River Cooter
(Pseudemys conccina)

Description: The River Cooter is a fairly large aquatic turtle with an average carapace length of 9 – 12 inches (23 – 30.6 cm). The carapace is olive green to brown in color with a slight flare towards the posterior portion of the shell. Concentric yellow to orange-ish circles pattern the carapace. The underside of the turtle (the plastron) is heavily marked. There are dark markings following the seams throughout the plastron, and almost all marginal scutes have dark spots on the underside. The head and neck of this turtle have several thin yellow stripes. Five light yellow stripes mark the top of the head between the eyes.

Natural History: This turtle is most frequently observed in warmer months basking on rocks and logs on the sides of rivers and is often in the company of other turtle species. However they can be observed traveling on land between rivers, or travel to find suitable places to nest. The diet of this species is highly omnivorous. They consume a variety of aquatic plants as well as invertebrates and small fish.

Similar species: Even when viewing through binoculars, it can be challenging to distinguish this turtle from similar species. This turtle does not have the thick “ear-patch” common on the Slider Turtle (Trachemys scripta, and lacks the thick vertical stripe found on the front legs of the Chicken Turtle (Deirochelys reticularia). Furthermore, the River Cooter has a notably flatter shell does not have vertical black and yellow stripes on the upper portion of the hind legs. 

Distribution: This turtle has a wide range throughout the Southeastern United States and has some regional variation. It is found down the east coast from Virginia through Georgia. Isolated populations occur in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The range continues from the Florida panhandle over to eastern Texas and then north to Kansas.

Notes: There are two recognized subspecies of Pseudemys concinna: The Eastern River Cooter (P. c. concinna) and the Florida River Cooter (P. c. floridana). Both of these subspecies occur in South Carolina.

Contributed by Jake Zadik (12/15/2019)