The red-bellied cooter is an aquatic turtle with a dark, highly domed shell and a distinctive red belly. It can be found basking along the edge of ponds, streams and rivers throughout the Potomac River and in coastal portions of Maryland and Virginia.
The red-bellied cooter has a highly domed carapace (shell) that varies in color from brownish to black. Reddish bands appear across the middle of the scutes (plates) on the carapace. These bands vary depending on the turtle’s age and sex, and may only be visible when the shell is wet. The plastron, or underside of the shell, is a reddish color. Young have a greenish carapace and an orange plastron. Its black head has light lines that run toward the snout, and its heavy upper jaw has a notch in the center.
These turtles live in large freshwater lakes, ponds, streams, creeks, rivers and adjacent marshes, as well as in brackish rivers. They are usually found in areas with deep, fast-moving water, a muddy bottom and lots of aquatic vegetation. It will sun itself on rocks and logs to control its body temperature, but will disappear into the water when alarmed. In winter, it hibernates in the mud at the bottom of rivers.
Found throughout the Potomac River and in the coastal plain of Maryland and Virginia.
The red-bellied cooter is an omnivore that feeds on snails, plants, worms, tadpoles, crayfish and insect larvae.
Skunks, crows, raccoons, herons and bullfrogs all prey upon red-bellied cooters. Lawn mowers often kill turtles that are resting in the grass in backyards.
Little is known about red-bellied cooter mating habits. In June or July, females dig a nest near the water. They try to use the same nesting area every year. Females lay 10 to 20 eggs, covering the nest afterward. They provide no care for their eggs or young. Eggs hatch in 10 to 16 weeks. The turtles live an average of 40 to 55 years.