The Plymouth red-bellied turtle scientific name: Pseudemys rubriventris bangsi is sometimes called the Plymouth red-bellied cooter, and in 1983 it was the first freshwater turtle in the US to be listed as endangered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. This turtle was found only in Plymouth County, Massachusetts and the populations dropped to around 200-300 turtles. The state then stepped in and started a conservation “head start” programs to boost the populations.
Scott and John at the Berkshire Museum (and a bunch of us others) have been raising these turtles since the mid 1990’s. The program takes the hatchlings that are the size of a quarter and so susceptible to predation by raccoons, heron’s, skunks and even bull frogs, and sends them to organizations such as the Berkshire Museum that raise them for 6 months so they are about 6 inches long. They are marked by notches in their shells so each individual can be tracked then they are released back into 20 separate ponds. These turtles take about 2–9 years for males, 6–16 for females to become old enough to mate. That’s a long time. In 2007 the wild populations began to increase. But the rehabilitation program goes on because of predation by skunks and herbicides dumped into the streams and ponds where they live.
These colorful turtles are called red-bellies because their plastron, the underside of their shell has red markings.
Like our local painted turtles, Chrysemys picta, they are omnivores feeding on snails, plants, worms, tadpoles, crayfish, and insect larvae. Massachusetts turtles hibernate during the winter in the mud at the bottom of rivers, lakes and ponds.