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Peninsula Cooter Care Guide

The freshwater peninsula cooter is one of the larger aquatic turtles kept as pets. These cooters can grow to be over foot long. As such, they need a large living space to be comfortable.

These hardy turtles do not require a lot of attention. Another positive to keeping peninsula cooters is that they do well in community enclosures. They can be housed with other cooters, painted turtles, sliders, and stinkpots.

Table of Contents

1. Peninsula Cooter Facts
1.1 Peninsula Cooter Habitat
2. Peninsula Cooter Care Sheet
2.1 Enclosure
2.2 Subsrtate
2.3 Temperature
2.4 Lighting
2.5 Accessories
2.6 Feeding the Peninsula Cooter
3. Tempermant & Handling
4. Lifespan
5. Common Health Concerns
5.1 Lacerations and Bruises
5.2 Parasites
5.3 Nutrient deficiency
6. Pricing and Availability
7. Conservation/Threats
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Pseudemys peninsularis
  • Average Adult Size: 9 to 13  inches
  • Average Lifespan: 30 years
  • Number of Offspring: 11 to 16
  • Food: Plants, commercial turtle food, & insects
  • Enclosure Size: 5 to 100-gallon aquarium or outdoor pond
  • Average Temperature: 85°H/75°L
  • UVB Lighting: Necessary
  • Average Price Range: $25 to $50
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern on IUCN Red List

1. Peninsula Cooter Facts

Peninsula Cooter Turtle (Pseudemys peninsularis)
Peninsula cooter sitting on concrete

The peninsula cooter belongs to the genus Pseudemys, which also includes other cooters such as the coastal plain cooter, river cooter, Alabama red-bellied cooter, and several others.

The Binomial name of the peninsula cooter is Pseudemys peninsularis. Interestingly enough the peninsula cooter is sometimes considered a subspecies of the coastal plain cooter which is also sometimes considered a subspecies of the river cooter.

Peninsula cooters are huge with some specimens reaching lengths of 16 inches.

However, on average, the length of the peninsula cooter is 9 to 13 inches. This is still quite large. The carapace of the peninsula cooter is moderately domed and is dark-colored with orange or yellow lines.

Their head and limbs are also dark in color with yellow or orange stripes. Since the peninsula cooter and the Florida red-bellied cooter share the same geographic range and look alike, they are often confused with one another.

Unlike the Florida red-bellied cooter, the peninsula cooter lacks a reddish plastron.

The Pseudemys peninsularis is endemic to the Florida peninsula which is where it gets its common name.

Rumor has it that peninsula cooters are found south of Alachua county (in the northern part of the Florida peninsula). As an aquatic turtle, they can be found in lakes, ponds, streams, and rivers.

They can usually be found at elevations from 1 to 76 m (3.28 to 249.34 ft) although the average elevation is roughly 4 m (13.12 ft).

1.1 Peninsula Cooter Habitat

Pseudemys peninsularis (peninsula cooter on log)
Peninsula cooter sitting on tree coming out of water

These freshwater cooters can be found in various freshwater bodies across the Florida peninsula including swamps, basin marshes, tidal marshes, lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams.

They tend to prefer slow-moving waterways with adequate basking sites, sandy bottoms, and an abundance of vegetation.

2. Peninsula Cooter Care Sheet

2.1 Enclosure

Since they tend to be pretty large they need a pretty big environment in order to be comfortable and to thrive.

As such, it is important to buy a really large enclosure of around 75-100 Gallons. You can check our turtle setup guide to see a chart on sizes as well as other things related to a water turtle enclosure.

Hatchlings can be housed temporarily in smaller tanks,though eventually you will need to upgrade. Personally I prefer buying the right setup once rather than buying multiple setups as they age.

Before setting things up, map out your space, because once it’s there, it will be a lot of work to change later.

Also, make sure the tank is sitting on a sturdy base, whether that be a dedicated tank stand or sturdy table/shelf.

Lastly avoid direct sunlight. This could overheat the water and potentially kill your turtle(s).

Water cleanliness is another hot topic which can easily be maintained with a good filter. Because turtles produce more waste than fish, you should consider getting a filter that is ranked 1.5 – 3 times the capacity of the tank.

For a 75-gallon tank, the SunSun Sun HW-704B External Canister Filter is a good option.

Make sure to keep the water chlorine free, which you can do with a water conditioner like API TAP Water Conditioner.

Water changes are also something that should be a part of your regular maintenance. You should aim to change a quarter of the water on roughly a weekly basis, though depending on the quality of your filtration setup may be less.

You can also monitor the PH levels with a testing kit to ensure everything is optimal.

2.2 Substrate

Substrates are optional, but not required. Substrates/Bedding can give the enclosure feel more natural, however, they do have the disadvantage of making cleaning the enclosure more difficult.

In addition, food particles can get stuck in between the substrate. Rocks and pebbles are the easiest substrates to clean. They also look attractive. One of the best substrates for the tank is Royal Imports Decorative Ornamental Pebbles.

2.3 Temperature

The temperature of the enclosure has a significant impact on the health of the turtle. It is essential that the temperature is within the right range.

It is important to create a temperature gradient. Obviously the water needs to be cooler than the ambient temperature and the ambient temperature needs to be lower than the temperature of the basking site.

I recommend that you invest in a thermostat like the bayite Temperature Controller and a thermometer like the capetsma Aquarium Thermometer or the Zacro LCD Digital Aquarium Thermometer.

The basking site needs to be kept between 85 and 95 degrees which can be done using a ceramic heater like the Zacro Reptile Heat Lamp.

The water temp should be kept in the 70s. If the temp is less, then you should get a water heater like the Orlushy Submersible Aquarium Heater.

You can check out our water heater guide for turtles for more on that.

2.4 Lighting

Like most turtles and tortoises peninsula cooters need UVB light to properly synthesize vitamin D3, which is necessary for healthy growth. Without it, they can have issues including metabolic bone disease and pyramiding.

A typical setup needs a fixture and a bulb, though you can choose between a t5 (hood style) setup or a standard E27. Both the ReptiSun 10.0 and the ReptiSun T5 are two excellent UVA/UVB lights for peninsula cooters.

You can use a timer to set it up to run during the day and to turn off at night. Make sure to replace the bulb every six months or so as the wear you. You can test them using a UVB test Card.

2.5 Accessories

When choosing accessories for the tank, make sure it isn’t an object that can trap the turtle underwater. Some excellent accessories for a turtle tank include fake or real underwater plants, cork bark, and rocks.

Sharp objects should be avoided to avoid any injuries.

You will also need a basking platform. Cooters love to bask. As such the basking platform should be accessible and large enough for the turtle.

You can make one since the turtle will become quite large or in the meantime use something like the Penn Plax Reptology Basking Platform which is good up to 55 gallons.

2.6 Feeding the Peninsula Cooter

Two peninsula cooters sitting on log basking
Two peninsula cooters sitting on log basking in pond

Cooters are omnivores even in the wild. Although many biologists refer to Pseudemys peninsularis as a herbivorous species, the juveniles are known to feed on insects and small fish.

The easiest and most reliable way to ensure that the peninsula cooter is well fed is to feed it commercial turtle food such as Mazuri Aquatic Turtle Diet, Fluker Aquatic Turtle Diet, and Tetra ReptoMin. Adults should be fed three times a week while juveniles need fed every other day.

As mentioned, peninsula cooters are highly herbivorous, especially adults. They like and will benefit from edible aquatic plants such as water hyacinth, anacharis, water lettuce and duckweed and vegetables such as zucchini, carrots, spinach, dandelion, turnip greens, mustard greens, and collard greens.

You can supplement hatchlings’ diet with koi fish protein diets such as Tetra Pond Koi Growth Food and Blue Ridge Fish Food Pellets.

Supplement the turtle’s diet with powdered calcium and vitamin D3 supplementation.

Cooters do not eat on land as such they need to be fed in water. Make sure to remove any uneaten pieces of food from the water using a small fish net such as the Penn Plax Aquarium Fish Net.

3. Peninsula Cooter’s Temperament & Handling

Peninsula cooter sitting on rock with legs out
Peninsula cooter sitting on rock with legs sprawled out

These cooter are a diurnal species that spend much of the day basking on rocks and logs. They are generally found basking with other turtles such as painted turtles, and sliders. They have a habit of climbing on top of one another.

These gentle species made great pets for teenagers and first-timers. They are fun to watch and generally won’t bite their handlers or other turtles.

Wild peninsula cooters, however, may react violently to intruders. As with any pet reptile, we only recommend buying captive-bred turtles.

4. Peninsula Cooter’s Lifespan

While the exact average lifespan of the species is hard to pin down, you can expect your pet peninsula cooter to live up to 30 years.

5. Common Health Concerns

This hardy species is a great one to start with for beginner turtle lovers. Just keep in mind their size and the maintenance that will be involved.

Regardless of their hardiness, cooters still suffer from health issues though most of these issues can be prevented through proper husbandry.

Here are some of the most common health concerns when caring for cooters.

5.1 Lacerations and Bruises

This can turn out to be a serious issue especially if the cut gets infected. To prevent this treat all cuts as soon as possible. The cause of injuries can be difficult to pin down although the most likely suspects are other turtles and sharp edges.

If the turtle is housed with others, try and find the aggressor and quarantine it in a separate container. Make sure there are no sharp edges that can harm the turtle.

5.2 Parasites

Internal parasites can be a difficult problem to deal with as it can easily spread through a bale of turtles. The root of parasitic infections among captive-bred turtles is usually from wild-caught turtles.

If all your turtles are captive bred and they don’t come into contact with an already infected turtle they likely won’t get these parasites.

It is very important to ensure that any new member of the community has been checked for parasites before integrating it into the already existing community.

Some signs of parasites include dehydration, diarrhea, passing undigested food, vomiting, and weight loss. A visit to the vet is the only way to rid parasites in your turtle.

5.3 Nutrient deficiency

Vitamin A deficiency can lead to respiratory infections, lethargy, and swollen eyes. When not corrected, it can even lead to death.

To prevent this, make sure the turtle is fed a well-balanced diet. Include a lot of dark green vegetables and edible aquatic plants in the turtle’s diet.

Calcium and Vitamin D3 deficiency is another huge health concern that plagues captive bred turtles. Calcium and Vitamin D3 deficiency leads to deformities and metabolic bone disease.

This can lead to permanent damage or even death when not corrected. Feed your turtle well-balanced diets fortified with calcium and vitamin D3 supplementations.

6. Pricing and Availability

Cooters are not difficult to find they can be found in many pet shops that have a wild selection of reptiles and amphibians. The peninsula cooter can also be ordered online. Just make sure to obtain the turtle from a reputable turtle breeder.

Some excellent sites to check out, if you wish to acquire a peninsula cooter include Backwater Reptiles, and the Turtle Source.

Expect to pay $25 to $50 for a peninsula cooter.

7. Conservation/Threats

The Peninsula cooter isn’t a threatened species according to IUCN. however the wild populations since face threats from vegetation degradation and habitat loss.

The main threat is the Asian carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella) which is an invasive species. In addition to this, humans also degrade the water edge habitats of this turtle.


Peninsula cooters are among the largest freshwater turtles kept as pets. While they are substantially large, their care is simple and straightforward.

The most challenging aspect of their care is the initial setup which can be quite expensive. Since the enclosure is large, you need a powerful filter. Also cleaning the large turtle tank is a demanding task.

However, the actual care is simple and stress-free. The peninsula cooter is a hardy turtle that doesn’t require a lot of attention. Additionally, the peninsula cooter rarely suffers from health issues. They are a non-threatening turtle and captive-bred specimens rarely ever bite or snap.

If size is a concern then we highly recommend checking our post about different types of small turtles.

If you have any questions or additional information, kindly leave a comment.

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Thursday 5th of October 2023

Hi my baby peninsula cooter scratches me alot and i want to know if I should do something about it. Should I cut his nails, or not yet? At what age should I start to cut his nails?