Mississippi Map Turtle Care

Interested in learning more about Mississippi map turtles? 

Thinking about adopting one as a pet?

There’s a lot you may want to learn first, like what exactly goes into Mississippi map turtle care. 

Maybe you want to know what they eat, how they live, and other interesting facts about these turtles.

It’s essential to be informed if you’re considering taking a new pet into your home—both for your sake and theirs. 

We’re here to help!

Read on for more information about these creatures.

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Mississippi Map Turtle Care

While these reptiles are beautiful and intriguing, they need a large, clean space to thrive and tend to have a nervous temperament, so be cautious in adopting one if you are not an experienced turtle keeper. 

The Mississippi map turtle is one of thirteen map turtle species and is a subspecies of the false map turtle species. 

While they are not native only to Mississippi, they originate from the Mississippi River, which cuts through ten states, from Minnesota to Louisiana. 

In the wild, these turtles live in the Mississippi Valley, which stretches from Nebraska to Illinois and down into Texas and Mississippi. 

Wild map turtles are found in the region’s lakes, large streams, and rivers. 

The lines on their back are reminiscent of a map, hence their traditional name. 

They are also nicknamed sawbacks due to their unique body shape, featuring a serrated carapace (their hard upper shell). 

Also, these creatures have broad forelimbs and paddle-like back feet. 

The Mississippi map is among the aquatic turtles of the world, spending much of their time swimming. 

They stay close to bodies of water and, if not directly in them, prefer to bask in nearby light sources. 

While they are one of the smaller aquatic turtle species globally, they still need plenty of space to do well in captivity. 

In terms of map turtle size, adult females range from 6 to 10″ inches (25 cm) in length, while their smaller male counterparts measure anywhere from 3 to 5″ inches (12 cm). 

Keep in mind, too, the average lifespan of a Mississippi map turtle is somewhere between 15 to 25 years, sometimes even longer. 

Think carefully about this long lifespan before making plans to welcome this reptile into your home.  

Behavior And Requirements 

As mentioned earlier, these sawbacks have a particular disposition, and it’s not always friendly. 

They are nervous creatures, quite skittish, and should not be handled often. 

They retreat to the water as their safe place. 

Used to munching on river snails and shelled crustaceans in the wild, pet map turtles also bring a strong bite, so be careful to avoid their heads whenever you do handle them.

If you’re looking for interactive and easy to pick up pet turtles, these shy turtles are not going to be your best choice. 

The Mississippi map does do well in a community of turtles if you are looking to acquire multiple. 

However, the more dominant female turtles should be limited in number if sharing an environment.

Be sure to provide both water and dry land options in their tank to keep them happy and healthy. 

And speaking of healthy, you’ll need to be sure to maintain the correct diet for your pet turtles, which we’ll go over next.

Mississippi Map Turtle Diet

What kind of food does this reptile need? 

The Mississippi map turtle is an omnivore, meaning they will eat a range of foods, including protein food items and plants. 

Truly emblematic of the aquatic turtle species, the Mississippi map will feed in the water while swimming. 

The staple diet for these pets should feature aquatic turtle pellets. 

Such high-quality commercial turtle pellets are found at pet stores and offer a good balance of nutrients. 

Store-bought foods like these pellets aren’t the whole story, though. 

You should also supplement with fresh greens and items to satisfy the meat portion of their diet.

Keep in mind not to feed your pet turtles too much protein, though, as it can cause an unhealthy growth rate and pyramiding of their shell.

Foods To Serve your Mississippi Map Turtle

  • Dandelion greens
  • Romaine lettuce 
  • Fresh parsley
  • Spinach
  • Fish
  • Crickets
  • Mealworms
  • Chopped apples
  • Shrimp

In terms of vegetables, dark green leafy greens are your best bet. 

They should be placed in the water regularly.

When it comes to protein items, gender is a factor here. 

Female map turtles grow larger than males, and they have larger jaws capable of consuming more difficult foods like snails and clams. 

On the other hand, the male is going to be limited to smaller options like aquatic insects, mealworms, and fish. 

Chopped apples and freeze-dried shrimp should only be fed to your pet turtle as a treat and should not make up a large part of their diet.

What To Avoid In Food & Diet

On the fish front, avoid fatty fish like goldfish and opt for higher-protein choices instead. 

Also, your sawbacks may have a hard time catching live fish, so consider feeding them dead fish instead.

Again, the majority of their diet should be pellets from a commercial turtle diet, as well as leafy greens. 

Don’t overdo it on the protein front.

And don’t overdo it in general—watch out for overfeeding your pet, as extra food left in the turtle tank can break down quickly and harm the water quality as a result.

On the topic of amounts, you don’t want your captive, non-foraging Mississippi map to get obese either. 

Babies require daily feedings, but once your turtle ages to about six months, take the frequency down to every other day and add more vegetation into the routine. 

Feed your pet turtles enough they don’t go hungry, but not so much they gorge themselves. 

If you’re feeding them every other day, focus on how much they can eat in about five to six minutes, and don’t let them go beyond this.

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Mississippi Map Turtle Habitat

This aquatic turtle species requires a large enclosure with—you guessed it—plenty of water to swim in. 

A land portion is also recommended, though the land part doesn’t need to be as big as the body of water you provide.

Next to their swimming space, piled-up gravel and larger rocks make for a nice beach upon which your turtle can bask and take a break from the water. 

Check there will be enough space for them to safely dock and turn around comfortably.

In the water portion, supply your pet with places to hide by decorating with lush vegetation. 

Either live or fake aquatic plants will do.

Water quality is vital for these skittish turtles who enjoy being submerged, so a quality water filter is a must. 

Without proper filtration, waste and algae will build up in the tank, causing ammonia and nitrate levels to spike.

Always be sure to uphold pristine water conditions for these creatures, keeping in mind dirty water causes unwanted health issues like infections.

Mississippi maps like deep water with a current, as wild map turtles are used to living in deep, free-flowing rivers in their native habitat. 

As a result, they will enjoy a somewhat turbulent water flow.

Temperature and Lighting

Temperature is vital for reptiles like these since turtles self-regulate their body temperature as they swim and bask.

The temperature at which you keep the turtle tank water for your map turtle should be 75° degrees Fahrenheit (24° C) and needs to be maintained with a high-quality water heater.

The ambient atmosphere, on the other hand, should be 80-85° degrees Fahrenheit (29° C) to 90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C) over the basking spot.

The correct temperature will ensure your Mississippi map does not become lethargic and keeps up the appropriate appetite. 

If the temperature drops as low as 60° degrees Fahrenheit (15° C), they may go into hibernation.

Indoor turtle enclosures require a UVB light on for twelve hours a day. 

The light in the turtle tank should mimic the light of night and day in its phases. 

Be sure to point the light source at the basking area, in particular, allowing your pet to soak up the rays properly.

If you keep your turtle outdoors, they will not need said light, since they will be receiving their needed UV rays from the sun, but be sure to bring them inside during colder months.

Turtles use UVB rays to synthesize Vitamin D, which in turn allows them to process calcium. 

Without enough calcium, they are at risk of bone and shell issues. 

So be sure to keep the UVB bulb on for twelve hours every day, all year round. 

You’ll also need to replace the light every six months or so; UVB rays are not visible to the naked eye and may lose efficacy even before noticing the light source itself weakening.


The size of Mississippi map turtle enclosures depends on gender. 

You should provide at least a 75-gallon fish tank for your full-grown pet turtle, though adult females will need 125 gallons to live comfortably.

Remember: the water for your Mississippi map needs to be deep—deep enough they can swim both horizontally and vertically.

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Mississippi Map Turtle Common Illnesses

While this species is relatively easy to care for once you have the optimal habitat and diet set up for them, there are some risks to keep in mind.

Read on for a list of common health issues for Mississippi map turtles, though please consult with a veterinarian for a more exhaustive list or if you notice anything wrong with your pet.

Intestinal Parasites

Intestinal parasites are relatively typical for reptiles. 

While they’re not entirely harmful in most cases, more extreme cases of intestinal parasites taking over the intestinal tract can prove dangerous.

Keep a handle on this potential problem by scheduling regular fecal parasite checks at your vet.


As we touched on in the habitat section earlier, water quality is a top priority when it comes to Mississippi map turtle care. 

If the proper filtration does not occur, your pet becomes susceptible to ear, shell, and skin infections.

If your turtle develops bumps just behind its eyes, this is a sign of an ear infection, and it will need to be addressed by your reptile care vet. 

Other signs of infection could be built-up algae on the turtle’s shell or skin. 

Use a toothbrush or other gentle, small instrument to remove the gunk.

Often, the solution will need to be antibiotics, so a visit to the vet will likely be involved.

Metabolic Bone Disease And Deformities

If your Mississippi map turtle is not getting the proper UVB lighting they need or not ingesting enough calcium through their diet, they will have a greater chance of developing a common reptile disease called metabolic bone disease. 

This problem of calcium metabolism disruption can cause multiple other health issues. 

Shell deformities are also a sign something is going wrong in this department.

Be sure to keep your UVB lamp in good condition and feed your pet enough calcium—whether through pellets, powder, natural sources, or (most likely) some combination.

Ultimately, please visit your vet if you suspect something is amiss since metabolic bone disease can pose a severe health threat.

Final Thoughts

Mississippi map turtles are an entertaining aquatic species of reptile and often make for a wonderful pet. 

They’re also smaller than many other turtle species you might be considering.

But between their decently long lifespan, very particular temperament, and specific food and habitat requirements, we wouldn’t put them at the top of the list for beginner turtle owners.

If you’re going to invest in one of these striking creatures, you’ll need to do your research first and be prepared to provide them with everything they need to do well in your care. 

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