Recognized Subspecies in VA: Eastern River Cooter (Pseudemys concinna concinna)
Size: 9 - 13 inches
Range: Piedmont and parts of the Blue Ridge
Status: Least Concern
River Cooters can often be seen basking around large bodies of water and rivers. These are large, flat turtles that mostly feed on plant matter. All three of our native Cooters can have quite striking patterns on their shells, or just be black. Their facial markings are quite distinct. River Cooters have several "pinstripes" on their face and neck and if shell pattern is visible they will have some "C" patternings on the 2nd and often 3rd coastal scutes.
Probably the best way to find this species is by scanning longs and rocks in ponds, lakes, and rivers. Care should be taken if you are in an area with Sliders that you do not over look either's presences. This species can occasionally be found road cruising and accidently caught on hook and line when fishing.
Similar Species: The Coastal Plain Cooter was until recently a subspecies of the River Cooter, but is now its own species. Coastal Plains Cooters are found in the Coastal Plain, south of the James River. It has fewer head/neck stripes and does not have the "C"s in the shell pattern of the River Cooter. Northern Red-bellied Cooters will ocassionally be distinguishable by bright red plastrons (River Cooters' are normally rusty to yellow) and if they have red dorsal markings. Otherwise you will have to look at the beak. Red-bellies have a clear cusp on their upper lip that will look like fangs. Common Sliders are quite similarly sized and patterned (on the face at least), but sliders are typically more domed, with rougher saw-toothing on the sub marginals, and much more shell texture overall. Red-eared Sliders can easily be mistaken as their red fades with age, but there should still be a distinct yet faint marking there. Yellow-bellied Sliders have that distinct line that does a "swoosh" behind the eye.
Maps and External Sources
Herping Virginia encourages all naturalists to practice ethical, safe, and sustainable herping. The use of proper herping methods and techniques is beneficial to both wildlife and herpers. Visit the links below for more information.