Red-bellied Turtles

Pseudemys rubriventris




Summary of Red-bellied Turtle Regulations
The Red-bellied Turtle (Pseudemys rubriventris) is a reptile species of special concern that is listed as a threatened species by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC). It is one of Pennsylvania’s largest native aquatic turtles. This wary turtle species is known to inhabit relatively large, deep streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, and marshes with permanent water and ample basking sites. Red-bellied Turtles are restricted to the southcentral and southeastern regions of the Commonwealth. The existence of this turtle species is threatened by habitat destruction, poor water quality, and competition with aggressive non-native turtle species that share its range and habitat (e.g. Red-eared Slider, Trachemys scripta elegans). As part of project planning, design and permitting, a Red-bellied Turtle Habitat Survey may be required for activities which may directly or indirectly impact Red-bellied Turtle habitat within the lower Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers and their associated tributaries and wetlands. The appropriate agency consultation and approvals are needed prior to construction.

Red-Bellied Turtle Natural History

Red-bellied Turtles are one of the least studied and understood turtle species within Pennsylvania. Individuals can grow to 40 cm (15.75 inches), with females being slightly larger than males. The carapace coloration is variable, with an olive, brownish or black background and typically an orange or reddish stripe occurs in the marginal and costal scutes.

Melanism is common, especially in older individuals. The outer edge of the carapace, the top edge of the plastron and the majority of the ventral faces of the marginals are reddish, hence the name Red-bellied Turtle. The background coloration of the plastron is variable from yellowish to reddish.

The skin color is dark with yellow stripes. Their feet are highly webbed and are well suited to swimming. They have a notched and serrated jaws adapted for their herbaceous eating habits.


The active period for Red-bellied Turtles is from April through October. The species is very shy and difficult to capture. Adult Red-bellied Turtles are primarily herbivorous. Recent research in Maryland has confirmed that adult Red-bellied Turtles feed almost exclusively on submerged aquatic vegetation and other wetland plants, while hatchlings and juveniles relied primarily on aquatic vertebrates for food (M. Fogel, J. Sage, and C. Swarth, Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, unpublished data).


The primary habitat of Red-bellied Turtles in Pennsylvania includes relatively deep waterbodies such as moderate gradient rivers, reservoirs, ponds, and marshes, though transient turtles occur in faster-moving streams, shallow ponds impoundments, or ditches (Hulse et al. 2001). Red-bellied Turtles have been observed in abandoned sandpit ponds and manmade lagoons or ditches in the industrialized section of Philadelphia (T. Pluto, pers. comm.). Red-bellied Turtles spend a considerable amount of time aerial basking; therefore the need for abundant basking sites is an important habitat characteristic for the species. Additional habitat requirements include aquatic vegetation for feeding, sandy or loamy soils for nesting, and soft substrates at a sufficient depth for hibernation.

A nesting female returning to the water - Berks Co., June 25 2004


A highly melanistic individual - Chicoteague NWR, Virginia, September 2006