Wednesday, October 15, 2014

My Cousin: The Florida Cooter

Florida Cooters are large turtles, ranging in size from 9 - 13 inches, and are flatter in appearance than the similar slider turtle (Trachemys scripta). Their carapace has a dark background with a yellow or orange pattern. The plastron has no markings, and there are hollow oval markings on the marginal scutes. The yellowish orange stripes on the head do not form "hairpins," as in some of its close relatives. The Florida cooter is very similar in appearance to the Peninsula cooter (P. peninsularis) and River Cooter (P. concinna).

Florida River Cooters lazing with a friend

Range and Habitat: Florida Cooters are found throughout the Southeastern Coastal Plain and prefer permanent waters with soft sandy bottoms and abundant vegetation, such as ponds, lakes, swamps, marshes, and slow-moving rivers. They are frequently observed basking on logs.

The cooter is mainly herbivorous and inhabits lakes, sloughs, ponds, slow-flowing streams, and other still bodies of water with soft bottoms and abundant aquatic vegetation. However, it can be found in high densities in some Florida spring runs, usually in heavily vegetated areas with little flow. This species is active year-round and spends a large portion of the day basking on logs.

Flordia Peninsula Cooter
Coastal cooters are frequently exported for consumption and the pet trade, with about 60% wild caught individuals and 40% captive bred. Recent protection by many southeastern states has curbed this exploitation but illegal harvest for local consumption may still threaten some populations.



Fun Fact: Peninsula cooters construct an unusual 3-hole nest, digging one deep center hole and shallower ‘false nest’ holes on either side. The female lays most of the eggs in the center hole, putting only one or two eggs in each of the false nests. The false nests are thought to distract predators from the main nest, although in most cases predators appear to find all three.