Overview

Distribution

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 )

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endemic to a single nation

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National Distribution

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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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.

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Continent: North-America
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.
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Physical Description

Morphology

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

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Size

Length: 40 cm

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Ecology

Habitat

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

  • Ernst, C., J. Lovich, R. Barbour. 1994. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • 1996. "Species Turtle, Red-bellied, Plymouth" (On-line). Accessed March 19, 2003 at http://fwie.fw.vt.edu/WWW/esis/lists/e155001.htm.
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Habitat and Ecology

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.


Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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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).

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Migration

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.

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Trophic Strategy

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

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Comments: Adults and large subadults in Massachusetts apparently herbivorous (USFWS 1981). May be omnivorous elsewhere (Ernst and Barbour 1972).

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Associations

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.

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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.

Known Predators:

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Population Biology

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.

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Global Abundance

10,000 - 1,000,000 individuals

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Life History and Behavior

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

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Cyclicity

Comments: Active from late March to October in Massachusetts (USFWS 1981). Spends much of day basking.

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Life Cycle

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.

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Life Expectancy

The lifespan of P. rubriventris ranges from 40 to 55 years.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
40 to 55 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Observations: One animal lived 11.2 years in captivity (http://www.pondturtle.com/). Their maximum lifespan is unknown.
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Reproduction

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

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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).

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Pseudemys rubriventris

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

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

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
NT
Near Threatened

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2013

Assessor/s
van Dijk, P.P.

Reviewer/s
Horne, B.D., Mittermeier, R.A., Philippen, H.-D., Quinn, H.R., Rhodin, A.G.J., Shaffer, H.B. & Vogt, R.C

Contributor/s

Justification
Pseudemys rubriventris has a moderate-sized range in a region with generally intensive industrial and residential development, with significant pressures on the integrity of its riverine and wetland habitats. The species is not abundant but appears stable at key populations; however, this species may disappear from numerous localities without the disappearance being noticed, and monitoring is important. It does not appear to meet the criteria for Vulnerable, but enough actual and potential impacts have and will influence its occurrence that the species warrants rating as Near Threatened.

History
  • 1986
    Rare
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
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National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Highly to moderately vulnerable.

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Population

Population

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).


Population Trend
Unknown
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Global Short Term Trend: Relatively stable to decline of 30%

Global Long Term Trend: Relatively stable to decline of 50%

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Threats

Major Threats

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).

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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).

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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions

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.

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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.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

There are no known adverse effects of P. rubriventris on humans.

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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

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Wikipedia

Northern red-bellied cooter

The northern red-bellied turtle (Pseudemys rubriventris)[1] or American red-bellied turtle is a species of turtle in the Pseudemys(cooter) genus of the Emydidae family.

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.[2] 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.

Eastern painted turtle in Andover, Massachusetts, less than half the size at maturity as the red-bellied cooter.

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[3] 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.[4]

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.

References[edit]

Bibliography
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Names and Taxonomy

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.

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