False Map Turtle (Sawback Turtle)

False Map Turtle

False Map Turtle Care Sheet

Also referred to as Sawback turtles, the false map turtle is one of the many species of the Map turtles. False map turtles are typically docile and don’t bite.

The false map turtle’s biological name is Graptemys pseudogeographica pseudogeographica and it’s as such the nominate subspecies of the species Graptemys pseudogeographica. Another popular subspecies of the species Graptemys pseudogeographica is the Mississippi map turtle.

Both turtles look alike. Common features include their saw-like backs and the yellow lines that run down their bodies which look like contours (thus their name – map turtles).

Quick Reference Section

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Graptemys pseudogeographica pseudogeographica
  • Average Adult Size: 3.54 – 10.63 inches (90 – 270 mm) & 38.77 – 63.44 oz. (1100 – 1800 g)
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years (32.5 years on average)
  • Clutch Size: 14 eggs
  • Egg Incubation Period: 69 to 75 days
  • Food: Aquatic turtle food
  • Tank Size:  25 – 75 gallons (depending on size/gender)
  • Average Temperature: 85°H/75°L
  • UVB Lighting: Needed
  • Average Price Range: $6 to $40
  • Conservation Status: Not Evaluated on IUCN Redlist

False Map Turtle Facts and Information

False Map Turtles Basking (Graptemys pseudogeographica)

The false map turtle is similar in appearance to many other map turtles. Their carapace (shell) is usually brown with dark blotches. They have yellow lines all over their shells and bodies.

The lines resemble contours. As they age, the yellow lines fade. On the shell is a vertebral keel which is saw-like. As with the lines, this is more prominent among the young.

While male adults are 90 to 150 mm (3.5 to 6 inches), females are almost twice that size – 12 to 27 cm (4.7 to 10.6 inches). Because the false map and Mississippi map look similar, they are usually mistaken with one another. The main difference is that Mississippi map turtles have a more extensive plastron (underbelly) pattern.

This map turtle is endemic to North America just like the Mississippi map turtle. The false map turtle’s wild populations can be found around the Missouri and Mississippi river and the rivers’ basins.

False Map Turtle Habitat

These subspecies prefer to live in large rivers and backwaters. However, they can also be founded in drowned forests, sloughs, marshes, ponds, and lakes – basically, most freshwater aquatic ecosystems. Water bodies with slow currents, ample basking spots, and aquatic vegetation are most preferred by this species. They live in a temperate climate.

Enclosure

The aquatic needs of this subspecies dictate the type of enclosure needed. As a semi aquatic turtle, they need an aquarium if you plan on keeping them indoors.

The aquarium needs to be large enough to house the turtle comfortably. Young turtles require small enclosure as compared to adults. For babies and juveniles start with a 20-gallon aquarium such as the Marina LED Aquarium Kit (20 gallons).

This aquarium is large enough to house a juvenile and even an adult male (since they are much smaller than adult females). However ideally, an adult male should be housed in an aquarium that has a capacity of over 25 gallons.

I believe the Tetra Aquarium Kit (55 Gallon) is large enough for most adults including females. With that said, some females can grow to be almost a foot in length.

For these large females, a 75-gallon aquarium may be necessary. The reasons for a large aquarium include providing a lot of space for the turtle to swim as well as ensuring the aquarium’s water doesn’t get dirty quickly.  

On one side of the aquarium, provide a basking platform. There are many ways of doing this. You can use a plastic basking platform such as the Penn Plax Reptology Life Science Turtle-Topper Above-Tank Basking Platform.

This allows the reptiles to climb up onto the basking spot as it has a gradual slope that goes into the water. Others prefer stacks of flat wide rocks. The rocks can be stacked to form stairs where they break through the water for easy access. Rocks feel natural and make for an excellent basking platform. The  Natural Reptile Habitat Rocks is an excellent choice.

Every aquarium needs a filter and pump. This helps keep the water in the aquarium moving and improves the cleanliness of the tank. It is essential since excrement, and unwanted organic material needs to be filtered out continually.

The Marineland Penguin Power Filter is a powerful filtration and pump system designed specifically for aquariums and is perfect. Even a pump and filter isn’t enough. Change a third of the water in the aquarium every week.

Substrate

For turtles, substrate isn’t that important as with other reptiles. A bedding can, however, give a nice and natural appearance to the aquarium. For this purpose, some turtle keepers use fine or medium-sized gravels as well as sand as substrate for the tanks.  

The substrate has to be one that doesn’t float or mix with the water easily, so it remains at the bottom of the tank. A good substrate choice is the Carib Sea Peace River Gravel for Aquarium, which is pH neutral and gives the appearance of a natural river ecosystem. Nature’s Ocean 12-Inch Coral Base Rocks are excellent if you wish to culture live corals in the tank. 

The choice of substrates is up to you.

Temperature

Since they are species endemic to the temperate climates of the world, the enclosure doesn’t need to be particularly warm. The basking spot is the only place that usually needs to be heated. The temperature of the water needs to be in the mid-70s. The ambient air temperature needs to be 80 to 85 F. Finally, the basking area needs to be 85 to 90 F in temperature.

You can use either a ceramic heating lamp such as the Wuhostam Infrared Ceramic Heat Lamp or a heat lamp that provides UV light as well as warmth such as the Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle UVB & Heat Lighting Kit.

A thermometer can help you monitor the temperatures in the aquarium.  If the water temperature is too low a submersible heater may be installed.

Lighting

The false map turtle needs UVB light to be healthy. The light allows the turtle to synthesize vitamin D3. This is needed for proper bone development as well as a strong immune system.

I recommend a mercury vapor bulb. Thankfully this bulb also gives off heat similar to the Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle UVB & Heat Lighting Kit. If however, you are using a ceramic heat lamp, you can provide a full spectrum fluorescent light such as the Zoo Med Repti Sun.

However, nothing beats natural sunlight. If a lot of sunlight enters the room in which the aquarium is placed, the turtle can get all the needed UV. Ensure the aquarium doesn’t receive direct sunlight as it can really increase the temperature of the water. The tank needs to be adjacent to the window and not in front of it.

Accessories

Plants and other decorates can give the turtle places to hide and provide a sense of security. They also look nice and provide a natural feel. Some excellent decorations include Potted Tall Hairgrass, Anubia Nana on Driftwood, and Java Fern Planted on Driftwood.

Feeding the False Map Turtle

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Since they are omnivorous, feeding isn’t difficult. However, the age of the turtle determines just how much animal protein to feed them. However, they will eat commercial aquatic turtle food and aquatic plants.

In the wild, juveniles and hatchlings tend to eat more plants than they do animal protein as they lack the large muscular jaws needed to crack hard-shelled snails and crayfish.

Hatchlings accept hyacinths, duckweed, and other aquatic plants. If you plan on feeding them ensure you give them all sorts of foods so they get all the needed nutrition. Commercial aquatic foods can provide these nutrients.

Juveniles also eat worms and insects just not as much as plants. Adults prefer to eat animal protein more than plants although, they do accept both. Crayfish, mealworms, insects such as crickets, and snails are all popular foods to foods to feed the adults.

If you want to breed your own you can check out either this mealworm breeding guide or this diy cricket farm guide.

Most map turtle keepers prefer to feed their turtles with commercial aquatic turtle food. If you are a beginner, I encourage you to start with that. Complement the turtle food with freeze-dried krill, shrimps and vegetables (about twice a week). Zoo Med Natural Aquatic Turtle Food and Aquatic Foods Inc. Freeze Dried Krill are both acceptable. Crickets, mealworms and trout chow are all excellent foods to feed them.

Some hatchlings may be stubborn and refuse commercial food. For these, you can feed them bloodworms, chopped earthworms, live goldfish, and guppy. Live guppies and goldfish provide the turtle with exercise as they have to chase their food.

Feed adult false map turtles just twice or thrice a week and feed hatchlings every day then every other day as they grow into adulthood. Feed false map turtles as much as they can eat in 5 minutes. Overfeeding can lead to obesity which is can lead to health issues.

The turtle also needs supplements. Sprinkling powdered calcium on their food before feeding it to them is impractical, as they eat in the water. One way to give them the nutrients needed is to gut-load their food before feeding it to them.

Mealworms and crickets can easily be gut-loaded. Calcium and vitamin D3 supplements are necessary for indoor turtles. For outdoor turtles, just a calcium supplement is needed. Place cuttlefish bone on a dry surface of the aquarium.

Map turtles will chew on it as needed. Snails and other crustaceans are also rich in calcium. Feed your pet with food/preys bought in the store. Wild insects and crustaceans may carry harmful insecticide.

Feeding the turtles in the same aquarium as they live in can be messy. For this reason, some keepers have a separate tank just for feeding. While this is a great idea, young turtles will shy away from humans/keepers for several weeks until they get used to you.

False Map Turtle Overview Video

False Map Turtle’s Temperament & Handling

False map turtles can be shy when newly acquired. Give them time to get use to you. Also, ensure there are ample hiding spots in their enclosure. As they get used to you, they won’t shy away from you.

From there on, you can even take them out of their enclosure and feed them in a separate container. They are gentle and docile creatures who do not bite. Turtles may carry salmonella and as such, it is important to wash your hands before and after handling a false map turtle.

As with other turtles, they are more of display pets and are better off being admired from afar.

How long does the False Map Turtle live?

False map turtles are very long-lived as with most turtles. Although their exact lifespan is unknown, wild false map turtles may live to be 50 years. Captive false map turtles that receive proper care live to between 30 to 35 years with an average of 32.5 years. Make sure you are ready to care for this turtle for many decades before acquiring one as a pet.

False Map Turtle Breeding

The breeding season begins in spring and lasts till fall. Eggs laid are buried in burrows dug in sandy soils. Similar to other reptiles, the temperature during the incubation process is determined by the gender of the baby turtles. Females would lay 12 to 22 eggs which are laid in 3 clutches every year.

Common Health Concerns

These are very few health issues to be concerned about.

Shell problems

In captivity, map turtles may develop shell problems as they do not get enough access to sunlight and subsequently vitamin D3. This health issue can be solved with supplements.

Fungal infection

This is usually down to the turtle not being able to dry out properly when it basks. Ensure, the platform is large enough so the turtle can completely and totally dry off. No part of the turtle should touch the water or become wet while it dries out.  Similarly, the heat lamp should produce enough warmth.

Cuts and bruises

Treat bruises and cuts with a betadine solution and other topical treatments such as Acriflavine.

Metabolic Bone Disease

If the turtle isn’t getting enough calcium and vitamins, it may develop MBD. This disease weakens the bones. To prevent this, ensure the turtle is fed well and healthily. Also, the turtle needs access to UV light preferably sunlight.  

Other problems include lethargy, loss of appetite, furry mouth, eye infections, and ulcers. Contact the vet when faced with health problems.

Pricing and Availability

False map turtles are nowhere as popular as the Mississippi map turtles and are much harder to come by. Because they look alike and belong to the same species, most don’t mind having either.

When you decide to acquire one, it shouldn’t cost you more than $50. Finding them online can be tough but you can try ReptileCity.com, Turtle Source, and Underground Reptiles. because they are endemic to North America, they are commonly found in most reptile pet shops.

Conservation/Threats

The false map turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica pseudogeographica) has no special status on the IUCN Red List or the US Federal List. They are not endangered and their population is quite strong although wild specimens are regularly taken for the pet trade.

Ouachita Map Turtles vs False Map Turtle vs Mississippi Map Turtle Differences Explained in Video

Conclusion

The false map turtle is one of the more popular map turtles in North America. This gentle reptile is comparable to the Cumberland slider, Mississippi map turtle, musk and mud turtles, painted turtles and cooters.

They are easy to care and fun to watch especially when they chase live prey. False map turtles also live long so you can enjoy having them for several decades. If you have any thoughts on this wonderful turtle, kindly leave a comment or two.

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