River Cooter: a Complete Care Guide

Cooter Turtle

The “river cooter” or the “eastern river cooter” is a very popular specie of Turtles. You may think that the name of this reptile is a little odd, well, that’s because the word ‘cooter’ is derived from the word ‘Kuta’, which simply means ‘turtle’ in the African language.

This turtle is named “river cooter” because it is frequently found in the freshwater rivers.

The eastern river Cooter is the most commonly kept pet, while other species aren’t bought  often. These reptiles are native to Central and South America.

The river cooter is a good choice for anyone looking for a quiet and gentle reptile, this guide will provide you with all the information you need to know while buying a pet river cooter. 

An overview

Common name Eastern river cooter
Scientific name Pseudemys concinna
size15 inches
weight5.2 to 14 grams
colorDark greenish brown
Geographical regionCentral and eastern US
Life span40 years


The eastern river cooter originate from eastern and central America, particularly in West Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Ohio, North Carolina, Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi, as well as Maryland sometimes. River cooters are typically seen in rivers, lakes, and marshes.

River cooters prefer basking in shallow water, with a depth of approximately 6 feet.

The Appearance of the River Cooter

This pretty-looking turtle attracts turtle lovers, If you want to keep a turtle that fascinates the viewer at first sight, river cooters are worth investing in.

The shell of the river cooter is dark brown or dark green, and the shells are oval, convex, and have evocative patterns on them. The carapace (hard upper shell) has a c shape on both sides of it, which makes the river cooter stand out. The body of the turtle has green and yellow stripes on it.

 The plastron ( the bottom part of the turtle, also referred to as the stomach) of the turtle is  yellow, but sometimes it may come in orange color too. The plastron of the females is a lot more convex than the males.

There is a dark line between both the scute of the turtle, it becomes lighter as the turtle grows.

The tail of the river cooter is compact, Males tend to have a thicker and longer tail as compared to females.

 The male turtles have immense claws and longer nails in comparison to female turtles, these enormous claws help the turtles swim.

The river cooters have teeth-like structures in their upper jaws but don’t confuse them as teeth, as they are not teeth. The turtles have beaks like most other turtles, the beak helps them break their food.

The river cooter has small eyes, but the size doesn’t determine how good their vision is, these turtles have an excellent vision, they can see underwater and can also see colors.

Size and Weight

On average, the size of a river cooter is 15 inches long, but the females are larger than the males. When a baby river cooter hatches, its size is up to one inch.

The baby river can fit in two fingers when they hatch out of their shell!

 A river cooter weighs approximately 5 kgs as an adult, and a baby weighs about 0.014 kgs.

The Life Span and Growth of River Cooters

These reptiles have a reasonably large life span, if they are taken proper care of, they survive for about 40 years or more. It is a long time commitment if you are thinking to keep them as pets.

River cooters grow fast during the first few years of their life, until they are 4 inches big, after they reach the size of 4 inches they grow slower from then on. A baby turtle grows up to 1-2 inches per year until they reach the size of 4 inches.

The growth rate of male river cooters is 2.4 mm per month, on the other hand, female river cooter grows faster, at the rate of 6.0mm per month.

Mating and Reproduction

River cooters mate in a similar way to other basking turtles

To indicate the female, the male flutters the face of the female. Then he approaches the female from the top, scratches her, and vibrates his long nails, this process of mating is known as the “mating dance”. The female swims to the bottom of the river to mate.

 After mating, the female turtles swim back to the top of the water, they lay their legs after two to three weeks. The females lay their eggs in a clutch, each clutch comprises 12 to 20 eggs.

The turtles lay their eggs in loamy sand, within 30meters(100 feet) of the river’s edge.

These turtles lay their eggs in an obstacle-free and open place so that the baby turtle can find their way into the river easily.

The eggs take 45-56 days to hatch, and the incubation period is of 90-100 days, depending on the temperature.

The eggs are pinkish and 4cm big.

The river cooter mate during the spring seasons and nest during July-August. The hatching stays in its nest in winters.

If you are breeding river cooter, transfer the offspring into another tank as soon as they hatch and provide them with a temperature of  84˚F( 28.889°C).

The average age for reaching sexual maturity in female river cooters is 6 years and in males, it is 13 years.

Are River Cooters Endangered?

Most of the species of cooters like peninsula cooters, Florida red-bellied cooter, and river cooters are not endangered, they are “least concern” by CITES. Even though they are one of the least concerned species, they must be taken proper care of, to prevent them from going endangered.

Predators of the River Cooters. 

The main predators of river cooters are humans, humans hunt these turtles, and they also pollute the environment and contaminate the rivers and water bodies, which cause the death of these species. Some other predators of this reptile are raccoons, herons, and large fish.

Nature and Behavior of River Cooters 

Like most the other turtles’ river cooters are calm and cool-minded. They are safe to be kept as pets and are also children friendly if they are breaded at home.

 The wild-caught turtles can be territorial, as compared to the pet ones. The major cause of them becoming territorial is when they aren’t provided enough space to swim and move around. This can be avoided by providing enough space and not keeping more than two turtles in a small place.

River cooters are often found stacked up on top of each other while basking, but they are not social animals, they like solitary.

Nature of River Cooter

These animals like basking and are mostly seen basking near rivers or on logs inside the rivers.

River cooter basks so that it can absorb as much of the sunlight as possible because they prefer summers and warm weather instead of winter, in fact, these turtles often hide under mud during winters for around 2-3 months.

River cooters are the kind of reptiles that are diurnal, this means that they sleep during the night time and do their activities like eating, basking, mating, and swimming during the day.

Although the river cooters can move from one water body to another due to some unfavorable conditions like contamination of water, they usually remain in the same area until death.

River Cooter Pet Care Guide 

River Cooter’s Enclosure

River cooters can be kept in glass or ceramic aquariums or tanks, this is because the aquariums are less likely to leak water.

The turtles live in rivers and areas with fresh waters, so to mimic this environment we should provide them with water in their tanks and also basking spots.

A river cooters aquarium should be at least 20-30 gallons big for 3-4 inches big cooter, the aquarium should be big enough for the cooter to swim in. as the turtle grows, you may require a larger aquarium, an aquarium of 125 gallons is suggested for cooters larger than 4 inches of size. the length of the tank should be 12 inches long and 47 inches wide.

river cooter tank

This specie requires a lot of space so it is better to provide them with outdoor enclosures, their outdoor enclosures must be predator-free this can be done by providing them with a fenced outdoor pond, and the pond should be surrounded by sand, where the female cooters can lay her eggs. The pond of the turtles should be plastically lined.

Substrate and Decorations.

Substrates like silt, sand, and mud should be used while housing river cooters. Provide them with a separate area in which they can bask, add small rocks and aquatic plants so that they can hide behind them wherever the turtles want to sleep.

Make their enclosure as close to their natural habitat as possible, and make sure to provide them with plants and other obstacles so they can climb on them when they need to breathe. In the case of young river cooters, provide them with shallow water and easy climbing spots, as it can get a little hard for them to climb onto plants. River cooters are likely to eat the plants that they are kept with in their ponds, so this part can be a little tricky.

Despite the fact that river cooters are aquatic turtles who can swim well, be careful not to create a drowning situation for them, as they may drown if they get stuck.

The Ideal Temperature Requirement for River Cooter

 These turtles come from areas that are a little on the warmer side,  temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for them. The temperature must not exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

You can keep track of the temperature by keeping a thermometer inside the tank of the cooters. 

Keep in mind that water should be 75 degrees Fahrenheit, while the basking spot should be around 80 degrees. You can keep heat lamps to maintain this temperature.

If you live in a country with colder temperatures you can get a tetra 55-gallon aquarium, as it has a heater that comes with it, it also has a thermometer installed in it so you can kee a check of the temperature, or you can buy aquarium heaters separately from et shops.


River cooters come from humid areas that are swamp, so humidity is essential for the survival of such turtles, this makes them feel better in the tanks and gives them a home-like feeling.

70% humidity is best for the turtles, check the humidity level daily with the help of a hygrometer. How do we maintain this temperature, you ask?

Well, this is fairly easy to achieve, all you have to do is put water in their tank and the water maintains this humidity level itself!


Lighting is very crucial for the proper growth of the turtle.

 Firstly river cooters are diurnal so to indicate that its day time to them in indoor enclosures you should turn the lights on during the day and turn them off during the night.

 The lights should remain on for 12 hours at least, river cooters need vitamin D3, and the UVB lights of around 15 watts provide this to them. Vitamin D3 is necessary for the bone growth of turtles, also the turtles need light so they can bask efficiently. Make sure to change the bulbs every 6 months.

If you have provided your turtles with an outdoor enclosure, you do not need to worry about lighting, as sunlight is enough to fulfill their vitamin D3 requirements.

Water Requirement.

River cooters are aquatic turtles so water is just as important to them as oxygen is to us. They need water to swim, stay hydrated, attain moisture, and also be able to eat their food better as dry food can get hard for them to swallow.

It is mandatory to clean their water regularly, as they also produce waste in the water. 

Contaminated water can cause several health-related problems, so in order to protect your turtle from them you can invest in a water filter that cleans the water for you and reduces the chances of diseases in your turtle.

Diet of River Cooter.

River cooters are mostly known as herbivores, but they can also be called omnivores as in the early stages of their life, they eat meat, small fish, some bugs, and worms too, but as they grow up they start munching on more greens.

Vegetables like turnip greens, collard, kale, green leaf lettuce, and romaine should be given to the turtles.

River cooters also eat fruits like, grapes, figs, kiwi, mango, blackberries, tomato, strawberry, etc, they also eat flowers like, Lilly, roses, hibiscus, dandelion, hostas, borage, and lanterns.

You can give them turtle food mix, crickets, and mealworms. Some people also feed their adult turtles with mice and shrimp. 

You should feed the adult river cooters three times a week, and baby cooters should be fed every day.

Grooming the River Cooter

This reptile doesn’t require grooming, they are low maintenance. They spend most of their time underwater, so they are clean. You shouldn’t try to clean their shells, as they are self cleaners and don’t require help with that.

Cleaning after a River Cooter

Even though river cooters are low maintenance, but they do make a mess in their enclosures, to clean that you should take the following steps:

Wear gloves before handling a river cooter, as they may have salmonella(bacteria) this can cause infections and diseases to the humans, if it is accidentally consumed. In case you don’t have gloves at home just make sure to wash your hands after holding your pet.

Take the pet turtle out and shift it to another tank for some time.

Take the substrate out, and take out any plants or obstacles provided in the tank.

Clean your tank with bleach or some detergent, and thoroughly rinse it with warm water, so that all the bacteria is washed away. rinse it well, so there is no residue of bleach or detergent and let the tank out in the sunlight to dry, while the tank is drying, you can clean the obstacles with water.

Add new substrate in the tank when it has completely dried, put back the obstacles and plants, then fill the tank halfway with clean water.

Put back in the water filter and your tank will be ready for the turtle to be shifted in.

Which Animals can be Kept With River Cooter?

You can keep river cooters with other species of turtle and fishes too, but this is really tricky.

Turtles of different species may fight or attack each other, while fishes on the other hand, can be eaten by the river cooters.

So it is very complicated to find the right specie of fish or turtle to keep along with river cooter.

If you still want to keep river cooter along with other aquatic pets, make sure you have a big tank that provides them enough space to move around.

Turtles like Chrysemys picta(painted turtles) and trachemys scripta(commonly known as slider turtles) go well with river cooters.

Fishes like tetra fish, zebrafish, and yellow cichlids are the best kind of fish to be paired with a river cooter.

Diseases in River Cooter and Their Cure.

River cooter can develop diseases like shell rots, metabolic bone issues, and parasitic infections.

One of the major cause of diseases in these turtles are because of the lack of UV light. 

Parasitic Infections.

This disease can be respiratory, but it is mostly detected by a checkup from the vet.

So it is necessary to take your pet to the vet once a month at least.

The vet will give some antibiotics to cure the turtle.

Metabolic Bone Issues.

 This issue takes place due to the lack of vitamin D3, it happens when the turtles are not exposed to enough sunlight, in this case, the bones become very weak and are more likely to be fractured.

River cooters can be protected from various diseases, whether they are bacterial or fungal diseases, by providing them the right amount of UV light.

Also, keep the enclosures clean so that no bacteria is building up inside the enclosures you can maintain this by changing the water regularly and removing uneaten food.

Cost of River Cooter

On average, a river cooter costs 25-50$. A baby river cooter costs around 15$ so these turtles are quite cheap as compared to other reptile pets.

The tank is the part that may cost you a bit more, the tank of river cooters costs around 200$ but this depends on the size of the tank and the quality of the glass or plastic used in it.

The substrate costs 20$ and the water filter cost 15$.

In total, the expenditure that you will have to make will be around 300$

Is Keeping a River Cooter as a Pet Legal?

If you are planning to keep a turtle as a pet, you may have to study the state laws first, in some parts of the united states, keeping a turtle is illegal, like in North Carolina. Other than that river cooters are being sold with aquatic pets, same goes for other countries like the UK and Canada. Meanwhile, in India it is illegal to own any sort of turtle.


River cooters make a great pet, they are peaceful and don’t make a lot of noise and disturbance. They aren’t costly and don’t cause any harm to humans. They also have a long life and don’t have any serious health concerns.

River cooters don’t need to be groomed, and they are easy to take care of.

 The only factors that you may face some difficulties in are the regular cleaning and space requirements, as the turtle grows, it requires more and more spacious enclosures and basking spots, they tend to make a lot of mess so you need to clean their enclosures at least once in a week. Daily spot cleaning of the tank is mandatory. Other than that, river cooters are one of the best reptile pets, and are also beginner-friendly.


How do river cooters communicate?

To display devotion to their spouse, they employ tactile cues, frequently attempting to contact with their claws. Whenever they are observed by others in the wild and sense a threat, the cooters retreat within their shells. They use their vocals and make noises to communicate

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