The beautiful and rare Yellow-blotched Map Turtle is one of the small so called ‘Sawback’ map turtles!

The term ‘sawback’ is attributed to three (and possibly a fourth) of the map turtles species. They are designated as sawback map turtles because of their extremely accentuated scutes going down the center of their carapace, the vertebral keel. The rear of these vertebral scutes, especially the first three, strongly juts upward creating a serrated or saw-like appearance. Though similar to its close relative the Ringed Map TurtleG. oculifera, the Yellow-blotched Map Turtle is especially beautiful with the center of each scute accenting its otherwise olive brown body with a bright touch of yellow.

Being fairly easy to take care of, the Yellow-blotched Map Turtle is good for beginners. It is very shy and alert, plopping into the water at the approach of its keeper. However it will soon become tame, and though it will still dive off into the water it will quickly re-surface to see if any food has been offered. An avid basker and active swimmer, it is a joy to observe.

The Yellow-blotched Map Turtle can make a good companion in a community habitat as long as there is plenty of space and lots of decor. It can be kept with other map turtles as well as other baskers such as sliders, cooters, and painted turtles. However when kept with other turtles, it is important to add add an extra basking spot or two to the environment, and to avoid crowding.

Scientific Classification

Yellow-blotched Map turtle
Image Credit: Gabbie Berry, Shutterstock


  The Yellow-blotched Map Turtle Graptemys Flavimaculata was described by Cagle in 1954. They are found in the Pascagoula River system in Mississippi where the current is moderate, the bottom is sandy or muddy, and there are numerous basking spots among logs and driftwood jutting out of the water.
There are a twelve species, and several subspecies, of map turtles in the Graptemys genus. They are all found in the central and eastern United States and into southern Canada, generally in clear fast-flowing rivers and nearby ponds and lakes. The greatest concentration of these turtles are in the river systems of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida.

  • Barbour’s Map Turtle Graptemys barbouri
  • Cagle’s Map Turtle Graptemys caglei
  • Escambia Map Turtle Graptemys ernsti
  • Yellow-blotched Map Turtle Graptemys flavimaculata
  • Northern Map Turtle Graptemys geographica
  • Pascagoula Map Turtle/ Pearl River Map Turtle Graptemys gibbonsi
  • Black-knobbed Map Turtle Graptemys nigrinoda
  • Southern Black-knobbed Map Turtle/ Delta Map Turtle Graptemys nigrinoda delticola
  • Northern Black-knobbed Map Turtle Graptemys nigrinoda nigrinoda
  • Ringed Map Turtle Graptemys oculifera
  • Ouachita Map Turtle Graptemys ouachitensis
  • Sabine Map Turtle Graptemys ouachitensis sabinensis
  • False Map Turtle Graptemys pseudogeographica
  • Mississippi Map Turtle Graptemys pseudogeographica kohnii
  • Alabama Map Turtle Graptemys pulchra
  • Texas Map Turtle Graptemys versa


   The Yellow-blotched Map Turtle is an officially endangered species in the United States: U.S. Endangered Species Act, May 4, 2004. They are also listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: EN – endangered, and list on CITES: Appendix III.


   The beautiful Yellow-blotched Map Turtle has an olive to brown body highlighted with yellow accents on each of its scutes. It is one of the ‘sawback’ map turtles, having a serrated appearance due to extremely accentuated scutes along its vertebral keel, with the rear of each of these vertebral scutes projecting strongly upward. There is also a black spine on the first four scutes of juveniles and adult males, which becomes smaller with time and may be absent from adult females.
   Adult map turtles have muscular heads but they have two distinct appearances, those that are ‘broad-headed’ (primarily for cracking mussels and snail shells), and those that are ‘narrow-headed’ designed more for eating insects. The Yellow-blotched is one of those with a narrower head, and its head has markings similar to the Ringed Map Turtle G. oculifera.
   As with many of the map turtle species, there is extreme sexual dimorphism in the Yellow-blotched Map Turtle. It is a small species with females only reaching 6″ to 7″ in length, but mature males are even smaller reaching only 3″ to 4″. Males also have elongated front claws which they use in courtship displays.

close up yellow-blotched map turtle
Image Credit: Danny Ye, Shutterstock

Care and Feeding:

   Map turtles are omnivores. In captivity, the majority of their captive diet consists of floating aquatic turtle food, a variety of aquatic plants and greens, and some protein. Freeze-dried shrimp and krill are a great treat for map turtles.
   Interestingly, hatchlings and the young of several species of map turtles feed on more plant matter than adults. Physically, adults develop large, muscular jaws in response to a natural diet of hard-shelled snails and crayfish. They also eat a wide variety of aquatic insects. In fact, in some species the small males never leave this existence of feeding on aquatic insects in the shallows at the river’s edge.
   Care must be taken that these, and any turtles, are not released into a wild habitat. The reasons are many. The introduction of non-native species can lead to the introduction of diseases and can lead to hybridization of introduced and native species. In addition, many turtles raised in captivity and released into wild situations are confused, unable to cope with extreme weather changes, and many surely fall prey quite quickly to predators they may encounter.


Though similar in appearance to sliders and painted turtles, map turtles have some unique and specific needs. Map turtles are generally found in clear, fast-flowing rivers and so require plenty of filtration and oxygenated water in their captive enclosures. A large flow-through filtration system will work well for map turtles. You can also add a “spray bar” to the filtration system to add some turbulence and oxygen to the water.


Indoors, a basic setup in a large tub (48″w x 84″l x 20″deep) will be sufficient to keep and breed an adult trio of map turtles. Add an efficient filtration system, a shop light fixture with UVB-emitting bulbs overhead, and a warm basking spot. Map turtles spend a great deal of time exploring intricate underwater structures such as tree limbs, partially submerged stumps, and piles of rock. They climb around on these structures to search for a good basking spot, to find a bit of food, and to stay out of each other’s way. Add bunches of submerged and floating plants. Within a few days these plants are usually picked apart, so move the leftovers outside to regrow and add a fresh batch of aquatic plants to the tub.
Large female map turtles are often aggressive to the subordinate males and to any smaller turtles housed with them. Therefore, it is important to add plenty of decorations and an extra basking spot or two to their environment, and to avoid crowding.


Map turtles thrive in outdoor ponds. They are avid baskers so at least one large basking spot should be available. They will hibernate and care must be taken to formulate a plan for a moderately cool hibernation area. Most southern species will need to be brought inside as winter approaches (below 45{deg} to 50{deg} F). They should, however, be kept cool during the winter in an effort to inspire courtship and breeding behavior once they are returned to a warm outdoor enclosure in the spring.
   In outdoor enclosures, it is best to not crowd your map turtles. The addition of lots of aquatic plants, especially floating varieties (water lettuce, water hyacinth, and duckweed) to help keep the outdoor map turtle pond healthy and keeps the oxygen level high.

Yellow-blotched Map turtle basking
Image Credit: Gabbie Berry, Shutterstock


   Captive-hatched specimens, as always, are the best to keep as pets and most will become so docile that they can easily be fed by hand. These and all aquatic turtles should be considered wonderful display animals and not pets that are easily held.


   In the wild the Yellow-blotched Map Turtle nests where there are sand and gravel bars adjacent to a river. In captivity, warm sunny days (outside) and increased warmth and water spray (indoors) provide for the onset of courtship and breeding in most map turtles. Most species lay well indoors when offered a laying area of damp sand and peat moss. With this type of environment, the females will search out the proper laying area rather than dropping eggs in the water. Hatching is straightforward. 75-80 days at 82{deg} F (28{deg} C) and 80-85% humidity should produce an average hatching success rates of 90% and higher.
Map turtles are good layers in outdoor enclosures provided they have easy access to a proper laying area. Once this laying area has been discovered and “tested”, the females will rarely lay elsewhere.
Yellow-blotched females typically lay 4 to 6 eggs in a clutch. Hatchlings are small and somewhat delicate, usually requiring considerable attention. A good start is to offer the babies mosquito larvae or live blackworms. Once feeding well, they thrive in an enclosure with clean, aerated water, plenty of live plants, underwater decorations, and a secure, warm basking area.

Ailments / Health Problems

   Map turtles are often afflicted with shell problems in captivity. If not offered natural sunlight and indoor UVB, they will often develop a mild form of fungal infection. It is usually not complicated with ulceration, but appears as white or gray patches that will spread over most of the carapace if left untreated. Acriflavine, Betadine® scrubs, and drying out in direct sunlight have proven to be effective in preventing the spread of this fungus.

juvenile Yellow blotched Map turtle
Image Credit: Gabbie Berry, Shutterstock


   The Yellow-blotched Map Turtle is one of the rarer species. They are being bred in captivity, but in smaller numbers than some of the more common map turtles. Those that are produced are typically traded among breeders searching for genetic bloodlines for their programs. However it is only a matter of time before more species are commonly available from turtle breeders. A new keeper should try to find specimens that are captive-hatched and at least six to eight months old to ensure the turtle has been feeding well and is well on its way to a strong start.

Featured Image Credit: reptiles4all, Shutterstock