Map turtles get their name from their appearance. Their carapace (the top/dome portion of their shell) has designs on it that resembles those seen on some maps. Specifically, it has been noted that the lines on their shells look like waterways on a map. These lines are often a yellow or orange color, with darker colors in between them such as greens and browns. The lines on the map turtles shell can fade some as they age.
In addition to the lines on their shell, map turtles also have thicker lines on their face and limbs. The lines are often a bright yellow, and for many specimens; they are even more noticeable than the “map lines” on their shell.
All of these bright colors and unique designs make map turtles fairly exotic looking despite the relative ease in acquiring one as a pet. While not often regarded as the most ideal pet turtle, they are certainly one of the more handsome looking genera of pet turtle.
They are relatively small when compared to other aquatic fresh water turtles, such as the Trachemys and Pseudemys genera. The females tend to be much larger than the males, with females reaching a max length of about 7 to 10 inches and the males only reaching about 3 to 7 inches. The females are often dominant to the males, and can often be the more aggressive gender when multiple map turtles are put into the same enclosure.
Another difference between the males and females is that the males have much longer claws on their front legs. These are used by the males in displays of courtship, when trying to attract a female.
Some of the species (such as the Barbour’s map turtle) have a few juts coming out of the top of their shell, resembling a line of dorsal fins. Some also have spike-like juts coming out around the base of their carapace. This helps add to their interesting appearance that makes them desirable to some potential pet owners.