Yellow-Blotched Map Turtle
These turtles are confined to the Pascagoula River system, including the Leaf, Chickasawhay, and Escatawpa rivers, in southern Mississippi.
Inhabit river sections with moderate current, sand and clay bottom with many sand bars, or rocky bottom with limestone ledges along banks.
The yellow-blotched map turtle is a medium-sized turtle that is a member of the narrow-head complex of Graptemys. The carapace (upper shell) is olive to light brown, with conspicuous black spiny projections on keel (top of the shell). Each costal scute (scale) has an irregular bright yellow or orange blotch. Juveniles and adult males have a black spine on the first four vertebral scutes. These spines become smaller and may be lost in adult females. The plastron (belly shell) is cream-colored with a black pattern along scute seams. Males have elongated claws on their front feet.
Yellow-blotched map turtles, like all the other map turtles, bask to warm themselves. It spends much of the day basking on these fallen trees and quickly jumps into the water when approached. They seek refuge on the bottom of the river and in between the branches of the falling trees. Females prefer to bask further off shore and on tree stumps.
It is very difficult to approach them. Females may bite when handled, but males and juveniles remain calm, and withdraw into their shells.
During courtship, male and female attempt to stroke one another's heads with their claws while facing each other. Nesting occurs in the sand and gravel bars adjacent to the rivers in which these turtles occur. It is believed that they have a similar reproductive pattern to other related Graptemys species which reach reproductive maturity between the ages of 3 to 9 years. Males becoming sexually mature first. They produce 3-4 clutches of eggs with 5-7 eggs per clutch.
This is the dominant turtle species in the Pascagoula River. The habitat is shared with the Alabama map turtle, the red-eared turtle, the river cooter, and the razor-backed musk turtle.
The term 'sawback' is attributed to three of the map turtles species. They are designated as sawback map turtles because of their extremely accentuated scutes going down the center of their shell, the vertebral keel. The rear of these vertebral scutes, especially the first three, strongly juts upward creating a serrated or saw-like appearance. 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.
The greatest threat to map turtle populations is the rapid degradation and alteration of habitat in and adjacent to the rivers of the southeastern United States. The main factor in this little turtle's decline has been the channeling of waterways as a flood-control measure. This can change not only water levels and volume, but also the food resources in a river. Silting and pollution have degraded the quality of the water in many areas, making them unsuitable as turtle habitat. Species such as this that live in a single restricted range are most vulnerable to changes to their environment and other threats to their populations, such as pet collectors. Populations may also be threatened by the habit of local sportsmen of using basking turtles for target practice.
Yellow-blotched map turtle is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. It is classified as threatened in Mississippi, where it lives only in the Pascagoula River drainage.