There are 6 subspecies of river cooters, one of which is the Florida river cooter which is found throughout the Southeastern coastal plain. If you’re interested in the background of Florida river cooters, or maybe you’re thinking about having one as a pet, then this ultimate guide will teach you everything you should know about the Florida river cooter.
Male vs Female
When it comes to cooter turtles, sexual dimorphism is very common. If you’re not sure what sexual dimorphism is, it’s the condition where two sexes of the same species have different appearances that are beyond their sexual organs.
As for cooter turtles, the females are normally bigger than the male turtles and can often be seen with a carapace (upper shell) that is almost 2 inches longer than the males. Males do tend to have flatter shells than females and they also have longer claws which they use to cling onto the female’s back when they are mating.
Females also have a shorter tail compared to male Florida river cooters, which is often one of the easiest ways to differentiate them when they’re mature.
Florida river coots are particularly large turtles that can range from 9 to 13 inches depending on whether they’re male or female. Their carapace is typically a dark green/brown background with an orange or yellow pattern on them.
Their plastron (bottom shell) is a yellow/orange color and doesn’t have any markings, but there will be some dark markings on the marginal scutes. These dark markings along the scutes tend to fade as the turtle gets older.
The Florida river cooter does look quite similar to the peninsula cooter.
As a Pet
You’ll be able to buy a Florida river cooter to keep as a pet in your own home from local pet stores, breeders, and even from people selling them on websites like Craigslist.
You should only really buy a Florida river cooter if they’ve been bred in captivity and not if they’ve been taken from their natural habitat. Not only is this unfair on the turtle, but they may also struggle to survive the different living conditions in captivity as it’ll vary from what they’re used to experiencing in the wild.
The average lifespan of a Florida river cooter is around 40 years. Their lifespan may be longer when bred and kept in captivity compared to living in their natural habitat in the wild as they’re less likely to be killed by predators or have to compete for food with other aquatic animals.
The Florida river cooter has cusps in their upper jaw which allows them to easily eat leaves and fibrous vegetation along the water borders in their habitat. They also have a sac near their tail which permits them to breathe underwater for long periods.
Breeding normally takes place in the early spring and then females will begin nesting from May to June time.
The female will choose a sandy nesting site that is within a short distance of the edge of the water. She won’t hide them as other animals do, she’ll lay them in an open area where the hatchlings won’t struggle to find their way to the water.
Both sexes of Florida river cooter will have multiple mating partners throughout their lifespan.
Males will receive a pheromone signal from smelling a female’s tail and will then try to court her by swimming above her and stroking her face. However, it’s not uncommon for females to initiate a mating courtship.
Female river cooters will lay between 10-25 eggs in 1 or more clutches. The eggs are approximately 1.5 inches long and ellipsoidal. The incubation period is about 100 days but will vary depending on the external temperatures at the time. The eggs will only hatch when the weather is warm outside.
The eggs most commonly hatch in August through to September and are completely independent from birth and will find their way to the water without their mother.
Clutches that have been laid late will overwinter and will then hatch in the spring when the weather is warmer.
Female river cooters become reproductively mature at around 6 years old whereas males don’t become mature until they are around 13 years of age. Once they are fully mature, female Florida river cooters can grow up to 13 inches whereas their male counterparts will be a lot smaller.
Florida river cooters can grow up to 11lbs, however, overfeeding in captivity can make this number a lot higher.
Florida river turtles slowly stop growing between the age of 7 to 14 for males and 15 to 24 for females.
A female will lay her eggs in the summer and then the eggs will hatch in the early fall months. The hatchlings will immediately be independent and find their way to the water where they’ll meet other river cooters.
Reproductive maturity is around 6 years of age for females and 13 for males and at this point, they’ll begin mating with each other.
They’ll begin to slow down and then pass away around the age of 40.
There is no overall population available for the Florida river cooter. However, according to the IUCN Red List, their population status is not to be concerned about as of the moment.
The Florida river cooter will often slip into the water when they sense oncoming strangers or if they’re going to be disturbed, which makes them harder to find and study for population purposes.
Florida river cooters are mainly herbivores, but they will eat animals when the opportunity is presented to them, but this is more common with male cooters.
Their diet is mainly made up of aquatic plants and also terrestrial plants that they’ll find close to the water’s border, however, cooters can chase and slay small fish and crustaceans, especially the younger ones who need a more protein enriched diet.
Florida river cooters that have been captive bred and raised will eat a whole assortment of plants along with fruits and vegetables and also some meats like cooked chicken, mealworms, and snails.
The main threats to the Florida river cooter are humans, foxes, raccoons, and otters.
They are prone to suffering from a loss of habitat due to human construction and can also find themselves being run over by vehicles trying to cross highways.
Hatchlings are vulnerable to be taken by birds and land animals when they are finding their way to the water from land. Once they get to the water, they also face the threat of alligators and muskrats who can be seen waiting to prey on these tiny creatures.
Many Florida river cooters develop big home ranges and most do not ever go beyond this range unless they are forced to be predators or their habitat is destroyed.
Florida river cooters prefer permanent waters that have soft sandy bottoms and plenty of vegetation for them to feed on, such as ponds, marshes, lakes, and moving rivers.
They are considered to be solitary animals that will spend a lot of their time basking in the sun on logs or warmed rocks, but may also be found in the company of other aquatic animals like sliders or painteds.
One of the biggest issues for Florida river cooters is getting shell diseases which can be caused by bacteria, fungi, and parasites.
An appropriate or insufficient diet can also lead to vitamin A deficiency which can lead to further issues such as infections, absences, and even respiratory issues.
Florida river cooters have greeny/yellow eyes with bold black pupils.
If the climate turns too cool, then Florida river coolers will remain dormant underwater hidden away in the mud, and then emerge when the weather gets warmer. They’ll often stay dormant for 2 months of the year in cooler environments.
Can They Swim?
Yes, they’re great at swimming, as they should be since they spend most of their time in the water.
Florida river cooters can breathe underwater through a sac called the cloaca bursae which is located on their tail. This allows them to stay underwater for long periods and is often what makes them so hard to locate and study.
Florida river cooters will need an aquatic habitat in your home with a dry basking area, which will need to be inside if you live in a colder climate. For an indoor tank, you will have to buy them a warming light and a UVB radiation device and when fully mature will need to be kept in the biggest aquatic tank possible.
They’re easy to care for and are not aggressive towards humans so you’ll be able to handle them when cleaning out their tanks.
For adult Florida river coots, you should feed them 2 to 3 times a week and every day or other every day for hatchlings or juvenile ones. You should make sure to break up larger vegetables or plants and only feed them what can fit inside their head.
Florida river cooters can cost you anything from $30 to $200 depending on whether you’re buying a baby or a matured river cooter.
Buying all the equipment, food, and care products for your Florida River Cooter could add up to over $300.
As females pair up with numerous mating partners throughout their breeding season she can decide when she wants to fertilize the eggs to lay them. Therefore, they can have a gestation period of up to 2 years.