Jun 25th, 2013

Cooters in the Tree House

by Kristi Orcutt, Children’s Garden Program Developer, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

The female Eastern River Cooter

The female Eastern River Cooter

I spied a female Eastern River Cooter traveling up the ramp toward the CWD Children’s Garden Tree House. Perhaps after emerging from the pond, she crossed the path and found an opening in the Children’s Garden gate and headed up the ramp. I surmised that she was following her instinct to seek higher ground where she planned to lay her eggs.

I carried her back down the ramp to a more suitable area for laying eggs (from my perspective)  near the Lotus Bridge where the ground is elevated and the soil soft, but where foot traffic is limited. Who knows what she thought of the site!

An Eastern River Cooter climbing the ramp to the Children's Garden Tree House.

An Eastern River Cooter climbing the ramp to the Children’s Garden Tree House.

Reptiles (which include marine, fresh-water and terrestrial turtles) have semi-permeable eggs that must be deposited on dry land, above high tide and flood lines. If a nest of turtle eggs is inundated with water, the embryos would drown. Female River Cooters travel up to 100 feet from the water’s edge, dig a hole using their rear legs and deposit between 10 – 25 eggs. We can hope to spot the tiny (1.5-inch diameter) hatchlings emerging from their nest and scrambling toward the lake in August or September.

“The name “cooter” may have come from an African word “kuta” which means “turtle.”
The Virginia Herpetological Society is an excellent resource for information about Pseudemys concinna concinna (Easter River Cooter) and other Virginia turtles, if you’d like to learn more.


Jonah Holland is Digital Content Manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where she has worked for 14 years overseeing social media, the blog, and the website. She is also a mom, yogi, open water swimmer, gardener, and seeker. She's been known to go for a walk in the Garden and come back with hundreds of plant photos, completely inspired to write her next blog post.

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