Species At Risk

Northern Map Turtle

(Graptemys geographica)

Special Concern

Northern Map Turtle
Northern Map Turtle occurrences map


The Northern Map Turtle gets its name from the lines on the upper shell, or carapace, that resemble contour lines on a map. The lines on the carapace are shades of yellow, tan, or orange and are surrounded by dark borders. The rest of the carapace is olive green or greyish brown. The lower shell, or plastron, is light yellow to cream. There is a yellow spot behind the eyes, and both the head and legs have an intricate pattern of bright yellow lines.

Females can grow to about twice the size of males in length – and may exceed 25 centimetres versus an average of only 14 centimetres for males. Another difference between males and females is choice of their diet. Females eat molluscs, including clams and snails, as well as crayfish and some fish. The male and young map turtles mainly eat insects and crayfish.

Female Northern Map Turtles may take more than 10 years to reach maturity. They nest from June through July and lay a single clutch of 10 to 17 eggs per year. The eggs hatch in the fall. In some cases, the hatchlings overwinter in the nest.

Action we are taking:


The Northern Map Turtle's range extends from the Great Lakes region west to Oklahoma and Kansas, south to Louisiana and east to the Adirondack and Appalachian mountain barrier. There are isolated populations in New Jersey and New York states. In Canada, it is found in southwestern Quebec and southern Ontario. In southern Ontario, it lives primarily on the shores of Georgian Bay, Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, and along larger rivers including the Thames, Grand and Ottawa.


The Northern Map Turtle inhabits rivers and lakeshores where it basks on emergent rocks and fallen trees throughout the spring and summer. In winter, the turtles hibernate on the bottom of deep, slow-moving sections of river. They require high-quality water that supports the female’s mollusc prey. Their habitat must contain suitable basking sites, such as rocks and deadheads, with an unobstructed view from which a turtle can drop immediately into the water if startled.


Habitat loss and degradation due to shoreline development and decline in water quality threaten the Northern Map Turtle in Ontario. The spread of invasive species such as Zebra Mussels also poses a potential threat to this species. It is also vulnerable to mortality on roadways and injury from boat propellers.

The pet trade may be contributing to declines of this species in the United States and Canada. The Northern Map Turtle resembles several popular pet trade species, and illegal capture and export may be taking place.


The Northern Map Turtle is listed as a species of Special Concern under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act and the federal Species at Risk Act. Although species of Special Concern do not receive legal protection under these acts, they receive protection from some agencies, such as provincial and national parks. This species has also been designated as a Specially Protected Reptile under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.

What You Can Do to Help the Northern Map Turtle

  • The Ministry of Natural Resources tracks species at risk such as the Northern Map Turtle. The Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas collects observations of all Ontario reptiles and amphibians. Submit your observations to either of these databases at nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca/species/species_report.cfm and www.ontarionature.org/atlas. Photographs are important to help confirm the identification of species and are always helpful.
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
  • Private land owners have an important role to play in the recovery of the Northern Map Turtle. Northern Map Turtles can return to use the same nesting and hibernation sites over several years. These areas can be crucial for survival of the local population. If you find a Northern Map Turtle or nest on your property, you may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
  • Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.
  • Visit the Ontario Nature Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas (www.ontarionature.org/atlas) or Toronto Zoo Adopt-a-Pond website (www.torontozoo.com/Adoptapond) to learn more about Ontario’s rare turtles, their habitat and related conservation initiatives.

Did you know?

The female Northern Map Turtle has powerful jaws for crushing the shells of molluscs, its primary food source.

Did you know?

The Northern Map Turtle is extremely wary and will dive into the water at the slightest provocation.

Did you know?

Northern Map Turtles are known for their communal basking, and may be found piled up together in several layers of up to 30 turtles.

Did you know?

Map turtles will often bask at the surface of the water under floating vegetation mats with nothing but their head or nose visible from the surface. This behaviour puts map turtles at significant risk of mortality from motorboats.

The Endangered Species Act

Contact your local ministry office

Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.