It comes as no surprise that the Florida Cooter is the most frequently seen turtle in Florida. This turtle, sometimes confused with the Peninsula Cooter and River Cooter, can also be found throughout the Southeastern Coastal Plain, from Virginia to Alabama. They enjoy the slow-moving rivers, ponds, swamps, and lakes with soft bottoms and abundant vegetation that this region offers.
A favorite activity of the Florida Cooter is sunbathing. They often do this in groups since they are social creatures and can be spotted basking on logs. When they’re not soaking up the Florida sunshine, they spend their time feeding. Females prefer aquatic vegetation while males will also eat aquatic invertebrates. Although it doesn’t have any teeth, like most turtles, the Florida Cooter has a sharp edge to its beak that can be used for self-defense if need be. They will also draw their head and legs into their shells for protection or if they feel threatened.
One of the most interesting things about these turtles is their unusual nests. Unlike other turtles, they construct nests with three holes consisting of one deep center hole and two smaller holes on either side. The mother lays the majority of the eggs in the center hole and just one or two in the side holes. The goal of the side holes is to distract predators from the majority of the eggs although this plan isn’t always successful since some predators will find all three nests.
Because the Florida Cooter is one of the most abundant turtles in Florida, they can be easy to spot in the wild. They don’t try to hide from humans, especially if they find a great log to sunbathe on. This turtle has even found fame in Inverness, Florida, which hosts a three day long festival celebrating Florida Cooters in October. This festival is known as the Great American Cooter Fest and has gained nationwide media coverage since its first run in 2004. A segment on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show was even dedicated to the festival in 2004. The festival, inspired by a fable about a brave and caring cooter, boasts of many family friendly activities including a special appearance by Sunny Cooter, the mascot of Inverness’ festival. Cooters Restaurant and Bar in St. Petersburg, Florida has even chosen this turtle as their namesake.
While the Florida Cooter has won the hearts of many Floridians, they still face some challenges to their safety. The most obvious challenge is loss of their habitat. The wetlands that they call home are often used for development for housing or agriculture. Roads also often cause issues for Florida Cooters because they fragment the cooters’ habitat, forcing them to cross the road to find new areas for feeding and protection. Cars can be fatal to these slow moving critters.
The Florida Cooter is such an integral component of Florida’s scenery that they were named for the state. Florida’s climate and landscape are perfect for these water-loving and sun-loving turtles. There are even festivals and restaurants inspired by Florida Cooters, proving that these animals are just as important to their human neighbors.