginia to Florida and Mobile Bay, Alabama.

These turtles are aquatic and can be found in permanent water bodies such as rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds. They are usually found in freshwater but now and then they show up in saltwater tributaries. These turtles prefer shallow slow-moving water bodies with soft sandy bottoms and an abundance of aquatic plants and marine flora.

These turtles also spend a large number of hours basking on logs in water bodies. When the turtle nests, it does that within 30 meters of its aquatic habitat.

Lifespan

P. c. floridana, like other freshwater turtles, are long-lived reptiles. The average lifespan in the wild is 40 years. The average captive lifespan changes from one source to another. According to AnAge, the average lifespan of the species is 44 years. According to other sources, the average lifespan of this turtle in captivity is 20 years.

Female coastal plains cooters reach maturity at age 6. Males, on the other hand, reach maturity at age 13.

Regardless, this turtle should live several decades when properly cared for and properly housed.

Diet

This turtle is primarily herbivorous and mostly feeds on aquatic vegetation such as aquatic plants/macrophytes including pondweed, green algae, and eelgrass. In addition to aquatic vegetation, these turtles also eat aquatic arthropods such as bluegrass crayfish (Cambarus batchi). While juveniles eat more animal matter than adults do, both feed on vegetation and animals.

Predators

These turtles are very good at avoiding predators. Their color allows them to hide from predators and blend into their environment. Additionally, the protective shell of the turtle helps to keep them safe in the event of attacks. They retrieve into their shells when threatened.

Predators of the species include American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), river otters (Lontra canadensis), red foxes (Vulpes vulpes),  Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana), and raccoons (Procyon lotor).

Reproduction/Box turtles Eggs

Females are polygynandrous and as such mate with several male partners within a single mating season. Females store sperm for weeks before fertilizing the eggs. As such, eggs in a clutch are usually fathered by several males.

Females reach maturity at age 6 years. Males, on the other hand, reach maturity when they are 13 years old.

Nesting occurs from April to July, females lay up to 6 clutches a year with each clutch consisting of 10 to 20 eggs.

The eggs are about 4 cm in diameter and are oval-shaped. In terms of color, the eggshells are whitish pink.

Coastal Plains Cooter Care Guide

Coastal Plain Cooters

Housing and caring for the cooter is relatively easy and simple as long as the setup is properly done. The setup is the toughest aspect of this turtle’s husbandry. The enclosure needs to be large. You need to install a powerful filter and also provide adequate lighting and heating.

Housing

All turtles need a spacious enclosure to thrive. Of course, the smaller the turtle, the smaller the enclosure can be. For large turtles, you need a large enclosure. Cooters can also be housed in a large enclosure with other turtles such as sliders, map turtles, and painted turtles. Avoid housing snapping turtles with other turtles as snapping turtles are aggressive predators and will hunt other small turtles.

You need a 100-gallon tank for an adult. The least you should get is a 75-gallon tank and only if your turtle has a carapace length of about 9 or 10 inches.

The aquarium will be large so ensure that you have enough room to safely and easily store the tank. The tanks need to avoid direct sunlight as this can drastically increase the temperature within the tank. This is detrimental to the turtle’s health.

Hatchlings can start in a small tank – about30 gallons in volume. As they grow, they will need to be transferred to a larger tank.

These turtles need an aquarium as they are aquatic turtles.

Filtration

The water needs to be filtered. Turtles are messy animals and the larger the turtle, the messier it is. When acquiring a filter get one that is marked for a tank twice or thrice the size of the tank you have as these filters are built with fish in mind. Turtles are messier than fish.

The SunSun HW-304B 5-Stage External Canister Filter is an excellent choice. An external canister filter is better as these don’t need to occupy space inside the tank. They are also more effective than internal canister filters.

Regardless of the filter you use, you need to change the water in the tank regularly. Change about a third of the water in the tank every week. Once a month all the water in the tank and also clean the tank.

The water also needs to be free of chlorine. Do this by dechlorinating the water using a water conditioner. There are several on the market. The  API TAP Water Conditioner is an excellent choice.

Temperatures

Optimal temperature levels are needed for the turtle to be comfortable and to thrive.

The water temperature needs to be around 75 degrees. If you must, use a submersible aquarium heater to keep the temperature within the right range, the hygger Titanium Steel Aquarium Heater.

The ambient temperature should also be around 75 degrees, and the basking site’s temperature should be 85 to 90 degrees. Use a heat lamp such as the  REPTI ZOO Reptile Heat Lamp and the  Zacro Reptile Heat Lamp. This should ensure that the temperature is within the right range.

Of course, a thermostat is needed to regulate the temperatures within the enclosure. The bayite Temperature Controller is a good choice.

The Zacro Digital Aquarium Thermometer is another must-have for the enclosure.

Lighting

Most turtles require UVA/UVB light to be healthy and active, P. c. floridana is one of them. UVA light simulates the turtle and ensures that they are active. UVB light on the other hand is necessary for synthesizing vitamin D3. UVA/UVB light bulbs designed specifically for reptiles are quite common and easy to find.

I recommend the  Zoo Med Reptisun T5. Other UVA/UVB lamps also work well.

It is important to turn the lights off at night. You can use a timer such as the BN-LINK Indoor 24-Hour Timer to turn the lights on each morning and off each night.

Also, you need to change the bulb every 6 months. You can also use UV testers such as TEKIZOO UV tester to ensure that the lamp is producing UV light at an optimal level.

Substrates

Substrates or bedding isn’t very important here. It can even complicate cleanups. If you really want a substrate, choose larger rocks over sand.

Small gravel can be ingested and can cause health issues, so definitely avoid that.

Recommended Products

Here are some recommended products for your coastal plains cooter. These products are the essentials. There are several products mentioned in the article that aren’t here.

Feeding the Coastal Plains Cooter

These turtles are predominantly herbivorous and as such mostly feed on plants. Juveniles generally accept insects, and small animals as well. Insects and animals to feed juveniles include crayfish, earthworms, mealworms, snails, and tadpoles.

Plants to feed both adults and juveniles include romaine lettuce, collard greens, mustard greens, spinach, zucchini, dandelion, and several others. You can also offer them aquatic plants such as anacharis,  duckweed, water lettuce, and water hyacinth.

Since this turtle feeds exclusively in water, make sure to remove any residual food particles in the water after feeding them. Use a fish net to remove any residual food particles.

Breeding and Availability

Cooters are regularly and successfully bred. Finding a cooter on the pet trade market is relatively easy. However, finding a coastal plains cooter can be tricky.

The price of cooters is generally below $50.

Health Problems

Common health issues that affect these turtles are the same ones that affect other North American pond turtles. These include Metabolic Bone Disease, vitamin A deficiency, and injuries.

Injuries – Injuries happen. These must be treated so they don’t get infected especially since aquatic turtles live in a humid environment.  Treat lacerations and other injuries with iodine solution such as Betadine solution.  If the injury is already infected, contact your vet.

Respiratory Infection – This is usually caused by vitamin A deficiency as well as low temperatures. Symptoms of respiratory infections are wheezing, sneezing, and discharge from the eyes, nose, and mouth. Rich sources of vitamin A include aquatic plants and dark green vegetables. Avoid iceberg lettuce as it is low in nutritional value. Do not try to treat a respiratory infection, find a vet.

Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) – Nutritional metabolic bone disease also known as nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism is caused by vitamin D3 deficiency. Symptoms include deformed jaws, paralysis, tiny shells, shell deformity, and limb deformity. Preventative measures include feeding the chelonians a calcium-rich diet, adequate UVB lighting, vitamin D + calcium supplementation.

Conservation/Threats

In Florida, Pseudemys concinna is considered a species of special concern. In Illinois, the species is considered endangered.

However, on the IUCN Red List, Pseudemys concinna is considered a species of Least Concern. Similarly, they are not considered an endangered species according to the United States Endangered Species Act (US ESA).

Threats to the wild population of this turtle include habitat alterations by humans, road-mortalities, illegal hunting, and pollution of the turtle’s natural habitat.

FAQ’s

How long do Coastal Plains Cooters live?

P. c. floridana is a subspecies of the river cooter (Pseudemys concinna) and as such have a similar lifespan as the river cooter. This turtle lived to be about 44 years. However, the average lifespan is 40 years.

Are Coastal Plains Cooters good pets?

These turtles make excellent pets. Setting up the enclosure can be difficult. However, once the habitat has been set up, they are quite easy to have as pets. Overall, these cooters are good pets.

Where is the Coastal Plains Cooter found?

They can be found throughout the southeastern coastal plain. This starts from southeastern Virginia to Florida to the south and Mobile Bay, Alabama to the west.  This turtle has a large geographic range.

What do Coastal Plains Cooters eat?

Cooters are predominantly herbivores. This means that they mostly eat plant matter. In the wild, they eat green algae, eelgrass, pondweeds, and many other aquatic macrophytes. They also eat small arthropods such as crayfish.

You can feed them vegetables such as collard green, zucchini, mustard greens, spinach, turnip greens, and dandelion in captivity. They also accept aquatic vegetation such as anacharis,  duckweed, water lettuce, and water hyacinth.

You can also offer commercial aquatic turtle foods such as Tetra ReptoMin.

How big do Coastal Plains Cooters get?

Coastal plains cooters can reach carapace lengths of 13 inches (33 cm) and weights of 7.7 lbs (3.5 kg). As you can see they are very large freshwater turtles. The largest specimen ever recorded was 16 inches (40 cm) in carapace length. 

Are Coastal Plains Cooters dangerous?

No, they aren’t a dangerous species. As with any other freshwater turtle, specimens carry salmonella. This can lead to salmonella infection, which symptoms include body pains, fever, diarrhea, upset stomach, and cramping of the tummy.

To avoid salmonella infections, wash your hands with soap and water after handling the turtle or its environment.

Conclusion

Coastal Plains Cooters can be found throughout the southeastern coastal plains. These herbivorous turtles are also known as Florida cooters as they are prevalent in Florida. They are generally found in shallow slow-moving freshwater bodies such as ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers. When out of the water, they are generally within 30 meters of their aquatic habitat.

Keeping these turtles as pets can be quite challenging since these turtles need large aquatic enclosures. A 100-gallon tank is a minimum requirement for an adult. Although these turtles are herbivores, juveniles and hatchlings do accept insects and even small fish in addition to plants.

Once you have the enclosure set up, caring for the species is pretty straightforward.

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