Skip to Content

Northern Map Turtle Care Guide

Northern Map turtle care is one of the most rewarding experiences for a turtle owner. Also known as Common Map turtles, these reptiles are native to North America. They are pretty active and are fun to watch as they explore their tank.

These are great pet turtle for keepers who want an aquatic turtle in a beautiful but manageable package. Northern Map turtles are smaller than Painted turtles or Sliders but are also bigger than Musk turtles.

In this comprehensive Northern Map turtle care guide, we’ll delve into some information about this species along with some advice to help you keep your Northern Map turtle healthy and happy.

Northern Map Turtle Facts

Common Map Turtle (Also known as the Northern Map Turtle on a road
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Graptemys geographica
  • Other Names: Geographic Map Turtle, Common Map Turtle
  • Average Adult Female Size: 7 to 10⅔  inches (18 to 27 cm)
  • Average Adult Male Size: 4 to 6⅓ inches (10 to 16.5 cm)
  • Lifespan: 15 to 20 years
  • Clutch Size: 16 to 20 eggs
  • Egg Incubation Period: 50 to 70 days
  • Food: Commercial aquatic turtle diet, insects, and leafy greens
  • Tank Size:  75 to 125 gallons
  • Average Temperature: 90°H/70°L
  • UVB Lighting: Needed
  • Average Price Range: $30 to $100
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern on IUCN Red List

Northern Map turtles can be very social reptiles, often basking in groups on rocks or logs above the surface of the water. They can co-hab in captivity, but it’s best to avoid keeping males together. You should also make sure that any females in the tank are of a similar size to avoid conflict.

In the wild, Northern Map turtles need to hibernate in the colder months of the year. They may actually hibernate in groups but will retain some degree of activity.

There is a small population of Northern Map turtles in the Czech Republic, even though they aren’t native to the region. These turtles were likely released from captivity and have found a home in the wild.

What does a Northern Map turtle look like?

Northern Map turtles get their name for the yellowish lines on their dark brown or olive green shells. These intricate markings call to mind the contours of a map. They also have a row of keels running down the spines of the shells.

It can sometimes be hard to differentiate between different types of Map turtles, so Northern Map turtles are Northernly distinguished by the small yellow spots behind their eyes.

How big do Northern Map turtles get?

Northern Map turtles typically range from 4 to 10.5 inches (10 to 26.5 cm) long. Females will nearly always be bigger than males and grow between 7 and 10.5 inches. Females can try to dominate smaller females if kept together. Males usually range from 4 to 6.5 inches

Where do Northern Map turtles live?

Northern Map turtles are native to North America. They are found in central and eastern areas of the United States across the Great Lakes region. These turtles also inhabit southern areas of Canada near Ontario and Quebec.

Northern Map turtles can be encountered in these states:

IowaNew JerseyWest Virginia
KansasNew YorkWisconsin

What kind of habitat do Northern Map turtles need?

Northern Map turtles are fully aquatic and spend much of their time in the water. They mainly inhabit larger water sources such as lakes, ponds, and rivers.

These turtles are avid baskers and will use logs or rocks jutting out of the water as basking platforms. They can be skittish and will retreat to the safety of deeper water if threatened.

How long do Northern Map turtles live in captivity?

Northern Map turtles can live for around 15 to 20 years on average in captivity if they have optimal conditions.

What do Northern Map turtles eat?

Like most Emydidae turtles, Northern Map turtles are omnivores. However, they have more of a carnivorous diet than many other turtles and mainly eat crustaceans, insects, and mollusks. In some areas, larger females can rely on mollusks for their diet. They may also eat some vegetation for nutrients.

How do Northern Map turtles breed?

Northern Map turtles typically breed in the spring. The male and female will dive into deeper water to mate. Females then dig nests in sandy soil for their eggs, typically laying between six and 20 eggs per clutch. In good years, females can lay two clutches in one breeding season.

The eggs take about 50 to 70 days to hatch, emerging from late summer to the beginning of fall. The temperature of the nest affects whether the hatchlings will be male or female. If temperatures reach 86 to 95ºF (30 to 35ºC) then the hatchlings will be female. Cooler temperatures produce males.

What predators do Northern Map turtles face?

Northern Map turtles can face a range of predators. Mammals such as raccoons and other reptiles like snakes will often prey on Map turtle eggs if they can find them. Adult Map turtles can be eaten by birds, large mammals, snakes, and bigger turtles such as Common Snappers.

Common Map Turtle Care sheet


Because they are avid and active swimmers, Northern Map turtles need a pretty big tank compared to their small size. Something in the range of 75 to 125 gallons is ideal. The former is a good size for a male, while females will need something closer to 125 gallons.

You can house Northern Map turtles outside if your climate is suitable for their needs. This is also a good option if you want to co-hab these turtles. Something like a 300 gallon stock tank makes a great choice for a couple of similarly-sized females outside.

To create a natural feel for the enclosure and to provide some cover for your turtle, adding some live or artificial aquarium plants is always a good idea. Northern Map turtles can be quite shy, so they may hide behind plants or under rocks if they feel threatened. Use rocks or some form of ramp to create an easy-access gradient to the water for your turtle.

One of the most important things for a Northern Map turtle tank is to provide a good-sized basking platform. Northern Map turtles are frequent baskers, so use some rocks or a basking platform. You can use basking logs or natural logs as well, depending on how natural you want the enclosure to look.

You’ll need to fill most of the tank with dechlorinated water to give your turtle plenty of room to swim around. However, make sure to leave a good gap between the surface of the water and the lid of the tank. Aquatic turtles can be surprisingly effective escape artists if the water level is high enough for them to reach the lid!

Recommended basic products

To make life easy, here’s a quick rundown of some recommended basic products for your Northern Map turtle tank:


Keeping the tank as clean as possible is vital to the health of your Northern Map turtle. The main thing to remember is to use a powerful filtration system to sift debris out of the water.

Use a filter that is designed to handle twice as much capacity as your tank. So for a 125 gallon tank, aim for a 250 gallon capacity filter device. For bigger specimens like females, it’s best to use an external filter so that they don’t damage it while swimming around.

In addition to using the filter, you’ll also need to do some regular water changes. Always use dechlorinated water. Change a quarter of the tank’s water every week. Once a month, replace all of the water with a fresh quantity.


For aquatic tanks, a substrate is not strictly necessary. Without a substrate, an aquatic tank is easier to keep clean and there’s no risk of impaction should your turtle accidentally swallow some gravel or sand. It also saves you some money.

That said, adding in a substrate helps a tank to look and feel more natural, so it is definitely an option. With Northern Map turtles, you must provide a substrate that is too big for them to accidentally swallow while feeding.

Some good options include larger pieces of river or aquarium gravel. You only need an inch or two of this to get the desired effect. Carib Sea Peace River Gravel is a good choice.

You could also use a few large flat rocks along the bottom of the enclosure for easier cleaning while still getting a natural feel. This also helps to create a slight water gradient for your turtle.


Providing the correct temperatures within the tank is crucial for the health of any turtle. Keeping track of the various temperatures with thermometers should become common practice.

The water temperature for Northern Map turtles needs to be between 72 and 75ºF (22 to 24ºC). If your home doesn’t allow for this temperature range naturally, you should use a submersible water heater to keep the water warm enough.

The ambient temperature in the enclosure should be between 75 to 80ºF (24 to 27ºC), while the basking temperature should be maintained within a range of 85 to 100ºF (29 to 37ºC).

Make sure that the basking bulb is at least 12 inches away from the maximum height that your Northern Map turtle can reach within the enclosure or basking spot. This prevents your turtle from getting burned while basking.


The water in the tank should take care of most of your Northern Map turtle’s humidity needs. You can use a hygrometer to make sure that any land areas of the tank don’t get too dry, especially if you live in a climate with a dry ambient temperature.


Northern Map turtles love to bask or sunbathe, so they need a good basking bulb to replicate this in captivity. A 5.0 or 10.0 strength bulb is ideal. UVB light should also be provided to help your Northern Map turtle take in vital nutrients. This helps to avoid health conditions such as pyramiding.

All lights in your turtle’s enclosure should be kept on a 12 hour day/night cycle to replicate the natural passage of a day. This helps to keep your turtle’s natural circadian rhythms in tune.


The main accessory that you need to provide for Northern Map turtles is a good basking ramp or platform. You can either use a commercial ramp or you can use some rocks to create a more natural-looking basking spot.

Adding artificial or live aquatic plants to the tank is also a good way of giving your turtle somewhere to hide while also crafting a natural landscape in the tank. Certain live aquatic plants will also help to keep the water clean and full of oxygen.


In the wild, Northern Map turtles will mainly eat crustaceans, insects, and mollusks as part of a more carnivorous type of diet. They will also occasionally eat a little bit of vegetation to get some nutrients.

When housing a Northern Map turtle in captivity, you can easily replicate this diet by using staple foods such as crickets, shrimp, dubia roaches, and other insects. You can also offer mollusks such as earthworms, canned snails, and cockles.

But feeding a Northern Map turtle a completely carnivorous diet could be bad for their health. Too much protein and not enough other nutrients from vegetables or pellets may lead to health problems. Make sure to provide a balanced diet and occasionally offer plants such as duckweed.

Commercial turtle diets such as Mazuri or ReptoMin also work well. These also contain vital nutrients such as calcium and Vitamin D3 that are difficult to give aquatic turtles through powdered supplements. Use these to form the majority of your Northern Map turtle’s diet.

At feeding time, simply drop the food into the water for your turtle. To prevent obesity, you should keep to a basic feeding schedule. Feed your Northern Map turtle as much as it can eat in around five or six minutes, then stop feeding. Do this three times a week or so.

Here’s a basic list of the main foods for a Northern Map turtle:

  • Aquatic snails
  • Black Soldier
  • Fly larvae
  • Bloodworms
  • Canned snails
  • Cockles
  • Collard greens
  • Commercial turtle pellets
  • Crickets
  • Dubia roaches
  • Duckweed
  • Earthworms
  • Feeder fish
  • Krill
  • Mealworms
  • Mussels
  • Mustard greens
  • Shrimp
  • Spinach

Temperament and handling

Are Northern Map turtles good pets?

Northern Map turtles are active but shy turtles that will dive for the cover of deep water if they are startled. As such, handling of these turtles isn’t recommended except when absolutely necessary. It’s best to enjoy them by observation, watching as they swim around their tank and feed.

If they feel comfortable, Northern Map turtles will be very active and it’s great fun to watch them explore their tank. Crafting a more natural aquascape within the enclosure helps their activity levels even more. Once they recognize you, especially as the source of food, Northern Map turtles are more confident approaching you.

Because they can’t really be handled and their aquatic setup demands a lot of maintenance, Northern Map turtles aren’t the best pets for children or completely novice keepers. That said, if you have some experience with fish tanks you should be able to care for these aquatic turtles pretty easily.

If you give them enough space, you can also co-hab Northern Map turtles. This is easiest to do outside in a stock tank if your environmental conditions are suitable. Avoid keeping males together as they will fight. Any females kept together should be of a similar size or the larger specimens will dominate the smaller ones.

Signs of good health

Graptemys geographica (Northern Map Turtle)
Graptemys geographica (Northern Map Turtle)

Choosing a healthy Northern Map turtle will set you up well for success as a keeper. Try to avoid buying wild-caught specimens as these won’t settle down well and may carry diseases or parasites. Instead, it’s always best to find a registered breeder selling captive-bred specimens.

When choosing your turtle, there are a few signs to look out for to determine if it’s healthy. The shell should be smooth, without any strange bumps or flaking of the skin or scales. The turtle’s eyes should be clear, bright, and alert. If the turtle moves very slowly and doesn’t try to scurry away when handled, this lethargic behavior can indicate a sick turtle.

Northern Map turtles are usually active swimmers, exploring their tanks openly. If the turtle stays in one spot without basking, there may be something wrong. It’s always a good idea to ask to see the turtle eat as well. If the Northern Map turtle shies away from food, there may be health problems present.

Health concerns

Northern Map turtles are usually pretty hardy and tough turtles. But they can still be plagued by health problems if their care requirements aren’t met correctly. The main issue is usually a lack of sufficient UVB exposure, either through a lack of UVB bulb or a faded one.

All turtles need UVB to promote strong shell growth and to allow them to get vital nutrients. A lack of UVB can lead to problems such as Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). This can cause deformed growth and is very painful. MBD can often be indicated by signs of pyramiding – where the turtle’s shell starts to grow strange protrusions.

Like most turtles, respiratory infections can also be an issue for Northern Map turtles. These are usually caused by temperatures that are kept too low, or from a lack of sufficient humidity. If the turtle has runny mucus, watery eyes, lethargic movement, or a reduced appetite, you should get it checked by a specialist vet immediately.

You should also regularly check your Northern Map turtle for bruises or cuts. These can be picked up while swimming around their enclosure and catching themselves on rocks or equipment such as filters or heaters. These minor injuries can become infected, resulting in major health problems.

An interesting YouTube video about the Northern Map turtle

Northern Map Turtle Hatchling Care

Caring for Northern Map turtle hatchlings is pretty similar to caring for adults, apart from a few slight changes. These mainly relate to enclosure setup and heat.

Baby Northern Map turtles can be happily housed in 20 gallon tanks until they’re large enough for a bigger space. The water levels in their tank should be lower than you would provide for an adult. This is to stop the hatchlings from drowning.

In terms of heat, hatchlings will need higher temperatures than adults. This helps them grow naturally and quickly, making them healthier as they progress to adulthood. For hatchlings, the water temperature needs to be kept at around 78 to 80ºF (25.5 to 26.5ºC).

Hatchlings should also be fed daily to help them grow. If you’re feeding them earthworms or other larger foods, cut these up to help the babies digest the food more easily. Again, prevent obesity by feeding the hatchlings until their appetite starts to lessen.

Frequently Asked Questions about Northern Map turtles

Can I keep a Northern Map turtle?

Northern Map turtles can be kept as pets in most areas of the United States. However, always check your local state laws about turtle ownership, as some states may class the Northern Map turtle as a protected species. Small males may also fall short of the 4 inch rule that applies to many states. This prohibits the sale of any turtles that have a shell length of under 4 inches.

Do Northern Map turtles bite?

Although they can be skittish, Northern Map turtles are unlikely to bite you. Their first defensive tactic is to swim away. If they are caught in your hand, they may empty their bladders onto you to force you to release them. After this, some individuals may try to bite you and can dish out a surprisingly nasty nip. Hold them at the rear of their shell to avert the risk of getting bitten.


According to the IUCN Red List, the Graptemys geographica is classified as of Least concern. They are said to be widespread and even abundant in several locations.

However, these species are highly sensitive to changes to their habitats and as such the alteration of their habitat negatively affects their wild populations.


So that’s the end of our complete guide to Northern Map turtle care. These aquatic turtles are great fun to observe as they swim around their enclosures. With the right setup and care, these Map turtles can thrive in captivity for up to 20 years and are great pets for keepers who are experienced with fish tanks or other aquatic turtles.

Similar turtles to the northern map turtle are the Black Knobbed Map Turtle, Texas Map Turtle, False Map Turtle, Barbour’s Map Turtle, Mississippi Map Turtle, Ouachita Map Turtle, Mississippi map turtle, musk turtles, cooters, and sliders. After acquiring the northern map turtle, it is advisable to see a herp vet.

If you want a Northern Map turtle as your next pet, try to adopt one from a local animal shelter first. If there aren’t any in your area, then seek out registered breeders and purchase a captive-bred individual. These specimens will be more used to human presence and will be a lot healthier than wild turtles.

We hope you enjoyed this care guide! If you did, feel free to comment down below to discuss Northern Map turtles with your fellow herping enthusiasts.

Click to rate this post!
[Total: 4 Average: 4.8]

Sharing is caring!


Saturday 1st of February 2020