Cooter Turtles

Cooter Turtles

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Cooter Turtles

Cooter turtles are among the largest pond turtles in North America. These turtles are one of the more common turtle species kept as pets. Not only are they gorgeous, but they also cohabitate peacefully with other turtles.

These large turtles are found in the southeastern United States. Telling cooters apart can be very difficult and even experienced biologists and herp vets find it difficult to tell them apart.

Cooters are omnivores and feed on both animal and plant matter. River cooters are primarily herbivorous; pond cooters (P. c. floridana) feed on both animal and plant matter but prefer plant matter, and red-bellied cooters are strictly omnivorous.

Recommended Book: Aquatic Turtles: Sliders, Cooters, Painted, and Map Turtles (Reptile Keeper’s Guide)

Quick Reference Section

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Pseudemys
  • Average Female Adult Size:  10 to 14 inches
  • Average Male Adult Size: 9 to 12 inches
  • Lifespan: 20 to 40 years
  • Clutch Size: 2 to 20 eggs
  • Egg Incubation Period: 90 to 100 days
  • Food: Aquatic turtle food, insects and plant matter
  • Tank Size:  20 – 30 gallons (for juveniles), 300 gallons for adults
  • Average Temperature: 85°H/75°L
  • UVB Lighting: Needed
  • Average Price Range: $25 to $50
  • Conservation Status: From least concern to endangered, depending on the species

Cooter Turtle Species

River Cooter

River Cooter (Pseudemys concinna)
River Cooter (Pseudemys concinna)

Quick Facts

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Pseudemys concinna
  • Subspecies: Eastern river Cooter (P. c. concinna), coastal plain cooter also known as Florida cooter or the pond cooter (P. c. floridana), coastal plain cooter (P. c. suwanniensis)
  • Average Female Adult Size: 11 inches
  • Average Male Adult Size: 9 inches
  • Lifespan: 40 years
  • Average Price Range: $30 to $100
  • Conservation Status: Least concern

River cooters are interesting turtles. Although they are north American turtles, they can be found in water bodies in Europe which is down to the pet trade.

However, they are endemic to eastern and central United States. They can be foid from northern Ohio all the way down to the Florida Panhandle. They can also be found from eastern Virginia to eastern Texas.

While the average river cooter is 9 to 11 inches in length, some can be as large as 17 inches. The shell of adult river cooter has yellow, black, or brown marking and is flattened and elongated. Males have flatter shells than females have. Additionally, females are generally larger.

River cooters are commonly kept as pets.

Alabama red-bellied cooter

Alabama red-bellied cooter (Pseudemys ouachitensis)
Alabama red-bellied cooter (Pseudemys ouachitensis)

Quick Facts

  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Pseudemys ouachitensis
  • Average Adult Female Size:14 inches
  • Average Adult Male Size: 12 inches
  • Lifespan: 15 to 20 years
  • Average Price Range: n/a
  • Conservation Status: Endangered

The Alabama red-bellied cooter is just over a foot long. Their carapace is usually black, dark brown or greenish with reddish, orangish, or yellowish vertical patterns along the side.

The plastron of this turtle is usually pale red or yellow. The plastron may have dark markings.  As the turtle grows the markings/patterns fade. The Alabama red-bellied cooter is found in Alabama.

The endangered Alabama red-bellied cooter is scarce in the wild and can be found in the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta.

Due to their endangered status, the Alabama red-bellied cooter is generally not kept as pets.

Florida red-bellied cooter

Florida Red-Bellied Cooter (Pseudemys nelsoni)
Florida Red-Bellied Cooter (Pseudemys nelsoni)

Quick Facts

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Pseudemys nelsoni
  • Average Female Adult Size: 12 inches
  • Average Male Adult Size: 10 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 year
  • Average Price Range: $50 to $100
  • Conservation Status: Least concern

The species Pseudemys nelsoni are quite popular as pets. These gentle herbivorous turtles can be found in Florida and southern Georgia.

Their common name refers to their geographical range and their reddish undersides. While the cooter is a gentle and calm turtle, it still grows to be very large. They also have broad reddish stripes on their carapace.

Because of their large nature, the Florida red-bellied cooter needs a large tank or even an outdoor pond. A 100-gallon tank should be large enough for this turtle.

Their gentle nature and herbivorous feeding habit makes the Florida red-bellied cooter a great turtle to keep with other turtles. Wild Florida cooters may be aggressive and skittish.

Texas river cooter

Texas River Cooter (Pseudemys texana)
Texas River Cooter (Pseudemys texana)

Quick Facts

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Pseudemys texana
  • Average Adult Size: 12 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 to 40 years
  • Average Price Range: $30 to $100
  • Conservation Status: Least concern

As you may have guessed, the Texas river cooter is endemic to Texas – specifically the rivers, lakes, and creeks of Texas.

The Texas cooter can grow to be over a foot long however you can expect an adult to be 7 to 10 inches in length. The Texas river cooter is dark green in cover and has yellow and black patterns that tend to fade as they age.

The Texas cooters can be confused with the red-eared slider. The easiest way to tell them apart is to look for the red patches on either side of the red-eared sliders head.

Peninsula Cooter

Peninsula Cooter Turtle (Pseudemys peninsularis)
Peninsula Cooter (Pseudemys peninsularis) sitting on pavement

Quick Facts

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Pseudemys peninsularis
  • Average Adult Size: 10 to 15 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 years
  • Average Price Range: $30 to $100
  • Conservation Status: Least concern

The Peninsula cooter is sometimes considered a subspecies of the coastal plain cooter (which is sometimes considered a subspecies of the river cooter).

This cooter looks very much like the Florida red-belly, which shares the same geographical range (Florida), with the species. However, the peninsula cooter lacks the red underside of the Florida red-bellied cooter.

The peninsula cooter is also a turtle that can be acquired from turtle breeders. They are quite popular and make great pets. As usual, these turtles need large enclosures to be comfortable.

Rio Grande Cooter

Rio Grande Cooter (Pseudemys gorzugi)
Rio Grande Cooter (Pseudemys gorzugi) isolated on white background.

Quick Facts

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Pseudemys gorzugi
  • Average Adult Size: 9.5 inches
  • Lifespan: 15 to 30 years
  • Average Price Range: $50 to $90
  • Conservation Status: Near Threatened

The Rio Grande Cooter is endemic to the Rio Grande drainage of Texas, and  Mexico in the southern United States; and Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Coahuila, and Chihuahua in Mexico.

The Rio cooter has an olive carapace and alternating blotches of yellow and black. Their skin is olive or brown with yellow stripes on the neck, limbs and tail.

While Rio Grande cooters are kept as pets, they are not as popular as other cooters on the list. Nevertheless, you can obtain one from dedicated turtle breeders.

Northern red-bellied cooter

Northern red-bellied cooter (Pseudemys_rubriventris)
Northern red-bellied cooter (Pseudemys_rubriventris) being held in persons hand with plastron exposed and all limbs pulled into its shell.

Quick Facts

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Pseudemys rubriventris
  • Average Adult Size: 10 – 12.5 inches
  • Average Price Range: $30 to $90
  • Conservation Status: Near Threatened

The Northern red-bellied cooter is also known as the American red-bellied turtle ir the northern red-bellied turtle.

The American red-bellied cooter is endemic to the northern United States. It can be found from New Jersey to North Carolina and in Massachusetts.. 

They look a lot like the other red-bellied cooters.

As such, they have an olive carapace with red vertical marks. The plaston of this cooter is red. The best way to tell red-bellied cooters apart is through their geographical range.

Cooter Turtle Habitat

Enclosure

While juveniles can be kept in 20 or 30-gallon tanks, they outgrow this quite quickly. In the end, you need a very large tank or a pond to maintain them.

A tank with a water capacity of about a 100-gallon or more should be large enough for a single adult. If you cannot acquire a 100-gallon glass aquarium, you can use a cattle watering tank to house the cooters.

Not all cooters are over a foot long. Small cooters can be housed in aquariums with a capacity of 75 gallons. The size of the tank really depends on the species of cooter you have.

Cooters really enjoy basking and need a large basking platform. The platform should be large enough to accommodate the turtle comfortably. Basking ensures that the turtle avoids shell rot.

As large turtles, your cooter’s enclosure needs a powerful filter. You should aim for a filter with a higher rated capacity than your tank size.

As an example, the above pictured tank is 150 gallons and you should therefore aim for one with something like a 200 gallon capacity.

The Polar Aurora External Canister and SunSun HW-704B External Canister are both excellent excellent choices.

Substrate

Cooters don’t need a substrate. If you plan on using substrate, then you should stick something large such as  rocks and pebbles.

These are attractive and easy to clean. Of course, if you house the turtle in a cattle watering tank or stock tank, then you won’t need substrate. Just don’t forget the basking spot. Check out this post on how to make one.

Temperature

The right temperature ranges are important to ensuring good health. You will want to invest in a good thermometer, heater and thermostat.

Make sure to keep a thermometer in the basking area and adjust the distance of the basking light from the platform to adjust the temperature accordingly.

The water temperature should be between 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. A water heater can help you maintain the right water temperature. I recommend the Hygger Titanium Aquarium Heater. Depending on the size of tank you may need more than one.

Finally, the basking site should have a temperature between 85 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Some excellent heat lamps include the Zacro Reptile Heat Lamp and the REPTI ZOO Reptile Heat Lamp.

Lighting

As with all other turtles, the cooter needs uvb light to thrive. Uvb light enables the cooter to synthesize vitamin D3. There are several full spectrum lights on the market.

You can find a good uvb light and lamp holder at your nearest pet store. I think Zoo Med has some good options as well.

You just need to choose your fixture. Either a T5 style or the standard E27 style. Here are the two, Zoo Med ReptiSun 10.0 Mini and the Zoo Med Reptisun T5 (hood included).

Feeding the Cooter Turtle

Eastern River Cooter
Eastern River Cooter

Cooter turtles are omnivores, although several species are herbivores. Similarly, juveniles are more omnivorous, while adults are more herbivorous. Either way, you need to feed them a healthy diet. 

Feed juveniles and hatchlings prefer aquatic turtle diets such as Mazuri Aquatic Turtle Diet, and Tetra ReptoMin. In addition to this feed them, insects, snails, crayfish, earthworms, tadpoles, and romaine lettuce.

Adult Cooters are generally herbivorous. They prefer tortoise chow such as Mazuri Tortoise Diet, lettuce (except iceberg lettuce), non-toxic aquatic plants such as water lettuce or anacharis, and other dark greens.

Cooter Turtle’s Temperament & Handling

two Florida Red Bellied Cooters
Two Florida Red Bellied Cooters sitting on rocks sunning themselves.

Captive bred cooters are generally gentle and curious especially when they get to familiarize themselves with their environment and keepers.

Because of their gentle nature, they cohabitate peacefully with other north american turtles. They can be quite shy though. Additionally, wild cooters can be aggressive.

Cooter Turtle Lifespan

river cooter turtle
River Cooter in water

Cooters have moderate lifespans among turtles. They may not be as long lived as softshell turtles but they do have respectable lifespans.

Most captive cooters will live to be 25 to 35 years. They can live up to 45 years with proper care.

Common Health Concerns

Cooters are hardy turtles. When properly cared for, cooters hardly suffer any health issues.

The following are some common health issues.

Vitamin A deficiency occurs when you don’t feed turtles an appropriate balanced diet. Avoid feeding cooters iceberg lettuce. While they may enjoy eating it, this isn’t nutritious. Feed them other dark greens and nontoxic aquatic plants. Symptoms of vitamin A deficiency are lethargy, swelling of eyelids and respiratory infections.

Shell problems include metabolic bone disease, shell infection (shell rot) and shell fracture. Mbd is caused by lack of vitamin D and/or calcium. Shell indentation can be caused by lack of basking and drying off. Ensure the basking platform is large enough and accessible.

Injuries such as lacerations can be a serious issue. This is the main health issue that most keepers have to worry about. Regardless of how well you care for the turtle, it can suffer from cuts and other injuries. Make sure there are no sharp edges or objects that can harm the turtle in its enclosure. 

Pricing and Availability

Cooters are relatively easy to acquired. They are popular pets especially in their native north america.

Most cooters such as river cooters, peninsula cooters, and red-bellied cooters should cost around $50 some popular sites to find breeders include Backwater Reptiles, Tortoise Town, and Turtle Source.

Conservation/Threats

Most cooters are not endangered. Species such as peninsula cooters, Florida red-bellied cooter, and river cooters have conservation statuses of least concern on the IUCN Red List. The alabama red-bellied cooter is however endangered.

Conclusion

Cooter turtles can be found in Northern America. These freshwater turtles can be found in rivers, ponds, lakes, and creeks. Some of them like the Suwannee cooter can even be found in brackish water.

Cooters are quite large and as such need large enclosures. Regardless of this, cooters are easy to care for.

Not only are they gentle and friendly, they don’t require much as far as their enclosure is large enough.

Let us know in the comments below about your cooter!

About the author

Brock Yates

Brock Yates has a passion for educating people about turtles & tortoises. He manages several websites and has a goal of getting everyone the best and most accurate information to help them with their turtle & tortoise care.

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