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Ouachita Map Turtle | All About Graptemys ouachitensis

Want to get a turtle? You could consider Graptemys ouachitensis, also known as the Ouachita map turtle. This species doesn’t grow too large and is relatively easy to find through your local pet store or online.

In this turtle profile, find out everything you need to know about the Ouachita map turtle, based on my personal experience: what it looks like, where it’s from, how to set up an enclosure for it, what it eats, and much more.

Name (common, scientific)Ouachita map turtle, Graptemys ouachitensis
Natural habitatRivers in the Mississipi Basin
DietOmnivore (pellets + invertebrates + plants)
LifespanRivers in the Mississippi Basin
Tank size50 (male) to 100 gallons (female)
UVB? Yes

Ouachita map turtle facts


At first glance, it’s easy to mistake the Ouachita map turtle for its many (there are 13-14 map turtle species depending on how you count them) cousins in the genus Graptemys. They really are all very similar, characterized by the fine contour lines on their carapace and a serrated back line.

The Ouachita, however, is one of the easier species to identify. This is thanks to the bold, yellowish-orange markings behind and below its eyes.

As with other Graptemys turtles, there’s a huge size difference between male and female Ouachitas. The girls can reach up to 10″ in length and weigh up to 2 lbs, while the boys don’t tend to surpass 5″.

Females also have broader jaws, allowing them to eat larger and harder foods.

Did you know? Research has shown that out of all map turtle species, the Ouachita map turtle is most closely related to the false map turtle, Graptemys pseudogeografica. It was first described in 1953.

Range & natural habitat

The Ouachita map turtle calls a broad swath of the central United States its home. Its range extends from Illinois and Indiana down to the Gulf of Mexico, covering areas in between such as Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana.

This freshwater turtle has a preference for larger, clear rivers with moderate to swift currents, usually with sandy or silty bottoms. You’ll often find them sunning themselves on logs or rocks, absorbing the warmth and basking in order to regulate their body temperature.

Did you know? There are two Ouachita map turtle subspecies: Graptemys ouachitensis ouachitensis, and Graptemys ouachitensis sabinensis. The latter has been the subject of discussions about potentially elevating it to an actual new species, but this hasn’t happened yet.

Conservation status

The IUCN Red List considers the Ouachita map turtle to be a species of Least Concern. The organization notes that it’s common in its natural range.

An ouachita map turtle, Graptemys ouachitensis, on a fallen log in the Mississippi River
A wild Ouachita map turtle basking

Ouachita map turtle care

Tank size

Setting up a suitable environment for an Ouachita Map Turtle involves a few key considerations. Tank size is one of the most important: your turtle can end up deformed if it doesn’t get enough space from the start.

Juvenile specimens will feel comfortable in a space of 20 to 40 gallons. As your turtle grows, especially if it’s a female, it’ll need more room to swim and explore. You may get away with a 50-gallon tank for a male, but a single adult female needs a tank that holds at least 75 gallons (preferably 100).

Want to keep more than one map turtle? You can. Just count on adding 20-30 extra gallons for each additional male and 40-50 gallons for each female.

Did you know? An indoor pond may work well, or you can even keep your Ouachita in an outdoor one. The latter option does come with some special considerations, especially if you live in a climate that gets harsh winters.


Filtration is extremely important for a healthy turtle: they can become ill if the water quality isn’t up to par. Due to the significant amount of waste freshwater turtles produce, you’ll want a robust canister filter to ensure the water remains clean.

Unless the room your Ouachita is in is consistently kept at room temperature, an aquarium heater is important. You’ll want to maintain the water temperature between 72°F to 78 °F (22-25.5 °C).

UVB lights are non-negotiable, at least for indoor turtles. UVB plays a crucial role in helping your turtle to process calcium and maintain a healthy shell. Without it, your pet is at risk of a debilitating illness referred to as metabolic bone disease.

Pair the UVB light with a nice heat lamp positioned over a basking area (85-95 °F). This gives your turtle a warm spot to lounge and regulate its body temperature, while also allowing it to cool off in other areas when it feels the need.


Freshwater turtles need access to both water and land. We’ve already mentioned a basking area—one or multiple floating platforms or (stable!) stacks of flat rocks should work well.

As discussed in the section on habitat, Ouachita map turtles like rivers with a soft and silty substrate. In the home, you should be careful about using fine sand, especially for young turtles. They’re prone to ingesting sand, which can cause blockages. River rocks/pebbles are usually better.

Your turtle won’t care much what its tank looks like, but if you do, you can always use some live or artificial plants as decorations. The former are likely to be eaten, but hey, a varied diet is good for this omnivorous species anyway.

Other turtle-safe décor, rocks, and driftwood also work. Make sure your turtle can’t get stuck underwater.


Although using a proper filter in a roomy aquarium gets you halfway there, regular maintenance is also crucial for a healthy turtle. The filter maintains a healthy nitrogen cycle and removes particles, but it’s not enough!

Regularly monitor the water quality, checking the pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels using a liquid water test kit. Perform weekly water changes of at least around 25%, using temperature-matched water and a water conditioner.

Graptemys ouachitensis, also known as the Ouachita map turtle, photographed from above.
One of our rescues showing off the typical map turtle shell pattern.

Ouachita map turtle diet

As we’ve discussed, Ouachita turtles are omnivores. A varied diet is the key to keeping any pet healthy, and these Graptemys are no exception!

Research has shown that wild Ouachita map turtle diet depends on location and sex. Generally speaking, though, they’ll live off a mix of small aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates, aquatic and terrestrial plants, bryozoans, algae and carrion. They begin to eat more plant matter as they age, but protein is still important.

You can (and should) feed your pet turtle a wide range of different foods:

  • High-quality commercial turtle pellets as a base
  • (Aquatic) insects like worms, crickets, freshwater shrimp, and more
  • Aquatic plants like pondweed, duckweed, and eelgrass (proven to form part of their diet in the wild)
  • Terrestrial plants, especially leafy greens

You don’t have to offer feeder fish, as wild Ouachitas only eat small amounts of fish carrion. Do use calcium and vitamin D3 supplements for healthy shell and bone growth.

Keep in mind that male and juvenile map turtles won’t be as interested in plant-based foods as females! You can feed small turtles (up to 2 years) daily, later decreasing to up to 4 times a week.

Ouachita map turtle personality

If you want a cuddly pet, you probably shouldn’t get a turtle. Like most other aquarium creatures, they don’t like being handled, and Ouachitas are no exception to this. Constantly picking yours up will stress it out.

This being said, Ouachita map turtles aren’t just pretty to look at. It’s also fun to see how your turtle behaves and responds to you! This species is often described as more reserved than some other turtles. It tends to be shy and cautious, especially in unfamiliar surroundings.

With regular gentle interaction (and lots of offerings of food), your turtle will get used to you. It may even show signs of recognizing you!

Ouachitas can be quite active during the day, especially when they’re exploring their surroundings or hunting for food. They usually spend most of their time either underwater or basking.

Did you know? Ouachita map turtles can co-exist with other docile turtles of a similar size, provided there’s enough space for everyone. Do keep an eye on them, and remember the females tend to play nicer with each other than the males.

Ouachita map turtle common health issues

Although there are no health issues to look out for with Ouachitas in particular, all of the regular turtle considerations apply. If you’ve followed all the care guidelines here, your turtle should generally do well.

Keep an eye out for the following:

  • Shell Problems: Low water quality can lead to shell infections, while a lack of proper basking spots can cause shell rot.
  • Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies: Lack of vitamin D3 and calcium, which can lead to Metabolic Bone Disease, are common in pet turtles.
  • Respiratory Infections: Usually resulting from cold water or inadequate basking temperatures.
  • Other Infections: Eye or ear infections are usually a sign of poor water quality or inadequate vitamin A in your turtle’s diet.

Breeding Ouachita map turtles

It’s important to consider whether you can accommodate more turtles before considering breeding your Ouachitas. There are already loads of aquatic turtles looking for new homes, and it’s a lot of work to raise them, so this is usually not a venture you’ll make money with.

These turtles need a brumation (winter rest) period, triggered by low temperatures, to get in the mood. One male with multiple females works best to prevent aggression.

You’ll know the breeding period is on when the males start doing their typical courting dance, fluttering their long nails next to the females’ face. The females bury their eggs, so you’ll have to provide some soil for them to do so.

It takes a good while for the eggs to hatch (up to 70 days). You can leave them in the soil where the female put them, or move them to an incubator at around 80 °F for a better hatch rate.

Any more questions about the Ouachita map turtle or want to share your own experiences with this fascinating Graptemys species? Don’t hesitate to leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

Sources & further reading

Moll, D. (1976). Food and feeding strategies of the Ouachita map turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica ouachitensis). American Midland Naturalist, 478-482.

Vogt, R. C. (2018). Graptemys ouachitensis Cagle, 1953, Ouachita Map Turtle. Volume 5, Pags. 1-11.

Photo of author

Marijke Puts

Hey! I'm Marijke, FantaSEA's resident blog writer. I'm a full-time pop science author, part-time PADI diver and snorkeler, and have been keeping fish since I was a kid. When I'm not writing fish care guides, you can usually find me underwater or trying to figure out how to fit more tanks into my house.

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