Official Symbols and Emblems of Alabama
Official Alabama Reptile
Alabama Red-bellied Turtle
The Alabama Red-Bellied Turtle, Pseudemys alabamensis, is native to Alabama. The Emydidae turtle family, of which the Alabama red-bellied turtle belongs, is the largest turtle family with over 80 species worldwide. Six genera and 13 species occur in Alabama. The red-belly inhabits the fresh to brackish waters of the Mobile Delta in Mobile and Baldwin Counties. The Alabama red-bellied turtle and related species are often seen basking on logs. It is found nowhere else in the world.
Description: Adult turtles are approximately 1 foot (30 cm) in length. Females are slightly larger with a carapace (upper shell) length reaching 13 inches (33 cm). Carapace color may be greenish to dark brown or black with yellowish, orangish, or reddish vertical markings along the sides. The plastron (under shell) may be pale yellow to red with or without dark markings. Colors and markings are usually more intense in young turtles. The head, neck, and legs are marked with yellowish striping. Males have elongated foreclaws. A unique distinguishing characteristic of the Alabama red-bellied turtle is the presence of tooth-like cusps on either side of the upper jaw.
Life History: Based on related species, male and female Alabama red-bellied turtles probably reach sexual maturity at 4 and 6 years of age, respectively. Nesting of the Alabama red-bellied turtle occurs from May through July. Female turtles leave their aquatic environment and venture onto dry land to lay their eggs. A shallow nest is excavated in generally sandy soil where 4 to 9 eggs are deposited. Hatchlings usually emerge during the summer. However, when the turtles nest in late July, hatchlings may overwinter in the nest and emerge the following spring. Lifespan of the Alabama red-bellied turtle is not known at this time. Many turtles have the potential for long lives and a life span of 50 years or more could be expected for the Alabama red-bellied turtle.
The Alabama red-bellied turtle was placed on the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Endangered Species List in 1987. The turtle is also protected under the Nongame Species Regulation by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Decline in numbers had been documented during the 1980's. Reasons for this decline include a decrease and disturbance of suitable nesting areas, illegal trapping for food and the pet trade, and entrapment and drowning in fishing nets and crab traps. Predation by alligators on adults and by crows on eggs also occurs. Raiding of nests for eggs by man may have contributed to the decline of the Alabama red-bellied turtle.
Very few studies have been conducted on the Alabama red-bellied turtle and therefore little is known about its life history. Future studies are necessary before successful management of the turtle can be accomplished.
The Act no. 90-82 made the Alabama Red-Bellied Turtle the State Reptile.
Acts of Alabama, February 13, 1990
Roger B. Clay. Reptiles and Amphibians in Alabama. Wildlife Section, Game and Fish Division, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Updated: January 14, 2010