Pseudemys rubriventrisEastern Redbelly Turtle, Northern Red-bellied Turtle

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Geographic Range

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. ("Plymouth Rebelly Turtle Habitat Model", 2001)

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. ("Species Turtle, Red-bellied, Plymouth", 1996; "Plymouth Rebelly Turtle Habitat Model", 2001; Ernst, et al., 1994)

  • Range depth
    2 to 3.5 m
    6.56 to 11.48 ft

Physical Description

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. ("Species Turtle, Red-bellied, Plymouth", 1996; "Plymouth Rebelly Turtle Habitat Model", 2001; Ernst, et al., 1994)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • ornamentation
  • Range mass
    3900 (high) g
    137.44 (high) oz
  • Range length
    40 (high) cm
    15.75 (high) in

Development

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. ("Species Turtle, Red-bellied, Plymouth", 1996; "Plymouth Rebelly Turtle Habitat Model", 2001; Ernst, et al., 1994)

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. ("Pseudemys concinna", 1999; "Species Turtle, Red-bellied, Plymouth", 1996; Ernst and Barbour, 1989)

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. ("Pseudemys rubriventris Study", 2003; "Species Turtle, Red-bellied, Plymouth", 1996; "Plymouth Rebelly Turtle Habitat Model", 2001; Ernst and Barbour, 1989)

  • 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

Female P. rubriventris provide no parental care once they lay their eggs and cover the nest. ("Species Turtle, Red-bellied, Plymouth", 1996)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth

Lifespan/Longevity

The lifespan of P. rubriventris ranges from 40 to 55 years. ("Species Turtle, Red-bellied, Plymouth", 1996; "Plymouth Rebelly Turtle Habitat Model", 2001)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    40 to 55 years

Behavior

Red-bellied turtles are diurnal reptiles, spending most of their days basking on logs and swimming. They are most active from April to October. During winter, when water is covered with ice, Pseudemys rubriventris hibernate in the mud at the bottom of rivers. Red-bellied turtles are not territorial. They are shy and wary of humans and predators and swim rapidly and bury themselves in the mud when scared. Numerous individuals frequently inhabit the same rocks or logs while sunbathing. However, aggression over basking spots between P. rubriventris and Chrysemys picta has been observed. ("Species Turtle, Red-bellied, Plymouth", 1996; "Plymouth Rebelly Turtle Habitat Model", 2001; Ernst, et al., 1994)

Communication and Perception

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. ("Pseudemys concinna", 1999; "Species Turtle, Red-bellied, Plymouth", 1996)

Food Habits

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 ("Species Turtle, Red-bellied, Plymouth", 1996; "Plymouth Rebelly Turtle Habitat Model", 2001; Ernst and Barbour, 1989)

  • Animal Foods
  • amphibians
  • fish
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • aquatic crustaceans

Predation

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. ("Species Turtle, Red-bellied, Plymouth", 1996; "Plymouth Rebelly Turtle Habitat Model", 2001)

Ecosystem Roles

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. ("Species Turtle, Red-bellied, Plymouth", 1996; "Plymouth Rebelly Turtle Habitat Model", 2001; Ernst and Barbour, 1989)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

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. ("Species Turtle, Red-bellied, Plymouth", 1996; "Plymouth Rebelly Turtle Habitat Model", 2001)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material
  • research and education
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of P. rubriventris on humans. ("Species Turtle, Red-bellied, Plymouth", 1996)

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. ("Species Turtle, Red-bellied, Plymouth", 1996)

Other Comments

There is a dispute over the correct genus of the eastern redbelly turtle. Some choose to use Pseudemys while others use Chrysemys. Oftentimes, Chrysemys is used only for painted turtles.

Contributors

David Armitage (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Matthew Wund (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Kelly Clark (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

brackish water

areas with salty water, usually in coastal marshes and estuaries.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
ectothermic

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

estuarine

an area where a freshwater river meets the ocean and tidal influences result in fluctuations in salinity.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

freshwater

mainly lives in water that is not salty.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

heterothermic

having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

hibernation

the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.

macroalgae

seaweed. Algae that are large and photosynthetic.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

natatorial

specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

omnivore

an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pheromones

chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

polymorphic

"many forms." A species is polymorphic if its individuals can be divided into two or more easily recognized groups, based on structure, color, or other similar characteristics. The term only applies when the distinct groups can be found in the same area; graded or clinal variation throughout the range of a species (e.g. a north-to-south decrease in size) is not polymorphism. Polymorphic characteristics may be inherited because the differences have a genetic basis, or they may be the result of environmental influences. We do not consider sexual differences (i.e. sexual dimorphism), seasonal changes (e.g. change in fur color), or age-related changes to be polymorphic. Polymorphism in a local population can be an adaptation to prevent density-dependent predation, where predators preferentially prey on the most common morph.

riparian

Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.

solitary

lives alone

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

threatened

The term is used in the 1994 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals to refer collectively to species categorized as Endangered (E), Vulnerable (V), Rare (R), Indeterminate (I), or Insufficiently Known (K) and in the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals to refer collectively to species categorized as Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN), or Vulnerable (VU).

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

"Eastern Redbelly Turtle" (On-line ). eNature. Accessed 03/19/03 at http://www.enature.com.

2001. "Plymouth Rebelly Turtle Habitat Model" (On-line). USFWS Gulf of Maine Watershed Habitat Analysis. Accessed March 19, 2003 at http://r5gomp.fws.gov/gom/habitatstudy/metadata/GOM_GIS_Data_Table.htm.

2004. "Pseudemys Rubriventris" (On-line). NatureServe Explorer. Accessed March 19, 2003 at http://www.natureserve.org/explorer/.

1999. "Pseudemys concinna" (On-line image). Accessed April 06, 2003 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/index.html.

2003. "Pseudemys rubriventris Study" (On-line). Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary. Accessed March 19, 2003 at http://www.jugbay.org.

1996. "Species Turtle, Red-bellied, Plymouth" (On-line). Accessed March 19, 2003 at http://fwie.fw.vt.edu/WWW/esis/lists/e155001.htm.

Browne, R., A. Haskell, C. Griffin, J. Ridgeway. 1996. Genetic variations among populations of the redbelly turtle (Pseudemys rubriventris). Copeia, 1: 192-195.

Ernst, C., R. Barbour. 1989. Turtles of the World. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Ernst, C., J. Lovich, R. Barbour. 1994. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press.