Description: Painted turtles are relatively
small turtles (5-7 in; 10-18 cm carapace length), colorful with dark shells and
yellow stripes on the legs and, blotches or spots on their heads. The edges of
the shell are smooth, not serrated, and may have red or yellow hieroglyphic-like
patterns on the edge of the otherwise yellow or orange-yellow plastron. Southern
painted turtles are distinguished from other sub-species by a red or yellow stripe
that runs down the carapace from head to tail. Their black legs also have red
stripes. Females grow larger than males, but adult males have much longer front
claws, which they use in mating displays. Hatchlings look like miniature, more
Range and Habitat: The several subspecies
of painted turtles are found across much of the continental US and into Canada.
Painted turtles are found in the Piedmont and further inland to the mountains
of Georgia and South Carolina. They are rarely but occasionally found below the
Fall Line and closer to the coast. They prefer aquatic habitats with vegetation
and muddy bottoms including farm ponds, slow-moving rivers and oxbow lakes, freshwater
marshes and beaver ponds. They can also be found in roadside ditches and seasonal
Habits: Painted turtles have a varied, omnivorous diet
and are frequently seen basking on logs or rocks or some other available site.
They are most active from March to November, but may be encountered on warm days
throughout the year. They mate in early spring (males are known to move between
aquatic habitats, presumably looking for mates) with the females coming out of
the water to nest during the day in May and June. They typically lay 2-8 eggs,
sometimes a few more. The eggs hatch in late summer or early fall, but hatchlings
usually remain in the nest until they emerge the following spring. Hatchlings
are more carnivorous than adults and grow quickly, sometimes doubling in size
in their first growing season.
Conservation Status: Painted turtles
are fairly abundant throughout their range. Their ability to adapt to aquatic
environments altered by man contributes to the relative stability of many populations
of the species.
Ernst, Carl H and Jeffrey
E. Lovich. 2009. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Johns Hopkins University
Press, Baltimore. pp. 184-211.
Congdon, J. D. and D. W. Tinkle. 1982. Reproductive
energetics of the painted turtle (Chrysemys picta). Herpetologica 38: 228-237.
N. B., J. W. Gibbons, and J. L. Greene. 1991. Growth, survivorship and longevity
of painted turtles Chrysemys picta in a southwestern Michigan marsh. The
American Midland Naturalist 125: 245-258.
Gibbons, J. W. 1968. Reproductive
potential, activity, and cycles in the painted turtle, Chrysemys picta.
Ecology 49: 399-409.
Zweifel, Richard G. 1989. Long-term ecological studies
on a population of painted turtles, Chrysemys picta, on Long Island, New
York. American Museum Novitates (2952): 1-55.
Account Author: Judith
Greene, SREL - edited by Whit Gibbons
Hatchling painted turtles