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Mississippi Map Turtle

Mississippi Map Turtle Care Sheet

Mississippi Map Turtles, also known as Sawback Turtles, have become a popular species among reptile hobbyists. These aquatic turtles are lively, entertaining to watch, and have a beautiful look to them, making them a striking pet.

Whether you are interested in learning more about these guys or might even be thinking about getting one yourself, we have done all the research and bring you all the findings you need, so that you don’t have to.

Mississippi Map Turtle Quick Reference Section

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Scientific Name: Graptemys pseudogeographica kohni
  • Alternate Name(s): Sawback MapTurtle
  • Family: Emydidae 
  • Size: Males 3.5 to 5 inches; Females 6 to 10 inches
  • Diet: Omnivorous
  • Lifespan: 15 to 25 years

Quick Facts About Mississippi Map Turtles 

Mississippi Map turtle on white background
Mississippi Map turtle on white background

Mississippi Map Turtle Appearance

These turtles can range from olive green to light or dark brown on their bodies. They have map-like contours all over their bodies and sometimes on the patterns of their carapace. 

They get the name “Sawback” from the diagonal line that runs down their carapace. This ridge has distinctive spines that sort of look like the sharp ends of a saw.

There are quite a few variants or morphs of the Mississippi Map Turtle.

The High Orange Mississippi Map Turtle variant appearing means that the parents might have had the rare gene for high colors. These morphs are rare and a bit hard to find, but showcase a beautiful bright or dull orange all over their body with the same yellow markings.

There is also the White, Leucistic, or Albino Mississippi Map Turtle, which is basically a map turtle but completely pink with the same markings but in grey pink. Sometimes these will be pale yellow or cream with tan markings.

See links on where to buy them in our “Where to Buy” section below.

Mississippi Map Turtle Location and Natural Habitat

mississippi map turtle
Mississippi map turtle in the wild

Mississippi Map Turtles are native to the Mississippi Valley and can also occur along the Central U.S. and southward into the Gulf States.

While they are great swimmers that can handle both swift and stagnant waters, they prefer bodies of water with moderate currents such as large streams, lakes, and rivers with lots of vegetation.

They are used to warm and highly humid climates that come with the areas they roam.

Mississippi Map Turtle Diet

Mississippi Map Turtles swim around and will eat anything they can find in their habitats. 

In the wild, they will generally be seen eating aquatic insects, dead fish, crustaceans, midge larvae, mollusks for protein, and they will gobble up tons of aquatic vegetation for greens.

Mississippi Map Turtle Lifespan

Their average lifespan is mostly around 15 to 20 years in the wild, but they can live from 30 years or more when in captivity with proper husbandry.

Mississippi Map Turtles will reach sexual maturity at about 4 to 6 years for males and around 8 to 14 years for females. You can tell they are full-grown by measuring the size of their carapace at 3 to 5 inches for males and 6 to 10 inches for females.

Mississippi Map Turtle Breeding Habits

Females usually lay 3 clutches of eggs a year, with each clutch made up of 5 to 22 eggs.

These species of turtles mate in October or November and again in April. Nesting can occur anytime from mid-May to late July.

One of the only times a Mississippi Map will leave the water is to nest. The mother turtle will find a good spot to nest anywhere from 16 to 490 feet from the water to deposit its eggs on sandy beaches with low shrubs, preferably.

Predators of the Mississippi Map Turtle

Predators of this species of turtle include rice rats when they are young, Red-winged blackbirds, grackles, and ring-billed gulls when they are hatchlings. When they are emerging from their eggs, they may also fall prey to pike, catfish, bass, and great blue herons.

Their marking, color, and shape allow them to blend into their environment to hide from predators. This cryptic adaptation helps them avoid detection and is their greatest defense against predation.

When approached, the skittish Mississippi Map Turtle will usually attempt to flee before acting in any other way.

Mississippi Map Turtle Legality

When it comes to turtles, North Carolina and South Dakota are the only two states that ban the buying, selling, trade, and bartering of all species of turtles.

Check out the Department of Environmental Management’s website to see the list of legal species for your specific location, since it really is on a state-by-state basis.

In some states, you may need a license or permit to sell or partake in the reptile trade. Some states may even require you to have a permit just to keep them and you will always want to keep paperwork in order to prove that they are capture born (CB).

Where to Buy Mississippi Map Turtles

There are many reputable sites that sell captive-bred turtles. Check out our list below for more info.

The reason why you want captive-bred or commercial turtles is due to the ability to choose your turtle, the fact that your species choices won’t be limited to local or native species, you’re not involving in the depletion of the wild population, and captive-bred turtles will already be acclimated to captivity.

If you are interested in getting a Mississippi Map morph like the Albino or High Orange Mississippi Map turtle, their prices can be pretty high since they are rare, but you can check some out here:

Care Sheet for Mississippi Map Turtle

mississippi map turtle in water
Mississippi map turtle in water


Looking for tips on how to create the perfect Mississippi Map turtle tank setup? We got you!

These guys really enjoy swimming and will spend most of their time in the water. This means you want to make sure that you give them plenty of room to swim around in.

Considering this and the sex of your turtle, you want to go for a larger tank regarding this information. For a female, you might want to get a 75-gallon and 25 gallons for a male.

They like a water depth of around 10 inches up to 30 inches deep.

These amounts should give your turtle appropriate amounts of swimming space as well as room for everything else you might add to their tank.


Aquatic turtles are messy and will produce a lot of waste that will dirty their water. If you want to keep your aquatic turtle tank clean, we have some advice for making your life a little easier for maintaining a tidy tank.

First off, you don’t want cleaning your turtle’s tank to be a chore, so make it easier on yourself by installing a filter to their tank. A canister filter will be more efficient in comparison to the usual aquarium filters since they have a larger water filtering capacity.

A powerful water filter is a prudent investment as it allows for adequate oxygen levels as well as keeps the water clean and clear.

Generally, you should clean the media of your canister filter at least once every two months.

To maintain a healthy environment for your aquatic turtle, make sure that you are removing any uneaten food and waste from the bottom of their tank. At least once a week, you should dedicate time to use a long-nozzled, BPA-free siphon to remove any debris in your tank.

Leaving these leftovers and waste at the bottom of its tank can cause a spike in ammonia and harmful bacteria which are toxic to your turtle. They can lead to illness or other health issues and can possibly kill your pet.

Try to vacuum your aquarium substrate with a siphon about three to four times per month. 

We also recommend that you get a home water test kit to check for pH, nitrates, and nitrites.

Another thing that can help maintain your turtle tank is aquatic plants, particularly the floating kind. Since floating plants have direct access to CO2, they will absorb fewer nutrients in the tank.

Aquatic plants will absorb ammonia as well as unwanted nitrates. However, some turtles see aquatic plants as a snack rather than a tank-cleaner. Mud turtles will not make lunch out of water lettuce, so we recommend trying that.

Besides plants, you can also add algae-eating shrimp or fish. Unfortunately, they will eventually become a snack for your turtle as well.

You should also be sterilizing your water with a UV water sterilizer to prevent free-floating pathogens, which can cause stinky, murky water. This cannot be done through your turtle’s UVB basking light; you must purchase a separate light for this job.

You can use your UV water sterilizer about once a week, but make sure to do so after feeding.

You should be performing dechlorinated water changes every other week. You don’t want ammonia or nitrates to be building up in your turtle’s home, and filtration systems will not do the job, so a quick fix would be to change their water.

You must dechlorinate your tap water before you put it into their tank. Some people might think that chlorine or chloramine is good for the tank since it kills bacteria, right?

Well, yes it will kill the harmful bacteria, but it will also kill the much-needed bacteria that will work on the ammonia and nitrate levels for you. This is why dechlorination is important in your water change. 

You can do this by simply adding a water conditioner into your tap water and letting it sit for about half a day. Then do a 30 percent water change when it’s ready.

Do this every other week and you’re good to go!


Reptile sand, fine pea gravel, large pebbles, coated gravel, and riverbed sand should all work as a good substrate for your Mississippi Map.

About an inch and a half at the bottom of their enclosure should do.

Temperature and Lighting

Again, these guys come from a hot and humid climate, meaning you will want to keep their waters around the low to mid-70s to 80 degrees Fahrenheit for adults. These temperatures should be constant during both day and night hours.

You can achieve this warmth through a water heater keeping the general 1W per 1L of water rule in mind.

You may also use heat lamps in their enclosures if needed. 

Turtles will regulate their body temperatures by basking and swimming.

They like a basking area with temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s. This can be achieved through a 60W or 100W basking bulb or UVB light, which should always be on.

Install a thermometer in order to monitor your numbers.

Regular cool fluorescent lights can be used to mimic the passage of night and day. If you can’t reliably turn the lights on and off at the same times every day, you can acquire a timer.


This species of turtle also enjoys basking, as such, it is necessary to have a couple of flat surfaces where the turtle can bask. You want to give them a large basking area that can work with the UVB lighting, allowing a gradient of various temperatures for them to choose from.

In the wild, the Mississippi Map Turtle is most comfortable around a lot of vegetation. Therefore, the tank should have some aquatic plants. This is important as lack of vegetation usually causes the turtle unnecessary stress.

However, if you are not careful in your choice of vegetation, they might just disappear into your turtle’s belly! 

After much research, it seems that submersible ferns like Aquatic Java Ferns, or aquatic plants like Anubias, or Amazon Swords usually work. 

Some owners have luck with giant duckweed as well as other species of duckweed. Although, some turtles are known to like duckweed.

You can also try the elegant dwarf lily pads, but it is still possible they will try to nibble on them.

Be aware of Pothos, as they may be toxic to some turtles.

Even if they do eat the plants, at least they will supply nutrients to your turtles and will eventually grow back anyways if you have more plants than turtles.


These aquatic turtles will rarely ever leave the water except to nest and to eat. They will only feed in the water, so that is how owners must give them their food and do so with care.

They enjoy dark leafy greens like spinach and parsley, Romaine lettuce, dandelion leaves, or other fresh plants. They also like a variety of fruit and will eat more or less any kind.

You can give them vegetation with some nutritionally balanced turtle pellets to make sure that they are getting all their nutrients. You should be feeding your turtle a balanced diet.

Since they are omnivorous, you can complement these greens with some protein. However, it is important that you give them low-fat proteins and not too often since it can lead to an unhealthy growth rate and pyramiding of the shell.

You will, however, need to determine the type of protein you give them depending on their gender due to their significant size differences.

Males can eat fish pieces, mealworms, aquatic insects, crustaceans, and mollusks whereas females can be fed larger prey items such as snails and clams.  

Adults should feed 4 or 5 times a week, while young turtles should be fed only once daily. Overfeeding is also not recommended since it can lead to obesity, also shortening their lives.


While these turtles are a bit timid and shy, they can make good community turtles since they rarely show aggression.

Some territorial and competitive behavior can occur among males when around a female. Males have also been seen to sexually harass females, possibly causing the need for separation.

It is also recommended that you limit the number of females kept together due to their acts of asserting dominance, which could intimidate other turtles, making them feel uncomfortable in their enclosure.


These shy turtles don’t generally enjoy being handled so you should avoid doing so unless it’s absolutely necessary. While it should be safe to do so, watch out for any possible transmissive diseases and possible bites if they are frightened by you.

While they are gentle creatures that usually won’t bite when they are handled, being handled too much will take them out of their happy place, which is in the water away from human hands.

They can also be defensive sometimes, but mostly it should be safe to handle them when you must.

FAQ About Mississippi Map Turtles

Mississippi Map Turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica kohnii)
Mississippi Map Turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica kohnii)

Where do Mississippi Map Turtles live?

While they are native to the Mississippi Valley, they can also be found in Illinois, Iowa, Texas, and Nebraska. They like warm, humid weather as well as the moderate currents and lush vegetation of these state’s large streams, lakes, and rivers.

How can you tell if a Mississippi Map Turtle is male or female?

The most obvious way to determine the sex of adult Mississippi Maps is just by looking at their size; the females will usually grow twice as big as the males.

You can also look at the length and thickness of their tail to determine their gender. Females will have short, thin tails whereas males will have longer, thicker tails with their cloaca (or vent) closer to the end of their tail than the females.

Can you hold a Mississippi Map Turtle?

While they probably won’t enjoy it, it can be safe to do so as long as they don’t have any transmissive diseases and are in a good mood. They can still bite if they are feeling threatened, but this species rarely does.

Are Mississippi Map Turtles aggressive?

They are gentle, timid creatures that rarely show aggression. But this does not mean it’s impossible for them to be aggressive. 

For instance, you might see them show some aggression in a communal tank, even though they usually make great tank mates. They may also rarely snap at you if you are making them feel stressed out. 

All in all, they are not normally aggressive, so there isn’t much to be afraid of when it comes to these species.

Do Mississippi Map Turtles bite?

These guys make ideal pets because they are friendly by nature. However, biting can still happen if they are feeling threatened by their owners or their tank mates, as with most creatures.

How do Mississippi Map Turtles sleep?

These turtles will usually sleep underwater, but it is not strange to see one fall asleep in their basking area. 

Do Mississippi Map Turtles need water?

Mississippi Map Turtles love swimming in deeper waters of around and require a depth of 10 inches up to 30 inches in their captive enclosure. They find security in deep waters.

This is why you must provide them with clean, filtered water.

They cannot survive out of water past 2 to 7 days, depending on their reason for being outside of the water. If your turtle purposely leaves the water for too long even after regulating its body temperature, it might be ill.

Other than illness, they love being deep underwater and swimming. They need water and light to survive more so than they need food, which they can go 160 days without.

How many eggs do Mississippi Map Turtles lay?

Female Mississippi Map Turtles will typically lay 3 clutches of eggs a year, with each clutch made up of 5 to 22 eggs. 

How often should you feed your Mississippi Map Turtle?

You should feed your turtle around 4 to 5 times weekly. If your Mississipi Map is young and still growing, you can safely feed them every day.

Do Mississippi Map Turtles carry salmonella?

Mississippi Map Turtles may have a risk of carrying Salmonella. While it isn’t harmful to them as a species, it can cause transmissive diseases which can make humans very ill.

Infants, children, and adults with weak immune systems should try to avoid or have minimal contact with these reptiles which can be a serious health risk to them, causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, headaches, and abdominal cramps to those infected.

It may also lead to death in more serious cases of Salmonella.

How big do Mississippi Map Turtles get?

Males can grow anywhere from 3.5 inches all the way up to 5 inches, whereas females can grow twice that starting anywhere from 6 inches to 10 inches.

How long do Mississippi Map Turtles live?

A Mississippi Map Turtle’s average lifespan is around 15 to 20 years, but those in captivity have been known to live up to 30 years with proper husbandry. 

Do Mississippi Map Turtles hibernate?

Map turtles will hibernate in deep pools of water during the winter months or when temperatures drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Note that they only do this in the wild so if your temperatures aren’t where your turtle needs them to be, they may become lethargic and might go into hibernation as well.

Are Mississippi Map Turtles friendly?

In the right conditions, they can be friendly in a community of turtles or communal tanks. With humans, they are rarely aggressive and will only react defensively if they are feeling threatened.

Do take note that the larger females might act out in dominant behavior if you are keeping multiple females around. To prevent this, limit the number of females you have in your tank.

Two males may fight over a female and may also sexually harass females if they share a tank with them, so be aware of that.

Overall, Mississippi Maps are pretty friendly and hardly ever show aggression. It is just important to keep in mind the issues that could arise with these turtles. 

Do Mississippi Map Turtles have teeth?

No, they do not have teeth.

However, they do have sharp beaks which they can use to attack or bite prey.

What do Mississippi Map Turtles eat?

Mississippi Map Turtles swim around and will eat anything they can find in their habitats. 

In the wild, they will generally be seen eating aquatic insects, dead fish, crustaceans, midge larvae, mollusks for protein, and they will gobble up tons of aquatic vegetation for greens.

They enjoy dark leafy greens like spinach and parsley, Romaine lettuce, dandelion leaves, or other fresh plants. They also like a variety of fruit and will eat more or less any kind.

Since they are omnivorous, you can complement these greens with some protein. However, it is important that you give them low-fat proteins and not too often since it can lead to an unhealthy growth rate and pyramiding of the shell.

You will, however, need to determine the type of protein you give them depending on their gender due to their significant size differences.

Males can eat fish pieces, mealworms, aquatic insects, crustaceans, and mollusks whereas females can be fed larger prey items such as snails and clams.  

Can Mississippi Map Turtles eat fruit?


They love eating both fruit and vegetables. You can feed them almost every kind of fruit including tropical fruits like papaya, banana, and guava, raspberries, strawberries, grated apples, pear, and grapes.


Caring for your Mississippi Map Turtle can be rewarding when they are comfortable and happily swimming around in their beautifully decorated, clean tank.

Making sure your turtle is happy, well-fed, and not stressed can be a task at hand, but it is totally worth it when you fulfill their needs.

We hope that you enjoyed this article and maybe learned a few things about how to care for these cute turtles. Maybe we convinced you to get one yourself!

Leave a comment below on whether or not you’d get this turtle as a pet or any suggestions you have about the information we have provided.

You can also just tell us about your experiences keeping the charming Mississippi Map Turtle. We’d love to hear from you!

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