The range of Pseudemys rubriventris spans the Mid-Atlantic coastal waters of the USA from New Jersey to North Carolina. This includes areas east to the Potomac River and west to W. Virginia. There is a disjunctive population of eastern red-bellied turtles in Massachusetts, as well as a small, introduced population in Long Island, New York.
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )
endemic to a single nation
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: (20,000-200,000 square km (about 8000-80,000 square miles)) Mid-Atlantic Coastal Plain from central New Jersey to North Carolina; westward in Potomac River to eastern West Virginia. Disjunct population in Plymouth County, southeastern Massachusetts. Questionable record from Naushon Island, Massachusetts (Graham 1991). Introduced and possibly established in New York.
Distribution: USA (along the Atlantic Coastal Plain in New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, NE North Carolina, and west up the Potomac River to E West Virginia, relict populations in Plymouth county and possibly Essex county, Massachusetts) bangsi:
Type locality: Boot Pond, Plymouth, Massachusetts. Holotype: MCZ 16778, adult, collected by H.J. Thayer, 1912.
The carapaces of adult red-bellied turtles are on average 26 to 32 cm in length. The carapace is a mahogany black color with red lines running dorso-ventrally. They have a serrated front upper-jaw. The head is brown and arrow-shaped with a yellow line that extends between the eyes and snout. A series of consecutive thick and thin yellow bands come off the anterior of the eye and travel laterally down the neck. This species exhibits sexual dimorphism. The plastrons of male red-bellied turtles are light pink. They have long, straight claws on their feet and an anal opening that extends beyond the shell. The females are larger than the males with brighter red plastrons containing gray borders. The hatchlings of P. rubriventris have an orange plastron and a green carapace covered with light green markings. The skin is light green as well. A possible subspecies, P. rubriventris bangsi of Massachusetts, has a greater height (by 2.4 times) due to a more domed carapace.
Range mass: 3900 (high) g.
Range length: 40 (high) cm.
Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; heterothermic ; bilateral symmetry ; polymorphic
Sexual Dimorphism: female larger; sexes colored or patterned differently; ornamentation
Length: 40 cm
Eastern red-bellied turtles inhabit large freshwater lakes, rivers, ponds, and creeks. Most of these waters are fast moving, deep-bodied, and contain a muddy bottom where the water depth ranges from 2-3.5 m. Occasionally, P. rubriventris are found in brackish water at the mouths of rivers. They surround themselves with aquatic vegetation, rocks, and logs for basking in the sun. Eastern red-bellied turtles become terrestrial for short periods of time while laying eggs in June or July. They show little evidence of migration and often occupy the same habitat year-round.
Range depth: 2 to 3.5 m.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial ; freshwater
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland
Aquatic Biomes: lakes and ponds; rivers and streams; brackish water
Other Habitat Features: suburban ; riparian ; estuarine
Habitat and Ecology
Pseudemys rubriventris inhabits large deep waterbodies, such as rivers, lakes, impoundments,canals, tidally-influenced lower river areas and large wetlands as adults, while juveniles tend to occur in more sheltered, standing waters such as ponds, marshes, creeks and swamps. The presence of basking sites and extensive aquatic vegetation beds is required. (Swarth 2003).
Red-bellied turtles are nearly exclusively herbivorous, feeding on a variety of aquatic plants; juveniles take some small animal prey as well.
Females may reach up to 40 cm, but average about 30 cm and 3 kg mass; male maximum size has been reported as 29.5 cm. Age at maturity may be reached at nine years in males (Graham 1971) and 29 cm carapace length (CL), 11 years in females (Swarth 2003). Females may produce two clutches of on average 12 eggs (range 4-22) annually. Hatchlings average 32 mm CL (range 25-36) and 7.8 (4.8-11) grams. Longevity and generation time have not been estimated.
Comments: Relatively large deep bodies of water: creeks, rivers, marshes, ponds, lakes. Sometimes in brackish water. Massachusetts population in ponds only. Soft bottom and abundant aquatic vegetation preferred. Wanders on land, fall and spring. Eggs are laid in nests dug in soft soil in open areas usually within 100 yards of water (USFWS 1981). Often nests in tilled or disturbed soil (DeGraaf and Rudis 1983, Ernst and Barbour 1972).
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Red-bellied turtles primarily eat aquatic vegetation and algae such as Myriophyllum, Utricularia, and Sagittaria. Secondary food sources include crayfish, snails, fish, and tadpoles. Juveniles are herbivorous and adults are omnivorous. Laboratory hatchlings can be fed brine shrimp
Animal Foods: amphibians; fish; insects; mollusks; aquatic crustaceans
Plant Foods: leaves; algae; macroalgae
Primary Diet: herbivore (Algivore); omnivore
Comments: Adults and large subadults in Massachusetts apparently herbivorous (USFWS 1981). May be omnivorous elsewhere (Ernst and Barbour 1972).
Eastern red-bellied turtles act as both predator and prey. Their prey include crayfish, snails, fish, and tadpoles. Predators of P. rubriventris include bullfrogs, skunks, raccoons, wading birds, crows, and mice. Eastern redbelly turtles play an important role in the middle of the food chain. They also are responsible for controlling the population of hyacinth, an invasive plant.
Common predators of P. rubriventris include raccoons, skunks, crows, herons, and bullfrogs. Lawn mowers frequently kill turtles resting in grass. Housing developments around rivers and ponds result in loss of nesting sights. Crows, rats, and mice eat the hatchlings and eggs. Red-bellied turtles escape predators by burying themselves in the mud, swimming aggressively, or by withdrawing into their shells.
- raccoons (Procyon lotor)
- skunks (Mephitinae)
- crows (Corvus)
- herons (Ardeidae)
- bullfrogs (Lithobates catesbeianus)
- rats (Rattus)
- deer mice and white-footed mice (Peromyscus)
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 - 300
Comments: Occurrences have not been delineated using consistent criteria, so the number of occurrences is unknown. However, there are many occurrences of this turtle in the primary part of its range in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, and New Jersey.
10,000 - 1,000,000 individuals
Life History and Behavior
There is little known communication among P. rubriventris. They frequent the same rocks and logs while sunbathing and often sit on top of each other. Regarding Pseudemys concinna, a closely related species, females communicate by the emission of pheromones and males by tactile contact and a mating dance.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: pheromones
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Comments: Active from late March to October in Massachusetts (USFWS 1981). Spends much of day basking.
Psuedemys rubriventris lay eggs under 10 cm of sand. The young emerge as hatchlings after 73 to 80 days and quickly make their way to the nearest water source, where they will develop into adults. Hatchlings are typically between 29 and 36 mm in plastron length. Eastern red-bellied turtles reach sexual maturity after 5 to 9 years.
The lifespan of P. rubriventris ranges from 40 to 55 years.
Status: wild: 40 to 55 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
The mating of P. rubriventris has never been observed. Scientists know mating does occur in shallow water in the fall or spring. With regards to a closely related species, Pseudemys concinna, the male pursues the female and sniffs her tail after the female releases a pheromone. In the following mating ritual, he then swims above and in front of her in the water and rapidly strokes her face with his claws. If a female P. concinna accepts his advances, the male then swims behind the female, mounting her for copulation.
Mating System: polygynous
Female eastern red-bellied turtles dig a nest cavity 10 cm wide by 10 cm deep in the sand in early June or July. This nest cavity is found in a well-insulated area 90 m from the water, and 1 m above pond level. Pseudemys rubriventris produce one clutch of eggs yearly containing 8 to 22 eggs. Hatching occurs in 73 to 80 days. The hatchlings emerge from August to October. If late nesting occurs, hatchlings do not emerge before the winter. Eggs incubated on natural sand are larger and have a better chance of survival than eggs incubated in artificial settings. Due to the loss of natural habitats, female red-bellied turtles sometimes lay eggs in homeowner's yards. Females try to return to the same nesting sights every year.
Breeding interval: Once yearly
Breeding season: Egg laying occurs in June-July
Range number of offspring: 8 to 22 .
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 5 to 7 years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 9 years.
Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; oviparous
Female P. rubriventris provide no parental care once they lay their eggs and cover the nest.
Parental Investment: pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth
Lays clutch(es) of about 8-20 eggs in June-July. Eggs hatch in 10-15 weeks; hatchlings may overwinter in nest and emerge in spring. Sexually mature in 5-6 years (USFWS 1981), or not until after 9 years (see DeGraaf and Rudis 1983).
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Pseudemys rubriventris
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
Red-bellied turtles are considered endangered according to the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The subspecies P. rubriventris bangsi is considered threatened by the Lacey Act. This makes it illegal to import, export, transport, sell, or buy any part of the animal, dead or alive. The Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for maintaining water treatment plants that do not harm the turtles. Main causes of endangerment include expanding housing developments and a loss of nesting sights, pollutants, pesticides, and predation on eggs and hatchlings. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enacted a plan in 1985 to protect existing populations, to prevent hunting of the turtles, to collect eggs to hatch in captivity, and to educate the local public on the turtles.
US Federal List: threatened
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: lower risk - near threatened
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 1986Rare(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Intrinsic Vulnerability: Highly to moderately vulnerable.
In the mid-Atlantic region the Redbellied Turtle is usually seen in modest numbers; a basking aggregation of 47 individuals at the optimal habitat of the Jug Bay protected area in Maryland is the largest number recorded, and the total Jug Bay area population was estimated as at least 100 individuals, and potentially several times this, though how this population spreads and exchanges across the lower Patuxent River system remains unknown. Pseudemys rubriventris was considered locally common but much less abundant than other turtles (Chrysemys picta, Kinosternon subrubrum and Sternotherus odoratus) at Jug Bay (Swarth 2003).
The population in Pennsylvania was considered endangered due to industrial expansion, pollution, and residential development of riverside property (Ernst 1985, Saba and Spotila 2003).
The total population in Massachusetts was estimated at between 200 and 300 individuals, including juveniles indicating successful recruitment (Graham 1969, Ernst and Lovich 2009).
Global Short Term Trend: Relatively stable to decline of 30%
Global Long Term Trend: Relatively stable to decline of 50%
Habitat loss and direct human-related mortality have been noted to impact the Red-bellied Turtle.
In the expansive Chesapeake Bay system, where extensive protected areas harbour this species, habitat degradation and loss factors include shore armoring at residential waterfront property, spread of Phragmites common reed and concurrent decline of Zizania wild rice, and river-borne sediment deposition and pollution (Swarth 2003). Chemical pollution and spills and habitat loss have impacted the Pennsylvania population rather severely.
Extensive incidence of shell rot disease was reported from the Rappahannock River, VA (Ernst et al. 1999). A substantial incidence (11 of 78 animals) of adult animals bearing extensive propeller scars have been reported; no information is available on the number or rate of fatal propeller injuries (Swarth 2003).
Degree of Threat: Medium
Comments: Populations along the Delaware River in Pennsylvania have declined as a result of the effects of industrial expansion, drainage of wetlands, water pollution, and application of pesticides to control mosquitos (Ernst et al. 1994).
Pseudemys rubriventris in Massachusetts (as subspecies P. r. bangsi) is federally protected under the ESA as "Endangered", the species is protected from commercial take in Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina and Pennsylvania under State regulations, take is regulated (season closure and/or daily possession limits) in Virginia and West Virginia, and apparently take is open and not regulated in Delaware.
The species inhabits many of the protected areas (federal, state and county) in the mid-Atlantic lowlands including the Chesapeake Bay region.
The Massachusetts population(s) have been subject to determined conservation efforts, including headstarting, and Haskell et al. (1996) found that juveniles headstarted past 65 mm CL had a significantly greater survival rate than hatchlings.
Alongside general measures to safeguard and where necessary rehabilitate the riverine and wetland habitat upon which the species depends, specific conservation measures should include protection from commercial exploitation throughout the species’ range, further research on conservation biology and population dynamics, and long-term monitoring of key populations.
Global Protection: Several to very many (4 to >40) occurrences appropriately protected and managed
Comments: Protected areas in Massachusetts include the Massasoit National Wildlife Refuge.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
There are no known adverse effects of P. rubriventris on humans.
Red-bellied turtles were economically important to humans in the colonial times as a source of food and trade. Today, their shells make decorative art. Doctors have an interest in the workings of the turtles' hearts and have performed operations recorded in scientific journals. Red-bellied turtles also help control the population of hyacinth, an invasive aquatic plant.
Positive Impacts: food ; body parts are source of valuable material; research and education; controls pest population
Northern red-bellied cooter
A fairly large river turtle, it averages about 29 to 30 cm (11 to 12 in) in length and weighs on average around 3 kg (6.6 lb), although large females can measure up to 40 cm (16 in) in length. It is endemic to the United States. The current range of the red-bellied turtle includes a colony in Massachusetts which was previously a separate species (Pseudemys rubriventris bangsii) as well as the coastal areas of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.
The red-bellied turtle has appeared on Pennsylvania Fish Commission lists of endangered amphibians and reptiles since 1978 (McCoy 1985). By 1985 the red-bellied turtle was known to exist in Pennsylvania only in isolated colonies in a few counties (McCoy 1985). Small (less than thirty individuals) colonies were known in Manor and Silver lakes in Bucks county, the Tinicum wetlands in Philadelphia and Delaware counties, the West Branch of Conococheague Creek in Franklin County and possibly Springton Reservoir in Delaware county (McCoy 1985). The red-bellied turtle is a threatened species within Pennsylvania. However, it is listed as "Endangered" by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as well as the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
The potential threats to red-bellied turtle populations are numerous. For example: wetland loss, habitat fragmentation, pollution, collecting of turtles for pets, food or other trophies, competition with the invasive red-eared slider turtle for food, habitat, basking sites or nesting sites, and the potential for hybridization with red-eared slider turtles.
The Massachusetts wildlife preserve foundation has started to repopulate the turtles by placing them in many south-eastern Massachusetts ponds. One example is at Long and Little Long Pond in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where the population is starting to regrow.
- Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group 1996. Pseudemys rubriventris. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 29 July 2007.
- McCoy, C. J. 1985. Species of Special Concern in Pennsylvania, in H. H. Genoways and F. J. Brenner, editors. Special Publication of Carnegie Museum of Natural Pennsylvania. Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, PA.
- Rhodin, Anders G.J.; Paul van Dijk, Peter; Inverson, John B.; Shaffer, H. Bradley (2010-12-14). "Turtles of the World 2010 Update: Annotated Checklist of Taxonomy, Synonymy, Distribution and Conservation Status". Archived from the original on 2010-12-15.
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Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Sometimes has been placed in the genus CHRYSEMYS. A study of morphological variation throughout the range concluded that the recognition of subspecies is not warranted (Iverson and Graham 1990). In the Atlantic drainages of the east-central U.S., P. RUBRIVENTRIS is morphologically distinct from P. FLORIDANA and P. CONCINNA, though in the southern part of its range RUBRIVENTRIS is somewhat morphologically convergent with FLORIDANA; this may reflect hybridization or convergent evolution (Seidel and Palmer 1991). See Seidel (1994) for a morphometric analysis and taxonomic treatment of the genus PSEUDEMYS.