Painted Turtle

Painted Turtle

Painted turtle

2 languages
Chrysemys picta
Population size
Life Span
20-30 yrs
300-500 g
7-25 cm

The painted turtle (Chrysemys picta ) is the most widespread native turtle of North America. It lives in slow-moving fresh waters, from southern Canada to northern Mexico, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. They have been shown to prefer large wetlands with long periods of innundation and emergent vegetation. This turtle is a member of the genus Chrysemys, which is part of the pond turtle family Emydidae. Fossils show that the painted turtle existed 15 million years ago. Three regionally based subspecies (the eastern, midland, and western) evolved during the last ice age. The southern painted turtle (C. dorsalis ) is alternately considered the only other species in Chrysemys, or another subspecies of C. picta.

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The adult painted turtle is 13–25 cm (5–10 in) long; the male is smaller than the female. The turtle's top shell is dark and smooth, without a ridge. Its skin is olive to black with red, orange, or yellow stripes on its extremities. The subspecies can be distinguished by their shells: the eastern has straight-aligned top shell segments; the midland has a large gray mark on the bottom shell; the western has a red pattern on the bottom shell.

The turtle eats aquatic vegetation, algae, and small water creatures including insects, crustaceans, and fish. Painted turtles primarily feed while in water and are able to locate and subdue prey even in heavily clouded conditions. Although they are frequently consumed as eggs or hatchlings by rodents, canines, and snakes, the adult turtles' hard shells protect them from most predators. Reliant on warmth from its surroundings, the painted turtle is active only during the day when it basks for hours on logs or rocks. During winter, the turtle hibernates, usually in the mud at the bottom of water bodies. The turtles mate in spring and autumn. Females dig nests on land and lay eggs between late spring and mid-summer. Hatched turtles grow until sexual maturity: 2–9 years for males, 6–16 for females.

In the traditional tales of Algonquian tribes, the colorful turtle played the part of a trickster. In modern times, four U.S. states (Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, and Vermont) have named the painted turtle their official reptile. While habitat loss and road killings have reduced the turtle's population, its ability to live in human-disturbed settings has helped it remain the most abundant turtle in North America. Adults in the wild can live for more than 55 years.

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The Painted turtle is the most widespread native turtle of North America. Fossils show that the painted turtle existed 15 million years ago. These turtles have a long, oval, smooth shell with little grooves where the large scale-like plates overlap, and flat-bottomed. The color of the top shell (carapace) varies from olive to black. The bottom shell (plastron) is yellow, sometimes red, sometimes with dark markings in the center. Similar to the top shell, the turtle's skin is olive to black, but with red and yellow stripes on its neck, legs, and tail. Painted turtles have a very distinctive head. The face has only yellow stripes, with a large yellow spot and streak behind each eye, and on the chin two wide yellow stripes that meet at the tip of the jaw. As with other pond turtles, the Painted turtle's feet are webbed to aid swimming.



The Painted turtle is the only turtle whose native range extends from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It is native to eight of Canada's ten provinces, forty-five of the fifty United States, and one of Mexico's thirty-one states. On the East Coast, it lives from the Canadian Maritimes to the U.S. state of Georgia. On the West Coast, it lives in British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon and offshore on southeast Vancouver Island. The northernmost American turtle, its range includes much of southern Canada. To the south, its range reaches the U.S. Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Alabama. In the southwestern United States, there are only dispersed populations. It is found in one river in extreme northern Mexico. Painted turtles need fresh waters with soft bottoms, basking sites, and aquatic vegetation. They find their homes in shallow waters with slow-moving currents, such as creeks, marshes, ponds, rivers, and the shores of lakes. Along the Atlantic, Painted turtles have appeared in brackish waters.

Painted Turtle habitat map

Climate zones

Painted Turtle habitat map
Painted Turtle
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Habits and Lifestyle

Painted turtles are social creatures and sometimes more than 50 individuals are seen on one log together. These cold-blooded reptiles regulate their temperature notably by basking. Turtles bask on a variety of objects, often logs, but have even been seen basking on top of common loons that were covering eggs. Painted turtles start their day at sunrise, emerging from the water to bask for several hours. Warmed for activity, they return to the water to forage. After becoming chilled, turtles re-emerge for one to two more cycles of basking and feeding. At night, they drop to the bottom of their water body or perch on an underwater object and sleep. During the winter, Painted turtles hibernate. In the north, the inactive season may be as long as from October to March, while the southernmost populations may not hibernate at all. They hibernate by burying themselves, either on the bottom of a body of water, near water in the shore-bank or the burrow of a muskrat, or in woods or pastures. When hibernating underwater, Painted turtles prefer shallow depths, no more than 2 m (7 ft). Within the mud, they may dig down an additional 1 m (3 ft). In this state, turtles do not breathe, although if surroundings allow, they may get some oxygen through their skin.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Painted turtles are omnivores and eat animals and plants. They feed on both living and dead animals. Their diet includes aquatic insects, fish, crustaceans, aquatic vegetation, and algae.

Mating Habits

spring, autumn
72-80 days
4 to 15
at birth
4-15 eggs

Painted turtles mate in spring and autumn. Females dig nests on land and lay eggs between late spring and mid-summer. While preparing to dig her nest, the female sometimes exhibits a mysterious preliminary behavior. She presses her throat against the ground of different potential sites, perhaps sensing moisture, warmth, texture, or smell, although her exact motivation is unknown. She may further temporize by excavating several false nests. Females can lay five clutches per year each including 4-15 oval, soft-shelled eggs. Incubation lasts 72-80 days in the wild. In August and September, hatchlings break out from their egg, using a special projection of their jaw called the egg tooth. Immediately after hatching, turtles are dependent on egg yolk material for sustenance. About a week to a week and a half after emerging from their eggs, hatchlings begin feeding to support growth. The young turtles grow rapidly at first, sometimes doubling their size in the first year. Females grow faster than males. In most populations males reach reproductive maturity at 2-4 years old, and females at 6-10. Size and age at maturity increase with latitude; at the northern edge of their range, males become mature at 7–9 years of age and females at 11-16.


Population threats

The main threat to Painted turtles is habitat loss in various forms. Related to water habitat, there is drying of wetlands, clearing of aquatic logs or rocks (basking sites), and clearing of shoreline vegetation, which allows more predator access or increased human foot traffic. Related to nesting habitat, urbanization or planting can remove needed sunny soils. Another significant human impact is roadkill - dead turtles, especially females, are commonly seen on summer roads. In addition to direct killing, roads genetically isolate some populations. In the West, human-introduced bass, bullfrogs, and especially snapping turtles, have increased the predation of hatchlings. Outside the Southeast, where sliders are native, released pet Red-eared slider turtles increasingly compete with Painted turtles. In cities, increased urban predators (raccoons, canines, and felines) may impact Painted turtles by eating their eggs. Other threats include over-collection from the wild, released pets introducing diseases or reducing genetic variability, pollution, boating traffic, angler's hooks (the turtles are noteworthy bait-thieves), wanton shooting, and crushing by agricultural machines or golf course lawnmowers or all-terrain vehicles.

Population number

According to IUCN, the Painted turtle is locally common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.

Ecological niche

Due to their diet Painted turtles are important predators of crustaceans, small fish and other invertebrates in aquatic ecosystems they live in.


According to a trade data study, painted turtles were the second most popular pet turtles after red-eared sliders in the early 1990s. As of 2010, most U.S. states allow, but discourage, painted turtle pets, although Oregon forbids keeping them as pets, and Indiana prohibits their sale. U.S. federal law prohibits sale or transport of any turtle less than 10 cm (4 in), to limit human contact to salmonella. However, a loophole for scientific samples allows some small turtles to be sold, and illegal trafficking also occurs.

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Painted turtle pet-keeping requirements are similar to those of the red-eared slider. Keepers are urged to provide them with adequate space and a basking site, and water that is regularly filtered and changed. Aquatic turtles are generally unsuitable pets for children, as they do not enjoy being held. Hobbyists have maintained turtles in captivity for decades. Painted turtles are long-lived pets, and have a lifespan of up to 40 years in captivity.

The painted turtle is sometimes eaten but is not highly regarded as food, as even the largest subspecies, the western painted turtle, is inconveniently small and larger turtles are available. Schools frequently dissect painted turtles, which are sold by biological supply companies; specimens often come from the wild but may be captive-bred. In the Midwest, turtle racing is popular at summer fairs.

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1. Painted Turtle on Wikipedia -
2. Painted Turtle on The IUCN Red List site -

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