I like to think of false map turtles as animals that have maps on their shells, but wildly inaccurate ones that throw people off when they look at them. That would be the best kind of turtle ever.

Instead, false map turtles are actually part of the genus Graptemys, which is comprised of the map turtles. Map turtles are so called because of the lines on their shells, that connect to look like a road map. But why the ‘false’ is added before the one species’s name, I do not know. It’s even in the scientific name: pseudogeographica. My best guess is that when they were originally classified, false map turtles were thought to resemble map turtles but not actually be a part of the genus. If any of you know the reason, please feel free to enlighten me!

They are pretty interesting looking – just look at those markings!
Image by Vincent de Groot – http://www.videgro.net, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In any case, false map turtles can be found in the US, in the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. They tend to be found in slow moving waters that have nice warm rocks or logs to bask on. They also like areas with lots of aquatic plant life.

False map turtles grow up to 27 cm in length, with females being quite a bit larger than males. Their shells are dark coloured, usually olive, black or brown, with yellow lines on them. It’s these lines that form the ‘map’ on the shell (which is almost certainly inaccurate). A notable feature of map turtles is the keel that runs along the length of the carapace.

Mating in false map turtles is kind of adorable — once the female sends out olfactory signals from her anal vent (okay that’s not the cute part), a male will come find her. To entice her to mate, he then strokes her head and neck in a loving manner. If she doesn’t move away, he proceeds to drum her over the eyes (presumably lightly). If she remains still, the pair will mate.

Females lay eggs on beaches, often waiting with a group of other ladies for conditions to be just right. They will digs holes 10-16cm deep and deposit 8-22 eggs into the nest. Map turtles mate two or three times a year, probably because they like that face stroking so much.

The range of false map turtles. Image by Cougar Hunta Map: Lokal Profil, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Basking is a favourite activity of false map turtles. They find a comfortable rock or stump to lie on and then stretch out their legs, spread their toes, and lit their heads up. This lets birds known as grackles remove leeches that have attached themselves to the turtles. While basking, map turtles feel particularly vulnerable, and so quickly leap in the water when approached. Any nearby turtles will also escape to the depths, after all, you wouldn’t want to be that one turtle that failed to get in the water and so got eaten or something.

Because they are fairly docile, false map turtles are quite popular in the pet trade. Despite pressures from this, habitat destruction and pollution, these guys seem to be doing quite well. It’s probably because people trying to find them get lost.

Cover image by Psyon, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons