The Mississippi map turtle is a popular and entertaining species that many herp-lovers are interested in. With their tendency to be active in the water, these turtles are a lot of fun to spectate.
But there are some things you should know before you buy one.
Even though caring for these turtles is a fairly simple process, the fact that they need a tank setup with both land and water can complicate things initially. Their habitat needs to be done right if you want them to thrive.
This guide will cover everything you need to know about Mississippi map turtle care. You’ll learn about their ideal tank setup, diet, lifespan, and more!
Table of Contents
The Mississippi map turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica kohnii) is an easy-going reptile that’s a joy to watch. They are aquatic turtles that spend a lot of time swimming. When they’re not doing that, you can often find them basking in the warmth of some light.
These turtles are naturally found throughout the Mississippi Valley, hence their namesake. However, they’re not just found in the state of Mississippi. They live in lakes and streams as far North as Nebraska!
One of the smaller aquatic turtle species out there, these creatures don’t require massive habitats to thrive. As long it has all of the essentials, these turtles do just fine in a modest environment.
Mississippi Map Turtle Lifespan
The average lifespan of a Mississippi map turtle is somewhere between 15 and 25 years when living in optimal conditions. Some specimens have even been reported to surpass 30 years of age!
This means if you plan on caring for a Mississippi map turtle, you must be committed to the long haul!
Expert Tip: Of course, there’s no guarantee when it comes to life expectancy. Like all pets, Mississippi map turtles are directly affected by their diet, environment, and overall care. Substandard care could lead to stress and disease, which ultimately reduces their lifespan.
Appearance & Colors
Mississippi map turtles are beautiful creatures. They’re aptly named after the distinct pattern on their carapace, or shell. The carapace is covered in unique lines. They resemble the look and feel of contour markings on a map.
Most often, the shell has a primary color of olive green or brown. The individual scutes, or plates, may have some brighter coloration as well. You’ll often see turtles with yellow or orange lines accenting the base color.
Another cool feature is the black ridges of the shell. In between each scute, the shell has a deep valley that’s covered in black. This creates a three-dimensional look from every angle.
The plastron, which is the underside of the shell, is usually yellow or tan. That color is accompanied by slightly darker brown lines, creating a wood-like effect.
It’s not just the shell that’s beautiful. The skin of the Mississippi map turtle has some iconic markings, too. Most turtles are colored in black or dark green. However, stripes of pale yellow cover the entire body.
The average Mississippi map turtle size is around 3 to 5 inches long for males, and 6 to 10 inches long for females (some have even reached 12 inches when fully grown).
This species doesn’t get as big as some other freshwater turtles. This is actually one of the biggest advantages of owning a Mississippi map turtle since you won’t need to set aside much space.
Their size is impacted by a number of different factors. Breeding practices, genetics, and the quality of care during their developmental phase are the biggest.
Mississippi Map Turtle Care
Mississippi map turtle care is great for beginners due to their small size and low-maintenance requirements. That said, it’s important to remember that these turtles need a carefully planned environment to truly thrive.
Caring for a map turtle means you have to approach their habitat from two sides. You must maintain both land and water conditions to keep the reptile happy and healthy.
Not only that, but you have to manage the turtle’s diet accordingly to ensure that they are getting all the nutrients they need.
The appropriate size for your tank is going to depend entirely on whether you get a female or a male turtle. Male turtles are smaller. Thus, they will need a smaller habitat than females.
While overall tank size is obviously important, the length is crucial as well. These creatures need tanks that are longer than they are tall.
Adult males Mississippi map turtles can do well in tank size as small as 75 gallons. However, we recommend bumping that up to 90 gallons if possible.
Generally, males do fine in tanks that are around 4 feet in length. This provides plenty of swimming room. Height isn’t a huge factor because the reptiles can’t climb. A height of at least one foot is recommended.
Females will need a much larger tank. Ideally, females should be kept in tanks that are no smaller than 125 gallons. The length needs to be about 72 inches.
Expert Tip: Because of the tank length this species requires, don’t go out a buy a general “turtle tank” that claims to provide everything a turtle needs. Mississippi map turtles require different tank dimensions than your average pet turtle!
Ideal Tank Setup
Here is where you can get creative since Mississippi map turtles require both land and water in their habitat.
Most owners tend to focus on creating a larger water area. This makes sense when you consider how the turtle moves.
They are avid swimmers. These turtles move quickly in the water and love to dive deep. So, creating that larger aquatic space is recommended.
You can utilize gravel and rocks to create a perch. It should be big enough to accommodate the turtle’s entire body with some extra space to turn around.
Use coated gravel or riverbed sand as your substrate. Create a shelf that matches the waterline so that your turtle can easily climb out of the water.
Alternatively, you can invest in a floating shelf. Readily available at most pet stores, these shelves move with the water level to ensure that your turtle always has access to dry land.
You don’t have to worry too much about decorating the land portion. However, the aquatic space needs lush vegetation. Utilize a mixture of real and fake plants to create many hiding spots.
Let floating plants cover the top of the waterline to provide shelter. Meanwhile, submerged plants can be a source of enrichment and security.
Don’t forget about the filtration equipment! Mississippi map turtles produce a lot of waste. Without proper filtration equipment, the ammonia and nitrate levels will go through the roof. Not only that, but algae will get out of control.
A powerful canister filter should do just fine. It’s also important to perform water changes regularly for good measure (create a schedule and stick to it).
Temperature & Lighting
Mississippi map turtles prefer warmer temperatures that mimic those in the Mississippi Valley. Ambient air temperatures should be around 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
This can be achieved with a heat emitter or lamp. One important thing you must have for the tank is a UVB lamp. These lamps provide some much-needed UVB rays, which the turtles use to synthesize Vitamin D. Without Vitamin D, the turtles can’t metabolize calcium, which leads to bone and shell issues.
The UVB lamp should be turned on 12 hours out of the day.
You should also make sure to replace the bulb every 6 months. This is because the UVB rays are not visible to the naked eye, and the element that produces them often goes out before the standard filament for white light does.
Your lamp should be pointed at the land portion of the tank. This is going to be your turtle’s basking spot. Temperatures should be slightly higher here. The spot can be between 85 and 90 degrees.
As for water temperatures, keep things a bit lower at 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If necessary, you can use a submersible heater without any issues.
Food & Diet
Mississippi map turtles are omnivores that will accept a wide range of foods.
Your easiest option would be high-quality commercial turtle pellets. These store-bought foods are designed to provide a good balance of nutrients and can be a good staple of their diet.
You can supplement those pellets with some extra treats every once in a while. For protein, these turtles enjoy crickets, mealworms, and shrimp. Leafy greens, such as romaine lettuce, parsley, and dandelion greens are good vegetable-based choices.
Expert Tip: Make sure to avoid overfeeding. Extra food will break down fast and negatively impact water quality.
Potential Health Issues
For the most part, Mississippi map turtles are easy to keep healthy with the proper care. However, they can experience some issues.
One common issue is intestinal parasites. These parasites are prevalent among most types of turtles and usually don’t cause any harm.
However, they can become problematic if the parasites overpopulate. You can keep this problem in check with regular fecal examinations by a vet.
Infections can occur, too. This is usually a product of a poorly-maintained tank. Your turtle can experience skin, shell, and ear infections. Luckily, vets can treat infections easily with antibiotics.
As we mentioned earlier, turtles can experience bone and shell problems if they don’t have exposure to UVB rays. When this occurs, turtles can suffer from metabolic bone disease and deformities. To avoid this, you’ll need to ensure that your UVB lamp is in good working condition.
You can also provide supplements to ensure that your turtle is getting enough calcium (this is usually done with a powder).
Behavior & Temperament
Mississippi map turtles are very easy-going. You can even keep multiple turtles in the same tank if you have the room!
Some slight aggression may come up between males, but it’s usually nothing to worry about. Just keep a watchful eye and remove the aggressor if any major problems pop up.
Throughout the day, your turtle will alternate between the water and land portions of the tank. You may see the turtle exploring or hiding out in the vegetation.
They tend to be more active in the water. The land is usually reserved for basking.
Mississippi map turtles are known for being a bit skittish. They don’t like loud noises or sudden surprises.
Don’t be surprised if your turtle makes a run for it when you open the tank lid!
Because they are so skittish, Mississippi map turtles shouldn’t be handled often. They are the perfect pet for viewing, but not holding.
Handling the turtle too much could cause unnecessary stress.
If you do have to hold your turtle, do so briefly. Keep handling to a minimum and be as slow as possible.
Slowly and gently lift the shell from both sides using your hands. The turtle will likely go into their shell or thrash around a bit in protest.
Place them in a separate container quickly if you plan on cleaning or modifying the tank. Don’t let the turtle hang out unattended, and try to limit any extra interactions.
Now You’re Ready To Go!
Now that you’re familiar with the fundamentals of Mississippi map turtle care, you’re ready to get one for yourself.
These turtles are incredibly fun to own. Out of all the species we’ve been around, these are the ones we’ve spent the most time watching.
If you have any lingering questions about how to get their habitat up and running (or anything else), feel free to get in touch with us through our contact page. We know that a care sheet can’t cover everything, and are more than happy to help.