Discover Maryland's Herps

Field Guide to Maryland's Turtles (Order Testudines)

Family Emydidae

Northern Red-bellied Cooter
Pseudemys rubriventris

Photo of Northern Red-bellied Cooter courtesy of John White.
Photo of Northern Red-bellied Cooter courtesy of John White.


10 - 12 inches. Record - 15 inches.


  • A large basking turtle, easily identified due to its size.

  • Reddish plastron (bottom shell).

  • Domed carapace (top shell) with vertical reddish line on the three front-most costal scutes (these are on either side of the centerline or “vertebral” scutes). The latter may be faded to reddish-brown in older individuals.

  • Coloration and pattern of the carapace is variable.

  • The upper jaw has a central notch bordered by two tooth-like cusps.

  • Photo of Habitat for Northern Red-bellied Cooter courtesy of  Rebecca Chalmers.
    Photo of Habitat for Northern Red-bellied Cooter
    courtesy of  Rebecca Chalmers.


    Usually associated with deep-water areas of coastal plain rivers and associated floodplain marshes, and ponds. Typically found in areas with a soft silt bottom, lots of aquatic vegetation and numerous basking sites, such as logs and debris. Can also be found in brackish water, near river mouths.

    How to Find

    Look for basking turtles from March to November along the shorelines of large Eastern Shore rivers. This species is shy and difficult to approach, so it is best to view from afar with binoculars.

    Canoe or kayak in quietly for a close-up view.

    Distribution in Maryland

    Primarily a Coastal Plain species but can be found as far west as Allegany County.

    Maryland Distribution Map for Northern Red-bellied Cooter

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    Maryland Amphibian
    and Reptile Atlas Project

    "A Joint Project of the Natural History Society of Maryland, Inc. and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources"

    For monthly newsletters of the Maryland Amphibian & Reptile Atlas Project click on Recent Newsletters and scroll down to the MARA Newsletters.

    The Maryland Herpetology Field Guide is a cooperative effort of the MD Natural Heritage Program and the MD Biological Stream Survey within the Department of Natural Resources and their partners. We wish to thank all who contributed field records, text, and photographs, as well as support throughout its development.