The Animal Diversity website says that the scientific name for the Eastern or American red-bellied turtle is Pseudemys rubriventris. This species can be found around the Mid-Atlantic regions as far north as New Jersey and as far south as North Carolina. They are considered endangered in Massachusetts because of animal predators, loss of habitat, pollution and pesticides. Outside of Massachusetts they are listed as threatened, according to the National Heritage Endangered Species Program.
Baby red-bellied turtles have a long and slightly flattened shell that is highest in the middle. Their heads are dark olive with yellow stripes, and they have a noticeable notch in the tip of their bills. The top part of the shell, or carapace, is usually brown or black, but the plastron, the bottom part of the shell, is a rich pink or red color. This is why they are called red-bellied turtles. Babies usually have a black stripe down the middle of the plastron that fades as they get older, according to Turtles of the World. When babies hatch they are only about 1 inch long, but they can grow to as large as 12 inches.
Nesting and Hatching
The Animal Diversity website says that between the months of June and July, red-bellied female turtles dig a small hole in the ground close to a pond where they lay between eight and 22 eggs in a clutch. It takes between 73 and 80 days, or 10 to 15 weeks, for the inch-long hatchlings to emerge from the ground. They usually hatch between August and October. The mothers do not provide care for the hatchlings after they emerge. E-Nature notes that one of the reasons these turtles are endangered is because they are vulnerable to animal predators. The eggs and hatchlings have little natural protection and are frequently eaten by raccoons, skunks and birds.
The National Heritage Endangered Species Program and the Animal Diversity website indicate that juvenile and adult red-bellied turtles are mainly herbivorous. Their primary diet consists of algae and aquatic plants, especially a variety called milfoil. On occasion, they will also eat crayfish, fish, insects and amphibians.
The National Heritage Endangered Species Program says that when baby red-bellied turtles hatch, they head straight for water. Juveniles and adults spend most of their time in the water. When these turtles are not swimming or looking for food, they spend their time basking in the sun.
The National Heritage and Endangered Species program has partnered with Massachusetts to conserve the red-bellied turtle. MassWildlife, for example, operates a program that collects hatchlings and keeps them in captivity until they are big enough to survive without being eaten by other animals. These programs also work with agricultural services to make sure that the red-bellied turtle is protected from pesticides or activities that may harm their natural environments.