Painted Turtle
The painted turtle is the most widespread native turtle of North America. It lives in slow-moving fresh waters, from southern Canada to Louisiana and northern Mexico, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The turtle is the only species of the genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 Chrysemys, which is part of the pond turtle family Emydidae
Emydidae, commonly called the pond turtles or marsh turtles, is a family of turtles. Previously, several species of Asian box turtle were classified in the family. However, revised taxonomy has separated them to a different family. Now, Emydidae, with the exception of two species of pond turtle,...

. Fossils show that the painted turtle existed 15 million years ago, but four regionally based subspecies
Subspecies in biological classification, is either a taxonomic rank subordinate to species, ora taxonomic unit in that rank . A subspecies cannot be recognized in isolation: a species will either be recognized as having no subspecies at all or two or more, never just one...

 (the eastern, midland, southern, and western) evolved during the last ice age.

The adult painted turtle female is 10–25 cm (3.9–9.8 in) long; the male is smaller.
The painted turtle is the most widespread native turtle of North America. It lives in slow-moving fresh waters, from southern Canada to Louisiana and northern Mexico, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The turtle is the only species of the genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 Chrysemys, which is part of the pond turtle family Emydidae
Emydidae, commonly called the pond turtles or marsh turtles, is a family of turtles. Previously, several species of Asian box turtle were classified in the family. However, revised taxonomy has separated them to a different family. Now, Emydidae, with the exception of two species of pond turtle,...

. Fossils show that the painted turtle existed 15 million years ago, but four regionally based subspecies
Subspecies in biological classification, is either a taxonomic rank subordinate to species, ora taxonomic unit in that rank . A subspecies cannot be recognized in isolation: a species will either be recognized as having no subspecies at all or two or more, never just one...

 (the eastern, midland, southern, and western) evolved during the last ice age.

The adult painted turtle female is 10–25 cm (3.9–9.8 in) long; the male is smaller. The turtle's top shell is smooth and oval without a keel (ridge) on the top. 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 southern has a red line on the top shell; the western has a red pattern on the bottom shell.

The turtle eats aquatic vegetation, algae
Algae are a large and diverse group of simple, typically autotrophic organisms, ranging from unicellular to multicellular forms, such as the giant kelps that grow to 65 meters in length. They are photosynthetic like plants, and "simple" because their tissues are not organized into the many...

, and small water creatures including insects, crustaceans, and fish. Although they are frequently consumed as eggs or hatchlings by rodents, canines, and snakes, the adult turtles' hard shells protect them from most predators except alligators and raccoons. 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
Hibernation is a state of inactivity and metabolic depression in animals, characterized by lower body temperature, slower breathing, and lower metabolic rate. Hibernating animals conserve food, especially during winter when food supplies are limited, tapping energy reserves, body fat, at a slow rate...

, usually in the muddy bottoms of waterways. The turtles mate in spring and autumn; between late spring and mid-summer females dig nests on land and lay their eggs. Hatched turtles grow until sexual maturity
Sexual maturity
Sexual maturity is the age or stage when an organism can reproduce. It is sometimes considered synonymous with adulthood, though the two are distinct...

: 2–9 years for males, 6–16 for females. Adults in the wild can live for more than 55 years.

In the traditional tales of Algonquian tribes
Algonquian peoples
The Algonquian are one of the most populous and widespread North American native language groups, with tribes originally numbering in the hundreds. Today hundreds of thousands of individuals identify with various Algonquian peoples...

, the colorful turtle played the part of a trickster. In modern times, the painted turtle has become the United States' second most popular pet turtle, although trapping
Trapping (Animal)
Animal trapping, or simply trapping, is the use of a device to remotely catch an animal. Animals may be trapped for a variety of purposes, including food, wildlife management, hunting, and pest control...

 is increasingly restricted. Habitat loss
Habitat destruction
Habitat destruction is the process in which natural habitat is rendered functionally unable to support the species present. In this process, the organisms that previously used the site are displaced or destroyed, reducing biodiversity. Habitat destruction by human activity mainly for the purpose of...

 and road killings
Roadkill is an animal or animals that have been struck and killed by motor vehicles. In the United States of America, removal and disposal of animals struck by motor vehicles is usually the responsibility of the state's state trooper association or department of transportation.-History:During the...

 have reduced the turtle's population, but its ability to live in human-disturbed settings has helped it remain the most abundant turtle in North America. Only in Oregon and British Columbia is its range in danger of eroding. Four U.S. states have named the painted turtle their official reptile.

Taxonomy and evolution

The painted turtle (C. picta) is the only species in the genus Chrysemys. The parent family for Chrysemys is Emydidae: the pond turtles. Emydidae is split into two sub families; Chrysemys is part of the Deirochelyinae
The Deirochelyinae are a subfamily of Emydidae. Consists of species native to North, and South America, some of which are frequently kept as pets...

 (Western Hemisphere) branch. The four subspecies
Subspecies in biological classification, is either a taxonomic rank subordinate to species, ora taxonomic unit in that rank . A subspecies cannot be recognized in isolation: a species will either be recognized as having no subspecies at all or two or more, never just one...

 of the painted turtle are the eastern (C. p. picta), midland (C. p. marginata), southern (C. p. dorsalis), and western (C. p. bellii).

The painted turtle's generic name is derived from the Ancient Greek words for "gold" (chryso) and "freshwater tortoise" (emys); the species name originates from the Latin for "colored" (pictus). The subspecies name, marginata, derives from the Latin for "border" and refers to the red markings on the outer (marginal) part of the upper shell; dorsalis is from the Latin for "back", referring to the prominent dorsal
Dorsum (biology)
In anatomy, the dorsum is the upper side of animals that typically run, fly, or swim in a horizontal position, and the back side of animals that walk upright. In vertebrates the dorsum contains the backbone. The term dorsal refers to anatomical structures that are either situated toward or grow...

 stripe; and bellii honors zoologist Thomas Bell
Thomas Bell (zoologist)
Thomas Bell FRS was an English zoologist, surgeon and writer, born in Poole, Dorset, UK.Bell, like his mother Susan, took a keen interest in natural history which his mother also encouraged in his younger cousin Philip Henry Gosse. Bell left Poole in 1813 for his training as a dental surgeon in...

, a collaborator of Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin FRS was an English naturalist. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.He published his theory...

. An alternate East Coast common name for the painted turtle is "skilpot", from the Dutch for turtle, schildpad.


Originally described in 1783 by Johann Gottlob Schneider
Johann Gottlob Schneider
Johann Gottlob Theaenus Schneider was a German classicist and naturalist.-Biography:Schneider was born at Collm in Saxony...

 as Testudo picta, the painted turtle was called Chrysemys picta first by John Edward Gray
John Edward Gray
John Edward Gray, FRS was a British zoologist. He was the elder brother of George Robert Gray and son of the pharmacologist and botanist Samuel Frederick Gray ....

 in 1855. The four subspecies were then recognized: the eastern by Schneider in 1783, the western by Gray in 1831, and the midland and southern by Louis Agassiz
Louis Agassiz
Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz was a Swiss paleontologist, glaciologist, geologist and a prominent innovator in the study of the Earth's natural history. He grew up in Switzerland and became a professor of natural history at University of Neuchâtel...

 in 1857.

Until the 1930s many of the subspecies of the painted turtle were labeled by biologists as full species within Chrysemys, but this varied by the researcher. The painted turtles in the border region between the western and midland subspecies were sometimes considered a full species, treleasei. In 1931, Bishop
Sherman C. Bishop
Sherman Chauncey Bishop was a herpetologist and arachnologist from New York. He studied at Cornell University and, with Cyrus R. Crosby, gave the Spruce-fir moss spider its scientific name. His Handbook of Salamanders was the first serious and comprehensive treatment of North American salamanders...

 and Schmidt
Franklin J. W. Schmidt
Franklin J. W. Schmidt was an American naturalist, noted as one of the first practitioners of the field of "wildlife management". Hired by Wisconsin, Schmidt's main work was on the prairie grouse, and its habits in the central marshes of Wisconsin. He published one paper on feeding habits of the...

 defined the current "four in one" taxonomy of species and subspecies. Based on comparative measurements of turtles from throughout the range, they subordinated species to subspecies and eliminated treleasei.

Since at least 1958, the subspecies were thought to have evolved in response to geographic isolation
Allopatric speciation
Allopatric speciation or geographic speciation is speciation that occurs when biological populations of the same species become isolated due to geographical changes such as mountain building or social changes such as emigration...

 during the last ice age, 100,000 to 11,000 years ago. At that time painted turtles were divided into three different populations: eastern painted turtles along the southeastern Atlantic coast; southern painted turtles around the southern Mississippi River; and western painted turtles in the southwestern United States. The populations were not completely isolated for sufficiently long, hence wholly different species never evolved. When the glaciers retreated, about 11,000 years ago, all three subspecies moved north. The western and southern subspecies met in Missouri and hybridized to produce the midland painted turtle, which then moved east and north through the Ohio and Tennessee river basins.

Biologists have long debated the genera of closely related subfamily-mates Chrysemys, Pseudemys
Pseudemys is a genus of large, herbivorous, freshwater turtles of the eastern United States. They are often referred to as cooters, which stems from kuta, the word for turtle in the Bambara and Malinké languages, brought to America by African slaves....

(cooters), and Trachemys
Trachemys is a genus of turtles belonging to the family Emydidae.-Species:*Trachemys adiutrix - Maranhão slider*Trachemys callirostris - Colombian slider*Trachemys callirostris callirostris - Colombian slider...

(sliders). After 1952, some combined Pseudemys and Chrysemys because of similar appearance. In 1964, based on measurements of the skull and feet, Samuel B. McDowell proposed all three genera be merged into one. However, further measurements, in 1967, contradicted this taxonomic
Taxonomy is the science of identifying and naming species, and arranging them into a classification. The field of taxonomy, sometimes referred to as "biological taxonomy", revolves around the description and use of taxonomic units, known as taxa...

 arrangement. Also in 1967, J. Alan Holman, a paleontologist and herpetologist, pointed out that, although the three turtles were often found together in nature and had similar mating patterns, they did not crossbreed
A crossbreed or crossbred usually refers to an animal with purebred parents of two different breeds, varieties, or populations. Crossbreeding refers to the process of breeding such an animal, often with the intention to create offspring that share the traits of both parent lineages, or producing...

. In the 1980s, studies of turtles' cell structures, biochemistries, and parasites further indicated that Chrysemys, Pseudemys, and Trachemys should remain in separate genera.
David E. Starkey and collaborators advanced a new view of the subspecies in 2003. Based on a study of the mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA is the DNA located in organelles called mitochondria, structures within eukaryotic cells that convert the chemical energy from food into a form that cells can use, adenosine triphosphate...

, they rejected the glacial development theory and argued that the southern painted turtle should be elevated to a separate species, C. dorsalis, while the other subspecies should be collapsed into one and not differentiated. However, this proposition was largely unrecognized because successful breeding between all subspecies was documented wherever they overlapped. Nevertheless, in 2010, the IUCN recognized both C. dorsalis and C. p. dorsalis as valid names for the southern painted turtle.


The turtle's karyotype
A karyotype is the number and appearance of chromosomes in the nucleus of an eukaryotic cell. The term is also used for the complete set of chromosomes in a species, or an individual organism.p28...

 (nuclear DNA, rather than mitochondrial DNA) consists of 50 chromosome
A chromosome is an organized structure of DNA and protein found in cells. It is a single piece of coiled DNA containing many genes, regulatory elements and other nucleotide sequences. Chromosomes also contain DNA-bound proteins, which serve to package the DNA and control its functions.Chromosomes...

s, the same number as the rest of its subfamily-mates and the most common number for Emydidae turtles in general. Less well-related turtles have from 26 to 66 chromosomes. Little systematic study of variations of the painted turtle's karotype among populations has been done. (However, in 1967, research on protein structure of offshore island populations in New England, showed differences from mainland turtles.) Comparison of subspecies chromosomal DNA has been discussed, to help address the debate over Starkey's proposed taxonomy, but as of 2009 had not been reported. Interestingly, the complete sequencing of the genetic code for the painted turtle was at a "draft assembed" state in 2010. The turtle was one of two reptiles chosen to be first sequenced.


Although its evolutionary history—what the forerunner to the species was and how the close relatives branched off—is not well understood, the painted turtle is common in the fossil record. The oldest samples, found in Nebraska, date to about 15 million years ago. Fossils from 15 million to about 5 million years ago are restricted to the Nebraska-Kansas area, but more recent fossils are gradually more widely distributed. Fossils newer than 300,000 years old are found in almost all the United States and southern Canada.


The painted turtle's shell is 10–25 cm (3.9–9.8 in) long, oval, smooth, and flat-bottomed.All turtle lengths in this article refer to the top shell (carapace) length, not the extended head to tail length. The color of the top shell (carapace
A carapace is a dorsal section of the exoskeleton or shell in a number of animal groups, including arthropods such as crustaceans and arachnids, as well as vertebrates such as turtles and tortoises. In turtles and tortoises, the underside is called the plastron.-Crustaceans:In crustaceans, the...

) varies from olive to black, allowing the turtle to blend in with its surroundings. 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. As with other pond turtles, such as the bog turtle
Bog turtle
The bog turtle is a semiaquatic turtle endemic to the eastern United States. It was first scientifically described in 1801 after an 18th century survey of Pennsylvania. It is the smallest North American turtle, measuring about long when fully grown...

, the painted turtle's feet are webbed to aid swimming.

The head of the turtle is distinctive. 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. The turtle's upper jaw is shaped into an inverted "V" (philtrum
The philtrum , is a medial cleft common to many mammals, extending from the nose to the upper lip, and, together with a glandular rhinarium and slit-like nostrils, is believed to constitute the primitive condition for mammals in general...

), with a downward-facing, tooth-like projection on each side.

The hatchling has a proportionally smaller head, eyes, and tail, and a more circular shell than the adult. The adult female is generally longer than the male, 10–25 cm (3.9–9.8 in) versus 7–15 cm (2.8–5.9 in). For a given length, the female has a higher (more rounded, less flat) top shell. The female's greater body volume supports her egg-production. The male has longer foreclaws and a longer, thicker tail, with the anus (cloaca
In zoological anatomy, a cloaca is the posterior opening that serves as the only such opening for the intestinal, reproductive, and urinary tracts of certain animal species...

) located further out on the tail.


Although the subspecies may hybridize (intergrade
In zoology, intergradation is the way in which two distinct subspecies are connected via areas where populations are found that have the characteristics of both...

), especially at range boundaries, they are distinct within the hearts of their ranges.
  • The male eastern painted turtle (C. p. picta) is 13–17 cm (5.1–6.7 in) long, while the female is 14–17 cm (5.5–6.7 in). The upper shell is olive green to black and may possess a pale stripe down the middle and red markings on the periphery. The segments (scute
    A scute or scutum is a bony external plate or scale, as on the shell of a turtle, the skin of crocodilians, the feet of some birds or the anterior portion of the mesonotum in insects.-Properties:...

    s) of the top shell have pale leading edges and occur in straight rows across the back, unlike all other North American turtles, including the other three subspecies of painted turtle, which have alternating segments. The bottom shell is plain yellow or lightly spotted.

  • The midland painted turtle (C. p. marginata) is 10–25 cm (3.9–9.8 in) long. The centrally located midland is the hardest to distinguish from the other three subspecies. Its bottom shell has a characteristic symmetrical dark shadow in the center which varies in size and prominence.

  • The southern painted turtle (C. p. dorsalis), the smallest subspecies, is 10–14 cm (3.9–5.5 in) long. Its top stripe is a prominent red, and its bottom shell is tan and spotless or nearly so.

  • The largest subspecies is the western painted turtle (C. p. bellii), which grows up to 25 cm (10 in) long. Its top shell has a mesh-like pattern of light lines, and the top stripe present in other subspecies is missing or faint. Its bottom shell has a large colored splotch that spreads to the edges (further than the midland) and often has red hues.

Eastern painted turtle
C. p. picta
Midland painted turtle
C. p. marginata
Southern painted turtle
C. p. dorsalis
Western painted turtle
C. p. bellii


The most widespread North American turtle, 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
The Maritime provinces, also called the Maritimes or the Canadian Maritimes, is a region of Eastern Canada consisting of three provinces, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. On the Atlantic coast, the Maritimes are a subregion of Atlantic Canada, which also includes the...

 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
Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island is a large island in British Columbia, Canada. It is one of several North American locations named after George Vancouver, the British Royal Navy officer who explored the Pacific Northwest coast of North America between 1791 and 1794...

. 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. It is absent in a part of southwestern Virginia and the adjacent states as well as in north-central Alabama.
The borders between the four subspecies are not sharp, because the subspecies interbreed. Many studies have been performed in the border regions to assess the intermediate turtles, usually by comparing the anatomical features of hybrids that result from intergradation of the classical subspecies. Despite the imprecision, the subspecies are assigned nominal ranges.

Eastern painted turtle

The eastern painted turtle ranges from southeastern Canada to Georgia with a western boundary at approximately the Appalachians. At its northern extremes, the turtle tends to be restricted to the warmer areas closer to the Atlantic Ocean. It is uncommon in far north New Hampshire and in Maine is common only in a strip about 50 miles from the coast. In Canada, it lives in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia but not in Quebec or Prince Edward Island. To the south it is not found in the coastal lowlands of southern North Carolina, South Carolina, or Georgia, or in southern Georgia in general or at all in Florida.

The eastern subspecies's range extends slightly into east central Alabama, where it intergrades with the southern subspecies. In the northeast, there is extensive mixing with the midland subspecies, and some writers have called these turtles a "hybrid swarm". In the southeast, the border between the eastern and midland is more sharp as mountain chains separate the subspecies to different drainage basins.

Midland painted turtle

The midland painted turtle lives from southern Ontario and Quebec, through the eastern U.S. Midwest states, to Kentucky, Tennessee and northwestern Alabama, where it intergrades with the southern painted turtle. It also is found eastward through West Virginia, western Maryland and Pennsylvania. The midland painted turtle appears to be moving east, especially in Pennsylvania. To the northeast it is found in western New York and much of Vermont, and it intergrades extensively with the eastern subspecies.

Southern painted turtle

The southern painted turtle ranges from extreme southern Illinois and Missouri, roughly along the Mississippi River valley, to the south. In Arkansas, it branches out to the west towards Texas, where it is found in the far northeast part of that state (Caddo Lake
Caddo Lake
Caddo Lake is a lake and wetland located on the border between Texas and Louisiana, in northern Harrison County and southern Marion County in Texas and western Caddo Parish in Louisiana. The lake is named after the Southeastern culture of Native Americans called Caddoans or Caddo, who lived in...

 region) as well as extreme southeastern Oklahoma (McCurtain County). It is found in much of Louisiana, where it reaches the Gulf of Mexico (in fresh water). Eastward it is found in western Tennessee, northern Mississippi and much of Alabama, including the Gulf Coast city of Mobile
Mobile, Alabama
Mobile is the third most populous city in the Southern US state of Alabama and is the county seat of Mobile County. It is located on the Mobile River and the central Gulf Coast of the United States. The population within the city limits was 195,111 during the 2010 census. It is the largest...

An isolated population in central Texas has been reported but is now believed to be non-native.

Western painted turtle

The western painted turtle's northern range includes southern parts of western Canada from Ontario to Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. In Ontario, the western subspecies is found north of Minnesota and directly north of Lake Superior, but there is a 130 km (80.8 mi) gap to the east of Lake Superior (in the area of harshest winter climate) where no painted turtles of any subspecies occur. Thus Ontario's western subspecies does not intergrade with the midland painted turtle of southeastern Ontario. In Manitoba, the turtle is numerous and ranges north to Lake Manitoba
Lake Manitoba
Lake Manitoba is Canada's thirteenth largest lake and the world's 33rd largest freshwater lake. It is in central North America, in the Canadian province of Manitoba, which is named after the lake...

 and the lower part of Lake Winnipeg
Lake Winnipeg
Lake Winnipeg is a large, lake in central North America, in the province of Manitoba, Canada, with its southern tip about north of the city of Winnipeg...

. The turtle is also common in south Saskatchewan, but in Alberta, there may only be 100 individuals, all found very near the U.S. border, mostly in the southeast. In British Columbia, populations exist in the interior in the vicinity of the Kootenai, Columbia, Okanagen, and Thompson river valleys. At the British Columbia coast, turtles occur near the mouth of the Fraser and a bit further north, as well as the bottom of Vancouver Island, and some other nearby islands. Within British Columbia, the turtle's range is not continuous and can better be understood as northward extensions of the range from the United States; high mountains present barriers to east-west movement of the turtles within the province or from Alberta. Some literature has shown isolated populations much further north in Alberta and British Columbia, but these were probably pet-releases.

In the United States, the western subspecies forms a wide intergrade area with the midland subspecies covering much of Illinois as well as a strip of Wisconsin along Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan is one of the five Great Lakes of North America and the only one located entirely within the United States. It is the second largest of the Great Lakes by volume and the third largest by surface area, after Lake Superior and Lake Huron...

 and part of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan
Upper Peninsula of Michigan
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is the northern of the two major land masses that make up the U.S. state of Michigan. It is commonly referred to as the Upper Peninsula, the U.P., or Upper Michigan. It is also known as the land "above the Bridge" linking the two peninsulas. The peninsula is bounded...

 (UP). Further west, the rest of Illinois, Wisconsin and the UP are part of the range proper, as are all of Minnesota and Iowa, as well as all of Missouri except a narrow strip in the south. All of North Dakota is within range, all of South Dakota except a very small area in the west, and all of Nebraska. Almost all of Kansas is in range; the border of that state with Oklahoma is roughly the species range border, but the turtle is found in three counties of north central Oklahoma.

To the northwest, almost all of Montana is in range. Only a narrow strip in the west, along most of the Idaho border (which is at the Continental Divide
Continental Divide
The Continental Divide of the Americas, or merely the Continental Gulf of Division or Great Divide, is the name given to the principal, and largely mountainous, hydrological divide of the Americas that separates the watersheds that drain into the Pacific Ocean from those river systems that drain...

) lacks turtles. Wyoming is almost entirely out of range; only the lower elevation areas near the eastern and northern borders have painted turtles. In Idaho, the turtles are only found in the far north (upper half of the Idaho Panhandle
Idaho Panhandle
The Idaho Panhandle is the northern region of the U.S. State of Idaho that encompasses the ten northernmost counties of Benewah, Bonner, Boundary, Clearwater, Idaho, Kootenai, Latah, Lewis, Nez Perce, Shoshone. Residents of the panhandle refer to the region as North Idaho...

). In Washington state, turtles are common throughout the state within lower elevation river valleys. In Oregon, the turtle is native to the northern part of the state throughout the Columbia River valley as well as the Willamette River valley north of Salem.

To the southwest, the painted turtle's range is fragmented. In Colorado, while range is continuous in the eastern, prairie, half of the state, it is absent in most of the western, mountainous, part of the state. However, the turtle is confirmed present in the lower elevation southwest part of the state (Archuleta
Archuleta County, Colorado
Archuleta County is one of the 64 counties of the state of Colorado of the United States. The United States Census Bureau estimates that the county population was 12,386 in 2006, a 25.14% increase since U.S. Census 2000...

 and La Plata
La Plata County, Colorado
La Plata County is the fourteenth most populous of the 64 counties of the State of Colorado of the United States. The county was named for the La Plata River and the La Plata Mountains. "La plata" is the Spanish language word for "silver". The United States Census Bureau estimated that the...

 counties), where a population ranges into northern New Mexico in the San Juan River basin. There are also some unconfirmed sightings in parts of the far west of the state (e.g. Mesa County
Mesa County, Colorado
Mesa County is the fourth most extensive and the eleventh most populous of the 64 counties of the state of Colorado in the United States. The county was named for the many large mesas in the area, including Grand Mesa. The county population was 146,723 at the 2010 United States Census. The...

). In New Mexico, the main distribution follows the Rio Grande
Rio Grande
The Rio Grande is a river that flows from southwestern Colorado in the United States to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way it forms part of the Mexico – United States border. Its length varies as its course changes...

 and the Pecos River
Pecos River
The headwaters of the Pecos River are located north of Pecos, New Mexico, United States, at an elevation of over 12,000 feet on the western slope of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in Mora County. The river flows for through the eastern portion of that state and neighboring Texas before it...

, two waterways that run in a north-south direction through the state. Within the aforementioned rivers, it is also found in the northern part of Far West Texas
The term Trans-Pecos, as originally defined in 1887 by the Texas geologist Robert T. Hill, refers to the portion of Texas that lies west of the Pecos River. The term is considered synonymous with "Far West Texas", a subdivision of West Texas...

. In Utah, the painted turtle lives in an area to the south (Kane County
Kane County, Utah
As of the census of 2000, there were 6,046 people, 2,237 households, and 1,628 families residing in the county. The population density was 2 people per square mile . There were 3,767 housing units at an average density of 1 per square mile...

) in streams draining into the Colorado River, although it is disputed if they are native. In Arizona, the painted turtle is native to an area in the east, Lyman Lake
Lyman Reservoir
The Lyman Reservoir is the largest lake in the region. Lyman Lake State Park, is located in and administered by the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, attracts anglers, as well as campers and water skiers year-round.-Location:...

. The painted turtle is not native to Nevada or California.

In Mexico, painted turtles have been found about 50 miles south of New Mexico near Galeana
Galeana, Chihuahua
Galeana is one of the 67 municipalities of Chihuahua, in northern Mexico. The municipal seat lies at Hermenegildo Galeana. The municipality covers an area of 1,529 km².As of 2005, the municipality had a total population of 3,774....

 in the state of Chihuahua. There, two expeditions found the turtles in the Rio Santa Maria
Santa Maria River (Chihuahua)
-References:*Atlas of Mexico, 1975 .*The Prentice Hall American World Atlas, 1984.*Rand McNally, The New International Atlas, 1993....

 which is in a closed basin.

Human-introduced range

Pet releases are starting to establish the painted turtle outside its native range. In California, it is an invasive species
Invasive species
"Invasive species", or invasive exotics, is a nomenclature term and categorization phrase used for flora and fauna, and for specific restoration-preservation processes in native habitats, with several definitions....

 that endangers the local western pond turtle
Western pond turtle
The western pond turtle , or Pacific pond turtle is a small to medium-sized turtle growing to approximately 20 cm in carapace length. It is limited to the west coast of the United States of America and Mexico, ranging from western Washington state to northern Baja California...

, although competition from similarly released red-eared slider
Red-eared slider
The red-eared slider is a semiaquatic turtle belonging to the family Emydidae. It is a subspecies of pond slider. It is the most popular pet turtle in the United States and also popular in the rest of the world...

s is a greater threat. It has also been introduced into waterways near Phoenix, Arizona
Phoenix, Arizona
Phoenix is the capital, and largest city, of the U.S. state of Arizona, as well as the sixth most populated city in the United States. Phoenix is home to 1,445,632 people according to the official 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data...

, and Miami, Florida
Miami, Florida
Miami is a city located on the Atlantic coast in southeastern Florida and the county seat of Miami-Dade County, the most populous county in Florida and the eighth-most populous county in the United States with a population of 2,500,625...

, and to Germany, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Spain.


To thrive, painted turtles need fresh waters with soft bottoms, basking sites, and aquatic vegetation
Aquatic plant
Aquatic plants are plants that have adapted to living in aquatic environments. They are also referred to as hydrophytes or aquatic macrophytes. These plants require special adaptations for living submerged in water, or at the water's surface. Aquatic plants can only grow in water or in soil that is...

. They find their homes in shallow waters with slow-moving currents, such as creeks, marshes, ponds, and the shores of lakes. The subspecies have evolved different habitat preferences.
  • The eastern painted turtle is very aquatic, leaving the immediate vicinity of its water body only when forced by drought to migrate. Along the Atlantic, painted turtles have appeared in brackish waters.

  • The midland and southern painted turtles seek especially quiet waters, usually shores and coves. They favor shallows that contain dense vegetation and have an unusual toleration of pollution.

  • The western painted turtle lives in streams and lakes, similar to the other painted turtles, but also inhabits pasture ponds and roadside pools. It is found as high as 1800 m (5,905.5 ft).

Population features

Within much of its range, the painted turtle is the most abundant turtle species. Population densities
Population density
Population density is a measurement of population per unit area or unit volume. It is frequently applied to living organisms, and particularly to humans...

 range from 10 to 840 turtles per hectare (2.5 acres) of water surface. Warmer climates produce higher relative densities among populations, and habitat desirability also influences density. Rivers and large lakes have lower densities because only the shore is desirable habitat; the central, deep waters skew the surface-based estimates. Also, lake and river turtles have to make longer linear trips to access equivalent amounts of foraging space.
Adults outnumber juveniles in most populations, but gauging the ratios is difficult because juveniles are harder to catch; with current sampling methods, estimates of age distribution
Population pyramid
A population pyramid, also called an age structure diagram, is a graphical illustration that shows the distribution of various age groups in a population , which forms the shape of a pyramid when the population is growing...

 vary widely. Annual survival rate
Mortality rate
Mortality rate is a measure of the number of deaths in a population, scaled to the size of that population, per unit time...

 of painted turtles increases with age. The probability of a painted turtle surviving from the egg to its first birthday is only 19%. For females, the annual survival rate rises to 45% for juveniles and 95% for adults. The male survival rates follow a similar pattern, but are lower overall than females, creating an average male age lower than that of the female. Natural disasters can confound age distributions. For instance, a hurricane can destroy many nests in a region, resulting in fewer hatchlings the next year. Age distributions may also be skewed by migrations of adults.

To understand painted turtle adult age distributions, researchers require reliable methods. Turtles younger than four years (up to 12 years in some populations) can be aged based on "growth rings" in their shells. For older turtles, some attempts have been made to determine age based on size and shape of their shells or legs using mathematical model
Mathematical model
A mathematical model is a description of a system using mathematical concepts and language. The process of developing a mathematical model is termed mathematical modeling. Mathematical models are used not only in the natural sciences and engineering disciplines A mathematical model is a...

s, but this method is more uncertain. The most reliable method to study the long-lived turtles is to capture them, permanently mark their shells by notching with a drill, release the turtles, and then recapture them in later years. The longest-running study, in Michigan, has shown that painted turtles can live more than 55 years.

Adult sex ratio
Sex ratio
Sex ratio is the ratio of males to females in a population. The primary sex ratio is the ratio at the time of conception, secondary sex ratio is the ratio at time of birth, and tertiary sex ratio is the ratio of mature organisms....

s of painted turtle populations average around 1:1. Many populations are slightly male-heavy, but some are strongly female-imbalanced; one population in Ontario has a female to male ratio of 4:1. Hatchling sex ratio varies based on egg temperature
Temperature-dependent sex determination
Temperature-dependent sex determination is type of environmental sex determination in which the temperatures experienced during embryonic development determine the sex of the offspring. It is most prevalent and common among amniote vertebrates that are classified under the reptile class, but is...

. During the middle third of incubation, temperatures of 23 – produce males, and anything above or below that, females. It does not appear that females choose nesting sites to influence the sex of the hatchlings; within a population, nests will vary sufficiently to give both male and female-heavy broods.


The painted turtle hunts along water bottoms. It quickly juts its head into and out of vegetation to stir potential victims out into the open water, where they are pursued. Large prey it holds in its mouth and tears up with its forefeet. It also consumes plants and skims the surface of the water with its mouth open to catch small particles of food.

Although all subspecies of painted turtle eat plants and animals
Omnivores are species that eat both plants and animals as their primary food source...

, either alive or dead
Scavenging is both a carnivorous and herbivorous feeding behavior in which individual scavengers search out dead animal and dead plant biomass on which to feed. The eating of carrion from the same species is referred to as cannibalism. Scavengers play an important role in the ecosystem by...

, their tendencies vary.
  • The eastern painted turtle's diet is the least studied. It prefers to eat in the water, but has been observed eating on land. The fish it consumes are typically dead or injured.

  • The midland painted turtle eats mostly aquatic insects and both vascular
    Vascular plant
    Vascular plants are those plants that have lignified tissues for conducting water, minerals, and photosynthetic products through the plant. Vascular plants include the clubmosses, Equisetum, ferns, gymnosperms and angiosperms...

     and non-vascular plant
    Non-vascular plant
    Non-vascular plants is a general term for those plants without a vascular system . Although non-vascular plants lack these particular tissues, a number of non-vascular plants possess tissues specialized for internal transport of water....


  • The southern painted turtle's diet changes with age. Juveniles have a 13% vegetarian diet, adults 88%. This perhaps shows the turtle prefers meat, but can only obtain the amounts desired (by eating small larvae and such) while young. The reversal of feeding habits with age has also been seen in the false map turtle
    False Map Turtle
    The false map turtle or Mississippi map turtle is a species of turtle found in the United States. It is a common pet species.- Identification :...

    , which inhabits some of the same range. The most common plants eaten by adult southern painted turtles are duckweed and algae
    Algae are a large and diverse group of simple, typically autotrophic organisms, ranging from unicellular to multicellular forms, such as the giant kelps that grow to 65 meters in length. They are photosynthetic like plants, and "simple" because their tissues are not organized into the many...

    , and the most common prey items are dragonfly larvae
    A dragonfly is a winged insect belonging to the order Odonata, the suborder Epiprocta or, in the strict sense, the infraorder Anisoptera . It is characterized by large multifaceted eyes, two pairs of strong transparent wings, and an elongated body...

     and crayfish
    Crayfish, crawfish, or crawdads – members of the superfamilies Astacoidea and Parastacoidea – are freshwater crustaceans resembling small lobsters, to which they are related...


  • The western painted turtle's consumption of plants and animals changes seasonally. In early summer, 60% of its diet comprises insects. In late summer, 55% includes plants. Of note, the western painted turtle also eats many white water-lily
    Nymphaea odorata
    Nymphaea odorata, also known as the Fragrant Water Lily and Beaver Root, is a flower belonging to the genus Nymphaea. It can commonly be found in lake shallows, ponds, and permanent slow moving waters throughout North America where it ranges from Central America to northern Canada...

     seeds. Because the hard-coated seeds remain viable after passing through the turtle, they are dispersed
    Seed dispersal
    Seed dispersal is the movement or transport of seeds away from the parent plant. Plants have limited mobility and consequently rely upon a variety of dispersal vectors to transport their propagules, including both abiotic and biotic vectors. Seeds can be dispersed away from the parent plant...

     by it.


Painted turtles are most vulnerable to predators when young. Nests are frequently ransacked and the eggs eaten by garter snakes
Plains Garter Snake
The Plains Garter Snake is a species of Garter snake native to most of the Central United States stretching as far north as Canada and as far south as Texas. It has a distinctive orange or yellow stripe that goes from its head to tail, the rest of its body is mainly a gray-green color...

, crows, chipmunks, thirteen-lined ground
Thirteen-lined ground squirrel
The thirteen-lined ground squirrel , also known as the striped gopher, leopard ground squirrel, squinney, and as the leopard-spermophile in Audubon’s day, is a ground squirrel....

 and gray squirrels
Eastern Gray Squirrel
The eastern gray squirrel is a tree squirrel in the genus Sciurus native to the eastern and midwestern United States, and to the southerly portions of the eastern provinces of Canada...

, skunks, groundhogs, raccoons, badgers, gray
Gray Fox
The gray fox is a mammal of the order Carnivora ranging throughout most of the southern half of North America from southern Canada to the northern part of South America...

 and red fox
Red Fox
The red fox is the largest of the true foxes, as well as being the most geographically spread member of the Carnivora, being distributed across the entire northern hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to North Africa, Central America, and the steppes of Asia...

, and humans. The small and sometimes bite-size, numerous hatchlings fall prey to water bugs
Nepomorpha is an infraorder of insects in the "true bug" order . They belong to the "typical" bugs of the suborder Heteroptera. Due to their aquatic habits, these animals are known as true water bugs. They occur all over the world outside the polar regions, with about 2,000 species altogether...

, bass, catfish, bullfrogs, snapping turtle
Snapping turtle
The common snapping turtle is a large freshwater turtle of the family Chelydridae. Its natural range extends from southeastern Canada, southwest to the edge of the Rocky Mountains, as far east as Nova Scotia and Florida and as far southwest as northeastern Mexico...

s, three types of snakes (copperheads
Agkistrodon is a genus of venomous pit vipers found in North America from the United States south to northern Costa Rica. The name is derived from the Greek words ἄγκιστρον 'fishhook' and ὁδοὐς 'tooth', and is likely a reference to the fangs...

, racers
Coluber is a genus of thin bodied, fast moving, colubrid snakes commonly known as racers. They are widespread around the world and vary greatly in habitat and behaviour. In the past, Coluber was a catch-all genus which included almost all snake species known at the time...

 and water snakes
Nerodia is a genus of nonvenomous colubrid snakes commonly referred to as water snakes.- Description :Nerodia species vary greatly, but all are relatively heavy-bodied snakes, sometimes growing to 1.2 m or larger. They have flattened heads, with small eyes that have round pupils, and keeled...

), herons, rice rats
Oryzomys is a genus of semiaquatic rodents in the tribe Oryzomyini living in southern North America and far northern South America. It includes eight species, two of which—the marsh rice rat of the United States and O. couesi of Mexico and Central America—are widespread; the six others have...

, weasels, muskrats, minks, and raccoons. As adults, the turtles' armored shells protect them from many potential predators, but they still occasionally fall prey to alligators, osprey
The Osprey , sometimes known as the sea hawk or fish eagle, is a diurnal, fish-eating bird of prey. It is a large raptor, reaching more than in length and across the wings...

s, crows, red-shouldered hawks
Red-shouldered Hawk
The Red-shouldered Hawk is a medium-sized hawk. Its breeding range spans eastern North America and along the coast of California and northern to northeastern-central Mexico.-Description:...

, bald eagles, and especially raccoons.

Painted turtles defend themselves by kicking, scratching, biting, or urinating. In contrast to land tortoises, painted turtles can right themselves if they are flipped upside down.

Daily routine and basking

A cold-blooded
An ectotherm, from the Greek εκτός "outside" and θερμός "hot", refers to organisms that control body temperature through external means. As a result, organisms are dependent on environmental heat sources and have relatively low metabolic rates. For example, many reptiles regulate their body...

 reptile, the painted turtle regulates its temperature through its environment, notably by basking. All ages bask for warmth, often alongside other species of turtle. Sometimes more than 50 individuals are seen on one log together. Turtles bask on a variety of objects, often logs, but have even been seen basking on top of common loons that were covering eggs.

The turtle starts its day at sunrise, emerging from the water to bask for several hours. Warmed for activity, it returns to the water to forage. After becoming chilled, the turtle re-emerges for one to two more cycles of basking and feeding. At night, the turtle drops to the bottom of its water body or perches on an underwater object and sleeps.

To be active, the turtle must maintain an internal body temperature between 17–23 °C (62.6–73.4 F). When fighting infection, it manipulates its temperature up to 5 °C (8 °F) higher than normal.

Seasonal routine and hibernation

In the spring, when the water reaches 15–18 °C (59–64.4 F), the turtle begins actively foraging. However, if the water temperature exceeds , the turtle will not feed. In fall, the turtle stops foraging when temperatures drop below the spring set-point.

During the winter, the turtle hibernates
Hibernation is a state of inactivity and metabolic depression in animals, characterized by lower body temperature, slower breathing, and lower metabolic rate. Hibernating animals conserve food, especially during winter when food supplies are limited, tapping energy reserves, body fat, at a slow rate...

. In the north, the inactive season may be as long as from October to March, while the southernmost populations may not hibernate at all. While hibernating, the body temperature of the painted turtle averages . Periods of warm weather bring the turtle out of hibernation, and even in the north, individuals have been seen basking in February.

The painted turtle hibernates by burying itself, either on the bottom of a body of water, near water in the shore-bank or the burrow of a muskrat
The muskrat , the only species in genus Ondatra, is a medium-sized semi-aquatic rodent native to North America, and introduced in parts of Europe, Asia, and South America. The muskrat is found in wetlands and is a very successful animal over a wide range of climates and habitats...

, or in woods or pastures. When hibernating underwater, the turtle prefers shallow depths, no more than . Within the mud, it may dig down an additional . In this state, the turtle does not breathe, although if surroundings allow, it may get some oxygen through its skin. The species is one of the best-studied vertebrate
Vertebrates are animals that are members of the subphylum Vertebrata . Vertebrates are the largest group of chordates, with currently about 58,000 species described. Vertebrates include the jawless fishes, bony fishes, sharks and rays, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds...

s able to survive long periods without oxygen
Hypoxia (medical)
Hypoxia, or hypoxiation, is a pathological condition in which the body as a whole or a region of the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply. Variations in arterial oxygen concentrations can be part of the normal physiology, for example, during strenuous physical exercise...

. Adaptations of its blood chemistry, brain, heart, and particularly its shell allow the turtle to survive extreme lactic acid
Lactic acid
Lactic acid, also known as milk acid, is a chemical compound that plays a role in various biochemical processes and was first isolated in 1780 by the Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele. Lactic acid is a carboxylic acid with the chemical formula C3H6O3...

 buildup while oxygen-deprived.


Searching for water, food, or mates, the painted turtles travel up to several kilometers at a time. During summer, in response to heat and water-clogging vegetation, the turtles may vacate shallow marshes for more permanent waters. Short overland migrations may involve hundreds of turtles together. If heat and drought are prolonged, the turtles will bury themselves
Aestivation is a state of animal dormancy, characterized by inactivity and a lowered metabolic rate, that is entered in response to high temperatures and arid conditions...

 and, in extreme cases, die.

Foraging turtles frequently cross lakes or travel linearly down creeks. Daily crossings of large ponds have been observed. Tag and release
Tracking animal migration
For years scientists have been tracking animals and the ways they migrate. One of the many goals of animal migration research has been, of course, to determine where the animals are going; however, researchers also want to know why they are going "there"...

 studies show that sex also drives turtle movement. Males travel the most, up to 26 km (16 mi), between captures; females the second most, up to 8 km (5 mi), between captures; and juveniles the least, less than 2 km (1.2 mi), between captures. Males move the most and are most likely to change wetlands because they seek mates.

The painted turtles, through visual recognition, have homing
Homing (biology)
Homing is the inherent ability of an animal to navigate towards an original location through unfamiliar areas. This location may be either a home territory, or a breeding spot.-Uses:...

 capabilities. Many individuals can return to their collection points after being released elsewhere, trips that may require them to traverse land. One experiment placed 98 turtles varying several-kilometer distances from their home wetland; 41 returned. When living in a single large body of water, the painted turtles can home from up to 6 km (4 mi) away. Females may use homing to help locate suitable nesting sites.


The painted turtles mate in spring and fall in waters of 10–25 °C (50–77 F). Males start producing sperm
Spermatogenesis is the process by which male primary germ cells undergo division, and produce a number of cells termed spermatogonia, from which the primary spermatocytes are derived. Each primary spermatocyte divides into two secondary spermatocytes, and each secondary spermatocyte into two...

 in early spring, when they can bask to an internal temperature of 17 °C (63 °F). Females begin their reproductive cycles in mid-summer, and ovulate the following spring.

Courtship display
Courtship display is a special, sometimes ritualised, set of behaviours which some animals perform as part of courtship. Courtship behaviours can include special calls, postures, and movements, and may involve special plumage, bright colours or other ornamentation. A good example is the 'dancing'...

 begins when a male follows a female until he meets her face-to-face. He then strokes her face and neck with his elongated front claws, a gesture returned by a receptive female. The pair repeat the process several times, with the male retreating from and then returning to the female until she swims to the bottom, where they copulate. As the male is smaller than the female, he is not dominant. The female stores sperm
The term sperm is derived from the Greek word sperma and refers to the male reproductive cells. In the types of sexual reproduction known as anisogamy and oogamy, there is a marked difference in the size of the gametes with the smaller one being termed the "male" or sperm cell...

, to be used for up to three clutches
Clutch (eggs)
A clutch of eggs refers to all the eggs produced by birds or reptiles, often at a single time, particularly those laid in a nest.In birds, destruction of a clutch by predators, , results in double-clutching...

, in her oviducts; the sperm may remain viable for up to three years. A single clutch may have multiple fathers.


Nesting instinct
Nesting instinct refers to an instinct or urge in pregnant animals to prepare a home for the upcoming newborn. It is found in a variety of animals including humans.-In animals:...

 is done, by the females only, between late May and mid-July. The nests are vase-shaped and are usually dug in sandy soil, often at sites with southern exposures. Nests are often within 200 m (218.7 yd) of water, but may be as far away as 600 m (656.2 yd), with older females tending to nest further inland. Nest sizes vary depending on female sizes and locations but are about 5–11 cm (2–4.3 in) deep. Females may return to the same sites several consecutive years, but if several females make their nests close together, the eggs become more vulnerable to predators.

The female's optimal body temperature while digging her nest is 29–30 °C (84.2–86 F). If the weather is unsuitable, for instance a too hot night in the Southeast, she delays the process until later at night. Painted turtles in Virginia have been observed waiting three weeks to nest because of a hot drought.

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 as the wood turtle
Wood Turtle
The wood turtle is a turtle endemic to North America. It is in the genus Glyptemys, a designation given to only one other turtle: the bog turtle. The wood turtle reaches a carapace length of , its defining characteristic being the pyramidal pattern on its upper shell...

s also do.

The female relies on her hind feet for digging. She may accumulate so much sand and mud on her feet that her mobility is reduced, making her vulnerable to predators. To lighten her labors, she lubricates the area with her bladder water. Once the nest is complete, the female deposits into the hole. The freshly laid eggs are white, elliptical, porous, and flexible. From start to finish, the female's work may take four hours. Sometimes she remains on land overnight afterwards, before returning to her home water.

Females can lay five clutches per year, but two is a normal average after including the 30–50% of a population's females that do not produce any clutches in a given year. In some northern populations, no females lay more than one clutch per year. Bigger females tend to lay bigger eggs and more eggs per clutch. Clutch sizes of the subspecies vary, although the differences may reflect different environments, rather than different genetics. The two more northerly subspecies, western and midland, are larger and have more eggs per clutch—11.9 and 7.6, respectively—than the two more southerly subspecies, southern (4.2) and eastern (4.9). Within subspecies, also, the more northerly females lay larger clutches.


Incubation lasts 72–80 days in the wild and for a similar period in artificial conditions. In August and September, the young turtle breaks out from its egg, using a special projection of its jaw called the egg tooth
Egg tooth
In some egg-laying animals, the egg tooth is a small, sharp, cranial protuberance used by offspring to break or tear through the egg's surface during hatching...

. Not all offspring leave the nest immediately, though. Hatchlings north of a line from Nebraska to northern Illinois to New Jersey typically arrange themselves symmetrically in the nest and overwinter to emerge the following spring.
The hatchling's ability to survive winter in the nest has allowed the painted turtle to extend its range further north than any other American turtle. The painted turtle is genetically adapted to survive extended periods of subfreezing temperatures with blood that can remain supercooled
Supercooling, also known as undercooling, is the process of lowering the temperature of a liquid or a gas below its freezing point without it becoming a solid....

 and skin that resists penetration from ice crystals in the surrounding ground. The hardest freezes nevertheless kill many hatchlings.

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 (or the following spring if emergence is delayed), hatchlings begin feeding to support growth. The young turtles grow rapidly at first, sometimes doubling their size in the first year. Growth slows sharply at sexual maturity
Sexual maturity
Sexual maturity is the age or stage when an organism can reproduce. It is sometimes considered synonymous with adulthood, though the two are distinct...

 and may stop completely. Likely owing to differences of habitat and food by water body, growth rates often differ from population to population in the same area. Among the subspecies, the western painted turtles are the fastest growers.

Females grow faster than males overall, and must be larger to mature sexually. In most populations males reach sexual 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 reach sexual maturity at 7–9 years of age and females at 11–16.


The decline in painted turtle populations is not a simple matter of dramatic range reduction, like that of the American bison. Instead the turtle is classified as G5 (demonstrably widespread) in its Natural Heritage Global Rank, and the IUCN rates it as a "Least Concern
Least Concern
Least Concern is an IUCN category assigned to extant taxon or lower taxa which have been evaluated but do not qualify for any other category. As such they do not qualify as threatened, Near Threatened, or Conservation Dependent...

" species. The painted turtle's high reproduction rate and its ability to survive in polluted wetlands and artificially made ponds have allowed it to maintain its range, but the post-Columbus settlement of North America has reduced its numbers.

Only within the Pacific Northwest is the turtle's range eroding. Even there, in Washington, the painted turtle is designated S5 (demonstrably widespread). However, in Oregon, the painted turtle is designated S2 (imperiled), and in British Columbia, the turtle's populations in the Coast
British Columbia Coast
The British Columbia Coast or BC Coast is Canada's western continental coastline on the Pacific Ocean. The usage is synonymous with the term West Coast of Canada....

 and Interior
British Columbia Interior
The British Columbia Interior or BC Interior or Interior of British Columbia, usually referred to only as the Interior, is one of the three main regions of the Canadian province of British Columbia, the other two being the Lower Mainland, which comprises the overlapping areas of Greater Vancouver...

 regions are labeled "endangered" and "of special concern", respectively.

Much is written about the different factors that threaten the painted turtle, but they are unquantified, with only inferences of relative importance. A primary threat category is habitat loss in various forms. Related to water habitat, there is drying of wetlands
Wetlands of the United States
Wetlands of the United States are defined by the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the United States Environmental Protection Agency as "those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal...

, 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
Genetic isolate
A genetic isolate is population of organisms that has little genetic mixing with other organisms within the same species. This may result in speciation, but this is not necessarily the case...

 some populations. Localities have tried to limit roadkill by constructing underpasses, highway barriers, and crossing signs. Oregon has introduced public education on turtle awareness, safe swerving, and safely assisting turtles across the road.

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
Red-eared slider
The red-eared slider is a semiaquatic turtle belonging to the family Emydidae. It is a subspecies of pond slider. It is the most popular pet turtle in the United States and also popular in the rest of the world...

 turtles increasingly compete with painted turtles. In cities, increased urban predators (raccoons, canines, and felines) may impact painted turtles by eating their eggs.

Other factors of concern for the painted turtles include over-collection from the wild, released pets introducing diseases or reducing genetic variability
Genetic variability
Genetic variability is a measure of the tendency of individual genotypes in a population to vary from one another. Variability is different from genetic diversity, which is the amount of variation seen in a particular population. The variability of a trait describes how much that trait tends to...

, 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 vehicle
All-terrain vehicle
An all-terrain vehicle , also known as a quad, quad bike, three wheeler, or four wheeler, is defined by the American National Standards Institute as a vehicle that travels on low pressure tires, with a seat that is straddled by the operator, along with handlebars for steering control...

s. Gervais and colleagues note that research itself impacts the populations and that much funded turtle trapping work has not been published. They advocate discriminating more on what studies are done, thereby putting fewer turtles into scientists' traps. Global warming
Global warming
Global warming refers to the rising average temperature of Earth's atmosphere and oceans and its projected continuation. In the last 100 years, Earth's average surface temperature increased by about with about two thirds of the increase occurring over just the last three decades...

 represents an uncharacterized future threat.


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
Salmonella is a genus of rod-shaped, Gram-negative, non-spore-forming, predominantly motile enterobacteria with diameters around 0.7 to 1.5 µm, lengths from 2 to 5 µm, and flagella which grade in all directions . They are chemoorganotrophs, obtaining their energy from oxidation and reduction...

. However, a loophole for scientific samples allows some small turtles to be sold, and illegal trafficking also occurs.

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. The animals are described as being somewhat unsuitable for children as they do not enjoy being held. Hobbyists have kept turtles alive for decades.

Other uses

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
Turtle racing
Turtle racing is a popular event in which participants typically place turtles in the center of a circle and watch them walk around until one of them crosses out of the circle...

 is popular at summer fairs.


Commercial harvesting of painted turtles in the wild is controversial, and increasingly restricted. For instance, Wisconsin formerly had virtually unrestricted trapping of painted turtles, but based on qualitative observations forbade all commercial harvesting in 1997. In neighboring Minnesota trappers collected more than 300,000 painted turtles during the 1990s.

Worried by Wisconsin's example, Minnesota commissioned Gamble and Simon to undertake a quantitative study of the impact of harvesting on their own painted turtles. The scientists found that harvested lakes averaged half the painted turtle density of off-limit lakes. Population modeling demonstrated that unrestricted harvests could produce a large decline in turtle populations. Minnesota forbade new harvesters in 2002, and limited trap numbers. Although harvesting continued, subsequent takes averaged half those of the 1990s.
As of 2009, painted turtles faced virtually unlimited harvesting in Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio, and Oklahoma. Since then, Missouri has prohibited their harvesting.

Individuals who trap painted turtles typically do so to earn additional income, selling a few thousand a year at $1–2 each. Many trappers have been involved in the trade for generations, and value it as a family activity. Some harvesters disagree with limiting the catch, saying the populations are not dropping.

Many U.S. state fish and game departments allow non-commercial taking of painted turtles under a creel
Creel (basket)
Creel is a type of small wicker basket mainly used by anglers to hold fish or other prey. A creel is designed to function as an evaporative cooler when lined with moss and dipped into the creek in order to keep the catch chilled...

 limit, and require a fishing (sometimes hunting) license; others completely forbid the recreational capture of painted turtles. Trapping is not allowed in Oregon, where western painted turtle populations are in decline, and in Missouri, where there are populations of both southern and western subspecies. In Canada, Ontario protects both subspecies present, the midland and western, and British Columbia protects its dwindling western painted turtles.

Capture methods are also regulated by locality. Typically trappers use either floating "basking traps" or partially submerged, baited "hoop traps". Trapper opinions, commercial records, and scientific studies show that basking traps are more effective for collecting painted turtles, while the hoop traps work better for collecting "meat turtles" (snapping turtles and soft-shell turtles
Trionychidae is a taxonomic family which comprises a number of turtle genera commonly known as softshells. They are also sometimes called pancake turtles. Softshells consist of some of the world's largest fresh water turtles, though many can adapt to living in highly brackish areas. Members of this...

). Nets, hand capture, and fishing with set lines
A dropline is a commercial fishing device, consisting of a long fishing line set vertically down into the water, with a series of fishing hooks attached to snoods....

 are generally legal, but shooting (either deliberate or wanton), chemicals, and explosives are forbidden.


Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

 tribes were familiar with the painted turtle—young braves
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

 were trained to recognize its splashing into water as an alarm—and incorporated it in folklore. A Potawatomi
The Potawatomi are a Native American people of the upper Mississippi River region. They traditionally speak the Potawatomi language, a member of the Algonquian family. In the Potawatomi language, they generally call themselves Bodéwadmi, a name that means "keepers of the fire" and that was applied...

 myth describes how the talking turtles, "Painted Turtle" and allies "Snapping Turtle" and "Box Turtle
Box turtle
The box turtle , or box tortoise is a genus of turtle native to North America . The 12 taxa which are distinguished in the genus are distributed over four species. It is largely characterized by having a domed shell, which is hinged at the bottom, allowing the animal to close its shell tightly to...

", outwit the village squaw
Squaw is an English language loan-word, used as a noun or adjective, whose present meaning is an indigenous woman of North America. It is derived from the eastern Algonquian morpheme meaning 'woman' that appears in numerous Algonquian languages variously spelled squa, skwa, esqua, sqeh, skwe, que,...

s. Painted Turtle is the star of the legend and uses his distinctive markings to trick a woman into holding him so he can bite her. An Illini
The Illinois Confederation, sometimes referred to as the Illiniwek or Illini, were a group of twelve to thirteen Native American tribes in the upper Mississippi River valley of North America...

 myth recounts how Painted Turtle put his paint on to entice a chief's daughter into the water.

As of 2010, four U.S. states designated the painted turtle as official reptile. Vermont honored the reptile in 1994, following the suggestion of Cornwall Elementary School
Cornwall Elementary School
Cornwall Elementary School is located in Cornwall, Vermont. Its "Official" name is Bingham Memorial School. It teaches grades K-6. Students then graduate to Middlebury Union Middle School in Middlebury, Vermont. The school provides some of the finest education available at a school of its size;...

 students. In 1995, Michigan followed, based on the recommendation of Niles
Niles, Michigan
Niles is a city in Berrien and Cass counties in the U.S. state of Michigan, near South Bend, Indiana. The population was 11,600 at the 2010 census. It is the greater populated of two principal cities of and included in the Niles-Benton Harbor, Michigan Metropolitan Statistical Area, which has a...

 fifth graders, who discovered the state lacked an official reptile. Illinois citizens, in 2004, voted to select the painted turtle as their state reptile and the legislature made it official in 2005. Colorado chose the western painted turtle in 2008, following the efforts of two succeeding years of Jay Biachi's fourth grade classes. In New York, the painted turtle narrowly lost (5,048 to 5,005, versus the common snapping turtle) a 2006 statewide student election for state reptile.

In the border town of Boissevain, Manitoba
Boissevain, Manitoba
Boissevain is a town in Manitoba near the North Dakota border. It is surrounded by the Rural Municipality of Morton. It is notable for its proximity to the International Peace Garden, a short drive south on Highway 10. The town also displays a number of wall murals as a tourist attraction...

, a 10000 lb (4,535.9 kg) western painted turtle, Tommy the Turtle, is a roadside attraction. The statue was built in 1974 to celebrate the Canadian Turtle Derby, a festival including turtle races that ran from 1972–2001.

Another Canadian admirer of the painted turtle is Jon Montgomery
Jon Montgomery
Jonathan Riley "Jon" Montgomery is a Canadian skeleton racer who has competed since 2006. He won the Gold Medal in the men's skeleton event at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.-Career:...

, who won the 2010 Olympic gold medal in skeleton
Skeleton (sport)
Skeleton is a fast winter sliding sport in which an individual person rides a small sled down a frozen track while lying face down, during which athletes experience forces up to 5g. It originated in St. Moritz, Switzerland as a spin-off from the popular British sport of Cresta Sledding...

 (a form of sled) racing, while wearing a painted turtle painting on the crown of his helmet, prominently visible when he slid downhill. Montgomery, who also iconically tattoed his chest with a maple-leaf, explained his visual promotion of the turtle, saying that he had assisted one to cross the road. BC Hydro
BC Hydro
The BC Hydro and Power Authority is a Canadian electric utility in the province of British Columbia generally known simply as BC Hydro. It is the main electric distributor, serving 1.8 million customers in most areas, with the exception of the Kootenay region, where FortisBC, a subsidiary of Fortis...

 referred to Montgomery's action when describing its own sponsorship of conservation research for the turtle in British Columbia.

Several private entities use the painted turtle as a symbol. Wayne State University Press
Wayne State University Press
Wayne State University Press , founded in 1941, is a university press that is part of Wayne State University. It publishes under its own name and also the imprints Painted Turtle and Great Lakes Books....

 operates an imprint "named after the Michigan state reptile" that "publishes books on regional topics of cultural and historical interest". In California, The Painted Turtle
The Painted Turtle
The Painted Turtle is a camp located near Lake Elizabeth in Lake Hughes, California. The camp is for children who are faced with life threatening and chronic illnesses, Many of these children would not have the opportunity to have a camping experience due to their illness.-History:The Painted...

 is a camp for ill children, founded by Paul Newman
Paul Newman
Paul Leonard Newman was an American actor, film director, entrepreneur, humanitarian, professional racing driver and auto racing enthusiast...

. Painted Turtle Winery of British Columbia trades on the "laid back and casual lifestyle" of the turtle with a "job description to bask in the sun". Also, there are two Internet companies in Michigan, a guesthouse in British Columbia, and a café in Maine that use the painted turtle commercially.

In children's books, the painted turtle is a popular subject, with at least seven books published between 2000 and 2010. "Painted turtle: state reptile of Michigan" is a short song for children.

External links

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