Pseudemys alabamensisAlabama Redbelly Turtle

Geographic Range

The range of Pseudemys alabamensis is limited to a total of four counties in coastal Alabama (Mobile & Baldwin) and Mississippi (Harrison and Jackson). It is associated with the Mobile-Tensaw delta in Alabama and in Mississippi, the lower Pascagoula and Biloxi river systems. (Ernst and Lovich, 2009; Leary, et al., 2008; Nelson, et al., 2009)


This is a freshwater turtle that prefers large areas of aquatic vegetation such as marshes. This species lives in shallower waters, typically a few meters deep. It can also be found in areas of marginally brackish water. (Ernst and Lovich, 2009; Nelson, et al., 2009)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • rivers and streams
  • coastal
  • Range elevation
    0 to 6.5 m
    0.00 to 21.33 ft
  • Range depth
    0 to 2 m
    0.00 to 6.56 ft

Physical Description

The Alabama red-bellied turtle has streaks on the head with many narrow yellow lines. One of these lines can be found between the eyes and ends near the nose. The carapace is ovaloid with brown coloration. The scutes have an orange coloration similar to that of a tangerine. The plastron has a red hue with darker intensity at the seams. The vertical markings on the carapace of both male and female turtles can vary in color. The marginal scutes on the young can range from yellow to orange-red. The carapace of the hatchlings are almost circular in shape, green in color, and have yellow markings. Hatchlings may have eyebars and maxillary cusps. The mass has not been reported for this species.

Males are usually smaller than females but have a longer tail. A typical male will have a average carapace length of 305 cm. The longest carapace length of a female is about 381 cm. This species has a notch in the upper jaw and cusps that are along the sides of each jaw. There is a terminal notch nearby the cusp that distinguishes this turtle from any other. (Buhlmann, et al., 2008; ; ; Buhlmann, et al., 2008; Buhlmann, et al., 2008)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range length
    295 to 386 mm
    11.61 to 15.20 in
  • Average length
    300 mm
    11.81 in


This animal is oviparous. Once the turtle hatches, there is not any parental care. The sex of the turtles is determined by the temperature of the eggs. (Buhlmann, et al., 2008; Buhlmann, et al., 2008; Buhlmann, et al., 2008; Buhlmann, et al., 2008; Ernst and Lovich, 2009)


There is very little known published information about the reproduction and mating of this animal. However, mating probably occurs between April and August. The earliest month known for this species is April while the latest month is August. The females will dig a nest to lay her eggs. The females lay more eggs in the later afternoon hours. Genetic analysis of eggs suggest that a clutch may have multiple paternity. (Buhlmann, et al., 2008; Buhlmann, et al., 2008; Buhlmann, et al., 2008; Hieb, et al., 2014)

There is little published information known for reproduction of this species including size or age of maturity for either sex. The majority of females will nest on sands. Females need to nest in open dry areas that are high enough that will not flood. These are areas like sandbars and levees. Winter most likely influences the length of the nesting season. The average incubation period is between 50-70 days. The nesting season can be early as April with the prime time ranging from May to August. Hatchlings that do not overwinter in the nest had a development period of 101 days. Those that overwinter emerged in March of the next year. (Buhlmann, et al., 2008; Nelson, et al., 2009)

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • oviparous
  • Breeding interval
    The females may, but not necessarily, nest twice a year. Females may lay multiple clutches in a single breeding season.
  • Breeding season
    The nesting months are between April and August.
  • Range number of offspring
    9 to 17
  • Range gestation period
    50 to 70 days
  • Average gestation period
    70 days
  • Range time to independence
    0 to 0 minutes
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    4 to 6 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    4 to 6 years

There is no parental care of the hatchlings in this species. (Buhlmann, et al., 2008; )

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement


There is nothing known about the lifespan of this species in the wild or in captivity. The lifespan of Pseudemys alabamensis is thought to be similar to a related species, the river cooter (Pseudemys concinna). The river cooter is thought to live greater than forty years. (Ernst and Lovich, 2009; Nelson, et al., 2009)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    40 plus (high) years


Pseudemys alabamensis may be active at any time during the year. Cold spells may be a factor in decreased activity for this turtle. During the period of cold weather this turtle may become sluggish and rest along bottoms of rivers. During the warmer periods of the year, this species may bask on logs and feed on aquatic vegetation. When the turtles are startled they will move away from anything that comes near. (Buhlmann, et al., 2008; Nelson, et al., 2009)

Home Range

Home range is unknown for this species. (Buhlmann, et al., 2008)

Communication and Perception

There is no known evidence of communication in this species. (Nelson, et al., 2009)

Food Habits

Most adults are herbivorous and feed on aquatic vegetation and algae. Some turtles may eat dead fish. (Buhlmann, et al., 2008; Nelson, et al., 2009; Turner Jr and Nelson, 2000)

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • Plant Foods
  • algae


The main threats to this turtle are from predation on eggs and hatchlings by humans, hogs, raccoons, crows, armadillos, and fire ants. Hatchlings may also be consumed by aquatic snakes and large wading birds such as herons. Alligators may prey upon adult turtles. Females and hatchlings are killed by automobiles while crossing roads. (Hieb, et al., 2011; Hieb, et al., 2014; Jackson, et al., 2012; Leary, et al., 2008; Nelson and Turner Jr, 2004)

Ecosystem Roles

There is little information known about the roles of this animal and its effects on the ecosystem. Eggs and hatchlings serve as food for some mammals, birds and snakes. (Jackson, et al., 2012; Jackson, et al., 2012; Leary, et al., 2008)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Leeches Placobdella sp.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Humans eat the eggs of this species. This species may also be collected for the herpetological trade. However, these activities have contributed to the decline of this species.

This species contributes to the rich biodiversity of the Gulf Coast of the United States and can be used as a teaching example for conservationists. (Buhlmann, et al., 2008; Jackson, et al., 2012; Leary, et al., 2008)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There is no documented negative economic importance of P. alabamensis. (Buhlmann, et al., 2008; Ernst and Lovich, 2009)

Conservation Status

The Alabama red bellied turtle was listed as endangered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in 1987 and by the IUCN Red list in 2010. Predation, habitat loss, and the high rate of road mortality are significant contributors to its decline.

In 2008, the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) erected fencing along portions of the Mobile Causeway (US 90/98) between Spanish Fort and Mobile, AL to reduce road mortality. (Hieb, et al., 2011; Hieb, et al., 2014; Leary, et al., 2008)

Other Comments

In 1990, this animal was listed as the Alabama's official State Reptile. It has two common names, the Alabama red-bellied turtle or the Alabama red-bellied cooter.

Pseudemys comes from the Greek "pseudes" which means false and "emys" which means turtle. Alabamensis refers to the area where this turtle is found. (Nelson and Turner Jr, 2004)


Delilah Spencer (author), Samford University, Kristin Bakkegard (editor), Samford University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



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

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.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.

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

humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


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


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


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


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

indeterminate growth

Animals with indeterminate growth continue to grow throughout their lives.


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

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


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


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

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


an animal that mainly eats fish


Referring to a mating system in which a female mates with several males during one breeding season (compare polygynous).


remains in the same area


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


lives alone


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


Buhlmann, K., T. Tuberville, W. Gibbons. 2008. Turtles of the Southeast. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Ernst, C., J. Lovich. 2009. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Hieb, E., T. Jackson, D. Nelson, A. Morris. 2011. Characterization of eight polymorphic microsatellite loci for the endangered Alabama red-bellied turtle (Pseudemys alabamensis; Emydidae). Conservation Genetics Resources, 3 (4): 781-783.

Hieb, E., D. Nelson, A. Morris. 2014. Genetic monitoring reveals loss of microsatellite diversity in a breeding population of the endangered Alabama red-bellied turtle. Endangered Species Research, 23: 253-261. Accessed March 31, 2015 at

Hieb, E., D. Nelson, A. Morris. 2014. Oviductal eggs from road-kill turtles provide a novel source of DNA for population studies of the Alabama red-bellied turtle. Conservation Genetics Resources, 6 (4): 837-839.

Jackson, T., D. Nelson, A. Morris. 2012. Phylogenetic relationships in the North American genus Pseudemys (Emydidae) inferred from two mitochondrial genes. Southeastern Naturalist, 11 (2): 297-310.

Leary, C., J. Dobie, T. Mann, P. Floyd, D. Nelson. 2008. Pseudemys alabamensis Baur 1893-Alabama red-bellied cooter, Alabama red-bellied turtle. Pp. 019.1-019.9 in A Rhodin, P Prichard, P van Dijk, R Saumure, K Buhlmann, J Iverson, R Mittermaier, eds. Conservation Biology of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises: A Compiliation Project of the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, Vol. Chelonian Research Monographs 5. Lunenburg: Chelonian Research Foundation. Accessed March 31, 2015 at http;//

Nelson, D., G. Langford, J. Borden, W. Turner. 2009. Reproductive and hatchling ecology of the Alabama Red-bellied Cooter (Pseudemys alabamensis): Implications for conservation and management. Chelonian Conservation and Biology, 8 (1): 66-73.

Nelson, D., W. Turner Jr. 2004. Alabama Red-bellied cooter. Pp. 54-55 in R Mirarchi, M Bailey, T Haggerty, T Best, eds. Alabama Wildlife, Volume 3: Imperiled Amphibians, Reptiles, Birds, and Mammals. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.

Turner Jr, W., D. Nelson. 2000. Composition of the diet of the Alabama Red-bellied turtle Pseudemys alabamensis. Journal of the Alabama Academy of Science, 18: 18.