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Ultimate Eastern River Cooter Care Guide

The eastern river cooter is endemic to North America. This chelonian can be found in the eastern part of the United States. Its geographic range gives it part of its common name.

The species can be found in Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Virginia Tennessee, Kentucky, and west Virginia. This species is commonly kept as pets in North America and Europe. In fact, the species can be found in the wild in Europe where they were introduced through the pet trade.

These turtles are quite easy to care for but grow to be large. They can reach a carapace with a length of well over a foot and a weight of about 10 pounds. If you wish to keep the eastern river cooter as a pet, you need to invest in a large tank because of its large size. 

Eastern River Cooter Facts

Eastern River Cooter (Pseudemys concinna concinna) by Peter Paplanus
Eastern River Cooter (Pseudemys concinna concinna) by Peter Paplanus
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Pseudemys concinna concinna
  • Other Names: River cooter, river cooter turtle
  • Average Adult Female Length: 11.3 inches (287 mm)
  • Average Adult Male Length: 8.8 inches (223 mm)
  • Adult Weight: up to 11 lb (5 kg)
  • Lifespan: An average of 40 years in the wild, an average of 20 years in captivity

River cooters are quite large. Females have been known to reach carapace lengths of up to 15.7 inches (40 cm) while males have been known to reach carapace lengths of up to 12.6 inches (32 cm).

While males reach maturity at age of 6 years and a carapace length of just 7.5 inches (19 cm), females reach maturity at the age of 13 to 24 years and a carapace length of about 9.4 inches (24 cm).

The generation time of the species is thought to be about 20 years. The generation time is the average age of the turtles that engage in breeding each breeding season.

Nesting females lay an average of 15 eggs with a range of 4 to 30 eggs per clutch and can lay up to 6 clutches each breeding season. They have also been known to lay just a single clutch within a breeding year.

What does the Eastern River Cooter look like?

Eastern River Cooter (Pseudemys concinna concinna) by T Voekler
Eastern River Cooter (Pseudemys concinna concinna) by T Voekler

As hatchlings, the species is quite small with a length of 1 to 1.5 inches (2.7 to 3.9 cm) and a weight of 5.2 to 14 grams. These tiny babies are green and have light markings.

These markings become darker as they grow. In a few years’ time, these turtles would be about 7.5 inches (19 cm) in carapace length. Some females are known to reach a carapace length of 437 mm and a weight of 11 lb (5 kg).

Females are considerably larger than males. This is to be expected with most reptiles. The males have flatter carapaces than females fo. Also, males have longer foreclaws than females possess. The fore claws of the males are noticeably elongated.

Even the environment that the species live in can influence the way they grow. P. c. concinna found within fast-flowing water bodies have flatter shells which help them to better move through these stronger currents.

Where can the Eastern River Cooter be found?

The species can only be found in the United States, specifically in the eastern to the central United States. The species can be found from the Florida Panhandle to the Apalachicola.

They are also endemic to the rivers that flow into the Atlantic that are above the fall line in the southeast, and in Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri, and Sabine river basins.

P. c. floridana, which is often considered a separate species are known as P. floridana, can be found from Louisiana to North Carolina in the coastal plain below the fall line. Because this subspecies can be found in coastal plains, it is known as the coastal plain cooter.

From the west to the east, the species is endemic from eastern Texas to eastern Virginia. From the north to the south, the species is endemic from northern Ohio to northern Florida. As you can see the species has a huge geographic range.

What kind of habitat does the Eastern River Cooter live in?

P. c. concinna is a large turtle that generally inhabits large water bodies such as lakes and rivers. On rare occasions, you can find them in swamps, springs, and even ponds. These turtles have also been found in saltwater tributaries.

The habitat of the species has to be rich in aquatic plants including marine plants. The water bodies that these species inhabit are usually inaccessible to land predators including humans. The eastern river cooter is semi-aquatic and more terrestrial than most other freshwater turtles. They nest on land and bask out on land as well. However, the majority of the time, they are can be found in water.

The species usually inhabit shallow parts of rivers and lakes with a depth of up to 6.56 ft or 2 meters.

What does the Eastern River Cooter eat in the wild?

The eastern river cooter is omnivorous although they are predominantly herbivorous. Their main food source is aquatic vegetation.

Although predominantly herbivorous, the species is known to consume bluegrass crayfish known as Cambarus batchi, and other animal prey. Growing members of the species which include hatchlings and juveniles feed on animal prey more than the adults.

The other foods that the species are known to eat include pondweeds (Potamogeton), green algae (Pediastrum boryanum), eelgrass (Zostera), and other aquatic plants.

Because of the large amount of aquatic biomass that P. c. concinna feeds on, they may have a significant role in nutrient cycling within their ecosystem.

How long does the Eastern River Cooter live?

According to ADW, the species are known to live to about 20 years as pets although they have been known to live to about 40 years in the wild. Although their average longevity in captivity is just 20 years, they have been known to reach a life span of 44 years when kept as pets.

It is important to consider the lifespan of a pet before getting it. Turtles demand long-life commitment.

How many eggs does the Eastern River Cooter lay?

P. c. concinna is polygynandrous and as such females mate with several males who also mate with several females. According to IUCN, males reach maturity at the age of 6 years and a carapace length of about 7.5 inches (19 cm) while females reach maturity at the ages of 13 to 24 years and a carapace length of about 9.5 inches (24 cm).

Nesting starts from late April to mid-July. Females lay an average of 2.3 eggs and are within the range of 1 to 6 clutches. Each clutch can have 10 to 20 eggs, although the average clutch size is 14 eggs. The time period between clutches can be as short as two months or as long as twelve months.

The eggs once laid are hard and pinkish-white. The diameter of the eggs is about 1.6 inches (4 cm) and once the hatchlings emerge, they are between 5 to 14 grams in weight.

As with other freshwater turtles, the hatchlings depend upon hatching.

What predators does the Eastern River Cooter have?

Foxes are one of the Eastern River Cooters predators that hunt them.
Foxes are one of the Eastern River Cooters’ predators that hunt them.

The species have a number of predators. These are generally land predators. The species are quite efficient at avoiding these predators. The 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).

You may be wondering how the species avoid or defend themselves from predators. Well, they live in parts of water bodies that most of their predators have trouble accessing. When they feel threatened while out of the water, they would dive back into the water to take cover.

They also blend in with their environment because of their green coloration.

When they cannot escape, these turtles will retreat into their shell and rely on the hard tough nature of their shell to protect them.

It is generally legal to own the eastern river cooter in North America but you still need to check with your local wildlife authority. You may require a permit or license to keep P. c. concinna outside of the United States.

Anyway, it is prohibited by law in the United States to acquire a chelonian that is less than 4 inches long in carapace length. This is to help stop the spread of the salmonella infection which can be spread by reptiles. As a large number of parents used to buy small turtles as pets for small children. Children end up putting the reptile into their mouths.

Eastern River Cooter Care Sheet

Eastern River Cooter basking on ledge (Emydidae Pseudemys concinna concinna) by NasserHalaweh
Eastern River Cooter basking on a ledge (Emydidae Pseudemys concinna concinna) by NasserHalaweh

Habitat Setup

Enclosure (Tank)

eastern river cooter is large turtles and as such require large enclosures. These reptiles can reach a carapace length of 16 inches and weights 11 pounds.

There are two different setups to consider. The first is a pond. If you have the resources and the space, you should consider building a pond for the turtle otherwise a huge enclosure will have to do.

You would most likely acquire your turtle as a juvenile or hatchlings. These are quite small at this stage measuring just a few inches.

As hatchlings or juveniles, you can keep them in a small tank such as a 20 to 30-gallon tank. However, you will need to move them once they are about 6 inches long.

Tank Housing

300 GAL Stock Tank BLK

Once the eastern river cooter is large, it needs a large tank to grow properly and to be healthy. They need a  tank with a water capacity of at least 300 gallons.

A 300-gallon aquarium can be very expensive. These will easily cost you over $3000. Here I recommend a cattle watering tank, preferably one that is not metallic since cooters will bang on the sides of the metallic tank all day. A 300-gallon stock tank will also do. There are a lot of options out there.

Here are two tanks I recommend – Rubbermaid Commercial Stock Tank and the BOSWELL Aquarium Pool/Pond. The Rubbermaid is more durable and will require a bit of improvisation, but the eastern river cooter is designed for aquatic animals.

As you tell, the tank that the turtle needs basically means that you have to keep them outside. You need a large yard in order to be comfortable to keep these reptiles happy and healthy.

While setting up the tank, you will notice that most of these large tanks are black/dark in color. This dark color can easily lead to the tank becoming overheated. To prevent this, ensure that the tank is partially shaded.

The tank should have a water depth of at least 1 foot. The depth preferably should be 2 to 3 feet. You will need to provide a basking and resting site for the species. The water in the tanks should be clear.

Outdoor Housing and Pond

So how large does an outdoor pond need to be to house the eastern river cooter comfortably? The pond needs to be at least 5 feet wide and 5 feet long for 1 or 2 turtles. The depth of the pond should be at least 2 feet.

I recommend a preformed hard plastic pond. These come in different shapes. Choose one with steps that allow your turtle to climb out easily. The turtle needs to climb out to bask. Check out our article on Outdoor Turtle Pond for more information on how to build an outdoor pond.

You can have potted aquatic plants within the pond. The herbivorous eastern river cooter would snack on these plants anyway making it almost impossible to prevent the plants from being destroyed/consumed.

 If the pond houses a male and a female, the male may harass the female. It is advisable to house a male and a female in the same enclosure only during the breeding seasons.

You can house these turtles with decorative fish. eastern river cooter normally leaves decorative fish alone. Other cooters that aren’t herbivorous may chase the fish but not the eastern river cooter.

The water in the pond needs to be clear.


When kept outdoors, the pond/pool needs fencing. This keeps predators out of the reptile’s enclosure. I recommend a fence that is quite tall and opaque. Wire mesh walls aren’t the best as the chelonian will try to go through them and injure themselves.


Clean the enclosure often to keep the enclosure hygienic. This should minimize the chances of your river cooter falling sick. A hygienic turtle is a healthy turtle. I recommend that you clean the enclosure about once a month, that is once every 3-4 weeks.

Start by moving the chelonian to a separate tank. This can be a smaller tank since you will have the chelonian there for an hour or so.

Remove all the content of the tank including the water and disinfect the tank using a 5% chlorine bleach solution (approximately 30 parts water and 1 part bleach). That should be about half a cup of bleach for every gallon of water. You can also use half a cup of vinegar per gallon of water.

After disinfecting the tank, rinse it properly with water and then allow the tank to air dry before refilling it with water. I recommend cleaning/disinfecting the objects in the tank as well.

Wear gloves when cleaning the enclosure as rover cooters carry salmonella.


You don’t need substrate. Substrates can be cumbersome to clean. They also trap food particles and other organic materials. And since these turtles are housed in large tanks and ponds, substrates are not recommended.

Of course, if you plan to plant several aquatic plants in the enclosure, you’d need aquatic plant substrate for the aquatic plant baskets.


Fluval FX6 High Performance Aquarium Filter, Canister Filter for Aquariums up to 400 Gal.

As you can imagine you need a powerful filter for the tank.

Since chelonians are messy, the water filter needs to be marked for a tank larger than the one you house your turtles in. I recommend the Fluval FX6 Aquarium Filter.

The filtration system will keep the water in the tank clean and ensure that the chelonians do not fall sick.

Regardless of filtration, I recommend changing about a third of the water inside the tank weekly. Filtration cannot do everything.


Ensure that both the water and basking temperatures are just right.

Water Heating

When housed outdoors and within the geographic range of the species, you won’t need to warm the water. The temperature of the water should be around 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. During the night, this water temperature can drop to as low as about 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

When housed indoors, you will need an aquarium heater, since the tank for the species is large, you need a powerful heater. Ensure that this heater has a guard. You don’t want the heater to accidentally burn your turtles.

Basking Needs

Zoo Med ReptiSun Desert Compact Fluorescent UVB Lamp, 26 Watts

River cooters love to bask and the eastern river cooter is no different. This chelonian spends most of the afternoon basking. When constructing the pond for the species make sure that the turtle can easily climb out on the bank of the pond to bask. Likewise, you can have a wooden trunk on which it can bask.

Basking ensures exposure to the UV rays of the sun which in turn allow the turtle to synthesize vitamin D3 which is needed for healthy growth and bone maintenance. When housed outdoors, the chelonian should have direct access to the sun. For this reason, only part of the tank needs to be shaded.

When housed indoors, you have to provide the turtle is artificial UV radiation. A good quality UVA/UVB bulb is necessary here. I recommend the Zoo Med Reptisun.

Basking also warms and dries the turtle. Once again, if the chelonian is housed outside, the sun should warm the chelonian and dry it off. However, when housed indoors, you need to provide a heat lamp. This heat lamp needs to warm up the basking spot to a temperature of about 86 degrees Fahrenheit. 

For indoor tanks, I recommend the TEKIZOO Reptile Heat Lamp.

You also need to provide a basking spot. This needs to be large enough for the turtle. For ponds, the turtles should be able to climb out by themselves as far as you provide steps. With stock tanks, you need to install a basking platform.

For an in-depth guide on bulbs, check out our article about the best UVB bulbs for turtles.

Eastern River Cooter Feeding

Mazuri | Nutritionally Complete Aquatic Turtle Food | Freshwater Formula - 12 Ounce (12 oz) Bag

River cooters are predominantly herbivorous as already mentioned. As such, most of their diet should be predominantly plant-based. For babies and juveniles, you can more animal prey to enhance the red colorations of the species.

To limit water fouling I recommend feeding the cooters in a separate container.

Commercially produced foods to give the eastern river cooter include Mazuri Aquatic Turtle Food and  Tetra Tetrafauna Pro ReptoMin. These foods are excellent for juveniles and hatchlings since they contain more protein.

Of course supplement this with leafy greens such as romaine lettuce, green leaf lettuce, turnip greens, collards, and even aquatic plants like parrot feathers, water lettuce, and duckweed.

As the species mature, they prefer tortoise chow to turtle chow as tortoise chow is herbivorous while turtle chow is more omnivorous. These accept greens such as those mentioned earlier.

They are also known to accept elodea and eelgrasses (Vallisneria spp.). Offer these if you can find them. The commercially produced food to offer adults is the Mazuri Tortoise Diet Food.

The turtle needs calcium and you have to provide it. Since the species feed on water the best way to supplement their diet with calcium is to offer cuttlebones. Check out our article on the best cuttlebone for turtles.

Eastern River Cooter Eggs

The eggs of the species vary in size but generally have a length of 3.6 cm to 4.4 cm and a width of 2.3 cm to 2.8 cm. The eggs are pinkish-white and hard. They are about 4 cm in diameter.

A female cooter can lay about 10 to 20 eggs at a go and up to six clutches each breeding season. Females lay the eggs into holes in the sand and on elevated ground.

Eastern River Cooter Hatchling Care

Hatchlings feed on an omnivorous diet. I recommend feeding the hatchlings and juveniles Mazuri Aquatic Turtle Food and  Tetra Tetrafauna Pro ReptoMin.

Hatchlings can be housed in a 20 to 30-gallon tank. The temperature requirements of the hatchlings should be as follows – a water temperature of about 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and a basking temperature of about  86 degrees Fahrenheit.


The eastern river cooter is a calm turtle that can be found basking on the banks of its aquatic habitats or on logs and rocks. They can cohabitate with other turtle species such as sliders, painted turtles, and map turtles. They may climb on top of one another when they bask.

The species is typically wary of humans and will rush back into the water when human approaches. Eastern river cooter is quick and very mobile. As time goes on they will become more comfortable with human presence.

Similar to other turtles, the eastern river cooter gets stressed when handled by humans. Captive-bred turtles are more comfortable around humans and will tolerate being touched.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I find an eastern river cooter for sale?

The eastern river cooter is endemic to North America and is relatively easy to find especially if you live within the geographic range of the species which is eastern Texas to eastern Virginia and northern Ohio to northern Florida.

They can be found in pet stores across North America. They can also occasionally be found in pet stores in Europe. You can always order eastern river cooter online from sites with reputable breeders such as Underground Reptiles, My Turtle Store, and Nauti-Lass Ponds & Critters, Inc. 

Are eastern river cooters expensive?

Since these turtles are endemic to most of eastern North America and their population is secure, they are quite common. Many breeders also breed them. This means that they are pretty affordable. A captive bred should cost under $50.

While the species are inexpensive to acquire, they can be costly to care for as they grow to become very large. You should expect females to grow to be over a foot in carapace length. This large size means that their tanks are expensive to acquire and their enclosure can expensive to maintain. Cleaning the tank can also be difficult because of its large size.

You also need to install an expensive aquarium heater if you decide to house an adult eastern river cooter indoors.

Is a eastern river cooter legal to keep as a pet?

The eastern river cooter can be kept as a pet in most places around the world, although you may need a license or permit to keep it as a pet.

In the United States, since it isn’t endangered, you don’t generally need a license or a permit. Regardless of this, it is prohibited by law in the United States to acquire a turtle that is less than 4 inches long in carapace length.

You should check with your local wildlife authority before keeping an exotic turtle as a pet.

What fish can live with eastern river cooters?

There are a lot of fish species you can keep in the same pond or tank with the river cooter. Since P. c. concinna are predominantly herbivorous, they generally do not chase the fish kept with them. They also do not attempt to eat the fish in the enclosure with them.

Some fishes to have in the enclosure with your eastern river cooter include yellow cichlids, zebrafish, tetra fish, danios, tiger barbs, and livebearers.

How do I choose a healthy eastern river cooter at the pet store?

Eastern river cooters are quite affordable. They should find a baby cooter for less than $50.

Before you acquire one you want to ensure that it is healthy. The best way to know this is to examine the turtle yourself. Being able to examine the specimen yourself is one of the biggest advantages of getting the turtle from a pet store you can walk into.

A healthy eastern river cooter should –

– Have no wounds, cuts, or bruises on the skin. It should also have no cracks on the shell. 
– Have bright eyes.
– Not have puffy eyelids.
– Not wheezing when it breathes.
– Have strong limbs and struggle when handled.
– Be balanced when swimming.

You should also look around the enclosure that the turtle lives in. this enclosure should be clean and well-maintained.

Acquiring a river cooter online can be a bit more tricky. However, with this, i recommend that you find a reputable breeder.


While not particularly difficult to care for, setting up the enclosure for this turtle can be quite expensive. They may not be expensive or difficult to acquire but they require a large enclosure.

This enclosure is expensive to build. Additionally, the filtration system needed to keep the water within the enclosure clean is also expensive and uses a lot of electricity compared to other species’ enclosures. The heating system of the tank when kept indoors can also be expensive to use. In all, the best way to house this turtle is to house it outdoors.

River cooters aren’t aggressive and are generally simple to care for once you have set up their enclosure. They can also be housed with several other turtles.

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John Anselmo

Saturday 16th of April 2022

I have 2 cooters & they are without the best things that ever I ever had, they watch television with me at night, but they are a little overweight because I feed them shrimp for dinner, they eat diet pellets during the day. The only problem I have is that they don't like light. At 10PM I lower the lights & they immediately go to a large basking platform. THEY are 3 yo & over 10 inches in lenght. THANKS AGAIN for your input.


Saturday 5th of June 2021

Thanks for the information. A female laid her eggs in my yard this morning and we're wondering if predators, crows, raccoons, squirrels, etc will get them. Should they be fenced or covered with wire someway?


Tuesday 26th of May 2020

Where found are they found? - typo here I think Also, in that section you list Texas and Oklahoma as being in the eastern US but they're not. Eastern US is anything east of the MS River.

Brock Yates

Tuesday 26th of May 2020

Thanks Kara! I corrected the small typos, and will have our researchers review this and update it with more information and correct any other mistakes :)