Red-Bellied Turtle Life Cycle Information
Red-bellied turtles of the genus Pseudemys exist in several species in the eastern United States from Massachusetts to Florida. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, some Eastern and Northern red-bellied turtles are threatened but not yet endangered. Many species including the Plymouth species are endangered.Their habitats include freshwater marshes, ponds, rivers and lakes. They will tolerate some brackish conditions. They prefer habitats that include places where they are able to bask in the sun.
Adult red-bellied turtles have a rounded carapace, or upper shell, that can be about 10 to 15 inches long, depending on the individual species. According to the Oakland Zoo, the color of the carapace can vary but is usually black with red or yellow markings on the edges. The plastron, or lower shell, is reddish in color; hence the descriptive name. Adult females are larger than the males. As with many turtles, males have shorter, thicker tails than females, and front claws that are longer.
During June and July, the females of some species lay between 8 and 20 eggs in shallow cavities about 4 inches deep, and then cover the eggs up. The eggs are more than an inch long and elliptical in shape. They hatch about three months later, in October and November. The Florida red-bellied turtles will mate and lay several clutches of about a dozen eggs over the course of a year. Some northern species will lay more than one clutch in a year as well.
The females do not raise their young, and the eggs and hatchlings are prey for many creatures, such as birds, raccoons, frogs and fish. The Florida red-bellied turtle species have evolved a harder carapace than the northern cousins. The Oakland Zoo says this helps to protect them from alligators. Even so, many eggs and young turtles of all species are lost to predators every year.
As with most turtle species, it takes many years for red-bellied turtles to reach an age and size when they can reproduce. Most species of red-bellied turtles probably reach maturity at around 4 to 6 years of age. Female Florida red-bellied turtles will reach sexual maturity at around 15 years of age; males may reach adulthood a few years earlier. The lifespan of turtles is generally thought to be around 50 years.
In some areas, such as Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, volunteers try to find, collect and care for red-bellied turtle eggs and subsequent hatchlings to help ensure the continuation of the species. Local wildlife agencies feel that if left alone, the populations would not be able to sustain themselves due to shrinking habitats and predation.