Aquatic turtles are fun pets to own and watch, but not everyone has room for the large enclosures that bigger water turtles, like red-eared sliders, require. Thankfully there are smaller water turtles like the Mississippi map turtle that don't require such large habitats.
Common Name: Mississippi Map Turtle
Scientific Name: Graptemys pseudogeographica kohni
Adult Size: Females grow to be up to 10 inches long and males up to five inches long
Life Expectancy: Over 30 years
The Mississippi map turtle is an aquatic turtle that spends the majority of its time swimming and the rest of the time eating and basking on a dry rock in the sun. The care of map turtles is much more like a fish than a lizard in that they need a tank almost entirely filled with water in addition to the reptile lighting set up.
Full-grown map turtles need plenty of swimming space, but typically a 75-gallon fish tank will do well for one male turtle (females need about a 125-gallon tank). Gravel built up with larger rocks to create a beach on one side of the tank serves well as a basking area and dry-docking station for your turtle. A variety of floating accessories are available at pet stores.
Water quality is very important to animals that spend the majority of their lives in it. Dirty water can cause a number of infections, among other things. Quality filters are a must for any aquatic turtle enclosure to keep the water clean, clear, and free of odors. Submersible filters like the Cascade internal filter and canister filters are your best options for clean water. They should be constantly running to not only provide filtration but also aeration to the water.
Map turtles eat their food while swimming. Aquatic turtle pellets are a good staple diet for map turtles, but they should also get some fresh, leafy vegetables or plants. Dark, leafy greens like romaine, dandelion greens, and fresh parsley should be placed in the water on a regular basis or clipped to the side of the tank with a suction cup clip sold in the fish department. Fresh, chopped apple pieces and freeze-dried shrimp can be offered as treats but should not make up a large percentage of your turtle’s diet.
Map turtles also eat some insects, crustaceans, and fish. Fatty fish like goldfish should be avoided alongside larger high protein food like mice. The majority of their diet should be plant-based and from the formulated turtle pellets or the fresh greens.
If housed indoors, full-spectrum UVA/UVB lighting and supplemental heat lights are absolutely necessary. Mississippi map turtles don't need extremely warm temperatures but will be more active and eat better if they are kept around 85 degrees F. If temperatures are allowed to drop below the 60s your turtle may become lethargic, not eat well, and start to go into hibernation. Turtles that are housed outside in warmer months should be brought inside to a warmer environment when the outside temperature gets too cool, so they don't go into hibernation.
UVB lighting should be provided for 12 hours each day and year-round in the form of a special reptile UVB bulb. This bulb should also be replaced every six months since the invisible UVB rays expire before the visible white light does. Map turtles that are housed outside do not need supplemental UVB lights since they receive natural UVB rays from the sun.
Map turtles are relatively easy to care for with the proper setup and diet. But they can run into some health issues. Intestinal parasites are found naturally in most reptiles, including pet map turtles, but they can become a problem if they overpopulate their intestinal tract. Therefore, annual fecal parasite exams should be performed by your exotics vet.
If water quality is a problem, your turtle can get skin, shell, and ear infections from the dirty water. If too many algae are building up on your turtle's shell or skin, use a soft toothbrush to help keep it clean. Ear infections are easily recognized as large bumps behind your turtle's eye. They will need to be cleaned out by your vet, and your turtle will most likely be placed on antibiotics.
Your turtle's beak and nails should be maintained at a good length and may need periodic trimming if they are unable to grind them down in their environment or because there is an underlying health issue causing excessive growth.
Without proper UVB lighting and calcium from the turtle pellets, map turtles will develop metabolic bone disease and shell deformities. If you suspect your turtle has a health issue, get him in to see a vet as soon as possible.