Barbour’s Map Turtle: Ultimate Guide

Originally found in the Gulf Coastal Plain, the Barbour Map has developed a unique set of characteristics that will help to survive in hotter environments as well as a host of tenacious predators.

In the wild, you can often find these turtles floating at the bottom of the Chattanooga rivers, looking for insects, freshwater crayfish and snails to eat or simply basking in the sun. These make great pets, although ones that should be largely observed. Like all box turtles, this breed does not like to be handled.

But where can you find one of these Barbour Map turtles? How do they thrive and what do they like to eat? What is the best climate for them? Should you keep them outdoors or indoors? How can you identify one in the wild? How have they adapted to survive through millions of years of evolution?

Well, if you want answers to these questions and a whole lot more, we have the complete biological and behavioral profile of this box turtle. We also have some of the key features and feeding patterns, which will no doubt help you if you are thinking of adding this breed to your terrarium.

Male Vs. Female

In a reverse to the norm in nature, the female Barbour Turtle is much bigger than the male. The back shell of a female Barbour Turtle is around 15 to 33 cm long, whereas the male is only 9 to 14 cm long. This makes the female around 3 times bigger than the males.

The females also have a much larger head than the males. This means that they can be more aggressive during mating, although the males can be quite hostile too when they are in season.


You can often identify one of these animals by the horns that line the middle of the shell. This is for protection against predators. The outer carapace is olive green, which helps to camouflage them in the dense undergrowth.

The plastron is a yellowish color and can only be seen by flipping over the turtle. The tail of the male is longer and more pointy than the female, although the female has much longer, straighter and sharper claws than the male.

As a Pet

These turtles make very good pets, although you probably won’t be able to handle them that much, as they tend to nip at you. We would definitely suggest that you keep these animals away from your children or your other pets such as dogs, as they have very strong and sharp jaws that could cause serious injury.

These turtles have also been found to be the source of meningitis in humans, so be careful that there is not much cross-contamination of fluid between the two species.


This turtle will live around 15 to 20 years, although there have been some Barbour Map turtles in captivity that have been known to live up to 30 years or even more. This turtle lived in Washington zoo and was given no more than its allotted amount of food every day.


This turtle has developed binocular vision that helps it hunt for food. The female is larger than the male, this is because the females have to defend their eggs from natural predators. The spines on the turtle’s back are also for protection against dangerous animals that would be prone to clamp down on its shell.

The spines on the back of this turtle are also to help it right itself if it gets flipped over. This is to stop any riverside birds from using their beaks to peck into the turtle’s delicate underbelly.

Breeding Season

This turtle likes to breed around the beginning of spring, usually in early March or April at the very latest. You can usually tell if this animal is ready for breeding when it gets very aggressive and will start to attack any females in the vicinity.

You should be wary of keeping breeding turtles apart when they are ready to mate, as they tend to attack each other.


The female turtle will lay several batches of around 4-11 eggs during its lifetime, which then hatch after around 70-120 days. However, the hatching period will all depend on the heat of the surrounding environment. It has been said that the heat that the eggs are subjected to will determine the sex of the hatchlings.

Growth Rate

These turtles will grow up to 3.5 or 5.5 inches, depending on the type of pen they are kept in. The females will be a lot larger, sometimes reaching up to 15 inches in length. This makes them 3 times larger than the male.

When the Barbour Map turtle is small its shell will be a lot paler in color and less prominent. However, as it gets older, the shell will grow harder and soon begin to darken. This means that it is fully matured.

Life Cycle

As mentioned above, the life cycle of the Barbour Map turtle will be around 15 to 20 years, although in captivity they have been known to live longer. This turtle will reach sexual maturity at 4 years old, while the female will reach full maturity at the age of 15.


This species has suffered from serious threats to their habitat that has led to a significant decline in numbers. The major threats are the rivers that this turtle is used to are being decimated and converted into reservoir beds. The silt change leads to the mussels in the river dying, which is a major food source for the Barbour Map turtle.


This turtle eats freshwater mussels, snails and crayfish, as well as a few other insects. The males eat smaller versions of the animal, while the female requires a lot more food to sustain herself.

If you are breeding these turtles in captivity, you have to make sure they are getting a healthy diet of meat as well as some plant matter.


The main predators of this turtle are raccoons and snakes. However, human beings have also been known to harvest these turtles for food. The decimation of the turtles by human practices is one of the major reasons that these turtle numbers are declining. 

Roaming Range

In the wild, the male turtles travel on an average of 365 meters across the riverbed looking for food. The females are larger and will travel a lot less, usually covering only 235 meters.

If you are going to keep these animals in captivity, then we would recommend that you have at least 4 x 4 square feet of room. These animals also like to burrow, so make sure you have a modesty screen so they can’t see over the cage.


These animals are susceptible to parasites that can burrow under the skin and cause serious discomfort and possibly even lesions for your pet. We would recommend regularly taking this animal to the vet to avoid it getting ill.

Some turtles also succumb to liver and kidney disease, so you should check regularly to see whether your turtle has lost its appetite or is starting to get pale in color.

Eye Color

The male turtles have red eyes while the females have darker brown eyes. However, there have been some of these turtles that have been known to have green eyes.


These turtles have thrived in an environment where it is largely hot all the year round, however, when the temperature does cool down, this turtle has been seen to crawl into holes to reduce its body temperature.

Can They Swim?

These creatures can swim and in the wild, they can often be found diving deep in the river for mussels, crayfish and smaller insects. If you are keeping these turtles in captivity, you must keep them near a water source.

Care Costs

You can buy one of these turtles for around $50, and to keep them will cost around $20 a month. However, if you keep them in an outside pen, then you can expect to save a lot of money on food, as this turtle will be able to catch its own food.

Fun Facts

  • Sometimes the spines on the female shell have been worn down to smaller nubs because of the level of activity they engage in.
  • Fire ants have proven to be a newer threat to these turtle’s eggs, as they tend to damage the constancy of the shell.
  • You can easily spot this turtle by the interorbital blotch that it has on its head.
  • The females will be a lot larger than the males, this sometimes poses a problem during mating as the male will have trouble mounting the shell of the larger female.