Northern Map Turtle: Ultimate Guide

The Northern Map Turtle is an interesting breed. It can also be called the common map turtle or the Sawback turtle. While they are fantastic turtles to keep as pets, they are not the easiest breed to own, and it is important that you carry out the correct research before purchasing. 

In this article, we will be providing you with the ultimate guide of everything you need to know about this breed. We will be focusing on aspects such as their identifications, breeding seasons, diet, and the costs of caring for them. 

Males Vs Female

When looking at the male vs female Northern Map turtles, there are some differences that can be noted. The head of a female Northern Map turtle is far wider than the males. This is because they have different eating habits and techniques. In addition to this, the females have a shorter and thinner tail. 

When looking at male Northern Map turtles, their carapace is narrower, as is their head. Their keep is more distinct, and the cloaca opening is past the edge of the carapace. Furthermore, the females are actually larger on the whole, in comparison to the males. There is certainly the case of sexual size dimorphism here.


You can spot a Northern Map Turtle by looking at its carapace. This is where the name map turtle derives, as they have contour lines on the carapace that resemble a map. These lines can range between tan, orange, and yellow, depending on the specific turtle. When looking at the rest of the carapace, this is typically darker green in its color. 

These lines are prominent in the younger Northern Map turtles, but they do begin to fade when the turtle reaches maturity. The keel level is low, and they also have a yellow plastron that features a darker spot, before becoming subdued in maturity. 

The rest of their body is dark green, and features bold yellow stripes. As we have already touched upon, while the male and female and males are very different in some of their features, size, and weight, they still do have similar markings.

As a Pet

As we have already touched upon, these are not the easiest turtles to keep as pets. However, with the correct research and environment, they can be kept as pets. Out of all the different turtle species, they are more difficult to keep on the whole


The lifespan of a Northern Map turtle is relatively short, in comparison to other turtle species. On average, they will live for around 15 to 20 years, when they are kept in captivity. 


This turtle is fairly inactive throughout the colder months. Between November to April, they are a dormant breed, and are far more active between May and October. They have to remain well oxygenated, especially through the winter months, to survive. As they absorb oxygen from the water as a result of this. In the day, they will bask in order to absorb the sunlight needed.

Breeding Season

The Northern Map turtle breeding season is typically in the fall and the spring, and this occurs in deeper water, rather than close to land. After the breeding season has been completed, they will then nest for three months between May and July.


The female Northern Map turtle will deposit her eggs to protect them and keep them safe. This is done in a cavity that is not covered with water. Once the female has covered the hole where the eggs are placed, she will then cover it back over.

Their eggs are oval in their shape, and are fairly small, being around 1.3 inches (3.3 cm) in length. The shell is durable but flexible, and they require an incubation period of up to 70 days. 

Growth Rate

When looking at the growth rate of a Northern Map turtle, as we have already covered, the females are larger than the males. A fully grown female will reach between 18 and 20 cm in length, whereas a male will only reach up to 16 cm at the longest. 

When looking at the weight, there is a significant difference. While the females will range from 1.5 to 5.5 pounds (2.49 kg), the males will only reach up to 14.1 ounces (0.53 kg). 

As you can see, based on the size of the adult turtle alone, it is fairly easy to tell the difference between the male and female Northern Map turtles. These turtle hatchlings will be around 2.5 cm in length. 

Life Cycle

When looking at how long it takes for this turtle to age, both the male and females will mature on a reproductive level at around 4 years. However, a female Northern Map turtle will take around 10 to 12 years to fully mature.

Overall, in comparison to other types of turtle, they do have a fairly short life cycle given that they only live for around 20 years. 


The population of the Northern Map turtle is a fairly positive one, and when it comes to the list of endangered species, they are not currently of any concern, nor are they a rare breed of turtle. 

As their name suggests, they are typically found in their natural habitat in the Northern parts of the globe. Canada is home to around 10% of the entire population, which sits at around 10,000 Northern Map turtles. 

Other areas in which they can be found include the Northeastern part of the United States. The areas of Canada in which they are the most popular are Ontario and Quebec. 

However, as these animals can be kept as pets and bred in captivity, they can also be found in homes or zoos across the world too. 


What is interesting about Northern Map turtles, is that the male and females have slightly different dietary requirements. The male turtles will eat things such as crayfish and insects. Young turtles, both male and female, will also eat this diet. 

However, when a female Northern Map turtle reaches maturity, they will eat other types of food in addition to this, such as snails, clams, other fish, and mollusks. 


Unfortunately, Northern map turtles are subject to being in danger of many predators, both on land and in the water. Some predators they can fall victim to include foxes, river otters and raccoons.

However, there are some birds that they need to be wary of too, such as crows, and red-winged blackbirds, which will typically attack and hunt the hatchlings. Given that they are at risk to many predators, they choose to hibernate deep into riverine pools as a precautionary measure. 

Roaming Range

The Northern Map turtle does have quite a significant roaming range. The range reaches from Southern Quebec, to Alabama in the South. They have even been found in the wild in New York, and Maryland too. Even so, the majority of the Northern Map turtle population is still found in Canada. 


There are a number of diseases that Northern Map turtles can be prone to, such as metabolic bone disease, which impacts the shell and bones. In addition to this, they can experience shell fungi, and shell rot too. 

Female Northern Map turtles in particular can also suffer from the Emydid herpesvirus 1 infection, which can be concerning, and will need treatment.

Eye Color

The eye color of the Northern Map turtle is an interesting one, and they have a unique triangle or oval behind their eyes. Their eyes are black and dark yellow. 


Their hibernation will depend on the climates and other varying factors. However, they will typically enter a dormant state from November to April. It is worth noting that they do not fully hibernate during this period, but act similarly. 

Can They Swim?

Yes, Northern Map turtles are keen swimmers, and this is something they do well. While the young turtle will swim in shallow waters, the adult turtles will swim in deeper waters, while being completely submerged into the water.


When looking at the care of this breed of turtle, they are hardy, and fairly active. They are a good pet for beginners, though it is worth having some experience with turtles before purchasing.

While they do not live as long as other turtles, they will still live up to 20 years. Given this, they are a commitment.


The price of these turtles will vary depending on the state or the country you are purchasing them in. Typically, they will coast up to $1000. This is not including any additional costs such as the set-up needed, food, and any vets bills, and general care needed.

Fun Facts 

  • The Northern Map turtle is one of the most active and lively breeds of turtle that can be purchased.
  • They have a distinctive keel which is why they have been given the nickname “sawback”
  • They are typically found in lakes, river-bottoms and ponds

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