Alabama Map Turtle (Graptemys pulchra)

Photos by J.D. Willson unless otherwise noted

Description: The Alabama map turtle is a medium to large sized aquatic turtle. Turtles in this genus are easily recognized by the dorsal keel on their shell, but these projections often wear down with age. Juveniles have a dark stripe running down the olive carapace and a concentric pattern of yellow lines on each marginal scute. The top of the head is patterned with a large olive mask between and behind the eyes. A light bar runs longitudinally from the chin towards the neck. The plastron is light yellow with some darker coloration following the seams. Adult males range from 9-12.7 cm (3.5-5 in) and retain most of the pattern found on juvenile specimens. Adult females are considerably larger [18-29.2 cm (7-11.5 in)] and have extremely large heads used to crush snails and other mollusks. Females often become drab in coloration and can lose most of the markings found on juvenile and male specimens. Since juveniles and males lack the large head and strong jaws, their diets consist of more aquatic insects.

Range and Habitat: The Alabama map turtle is confined to the Mobile Bay drainage basin. It occurs in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, and possibly Louisiana. In our region they are only found in a few rivers of northeastern Georgia. They inhabit lotic habitats like large rivers and streams. They have been observed in large muddy rivers and rocky streams.

Habits: Juvenile and male Alabama Map Turtles can be found in shallow water habitats and often bask on fallen logs and piles of brush. Females prefer deeper areas.

Conservation Status: This species is listed as rare in Georgia and is protected in Alabama. It is a species of special concern in Mississippi. Map turtles are often confined to specific river systems, which places them at a greater risk for extirpation.

Pertinent Reference:
Ernst, C.H., J. E. Lovich, and R. Barbour. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C.

Account Author: Austin Meadows, University of Georgia – revised by J.D. Willson