Northern Red-bellied Cooter
Pseudemys rubriventris

Common Name:

Northern Red-bellied Cooter

Scientific Name:

Pseudemys rubriventris



Pseudemys is derived from the Greek word pseudes which means "false" and emys which means "turtle".


rubriventris is derived from the Latin word ruber meaning "red" and venter meaning "belly" (plastron).

Average Length:

10 - 12.5 in. (25.4 - 32 cm)

Virginia Record Length:

13.1 in. (33.4 cm)

Record length:

15.8 in. (40 cm)

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: The shell of this species is elongate, oval in lateral outline, usually flattened or mid-dorsally concave in old specimens, and often constricted in the region of the sixth marginals. It is large with the maximum shell length close to 400 mm. Maximum known carapace length in VA is 334 mm, max plastron length is 326 mm, and max body mass is 3900 grams. The ratio of length divided by height varies between 2.85 and 3.27 with an average of 3.01 for the males. The carapace is often wrinkled lengthwise and never keeled except in the young, and rugose in adults; usually 11/11 marginals, 4/4 pleurals, 5 vertebrals. Hingeless plastron is slightly smaller than carapace. The carapace is brownish with a light red patterning, the most frequently occurring red mark being the broader transverse line on each marginal scute. Pleurals also sometimes have a forked vertical line. In older males this pattern can be highly variable. A few individual females are nearly all black. The underside of marginals are yellow to reddish with black spots and the bridge has several black spots or a black bar. The plastron is orange or red with a dark pattern along seams in the young, but fades with age. The color on the underside of the marginals is often more intense than the plastron The head is dark brown with light stripes; with one distinctive streak down the middle of the top of the head joins with lines from above the eyes at the tip of the snout, forming an arrow pattern. Upper jaw has cusp on either side *1027,10760*.

SEXUAL DIMORPHISM: Females are larger than males ranging from 258-334 CL while males range from 179-295 CL. Males have elongated foreclaws and the anal opening extends past the posterior of the shell *10760*.

JUVENILES: The carapace in juveniles is green with yellow markings. Plastron is red or yellow and has a irregular black marking that fades with age. Skin is also green. Hatchlings in VA ranged from 24-37.3 mm CL *10760*.

CONFUSING SPECIES: Pseudemys rubriventris may be confused with P. c. concinna which has a backwards "C" in the 2nd pleural scute, a yellowish plastron, and no prominent cusps on the upper jaw. P. c. floridana has yellow markings and a yellow plastron with no markings *10760,11624*.

REPRODUCTION: This species breeds in June in New England *1007*. Richmond (1945) reported nesting dates of 18 May to 4 July in New Kent Co., VA. C.H. Ernst recorded dates of 25 May - 4 July in Fairfax Co. Females lay up to two clutches a year of 8-29 eggs. Incubation in the laboratory was 32-76 days. Nest is an approximately 10 cm cavity in sandy soil that may be several meters from water. Emergence from the nest can occur in April indicating that some eggs overwinter in the nest. They usually hatch in the the late summer *10760,11624*. This species will abandon egg-laying if disturbed.

ORIGIN: This species is native *10760*.

BEHAVIOR: This species feeds on crustaceans, insect larvae, fish, worms, other animal matter and aquatic vegetation *3640*. It is omnivorous as a juvenile, but mainly herbivorous as an adult *10760,11624*. It is often seen basking on logs but is a very shy and wary turtle. This species swims well and rapidly when alarmed *1027*. They will bury themselves under mud in shallow water to hibernate *1007*. They are most active during the daytime. Activity season is March to October though activity has been noted through December. During the nesting season they move about a lot on land *10760*.

AQUATIC/TERRESTRIAL ASSOCIATIONS: They are mainly found in freshwater slow moving waterbodies with numerous basking sites and soft substrate for hibernation. They will occur in brackish water as well. They are preyed upon by raccoons and humans as adults, and by numerous avian, and mammalian predators as well as fish. The eggs are also a valuable food source for many animals *10760*.

POPULATION PARAMETERS: Little is known in this area. This species has been harvested recently by humans for food, but harvest rates and their impact on this species' population is unknown *1027,10760*.

References for Life History

  • 1007 - Babcock, H.L., 1971, Turtles of the Northeastern United States, 105 pgs., Dover Publ., New York, NY
  • 1027 - Carr, A.F., 1952, Handbook of Turtles. Turtles of the United States, Canada, and Baja California, 542 pgs., Comstock Publ. Assoc., Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, NY
  • 3640 - Morris, P.A., 1974, An introduction to the Reptiles and Amphibians of the United States., 250 pgs., Dover Publications, Inc., New York
  • 10760 - Mitchell, J. C., 1994, The Reptiles of Virginia, 352 pgs., Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC
  • 11624 - Mitchell, J. C., 2001, Personal Communication, Expert review for GAP Analysis Project, Mitchell Ecological Research LLC

Identification Characteristics



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Verified County/City Occurrence

Accomack County
Arlington County
Augusta County
Caroline County
Charles City County
Chesapeake City
Clarke County
Essex County
Fairfax County
Fluvanna County
Gloucester County
Goochland County
Greene County
Hampton City
Hanover County
Henrico County
Hopewell City
Isle of Wight County
James City County
King and Queen County
King William County
Lancaster County
Loudoun County
Middlesex County
New Kent County
Newport News City
Norfolk City
Northampton County
Nottoway County
Prince George County
Prince William County
Richmond City
Richmond County
Shenandoah County
Southampton County
Suffolk City
Surry County
Sussex County
Virginia Beach City
Warren County
Waynesboro City
Westmoreland County
York County
Verified in 43 Counties/Cities.


Virginia is home to 28 species of frogs and toads.


We have a large diversity of salamanders consisting of 56 different species and subspecies.


Virginia is home to 9 native lizard species and two introduced species, the Mediterranean Gecko and the Italian Wall Lizard.


The Commonwealth is home to 34 species and subspecies of snake. Only 3 species are venomous.


Virginia has 25 species and subspecies of turtle. Five of these species are sea turtle.