Eastern River Cooter: Ultimate Guide

River Cooters are the most common form of turtle found in a pet shop. They are hardy creatures that can handle a long road trip to their new home and are easy to raise from juvenile-hood to adults. 

Although they are super common, most turtle owners aren’t ready for how large Eastern River Cooters can grow, so these gentle giants often get put back into rescue homes until a more knowledgeable owner comes along.

Male vs Female

Like most basking turtles, the male Eastern River Cooter is smaller than the females. They have long and straight claws, which are used for catching their prey and as part of the species’ mating dance. The male will sense a female by her pheromone and will try to swim above her. Once in position, he will vibrate these claw nails and stroke her face.

If she is pleased by this ritual, then she will sink to the bottom of the river bed and position herself to be mounted.


Eastern River Cooters can grow a carapace as large as 16 inches, making them a big freshwater turtle. You will notice that the carapace is flat in shape and not domed like other species. 

Eastern River Cooters come from Virginia and Northern FLorida, and you can point them out from other River Cooters by their stripe, which runs down the outside of their hind feet.

Older male River Cooters can become very dark-shelled, which obscures the beautiful designs, so identifying them can be a little tricky.

As a Pet

Eastern River Cooters can be amazing pets as long as you are ready for their large size. These turtles are easy to maintain, have a gentle and calm temperament, and a good-natured personality. They are also very healthy creatures, so the likelihood of going to the vets is very low. 

You will need to remember that as your turtle grows, it will need a larger tank size. Ideally, we suggest buying a large tank size from the beginning to save on money and space.


The average lifespan of an Eastern River Cooter is between 40 and 50 years. As this breed does not experience many illnesses or genetic problems, you should expect your pet to live to this age, so be aware of the commitment you are embarking on.


Like most river cooters, the Easter River Cooter has a tooth-like cusp in its upper jaw. This is to help them cut up tough foliage like leaves and fibrous vegetation. Another adaptation they have adopted, like most other river cooters, is their beautiful marking,

These markings aren’t to attract mates but instead to confuse predators. The colors and shapes are a type of camouflage, making focusing on the Easter River Cooter difficult. 

Breeding Season

Eastern River Cooters start their nesting and breeding season in the early spring. The females usually begin by digging a nest with their hind claws, making it a little above ground level. 

Females have a gestation period of 10 months to 2 years, but they will begin mating with different partners throughout the breeding season.


Eastern River Cooter will lay around 10 to 25 eggs in a clutch, which should hatch between three and four months after being produced. This means you should expect the babies between August and October.

The eggs are ellipsoidal and are normally around 1 and ½ inches long. The hatchlings will have a round carapace which is green overall but with bright yellow markings.

Growth Rate

Most people buy an Eastern River Cooter when they are a hatchling and so aren’t aware of how large they can grow. When Eastern River Cooters have reached adulthood, you can expect them to grow up to 16 inches long (which is 40 cm).

For comparison, a Labrador Retriever is on average 22 inches long (which is between 55 and 60 cm), and a Staffordshire Terrier is around 17 inches long (which is between 40 and 45 cm).

Life Cycle

Eastern River Cooters is also known as an indeterminate growth species. This means they will continue to grow throughout their lifetime, although the speed of growth will slow down. After 6 years, females are considered to be adults and are ready to mate, but for males, they are not considered adults until they are 13 years old. 


Although there are 6 known subspecies of river cooters, Eastern River Cooters being one of them, it isn’t known how large their population is. However, that being said, they are believed to be very common in the United States of America, and they are not considered to be endangered or even at risk. 

Whatever their numbers are, Easter River Cooters have a stable population, and they are very widespread.


Although Easter River Cooters are primarily herbivores, they will actually eat anything available to them. This includes plants and animals; it doesn’t matter if these animals are dead or alive.

Eastern River Cooters cannot swallow while in water, so they are likely to bring any vegetation or tasty catch into the shallows of their habitat. They like to chase and kill small fish, so adding little creatures for them to play with will be a good source of enrichment. 


The Eastern River Cooter doesn’t have many predators. There are only two wild animals which we would consider a threat to their species, and those are alligators and muskrats. These predators are commonplace in the exact locations that cooters are commonplace.

Some human cultures like to eat Eastern River Cooters and use their shells for decoration, so it would be unfair to exclude our own species from the list of predators.

Roaming Range

Eastern River Cooters should have a relatively large tank, preferably one which can handle 100 gallons of shallow and deep water, along with a decent-sized dry area where they can bask in either the sunlight or the UVB lights. 


Your turtle will need either strong direct sunlight or UVB light. This is so they can receive the metabolized calcium to help them form their hardy shell. If you are worried about your turtle, you can feed them boiled eggs to boost that calcium level; however, a strong UVB light should do the trick. 

If you don’t have some sort of strong lighting available, then your Eastern River Cooter will develop a disease in its shell which will cause it to become misshapen. If you notice a change in your turtle’s shell, then take them straight to the vet.

Eye Color

Eastern River Cooters have black pupils with yellow irises.


If the weather gets cold enough, then your Eastern River Cooter will begin to hibernate. They can do this for months and will bury themselves in the mud. During this time, they do not breathe.

Instead, their metabolism slows down, and they begin to take in oxygen from the water around them using their cloaca. Unless they have hidden themselves well, they will become vulnerable to predators during this period.

Can they swim?

Yes! They love swimming and will spend most of their time in the water. They are fantastic swimmers, too, so you can enjoy watching them travel through the water at a surprisingly quick pace.

They move much faster in the water than they do on land, and this is due to their webbed claws. These webs help them swim through strong currents of water.


You can keep your Eastern River Cooter either inside an aquarium or outdoors near a pond. They will need at least 100 gallons of water available to swim through. In terms of a substrate, we would recommend sand or river rocks instead of gravel, which might be digested and cause internal harm.

The water should be 80 degrees Fahrenheit for hatchlings or 75-78 degrees Fahrenheit for adults.

Eastern River Cooters love to bask and will spend several hours under a UVB light, so there should be a large platform or rock available for them. Shining onto this platform should be a UVB light-producing 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit heat.


On average, Eastern River Cooter Turtles cost between $70 and $150. This is just the price for the animal, as the biggest purchase will be the monthly heating expense.

Fun Facts

Did you know that Eastern River Cooters are semi-aquatic, which means they will often sleep in the water!

Did you know that Eastern River Cooters are often eaten as food by humans? Their meat, eggs, and skin are sold throughout the world.

Did you know that feeding a turtle cabbage is extremely detrimental to their health? This is because of the high goitrogen content in the vegetable. If too much is eaten, your pet will develop kidney problems!