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Eastern river cooter

Fact File

Scientific Name: Pseudemys concinna concinna

Classification: Reptilia, Order Testudines, Family Emydidae

Size: up to 13 inches in length

Identifying Characteristics

This is a large riverine freshwater turtle reaching a maximum carapace length of 16.5 inches. Juveniles are highly variable and resemble adults in general pattern. The carapace is elongate and has wrinkles, with slight serration along the rear margin, in the adult. The carapace is brown or green-brown with yellow to cream markings. There is a yellowish c-shaped mark bordered with brown or black on the second pleural scute. There are two subspecies, the eastern river cooter, P. concinna concinna, and the hieroglyphic river cooter, P. concinna hieroglyphica. River cooters are most likely confused with the red-bellied turtle, Pseudemys rubriventris, which has a single, wide, vertical bar on each pleural scute and a pair of prominent cusps on the upper jaw.


Little is known about this turtle’s biology and behavior. They are active during the day, are sometimes seen basking, and they jump into the water immediately if disturbed. River cooters can breathe without breaking the surface of the water, which might explain why they aren’t often seen.


The river cooter occurs primarily in the Piedmont and Valley and Ridge physiographic regions via the James River drainage. There are confirmed records for this turtle in the New River at and below Radford. P. concinna hieroglyphica is known from only one juvenile specimen in the North Fork of the Holston River in Scott Co. The river cooter is aptly named because it occurs mostly in large rivers. However, the species also occurs in lakes and large ponds in the Piedmont. Preferred habitat appears to be characterized by basking sites (logs, rocks), abundant submerged aquatic vegetation, pools with slow water flow, and places for shelter and overwintering.

Did you know?

The word “cooter” is derived from “kuta”, which appears in a number of West African languages meaning turtle

Last updated: January 19, 2024

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