Ouachita map turtles (Graptemys ouachitensis) are found in the Nearctic region and are native to the United States. They span as far north as northern Minnesota and western Wisconsin, as far west as Oklahoma, as far east as Ohio and Kentucky, and as far south as eastern Texas. They are abundant along the Mississippi River but are less common in eastern tributaries entering Tennessee and Louisiana. Populations are more sporadic in central Kentucky, eastern Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Ouachita map turtles have been documented once in northern West Virginia. (Vogt, 2018; Vogt and Seidel, 1995)
Ouachita map turtles primarily inhabit slow-moving freshwater rivers but can also be found in oxbow lakes, reservoirs, and sloughs. Map turtles are common in areas with an abundance of submerged vegetation. Populations of Ouachita map turtles can be found in stretches of unshaded areas of rivers with an abundance of floating debris (e.g., rocks, mud, deadwood) for basking. Ouachita map turtles create nests for eggs in natural sand or gravel bars that are formed by channel movement. Females typically occupy deeper, wider sections of rivers with a higher current due to their larger body size and superior swimming abilities. Exact comparative depth measurements have not yet been reported. (Lindeman, 1999a; Lindeman, 2013; Pearson, 2015; Riedle, et al., 2009; Vogt, 2018)
Ouachita map turtles vary in size based on sex. Females reach a carapace length of 120 to 260 mm, while males only reach carapace lengths of 90 to 178 mm. The plastron length of juveniles differs between sexes. Females reach plastron lengths of up to 60 mm by the age of two years, while males reach plastron lengths of 55 mm by the same age. Ouachita map turtles have carapaces that are olive-green in color with one to six black blotches along the posterior end of each scute. These blotches are encircled by yellow or orange rings, but the ring colors fade with age. Their plastrons are yellow or cream-colored with dark green swirls. In females, this swirling pattern becomes brown as they age. Carapace keels are prominent in juveniles and males, but are more blunted in females.
The heads of Ouachita map turtles are dark green with yellow markings. In Ouachita map turtles, a large blotch below each eye extends posteriorly to join two narrow lines. This pattern is broken near the eye and sometimes forms one to four wider yellow lines. These patterns are determined by temperature during incubation. The eyes of Ouachita map turtles have a white iris with yellow or black pupil. Juveniles have the same coloring and patterns as the adults, but with more vibrant colors. The mass of Ouachita map turtles is not commonly reported. (Lindeman, 1998; Lindeman, 2013; Tumlison and Surf, 2015; Vogt, 2018; Vogt and Seidel, 1995)
Ouachita map turtles hatch from eggs that are typically laid in sand. Incubation takes 60 to 82 days and hatchlings are 27 to 35mm in length. Males reach maturity at 2 to 3 years of age and females at 6 to 7 years old. Exact sizes for males and females at maturity are not reported. Ouachita map turtles exhibit indeterminate growth; females have been reported at a maximum carapace length of 260 mm and males a maximum carapace length of 178 mm. Growth rates are the same for the first three years between males and females. With the onset of sexual maturity, growth rates begin to decrease.
Incubation temperature determines the sex of hatchlings during the middle third of incubation. Males are produced in cooler nests and females in warmer nests. A study in 2018 found that, in a laboratory setting, incubated eggs around 28 °C produced all males and around 30 °C all females were produced. The threshold temperature was 29.3 °C. Incubation temperatures also affected the response time of turtles. Hatchlings at temperatures nearer 30 °C righted themselves faster than those around 25 °C. Emergence timing of hatchlings also varied with nest temperature. A study in 2020 found that the mean temperature for successful nests during the first emergence periods was 26 °C. The mean temperature for partially successful nests was 25.8 °C. (Geller, et al., 2020; Vogt, 2018; Vogt and Bull, 1984)
Ouachita map turtles select mates based on head markings and cloacal scents. When attempting to attract a mate, a male Ouachita map turtle will position itself nose-to-nose with a female. That male will then extend its claws and begin drumming the sides of the head of the the female 1 to 14 times. The male then lowers its body to bite the female on the neck. Ouachita map turtles are polygynandrous, meaning turtles of both sexes have multiple mates throughout their lives. Female Ouachita map turtles use sandbars, islands, and beaches within 100 m of water to build nests. The nests are 10 to 16 cm deep and are flash-shaped. Female turtles typically make nests shortly after dawn or dusk. (Jenkins, 1979; Vogt, 2018)
The level of testosterone in male Ouachita map turtles peaks in September and October. Mating likely occurs in October and November. A study in 2018 suggested that copulation happens during the fall and the spring, but it has not been directly observed in the field.
Female Ouachita map turtles are iteroparous and usually lay two to three clutches containing 6 to 16 eggs and an average of 21 to 48 eggs annually. Eggs range in mass from 8.1 to 13.5 g and egg size ranges from 34 to 38 mm in length and 22 to 26 mm in width. A 2018 study measured the mass of 61 hatchlings and reported an average mass of 9.85 g.
The gestation period of Ouachita map turtles is not yet reported. Males reach maturity at the age of 2 to 3 years and females reach maturity at the age of 6 to 7 years. Hatchlings are independent as soon as they hatch. (Vogt, 2018)
Ouachita map turtles do not exhibit any parental investment after eggs hatch. Females dig a nest to protect eggs and nest guarding does occur when nests are located in sandbars or beaches within 100 m of water. Males provide no parental investment beyond the act of mating. (Jenkins, 1979; Vogt, 2018)
There is little information on the lifespans of Ouachita map turtles, but others in the genus Graptemys are reported to live 14.5 to 35.4 years. False map turtles (Graptemys pseudogeographica) can live 35.4 years in captivity. Another closely related species, northern map turtles (Graptemys geographica) are reported to live 20 or more years in the wild and 18 years in captivity. Ouachita map turtles likely have similar lifespans in the wild. Ouachita map turtles can live 15 to 20 years in captivity.
Ouachita map turtles are greatly threatened by agricultural practices, fishermen nets, and water pollution. (Kate and Frank, 2018; Partners in Amphibian And Reptile Conservation, 2022; Vogt, 2018)
Ouachita map turtles are diurnal and often bask on logs or rocks in groups to detect predators. After basking, turtles begin feeding in midmorning and then alternate between feeding and basking. Feeding activity slows in mid-September, but basking continues throughout mid-October. Ouachita map turtles do not migrate. Instead, they travel to areas of moderate currents and find logs or rocks to brumate throughout colder months. Brumation lasts from late October or early November until mid-April.
Ouachita map turtles compete for basking space. To initiate competition, an individual casts a rapid bite towards another turtle. Individuals also climb onto the carapaces of other Ouachita map turtles. Another competitive behavior involves an individual extending its foreleg or hindleg with claws extended and quickly retracting the leg making contact with another turtle. Ouachita map turtles will jerk their heads downward towards turtles emerging from the water and will also push other turtles away using any section of their bodies.
Responses of Ouachita map turtles to these intraspecific competitive behaviors vary. Some individuals ignore the behavior, or show little response. In other cases, both the aggressor and receiver jump or fall into the water. When one turtle is on top of another turtle, the turtle on the bottom may move back and forth or take a sharp turn to knock off the top turtle. Ouachita map turtles may also simply move away from one another to avoid aggression. (Lindeman, 1999b; Vogt, 2018)
Ouachita map turtles are fairly sedentary. They use linear stretches of stream about 800 m in length. Ouachita map turtles do not actively defend a territory. (Pluto and Bellis, 1988; Temple-Miller, 2008)
Specific communication and perception strategies used by Ouachita map turtles are not well-studied, but other turtles in the genus Graptemys are. Typically, when the eggs are broken, map turtle hatchlings gravitate towards light reflecting off of water. This behavior is known as phototaxis. In contrast, Ouachita map turtle hatchlings disperse away from light and towards dark horizons, such as forests.
Map turtles use chemical cues and touch to communicate. The turtles use pheromones to determine the gender and reproductive status. In courtship attempts, male false map turtles (Graptemys pseudogeographica) swims quickly and faces females and begins bobbing their head up and down. The male turtles then extend their forelimbs and head bobs females on either side of the head using their claws. The turtles use these alternating touches to the snout to encourage mating. Biting is another form of encouragement for mating; males will lower their head and bite females on the neck. It is likely that Ouachita map turtles use these tactile and visual senses in a similar manner.
Map turtles utilize their vision and chemical communication to recognize approaching threats and escape danger. Surrounding turtles may follow these cues using vision and vibrations of water to distinguish warnings. Turtles also use pheromones to recognize individuals, select mates, and send alarms. (Anderson, 1958; Jenkins, 1979; Mason, 2010; Pappas and Congdon, 2017; Whitear, et al., 2016)
Ouachita map turtles primarily feed on vegetation and insects. A study in 2018 reported on stomach contents of Ouachita map turtles and found 32% of their diets contained vegetation including pondweed (genus Potamogeton), duckweed (family Lemnaceae), manna grass (genus Glyceria), and algae. Insect prey items included mayflies (order Ephemeroptera), caddisflies (order Trichoptera), beetles (order Coleoptera), and fly larvae (order Diptera). Less common parts of their diets included fish carrion (5.2%) and mollusks (2.5%). Males and juveniles consume relatively less vegetation than females. Turtles also feed on grasshoppers (suborder Caelifera). In a floodplain of the Illinois River, the diets of Ouachita map turtles consisted solely of bottom-dwelling midge larvae (family Chironomidae). (Lindeman, 2013; Moll, 1976; Vogt, 1981; Vogt, 2018)
Ouachita map turtle eggs are preyed on by red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), crows (genus Corvus), North American river otters (Lontra canadensis), and ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis). Raccoons (Procyon lotor) may predate up to 90% of local nests. Fly larvae (order Diptera) will eat their way into the eggs and eat hatchlings before they can hatch. Humans (Homo sapiens) also are responsible for the mortality of adult turtles. In the Mississippi River, commercial fishing nets catch and kill adult females. Ouachita map turtles are cryptic. The coloration and patterns on their carapaces and skin camouflage them from predators. (Geller, 2012; Vogt, 2018)
Ouachita map turtles are predators of mayflies (order Ephemeroptera), beetles (order Coleoptera), and mollusks (Phylum Mollusca). They serve as prey for red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), crows (genus Corvus), North American river otters (Lontra canadensis), ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis), and raccoons (Procyon lotor). (Freyre, 2009)
Parasites such as digeneans (Telorchis attenuata) infect Ouachita map turtles. Tapeworms (Spirorchis scripta) are found in the hearts, esophaguses, and connective tissues of Ouachita map turtles. (Lindeman, 2013; McAllister, et al., 2014; Moll, 1976; Vogt, 1981; Vogt, 2018)
Ouachita map turtles are commonly kept as pets. They adapt to captivity well, with their enclosure and diet being simple enough for owners to meet their nutritional needs. The cost of purchasing Ouachita map turtles as pets ranges from $40 to $100. (Yates, 2021)
Ouachita map turtles kept as pets can carry salmonella on their skin and shell, which can be transferred to humans. Salmonella can be transferred when owners place their fingers in their mouths after touching a turtle. Salmonella can also be transferred after cleaning enclosures in the same areas where food is prepared. (US Food and Drug Administration, 2021)
Ouachita map turtles are listed as a species of "Least Concern" on the IUCN Red List. They are listed in Appendix III of CITES. This means that the export of any specimen from any place requires an export permit. They have no special status on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Endangered Species list, or Michigan's Rare Animals.
Map turtle populations have been threatened by waterfront developments, nets of commercial fishermen, and pollution.
The largest habitat preserve for Ouachita map turtles is the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. It spans 420 km of the river in Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. A report from 2011 recommends more basic natural history research is needed for conservation of Ouachita map turtles. They suggested that emphasis should be placed on understanding the status of Graptemys ouachita sabinensis, a subspecies that inhibits the Sabine Neches, Calcasieu, and Mermentau river drainages in eastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana. They also suggested that fishing gear be deployed in a way that accidental catches of turtles are minimized. (Lindeman, 2013; van Dijk, 2011; Vogt, 2018)
Kaitlyn Edwards (author), Radford University, Sierra Felty (editor), Radford University, Bianca Plowman (editor), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, Victoria Raulerson (editor), Radford University, Christopher Wozniak (editor), Radford University, Galen Burrell (editor), Special Projects.
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.
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.
an animal that mainly eats meat
flesh of dead animals.
an animal which directly causes disease in humans. For example, diseases caused by infection of filarial nematodes (elephantiasis and river blindness).
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.
animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature
union of egg and spermatozoan
mainly lives in water that is not salty.
An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.
Animals with indeterminate growth continue to grow throughout their lives.
An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
specialized for swimming
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.
the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.
chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species
the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.
Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).
an animal that mainly eats dead animals
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
associates with others of its species; forms social groups.
uses touch to communicate
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).
Living on the ground.
movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others
uses sight to communicate
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