Suwannee cooter: Pseudemys suwanniensis
Genus/Species: Pseudemys suwanniensis
Common Name: Suwannee cooter
Federal Status: Not Listed
FL Status: State Species of Special Concern
FNAI Ranking: G5T3/S3 (Globally: Demonstrably Secure, Sub Sp. Rare/ State: Rare)
IUCN Status: Not ranked
The Suwannee cooter is one of the largest turtles in the Family Emydidae. This species can reach a length of 17 inches (43.7 centimeters). The upper shell (carapace) is black with yellow markings and the lower shell (plastron) is either light orange or yellow with black markings. Each scute (scale) in the middle of the carapace contains a yellow mark in the shape of a backwards “C”. These markings can be hard to see in wild turtles. The skin of the Suwannee cooter is green with yellow stripes, although it darkens with age. The Suwannee cooter also has yellow stripes on its neck and head, bluish-green eyes, and black hind feet (Ernst and Lovich 2009, Florida Natural Areas Inventory 2001).
The diet of the Suwannee cooter primarily consists of aquatic plants such as Naias, Sagittaria, and Ceratophyllus (Jackson 1992).
Suwannee cooters mate from January until June. During courtship, the male positions his neck and head over the female while vibrating his foreclaws in front of her snout to stimulate her. If the female is receptive, she allows the male to mate with her. If not, she swims away. The Suwannee cooter nests between the months of March and August (Ernst and Lovich 2009). Females are particular on where they nest; they need adequate sunlight and drainage for their eggs to survive (Jackson 2006). Females can lay up to six clutches per year, and are capable of laying up to 120 eggs in a year (20 eggs per clutch). Although incubation depends on temperature and other conditions, average incubation is 86 days (range = 58 – 122 days). The eggs incubate in temperatures that range from 77-91.4°F (25-33°C) (Jackson 2006). Most hatchlings emerge from the nest upon hatching, although some may overwinter in the nest and emerge the following spring. Male Suwannee cooters probably reach sexually maturity in eight to ten years, while females require between nine and 13 years.
Habitat and Distribution
The Suwannee cooter is an aquatic species, and usually only appears on land to nest (Jackson 2006). This species is found in blackwater, alluvial (river with banks made of easily eroded soil), and spring-fed rivers, and they can also survive in some impoundments (e.g., Lake Talquin [Ochlockonee River] and Lake Roussseau [Withlacoochee River]). Key habitat features are moderate current, ample aquatic vegetation for feeding, and appropriate surfaces for basking (rocks, stumps, and logs) (Jackson 2006). The Suwannee cooter is found from the Tampa Bay region (Alafia River), northwest to the Ochlockonee River just west of Tallahassee (Jackson pers comm. 2010. Distribution map data from: Krysko et al. 2011)
In the past, Suwannee cooters have been hunted for their meat. Under Rule 68A-27.005 of the Florida Administrative Code, it is illegal to take, possess, or sell the Suwannee cooter because it is a protected species. The population also faces threats from habitat degradation. Chemical pollution has already caused the Suwannee cooter to be extirpated (locally extinct) from the Fenholloway River in Jackson County (Jackson 1999). Siltation from road crossings can cause the clarity of streams to degrade, presumably reducing the amount of sunlight for aquatic plants, causing a decline in photosynthesis. Natural threats include increased predation from raccoons, fish crows, and red imported fire ants on nests and females (Jackson 2006, Jackson pers. comm. 2010).
Conservation and Management
The Suwannee cooter is protected as a State Species of Special Concern by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule .
Biological Status Review (BSR)
Supplemental Information for the BSR
Other Informative Links
Animal Diversity Web
Florida Natural Areas Inventory
Printable version of this page
Ernst and Lovich. 2009. Turtles of the United States and Canadian. The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Florida Natural Areas Inventory. 2001. Field guide to the rare animals of Florida. http://www.fnai.org/FieldGuide/pdf/Pseudemys_concinna_suwanniensis.PDF
Heinrich, G. L., T. J. Walsh, N. M. Mattheus, J. A. Butler, and P. C. H. Pritchard. 2010. Discovery of a modern-day midden: continued exploitation of the Suwannee cooter, Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis, and implications for conservation. Florida Scientist 73:14-19.
Jackson, D. R. 1999. Survey of an important distributional "gap" in the Florida range of the river cooter and other freshwater turtles. Final Report to Nongame Wildlife Program, Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. 27 pp.
Jackson, D. R. 2006. Pseudemys concinna – river cooter. Pages 325–337 in P. A. Meylan, editor. Biology and conservation of Florida turtles. Chelonian Research Monographs No. 3.
Jackson, D.R. 1992. River Cooter, Pseudemys concinna Le Conte. Pages 166-170 in P. E. Moler, editor. Rare and endangered biota of Florida. Volume III. Amphibians and reptiles. University Press of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA.
Krysko, K., K. Enge, and P. Moler. 2011. Pseudemys concinna (LeConte 1830) River cooter. Atlas of Amphibians and Reptiles in Florida.
Image Credit Photo courtesy of Rick Ulrich