Mississippi Map Turtle: Ultimate Guide

The biggest appeal of having Mississippi Map turtles as pets is that they are attractive animals, and they don’t grow as large as other turtle species, like the sliders and cooters.

These turtles get their name thanks to the fact they resemble tall contour lines of an elevation map, and because they inhabit the banks of the Mississippi River and a few of its southern tributaries.

Below, we’ll take a closer look at how to care for these turtles, as well as their life cycles.

Male vs Female

The size difference between male and female Mississippi Map turtles is a simple way to determine if you have a male or female turtle. 

Male turtles will grow from about 3.5 inches to about 5 inches long, measuring along the shell from the head to the tail. Meanwhile, female turtles are almost always bigger than the males at around 6 inches to 10 inches. 

The turtle’s tail is also a good indicator of gender. Female Mississippi Map turtles usually have smaller, shorter nails on both of their front feet. The tail is another good indicator of gender. Female Map turtles have a cloaca that is closer to the base of the tail.


Mississippi Map turtles are known for their striking appearance. They have a green-brown shell, and dark skin that is lined with yellow markings.

As a Pet

Mississippi Map turtles are known for being skittish and shy. They startle easily, and do not like being handled. They are pets that are lovely to look at, but not much else.

Caring for these turtles will mainly consist of aquarium maintenance like lighting, water changes, and focusing on filtration and water flow. Mississippi Map turtles are best suited to those who have experience looking after turtles, and are not ideal for families with children. 

They love water, and spend the majority of their time there. They feel so at home in the water that they don’t stray too far from it. They like to be near water so they can make a quick escape to it when they sense danger. 

They also have strong jaws that they would use to crush crustaceans and river snails in the wild. Make sure you keep your fingers away from the head whenever you need to handle them


When living in good conditions, a Mississippi turtle can live between 15-25 years. But some turtles have been known to reach their 30th birthday!


Mississippi Map turtles do not only thrive in deep water, but in a strong current courtesy of a large filter or powerhead. As they originate from large, flowing rivers, they are strong swimmers who are perfectly comfortable in mildly turbulent water flow.

They need plenty of swimming space, but typically a 75-gallon fish tank will be enough for one male turtle, while a female turtle will need about a 125-gallon tank.

Creating a beach on one side of the tank with some gravel built up on some larger rocks will make a good basking area, and floating accessories for your turtle to use as raft haul-outs are available at pet stores. 

As these turtles spend most of their life in the water, they need pristine water quality. Dirty water can cause infections, and quality filters make sure the water is kept clean and clear. 

Breeding Season

Mating occurs in spring and the females will deposit 6-7 eggs through the summer. The eggs will then hatch from July through early September. Hatchlings are just over one inch in plastron length. 


Mississippi Map turtles will hatch naturally in the wild, but in captivity these eggs may need to be incubated. The eggs will hatch in 2 to 3 months. 

To incubate Map turtle eggs, use a multi-functional incubator where you can regulate the temperature and humidity. But before you put the eggs in an incubator, you have to pull the eggs from the soil without breaking them.

Clean them gently with a paint brush, and make sure there is a suitable substrate inside the incubator before you place them inside.

Like other reptiles, incubation temperature will affect the sex of the Map turtles. A temperature around 75F will usually yield male Map turtles, while a temperature around 85F will produce mainly female Map turtles. 

After hatching, place the baby Map turtles in a separate tank. 

Growth Rate

While male Mississippi Map turtles can grow up to 3.5-5 inches and females can grow twice that, when they are fed too much protein this can lead to an unhealthy growth rate and pyramiding of the shell.

Life Cycle

Mississippi Map turtles are primarily aquatic turtles that only leave the water to nest and to occasionally find new bodies of water to call home. 

Like other turtle species, Mississippi Map turtles have a life cycle that is characterized by late maturity, long life, and repeated reproduction over a long lifetime for females. They also experience high nest and juvenile mortality.


It is hard to know what the population of Mississippi Map turtles is in the wild, but their life cycle combined with the harvest of adult females highly impacts their population.


Map turtles are omnivores, and actually eat their food while swimming. While aquatic turtle pellets are a good staple of their diet, they should also be fed fresh, leafy vegetables or plants such as romaine, dandelion greens, and fresh parsley.

Place these in the water on a regular basis or clip them to the side of the tank with a suction cup clip. 

Of course, as Map turtles are omnivores they should also be fed meat like crustaceans, fish, and insects. Avoid fatty fish like goldfish, and instead go for higher protein food items. However, the majority of their diet should be plant-based.

Fresh, chopped apple pieces and freeze-dried shrimp also make great treats, but should not be a staple of your turtle’s diet.


Hatchlings and younger turtles are usually more prone to predators than adult turtles. These predators include rice rats, red-winged blackbirds, grackles, and ring-billed gulls. When hatching they may also fall prey to catfish, bass, pike, and great blue herons.

Roaming Range

Mississippi Map turtles hardly roam out of water unless to nest, and even then they stay close to the water. 


With the proper setup and diet, Map turtles are relatively easy to care for. However, they can run into some health problems. Intestinal parasites are a common problem among reptiles, but they become a serious concern if they overpopulate your turtle’s intestinal tract.

Annual fecal parasite exams carried out by your vet are recommended, and appropriate deworming regimes also help to manage this problem.

Poor water quality can lead to skin, shell, and ear infections. You can use a soft toothbrush to clean your turtle’s skin or shell if too much algae builds up on it.

You can tell your turtle has an ear infection by large bumps that appear behind their eye. Your vet will need to clean this out, and will prescribe your turtle antibiotics. 

Also, improper UVB lighting and a lack of calcium in turtle pellets may lead to your Map turtle developing metabolic bone disease and shell deformities. Take your turtle to the vet immediately if you’re concerned. 

Eye Color

Mississippi Map turtles usually have bright-colored eyes with no bar across their pupils.


Unlike other Map turtle species, Mississippi Map turtles do not need to hibernate. This is because they do not require extreme water temperatures to survive, and can cope with a slightly lower water temperature.

Can they swim?

Mississippi Map turtles are very strong swimmers and can swim just as well in swift waters as they do in stagnant water. 


While Mississippi Map turtles don’t need extremely warm temperatures, they will be more active and have a better appetite if the water is kept around 85F. If the temperature drops below 60F, then your turtle may become lethargic, lose its appetite and start to go into hibernation. 

When housed indoors, Mississippi Map turtles need full-spectrum UVA/UVB lighting and supplemental heat lights. UVB lighting should be provided all year round for 12 hours a day in the form of a special reptile UVB bulb.

Because the invisible UVB rays expire before the visible white light does, you should replace this bulb every six months.

If you have a female Map turtle and a male Map turtle and they breed, you need to separate them after the mating process. Attach a nesting box to their tank and place the female there. 

If you notice your Map turtle’s claws are not being filed down by its everyday activities, you must file them yourself. 


Map turtles cost anywhere from around $25 to $1,000. This varies from species to species, and the rate can fluctuate anytime.

Fun Facts

Mississippi Map turtles get their nickname ‘Sawback’ from the diagonal line that runs down their carapace. This is because the ridge has distinctive spines that resemble the sharp ends of a saw.

Mississippi Map turtles may carry Salmonella. While it’s not harmful to the turtles, it can cause transmissive diseases to humans that make us incredibly ill. 

Infants, children, and adults with weak immune systems should avoid or have minimal contact with these turtles.