Terrapin and turtle information and care sheets

Identification

Photographs - Jo Jeynes


One of the most common problems / questions from new terrapin keepers is that they aren't even really sure what they've bought! Whether you've bought a generic "yellow bellied turtle" (or even less descriptive "green turtle"), or you're simply wondering whether you've got a Bob or Barbara, this page will hopefully offer some useful insight! Of course, if you're still not sure then you're welcome to ask us to check your answer on the forum, but there's nothing quite like the satisfaction of figuring it out for yourself!


Sliders - Trachemys Sp.

Despite the fact that the sub-species (red eared sliders) which started the craze for terrapins in the 80's was banned from import several years ago, sliders are still probably the most common of species available in the pet trade at the moment, with yellow bellied sliders taking over from their near-identical relative. Cumberland sliders are also reasonably common, but the most often seen sliders are "mutts" due to the way they are mass-farmed with little regard to keeping bloodline. As such, the identifying marks can often be less defined, but the photographs below give the most obvious differences between the sub-species.

turtle terrapin species sex identification slider


Cooters - Pseudemys Sp.

Becoming increasingly common in the pet trade, and usually dumped in with, and labelled as, yellow bellies, these naturally more southerly cousins of the sliders grow even larger, and have a more bulky build so they don't become the lunch of the alligators they often share their waterways with. The photographs below show the difference between the sub-species, though the cooter species as a whole seems to be a favourite for taxonomists to argue over, breaking up and combining groups as often as some people change their socks! The river cooters, for instance, are now all lumped together as "river cooter" when they used to be split into 3 or 4 further sub-groups.

turtle terrapin species sex identification cooter


Red belly cooters - Pseudemys rubriventris and Pseudemys nelsoni

Of the two "red belly" sub-species, only the northern flavour has a really noticeably colourful plastron (belly), which can range from a deep red to an intense, almost fluorescent dark orange. The Florida red belly has a plastron generally ranging from the same pale yellow as most other terrapins, to a dark yellow with just a hint of red/orange.

turtle terrapin species sex identification cooter


Maps - Graptemys Sp.

Becoming increasingly more common, and certainly more popular due to their smaller size, maps exhibit perhaps the largest sexual dimorphism of any terrapin species, with the females getting up to twice as large as the males! This means that even at a quick glance you can see the sex of a larger adult, even without the males' long nails which as so disproportionately long that they give Edward Scissorhands a run for his money! The males also have such significantly longer tails that a side-by-side comparison is completely superfluous once you've seen one of each gender.

There are three main sub-species available commonly in the UK, though there are I think six or seven distinct sub-species recognised. The other sub-species are far less common in the UK though, if seen at all, so they have not been noted. In reality it's probably around 70-80% which are false maps, about 10-15% mississippi maps, and around 10-15% ouachita maps. Maps are possibly the most commonly mis-identified by shops as the differences between the sub-species can be quite discreet compared to other species.

turtle terrapin species sex identification map


Common musk - Sternotherus odoratus

Our pungent little friends the musks, don't exhibit the same long nails in the males as the sliders and cooters do, but the tail is still noticeably longer and thicker when compared to a female.

turtle terrapin species sex identification musk


Razorback Musk - Sternotherus carinatus

turtle terrapin species sex identification musk