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Escambia Map Turtle Status Assessment

male Escambia map turtle on a log by Pierson Hill

The Escambia Map Turtle (Graptemys ernsti) is endemic to the Florida panhandle and southern Alabama, where it is found in the Choctawhatchee, Yellow, and Escambia River drainages. Map turtles are sexually dimorphic, with the females growing much larger than males. They also have different diets, with females feeding almost exclusively on bivalve mollusks and males feeding on insects and algae.  

As a strictly riverine species, they are vulnerable to siltation, contamination, and degradation of their nesting areas. Because female Escambia map turtles are largely reliant on bivalves for prey, they are vulnerable to changes in water quality that affect mollusk populations. They are also vulnerable to illegal collection for the captive reptile trade. Escambia map turtles have recently been federally listed due to similarity of appearance to the Pearl River map turtle (G. pearlensis), but may warrant protection on their own merits.

To date, no formal status or distributional assessment has been conducted for the species in Florida and it is possible that current population levels may benefit from state or federal protections. FWRI biologists are currently using established methods (i.e. visual encounter surveys) to determine the distribution of the species within the state of Florida and estimate population sizes on the Escambia, Yellow, and Shoal Rivers. This data will be used to update species status assessments and inform potential listing actions.

This project started in Spring 2023; stay tuned to learn what we find!