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New World Pond Turtles: Emydidae

Painted Turtle (chrysemys Picta): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: The painted turtle is a medium-sized turtle that is mostly olive or black on the legs, head, neck, and upper shell. Adults can grow to 3.5–10 inches (9–26 centimeters). The head has yellow stripes, and there are both red and yellow stripes on the neck and legs and red striping around the edge of the upper shell, the carapace. The bottom shell, or plastron (PLAS-trun), is yellow or tan, with a long, dark blotch running down the middle. Males and females look very much alike, except that the females are larger and the males have longer and thinner front claws. A large female's carapace can reach almost 10 inches (26 centimeters) in length.

Geographic range: These turtles are found in Canada and the United States.

Painted turtles are mainly freshwater animals, although a few live in saltier waters. They prefer waters with little, if any current. (Illustration by Gillian Harris. Reproduced by permission.)

Habitat: Painted turtles are mainly freshwater animals, although a few live in saltier waters. They prefer waters with little, if any current, or swift-moving water. They live in southern Canada and mostly in the far northern, central, and eastern United States, though a few populations live in the southwestern United States and just over the border in Mexico.

Diet: Painted turtles are not picky eaters. Their meals consist of plants, insects, snails, leeches, tadpoles, and small fishes that they find in the water. They will also eat dead animals. Young turtles are mainly meat eaters and then switch to eating more and more plants as they grow older.

Behavior and reproduction: The painted turtle spends much time sunbathing, or "basking," on logs or rocks that poke up out of the water. During the winter months, which can become quite cold in the northern part of their range (the region where they roam and feed), they bury themselves underwater in the muddy bottom and wait for spring. If the winter day is warm enough, they may crawl through a hole in the ice and bask before returning underwater. Males and females mate in the fall or in the spring. The male attracts the female by tickling the sides of her head with his long claws. The females leave the water from late spring to midsummer to nest on land, usually somewhat near the water. The nest is a hole she digs in the ground. She lays one to twenty eggs in each nest and typically makes one or two nests a year. Nest temperature controls the number of males and females in the clutch. The eggs hatch in seventy-two to eighty days.

Painted turtles and people: Most people know these turtles as the ones they see basking on logs in lakes and rivers. Some people collect the turtles for the pet trade, and a few eat their meat.

Conservation status: Painted turtles are not threatened, but many of them are killed every year by raccoons and other animals that dig up their nests and eat the eggs or by cars that run over the turtles as they attempt to cross roads. ∎

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceDinosaurs, Snakes, and Other ReptilesNew World Pond Turtles: Emydidae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Conservation Status, Painted Turtle (chrysemys Picta): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, NEW WORLD POND TURTLES AND PEOPLE