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Ouachita Map Turtle Care Guide

The Ouachita map turtle is one of the less popular map turtles. However, these turtles are easy to care for and have needs which are quite similar to other North American turtles.

They are hardy and lively. This turtle also has the contour lines which gives it its common name.  In terms of size, the Ouachita map turtle is medium to large. They belong to the family Emydidae and make excellent first pets.

Quick Reference Section

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Graptemys ouachitensis
  • Average Adult Female Size: 5 to 10 inches
  • Average Adult Male Size: 3½  to 5 inches
  • Lifespan: 15 to 20 years
  • Clutch Size: 6 to 15 eggs
  • Egg Incubation Period: 60 to 82 days
  • Food: Commercial aquatic turtle diet
  • Tank Size:  40 to 90 gallons
  • Average Temperature: 90°H/70°L
  • UVB Lighting: Needed
  • Average Price Range: $40 to $100
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern on IUCN Red List

Ouachita Map Turtle Facts

Male and Female Ouachita Map Turtle
Male Ouachita Map Turtle on left & female on the right

As the Ouachita map turtle is a map turtle, it is a member of the Graptemys genus and the family Emydidae. This turtle looks very much like other map turtles, map turtles are notoriously difficult to tell apart.

There are quite a few like the Black Knobbed Map Turtle, Northern Map Turtle, Texas Map Turtle, False Map Turtle, Barbour’s Map Turtle, Mississippi Map Turtle, and more.

However, the Ouachita map turtle has the iconic sawback keel and lines that resemble contours. There are two subspecies of the Ouachita map turtle which include the Graptemys ouachitensis ouachitensis and the Graptemys ouachitensis sabinensis.

As with map turtles, the females are noticeably larger than the males. Adult females have carapace lengths of 5 to 10 inches. Adult males, on the other hand, have carapace lengths of 3½  to 5 inches.

The carapace of this turtle is black to olive color with yellow lines with dark borders. Their underside is usually yellowish to cream and features dark swirls and lines.

This Ouachita map turtle is endemic to Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas.

Ouachita Map Turtle Care Sheet

Ouachita Map Turtle Habitat

The Ouachita map turtle can be found in rivers with fast-moving water and plentiful vegetation. They prefer deep wide sections of rivers with clayey, sandy or rocky bottoms and many basking sites.


As with other map turtles, you need an aquarium or a pond for the Ouachita map turtle. While juveniles can thrive in just 20 gallons of water, they need to be moved to a larger aquarium when they reach sub-adulthood.

It’s best to acquire a tank size fit for an adult and start with just enough water to cover the juvenile turtle. For adult males, a 40 to 50-gallon aquarium is needed.

Females require much larger aquariums as they are larger. An aquarium that can hold 90 to 100 gallons of water should do. For each additional male add 20 gallons of tank space, and for each additional females add 40 gallons of tank space. A spacious tank ensures that conformations are kept to a minimum.

The water used to fill the aquarium needs to be free of chlorine as it can irritate the turtle. Since tap water contains chlorine or chloramines, it is important to dechlorinate the water.

Chloramine, which is used in place of chlorine in some cities, is more stable and only a dechlorinator can easily and effectively remove it. I recommend the API TAP Water Conditioner. Not only does be neutralizes chlorine, but it also neutralizes chloramines and detoxifies heavy metals.

Last but not the least, you need to install a filter. This ensures the water is free of harmful waste such as ammonia. It is always advisable to get a filter mark twice the size of the aquarium. This is particularly true if you have several turtles in the tank. There are several filters to choose from but the one I recommend the most for this species is the SunSun HW-302.

A filter is not enough, you have to also change 25 percent of the water every week. Also, you need to swap out the water in the aquarium and clean it every month or so.

The turtle should be fine with the pH and temperature changes. However, if there are other species housed with the Ouachita map turtle, you need to research if they are fine with sudden changes in pH and temperature levels before proceeding. Use a siphon vacuum cleaner such as the Laifoo Aquarium Siphon Vacuum Cleaner to clean the aquarium.


If you have maintained an aquarium before then you may know that it isn’t important to have substrate in a turtle’s aquarium. Lack of substrate makes cleaning the aquarium easier.

Also, there are no harmful substrates for the turtle to ingest. If you must have substrate in the aquarium, choose one that the turtle cannot ingest such as river rocks. The Royal Imports’ large decorative polished gravel river pebbles work excellently. 


Maintaining the right temperature for the Ouachita map turtle’s enclosure isn’t difficult. Ensure the air temperature is between 79 F and 86 F. The basking temperature needs to be 85 to 95 F. Finally the water temperature needs to be 70 to 75 F.

Since the required water temperature is quite low, you most likely may not need a submersible heater. If you do acquire a water heater ensure you use a heater guard to prevent the turtles from getting burned. Also since the submersible heater can overheat the aquarium, a thermostat must be used even if the heater has a builtin thermostat.

Ceramic heat lamps can be used to warm up the basking platform. They are preferable to mercury vapor lamps as they don’t produce light. Ceramic heat lamps also last longer.

Monitor the heat lamp using a thermostat such as the BN-Link thermostat. Monitor the water temperature with a VIVOSUN aquarium thermometer and monitor the ambient temperature with a Zoo Med Digital Thermometer.


To provide the synthesis of vitamin D3, you need to provide UVB light. Vitamin D3 is important for the absorption of calcium from the turtle’s diet. To provide the needed UVB, I recommend the ReptiSun. It is the best UVB light source for reptiles kept indoors.

It’s always a good idea to turn off the lights in the aquarium, and the room within which the aquarium is placed in 12 hours every day. The lights should then be on for 12 hours a day. This pattern maintains the reptile’s circadian rhythm. Invest in a timer that automatically turns the lights on and off each day.


You need a basking platform for the turtle. This gives the turtle a place to dry off and relax during the day. When getting a basking platform, gets one that can easily accommodate all the turtles in the enclosure.

If you have two turtles, then the platform should hold two turtles with no issues. I recommend the OASIS #64226 Turtle Ramp. This platform is easy to install and is very effective as it can hold several turtles.

Feeding the Ouachita Map Turtle

Ouachita Map Turtle
Graptemys ouachitensis

In the wild, the Ouachita map turtle is an omnivore. However, map turtles tend to eat more animal protein as aquatic turtles generally do. Feed a pet Ouachita map turtle more protein and less plant food.

You can feed them shrimps, krill, and insects such as mealworms, bloodworms, and crickets. alternatively, you can feed them commercial turtle diets.

Here are some diets I recommend include Zoo Med Gourmet Reptisticks Floating Aquatic Turtle Food, TradeKing Dried MealwormsMazuri aquatic turtle diet, and Zoo Med Natural Aquatic Turtle Food.

Commercial diets have several advantages over insects and other animal protein as commercial diets are easy to store, and are fortified with important nutrients that may otherwise need to be provided separately.

Animal proteins to include in the turtle’s diet include crickets, shrimp, bloodworms earthworms, mealworms, crayfish, krill, feeder fish, and any aquatic insects.

Even though the Ouachita map turtle is mostly carnivorous, you also need to offer them plants. I recommend feeding them this every day as the calorie count in the following plants is quite low.

Some good plant food includes squash, zucchini. endive, mustard greens, collard greens, kale, escarole, dandelions, beet leaves, squash, and red leaf lettuce.

You can also feed them plant food that can be found in aquatic ecologies such as pondweed, duckweed, milfoil, water lilies, water hyacinth, frogbit, and hornwort.

Young turtles that are below the age of 6 months should be fed every day. Feed them until you notice a diminished appetite. For turtles that are at least 6 months old, feed them every other day. Similarly, feed them until they show signs of waned appetite.

Ouachita Map Turtle’s Temperament & Handling

Graptemys ouachitensis
Ouachita Map Turtle

As a display pet, the Ouachita map turtle should not be handled unless it is imperative. Handling the turtle can be a stressful ordeal for it and you should avoid putting them through this stress. Generally, they are active and lively turtle. This liveliness can be entertaining.

Also, Ouachita map turtle can be housed with other turtles such as sliders, cooters and other map turtles. If you notice abuse or harassment in this communal habitat, isolate the aggressive turtle.

Ouachita Map Turtle’s Lifespan

Turtles are long-lived animals. Even turtles with relatively short lifespans such as the Ouachita map turtle still outlive most domesticated animals. As such you need to be committed before adopting an Ouachita map turtle. This species has an average lifespan of 15 to 20 years.

Common Health Concerns

Map turtles are hardy creatures that hardly suffer from health complications. Regardless of this be on the lookout for symptoms of ill health such as excessive basking, frothing at the mouth, cracked shell, bruised skin, irregular shell growth such as shell pyramiding, unwillingness to swim (usually goes hand in hand with excessive basking), swollen eyes, and appetite loss.

Vitamin D/Calcium deficiency – An inadequate amount of vitamin D3 and calcium can lead to detrimental consequences such as metabolic bone deficiency.

This is generally characterized by irregular growth such as limb deformity as well as shell deformity. When this deficiency isn’t noticed quickly the resulting deformities are usually permanent. Prevent this by providing adequate dietary calcium.

Also, supplement the turtle’s diet with vitamin D or provide adequate UVB lighting. Since commercial diets have adequate amounts of vitamin D and calcium, relying on them prevents vitamin D and calcium deficiency.

Pyramided Shell– Overfeeding the turtle generally leads to shell pyramiding. To prevent this, don’t overfeed the turtle. When noticed early, shell pyramiding can be corrected. A pyramided shell may affect how the turtle moves and can prevent males from mating. However, these should be the only negatives.

Infection -Skin, ear and shell infections are usually caused by unclean water. Filter the aquarium water properly and change the water as needed.

Cuts and bruises – If you notice cuts and bruises, treat them with betadine solution. Also, pinpoint the source of the cut or bruise. Remove the object causing the cut. Also, if it is another turtle or pet that shares the aquarium with the turtle, quarantine the aggressor. 

These are some common health issues to watch out for.

Pricing and Availability

Although not as popular as Mississippi map turtles, Ouachita map turtles can be acquired from notable breeders and even online from sites such as Turtle Source.

Expect to pay between $40 and $100 for this map turtle. Since they are a North American turtle, they are relatively easy to find.


The Graptemys ouachitensis has a conversation status of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. This is due to their stable population and widespread nature.

Regardless of this status, the species is threatened by exploitation, habitat degradation, and other direct human-related mortality. The species is included in CITES Appendix III (United States) and as such export quantities are monitored.


The Ouachita map turtle is a great pet for both beginners and experienced turtle keepers. As far as their needs are met, this turtle should prove to be of little challenge.

As a beginner pet, teens and preteens can care for this turtle as far as the necessary adult supervision is provided. Also, keep pets such as dogs and cats away from this turtle’s aquarium. If you have any thoughts on this wonderful turtle, kindly leave a comment or two.

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Saturday 25th of June 2022

Stunning turtle. Very pretty. Ours likes to be handled and likes watching tv