A medium-sized species with a prominent keel along the center of the upper shell. The hind edge of the upper shell is strongly serrated. The upper shell is brown or olive with narrow, yellow, connected circles or lines. The lower shell is greenish yellow with several light brown lines following the scute seams. The head and neck are brown or greenish gray with numerous yellow lines bordered by dark brown or black. The thick yellow line behind each eye forms a backward L shape. A wide-eyed appearance is caused by the bright yellow eye with a round, black pupil.
Similar species: The Mississippi map turtle subspecies (G. p. kohnii) has a slightly different shape for the yellow mark behind each eye. Instead of having the L mark and narrow yellow lines touching the back of each eye, the Mississippi subspecies has a crescent behind each eye, and the yellow lines don’t touch the eye. In eastern Missouri, especially along the Mississippi, it can be difficult to tell the subspecies apart.
Upper shell length: 3 to 10 inches.
Occurs in central, northeastern, northwestern, and southeastern Missouri. The Mississippi map turtle subspecies also occurs in Missouri. The ranges overlap in southeastern, eastern, and northeastern Missouri, and some turtles have characteristics of both.
Habitat and Conservation
This semiaquatic species lives primarily in large rivers such as the Missouri and Mississippi, river sloughs, and oxbow lakes or constructed reservoirs. It will often bask on logs or rocks but is shy and will quickly drop into the water at the slightest sign of danger.
This species eats both aquatic plants and animals, including snails, insects, crayfish, and dead fish.
The false map turtle may be active from late March to early October. To overwinter, it takes shelter in mud at the bottom of sloughs or lakes, though it sometimes remains semi-active during mild winters in the southern third of the state. Courtship and breeding occur in the water, usually in the spring. Egg-laying begins in June and lasts through July, with 6–13 eggs per female. Hatching takes place in late summer or early autumn. The shells of the young are about 1¼ inches long.
Map turtles, when young, are sometimes kept as pets. Conservationists in Europe are concerned that US-exported aquatic turtles, if released into the wild, become invasive in their waters.
As predators, map turtles help control the populations of the animals they consume. Map turtles are also a prey species, despite their shells. Eggs and hatchlings can become easy prey for a raccoon, snake, heron, or other predatory animal large enough to swallow them.