Alabama Map Turtle (Baur, 1893)
Graptemys pulchra


Range: Alabama - The Alabama Map Turtle (Graptemys pulchra) is found in the Alabama, Tombigbee, Tensaw, Black Warrior and Coosa Rivers.  Georgia - It is found in the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers. It is also found in many of the streams, lakes and creeks that are proximal or connected to these rivers.

Description: This is a medium to large size turtle. Males are about 3.5 to 5 inches as adults and females are about 5.5 to 11.5 inches long.  This turtle is part of the broad head group of map turtles and therefore is mostly a crustacean (mollusk) eater, but they are also opportunistic so insects (especially males and juveniles) and fish could also be eaten.  It has a domed shell keel that is exaggerated as a hatchling and slowly wears down with age, especially old females.    This turtles differs from G. ernsti (Escambia Map Turtle) and G. gibbonsi (Pascagoula Map Turtle) in having a flatter carapace.  G. pulchra has a full mask on the top of its head unlike G. ernsti and G. gibbonsi.  The Alabama map turtle is basically a brown turtle, unlike the Pascagoula and the Escambia map turtles which have orange, yellow and green colors on the carapace and plastron.  G. pulchra does not have a plastral pattern except for the 5 horizontal lines that outline the rows of scutes.

Habitat: This turtle lives in large sandy/muddy rivers as well as in rocky streams.  Juveniles and males prefer brush piles along the sides of the river.  I even witnessed one basking vertically on the side of a Cypress tree.  Females, once again, prefer deeper water and tend to bask a little bit further out into the river.  Basking tends to be on large stems of trees instead of small branches.

Legal Status Protected in Alabama, Rare in Georgia and therefore Protected.

Other Information: In the parts of the rivers where I have looked for  G. pulchra, it was not uncommon.  In some parts of these rivers, Pseudemys concinna, appears to be as common. Other species that are found in the same places as this species are Graptemys nigrinoda nigrinoda (Northern Black-knob Sawback Map),  Graptemys nigrinoda delticola (Southern Black-knob Sawback), Pseudemys concinna (River Cooters),  Trachemys scripta scripta x elegans (Yellowbelly x Red Eared Slider), Sternotherus minor peltifer (Stripeneck Musk), Sternotherus depressus (Flattened Musk), Macroclemys temminckii (Alligator Snapping Turtles, not Loggerheads as named by the locals), and Apalone spinifera aspera, (Gulf Coast Spiny Softshell). As mentioned previously, G. nigrinoda nigrinoda is part of the narrow head group.   G. pulchra, a broad head species, can be found along side G. n. nigrinoda, a narrow-head species . I have found that in a three mile section of river, G. pulchra or G. n. nigrinoda can be the dominate basking turtle in a certain area.  While going up river in this three mile section, the most dominate Graptemys species changed three times. 

Notice the full mask on this Graptemys pulchra                                                      The Tallapoosa River in Central Alabama