The shell profile of the river cooter is dependent upon the speed of the water currents, with those living in fast-flowing currents having a flatter shell, while those in slower moving currents will have a more domed-shape shell.
Coloration of the upper shell is olive-brown, brown, or nearly black with multiple yellow lines or markings
Plastron (bottom shell) is yellow and may have some light gray-brown markings
Head and limbs are olive-brown or black with multiple yellow lines
Shell is flattened and oval-shaped
River cooters belong to the genus Pseudemys, which includes seven species of large, herbivorous, freshwater turtles. All seven species are known as “cooters”, which has African roots, stemming from the Bambara and Malinké work “kuta”, which means turtle.
River cooters are found throughout the eastern and central U.S., from Ohio south to Florida, and like all turtles, have excellent breath holding abilities. These turtles can hold their breath for several hours while actively foraging underwater, but what is really impressive is how long the can remain submerged while hibernating. Those living in northern ranges will hibernate in the mud at the bottom of rivers or lakes during cooler weather. During this period, river cooters can remain underwater for up to two months, taking in air through their cloaca.
Here in Missouri, river cooters are found throughout the entire southern half of the state. They will quickly retreat to the water when alarmed, but will otherwise bask on logs or other objects during the spring and summer.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the eastern cooter population as Least Concern due to the widespread distribution of this species, though there are a wide variety of threats and some anecdotal evidence to suggest population declines in certain areas. Least Concern populations are those that are unlikely to become extinct in the near future.
9 to 13 inches (23 to 33 centimeters)
Eastern and central U.S.