Mississippi Map Turtle Species Profile

Terrapins are fun pets to own and watch, but not everyone wants a large turtle. Mississippi map turtles are not as large as other species such as slipper and tortoises, but they still require relatively large and deep aquarium habitats.

What is a map turtle?

Map turtles including 14 species of turtles notebook Genus with patterns on shells that look similar to the tall contour lines of an elevation map. These species are also named for inhabiting most of the banks of the Mississippi River and its southern tributaries.

These super-timid turtles need a chance to escape to deep water when they are scared. Because these turtles require pure water and are easily startled, even captive animals often get sick from stress. These are best reserved for “just looking” turtles; caring for them will include aquarium maintenance steps such as lighting, water changes, and attention to filtration and water flow. For these reasons, the Mississippi map turtle requires a very experienced breeder and is not suitable for children.

Species Overview

Common name: Mississippi map turtle

Scientific name: Mayfly

Adult size: Females grow to 10 inches; males to 5 inches

Life expectancy: 30+ years

Behavior and Temperament of Mississippi Map Turtles

The Mississippi map on land feels a bit like a fish out of water. They feel so comfortable in the water that they don’t get far from any body of water, so they can always fly back into the water to escape.

Mississippi maps are friendly in the turtle community, although females tend to dominate because they are twice the size of males. When keeping multiples, limit the number of females kept together.

These nervous and shy turtles don’t like to be petted too much, and doing so deprives the animal of a safe place: the water. The jaws of these animals are strong enough to crush river snails and crustaceans for a strong bite, so keep your fingers safe from your head.

House Mississippi Map Turtle

Of all the pet terrapin species, these are the ones that prefer strong currents from large filters or even powerheads; they also prefer deep water. Originating from large flowing rivers, they are great swimmers and feel right at home in lightly turbulent currents.

Adult map turtles need plenty of room to swim, but typically a 75-gallon tank will fit a male; females need about a 125-gallon tank. The gravel consists of some larger rocks that form a beach on the side of the tank, which acts as a basking area and dry dock for the turtles. Pet stores have a variety of floating accessories for turtles to use as raft haulers.

Water quality is very important for animals that spend most of their time underwater, and dirty water can lead to many infections. A quality filter is a must for any Mississippi map turtle enclosure to keep the water clean, clear and odor free. Submersible filters such as Cascade internal filters and canister filters are the best choice for making very clear water. They should run constantly, providing not only filtration but also aeration.


Mississippi map turtles don’t need very warm temperatures, but if you keep them around 85 degrees Fahrenheit, they’ll be more active and have a better appetite. If the temperature is allowed to drop below 60 degrees, your turtle may become lethargic, eat poorly, and start hibernating. Turtles housed outside during the warmer months should be brought to a warmer environment when the outside temperature gets too cold so they don’t go into hibernation.


Map turtles housed outdoors do not need supplemental UVB lights, as they receive natural UVB rays from the sun. However, when installed indoors, full spectrum UVA/UVB lighting and auxiliary heat lamps are absolutely necessary. UVB lighting should be provided for 12 hours per day and year round in the form of a special reptile UVB bulb. Also, the bulb should be replaced every six months, as invisible UVB rays expire before visible white light.

food and water

Map turtles are omnivores and eat while swimming. Terrapin pellets are a good staple for map turtles, but they should also get some fresh leafy vegetables or plants. Dark leafy greens such as romaine lettuce, dandelion, and fresh parsley should be added to the water on a regular basis or clamped to the side of the tank with suction cup clips sold in the fish department. Fresh chopped apple slices and freeze-dried shrimp can be offered as snacks, but should not make up a large portion of a turtle’s diet.

For the meat portion of their diet, map turtles also eat some insects, crustaceans, and fish. Fatty fish like goldfish should be avoided; opt for larger, higher protein foods. Most of their diet should be plant-based, from formulated turtle balls and fresh vegetables.

To prevent non-foraging turtles in captivity from becoming obese, the amount of feeding should be whatever they eat within six minutes. If using this schedule, feed your Mississippi map turtle no more than three days a week. If feeding daily, only feed them what they eat within two to three minutes; feed them in the morning or afternoon, matching when they are usually most active.

Common Health and Behavioral Issues

With proper setup and diet, map turtles are relatively easy to care for. But they may experience some health problems. Intestinal parasites are naturally present in most reptiles, including pet map turtles, but they can become a problem if they multiply in the gut. Therefore, an annual check for fecal parasites should be performed by your exotic animal and reptile veterinarian. A proper deworming regimen can help.

If water quality is a problem, your turtle can infect skin, shells, and ears from dirty water. If excessive algae has accumulated on the shell or skin, use a soft toothbrush to help keep it clean. An ear infection is easily recognized as a large lump behind the turtle’s eye. They will need to be cleaned up by your veterinarian, and your turtle will most likely be given antibiotics.

Your turtle’s beak and nails should be maintained at the proper length and may need regular trimming if they are unable to grind them on their own in the environment. Sometimes there are underlying health problems that lead to excessive growth.

Without proper UVB lighting and the calcium in the turtle pills, map turtles are likely to develop metabolic bone disease and shell deformities. If you suspect that your turtle has a health problem, take it to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

Choose Your Mississippi Map Turtle

The Mississippi map turtle should show no signs of peeling or unusual bulges on the front and rear shells. Their eyes should be clear and their skin should show no signs of irritation or infection. Whenever possible, make arrangements to observe the animal eating to ensure it has a healthy appetite before keeping it as a pet.

Your best bet is to get your turtle from a reputable breeder rather than catching one in the wild and trying to bring it home. A breeder can tell you about the turtle’s history and health; however, with a wild turtle, it may be harboring some hitchhiking parasites.

If you’re interested in other small pet terrapins, check out:

Otherwise, check out other reptiles and amphibians that can be pets!