Photo Credits: Jim Godwin
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Graptemys pulchra
COMMON NAME: Sawback.
STATUS: Fairly common throughout Mobile Bay drainage. Mostly confined to Alabama, but ranges into Mississippi along Tombigbee River and into Georgia along Coosa River. MODERATE CONSERVATION CONCERN.
DESCRIPTION: Alabama map turtles are rather shy, medium-sized turtles, often slipping in the water at the least disturbance or sign of danger. The name map turtle is given to them because of the map-like markings on their carapace (shell coving the back). As with many turtles, sexual dimorphism occurs. Adult males are usually between 3.5 to 5 inches long, while adult females are generally 5.5 to 11.5 inches long. The carapace is basically brown with faint orange, yellow, and green markings. The juveniles are usually more brightly colored, with the coloration fading over time. Alabama map turtles also have a very pronounced, black knobbed keel (especially in hatchlings) on their carapace that generally wears with age, especially in adult females. The plastron or shell covering the belly is lightly colored with five horizontal lines that outline the scutes (outer layer of horny scale like material coving the carapace and plastron). Adult turtles have a very broad head that is lightly masked. The neck and legs are green with patterns of thin yellow lines.
DISTRIBUTION: Alabama map turtles occur from extreme eastern Louisiana in the Pearl River, across Mississippi and Alabama, to western Georgia in the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers. In Alabama, it can be found in the Alabama, Tombigbee, Tensaw, Black Warrior, and Coosa rivers and their tributaries.
HABITAT: Alabama map turtles prefer rivers and streams with sandy or muddy bottoms. However, they may also be found in fast moving creeks with rocky bottoms. Basking sites are important. Males and juveniles generally prefer basking on brush piles or treetops along banks. Females are usually found further out in the water. They are generally seen basking on larger tree trunks instead of limbs or branches.
FEEDING HABITS: Alabama map turtles are mainly carnivorous, although juveniles will feed on some plant matter, mainly duckweed or other aquatic plants. Adult females feed primarily on freshwater aquatic snails and other mollusks, the shells of which are crushed by the wide surfaces of the jaw. Males and juveniles also feed on aquatic snails and mollusks, but since their heads and jaws are not as large and powerful, they also rely on aquatic insects, tadpoles, crawfish, small fish, and even worms as part of their diet.
IMPORTANCE: Alabama map turtles are listed as protected. They are an integral part of the river and stream habitats in which they occur. They help control the populations of the animals and insects, which they consume, and may also be an important food source for large, aquatic predators including predatory fish and alligators.
Conant, R., J. Collins. 1991. Peterson Field Guides: Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern/Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
Author: Kevin Pugh, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisherie