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Painted Turtle Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common NamePainted Turtle / Eastern Painted Turtle / Midland Painted Turtle / Southern Painted Turtle / Western Painted Turtle
Scientific NameChrysemys picta
OriginNorthern America specifically they are found from southern Canada to northern Mexico
HabitatFreshwater that is shallow and has a soft and muddy bottom like lakes, ponds, creeks, rivers, marshes and other slow-moving bodies of water
Size and WeightFemales: 22cm; 500 gramsMales: 20cm; 300 grams
DietTadpoles, snails, fish, insects, algae, earthworms, carrion, fruits, green and leafy vegetables, and duckweed.
Life SpanWild: 25-30 yearsCaptivity: up to 50 years

Physical Descriptions

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The appearance of the Painted turtle is where it obviously got its name and where it makes this turtle distinctive from other turtles. Its shells are flattened that helps reduce water resistance with colors that range from olive to black and is similar to its skin but with orange, red and yellow lines on its neck, legs, and tail. The difference between male and female painted turtles can be seen from the size of their bodies, claws, and tails. Male turtles are smaller than females, but they have long claws and longer thicker tails. 

Furthermore, these turtles have webbed feet that looks like a paddle. Their top shelf is called carapace; there are turtles that shed their carapace, but for these turtle species, it cannot be removed nor shed. Their plastron or their bottom shelf allows them to comfortably tuck themselves inside their shell.

Subspecies

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Eastern Painted Turtles

This turtle has a maximum length of 16-17 cm. The top shell of this turtle has aligned carapace scutes that made it distinguished among the three subspecies of painted turtle and other North American turtles that have alternating carapace scutes. Its plastron is plain yellow as long as its large dot-like stripes head while the color of their body is bright red. Housing these turtles in one housing shows their aggressive behavior because both males and females are dominant and aggressive by nature, placing some hiding places in their tank will help ease their temperament. 

Midland Painted Turtles

This turtle also intergrades with the three other subspecies. They are the most difficult turtles to distinguish among the three other subspecies because it almost adapts all their characteristics. It also has a maximum size of 17 cm. Males have an upper shell, and the females grow up to 6 to 17 inches. Like any other turtles, they also have alternating carapace scutes. Furthermore, the markings of this turtle on its head, neck, and body are similar to the Eastern painted turtle. 

However, the large dot-like stripes on the top of the head are not present.  The plastron of this subspecies has dark markings in the center of the yellow plastron. They lack hard shells; that is why they tend to become fast swimmer especially if they are being chased by their predator. In captivity, they should be handled carefully since they are prone to injury due to their fragile bodies.

Western Painted Turtles

This turtle is found from Southern Canada, northern Michigan, and western British Columbia. This turtle is the largest from the three subspecies that can reach about  20 cm in length. The markings of their head and body are yellow, as well as its alternating carapace. The plastron is pink and has a large dark design that extends along its edges. They become active during warm climates, especially during the summer and spring season. In these seasons, they would stay at the bottom of the pond and go to the land when the temperature in the day arises. 

They are about 50 turtles basking in one area. They eat almost anything, may it be dead, small animals. They only eat under waters or their heads must be submerged in the water. The males and the females have differences in their physical appearance, such as their size, the males grow up to 4 inches to 6 inches long while the females grow up to 10-15 inches long. The males tend to be smaller and look flatter than females. 

Southern Painted Turtles

This turtle is smaller than the other species that can reach only about 15 cm in length. It has a red stripe along the center of its carapace and has a similar solid yellow plastron and body. Unlike other subspecies, it does not have the aligned carapace scutes. These types of turtles love to bask most of the time. This is a good species if you want to care for multiple turtles in one cage because they are not aggressive to each other; however, be cautious in handling them because their aggressiveness towards humans is triggered when they are handled too often. 

They tend to be active in the months of April to June, where they breed and reproduce. They lay their eggs in a sandy with some vegetation. They have an average clutch size of about 4-6 eggs and expect that it will hatch in about 8-9 weeks. If taken in captivity, they are not sensitive to how their housing looks. As long as there are both land and water area, this turtle will surely thrive.

Where to Find This Species

This kind of species is one of the most common turtles in Northern America; specifically they are found from southern Canada to northern Mexico. Eastern painted turtles are found along the Atlantic seaboard of the United States, midland painted turtles are found to the east of the Mississippi River, western painted turtles are spread in the United States and Canada and the southern painted turtle usually spends its time along the south down areas of the Gulf Coast and Illinois, Missouri.

Habitat

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Painted Turtles live permanently in freshwater that is shallow and has a soft and muddy bottom like lakes, ponds, creeks, rivers, marshes, and other slow-moving bodies of water. They also thrive in aquatic vegetation in order to hide and attract their prey. In captivity, they are not quite sensitive to how their housing looks, as long as there are both land and water area, and as long as they can do their activities such as basking and swim for sure they will be happy and healthy.

Diet

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Painted turtles are characterized as omnivorous wherein they feed mainly on plants and animals specifically tadpoles, snails, fish, insects, algae, earthworms, carrion, fruits, green and leafy vegetables, and duckweed. They are also allowed to eat pelleted commercial turtle diets that are low in fat and high but sufficient amount of minerals and vitamins such as vitamin D and calcium. In addition, their diet must also have a content of 30 % or 40 % of protein. Fruits and vegetables contain a lot of proteins, which can help them remain healthy as well as meat that is responsible for their growth; that is why the juvenile turtles prefer to eat meat in order for them to grow faster than the adults. 

Adult turtles should eat once every 2-3 days for them not to become overweight. When they are eating larger prey such as carrion, they usually eat the food by grasping it with their mouths and by scratching small pieces of chunks with their claws in order for them to swallow it. Since these turtles don’t have teeth, they use their sharp and serrated bony plates through their jaws to grip food. In addition, they go to the water when they are eating as it helps them to swallow the food and to make it easier for them to digest it.

Size and Weight

Generally, female turtles are slightly larger when compared to male turtles. Female painted turtles can reach about 22 cm in length and weighs about 500 grams whereas, male painted turtles can reach about 20 cm in length and can weigh about 300 grams. The females tend to grow larger than the males because they are the ones who will carry their offspring. 

Life span

Painted turtles have a lifespan of about 25 to 30 years, but some of them can live 50 years and longer in captivity. Their lifespan in captivity is extended because they are no longer prone to different external changes such as temperature, destruction of habitat, and diseases and illnesses common in the wild.

Behavior and Temperament

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Like any other turtles, they love swimming and basking. These turtles are diurnal in which they are actually active during the day to bask every six hours a day. They bask in places such as logs, rocks, and fallen trees that are near the water.  Basking is important for them as it helps them to have a faster metabolism to digest the food and to warm up their bodies. 

Interestingly, if there are no enough basking places available for them, they will pile on top of one another. Basking in one of their most important activities because these will not only help them warm their bodies but basking helps them get rid of different kinds of parasites that infest them. During the night, they likely go on the submerged rocks and the bottom of the pond, covering themselves in mud for resting. Like any other reptiles, they are cold-blooded species wherein they are usually dependent on the temperature around them.

When the temperature is cold, they have less appetite for food and have a slower metabolism. In addition, they hibernate themselves in the pond whenever they are cold. These turtles want to be alone from time to time, but sometimes they are docile. In addition, they are not the type of turtle that is nervous, unlike other species of turtle, such as map turtles. 

They are usually not aggressive, and if they were threatened, they can just easily hide their heads and legs on their shells for protection. Painted turtles are also attentive to their predators such as birds like bald eagles or red-shouldered hawks. These birds will catch these turtles by their talons and fly as high to drop them so that the shells of these turtles will crack and for them to be easier to eat their flesh. However, since they have good camouflaging skills in the water, these turtles cannot be easily caught by their predators. 

Breeding and Reproduction

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Mating of Painted turtles happens at the end of their hibernation throughout the spring and early summer seasons, typically from March to mid-June in every once a year. Male Painted Turtles court females by following them and swims in front of her in order for him to caress her face and neck using his long front claws. When the female becomes responsive, she will then stroke the male’s forelimbs. Their mutual stroking will happen several times until the female will swims to the bottom of the water allowing the male for them to copulate. 

 After mating, the female will look for nesting sites such as sandy fields or soft, sandy soil near the water and dig a hole for their nest. Female turtles can lay 4-15 eggs. Hatchlings are born every two or three months, and their gender would be determined based on the temperature of their nest. Males are born in a cooler nest and mature after 3 to 5 years, whereas, females are born in a warmer nest and usually take a longer time to mature for about 6 to 10 years.

Common Diseases/Illnesses

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Parasites Infections

Internal parasites such as tapeworms, nematodes, tapeworms, flukes, and flagellates are commonly found in most turtles, including painted turtles. If these parasites become overpopulated on the gastrointestinal tract of the turtles, this will make their health in critical condition. In this case, you should take your turtle to the veterinarian in order for them to perform exams such as the Annual Fecal test. Hence, if the turtle is positive on the test, the veterinarian will be able to prescribe the appropriate medication for your pet.   

Salmonella 

Salmonella infections usually occur in the turtle’s shell, skin, and ears. This happens when the quality of the water is dirty and allows the increased growth of algae. Infections from the ear of the turtle will display large bumps behind their eyes that need to be addressed immediately as to not worsen their condition. According to researchers, this Salmonella bacteria could be transmitted to humans if they happen to handle the infected turtle in which it can cause them to have a fever, diarrhea, nausea, stomach pain, headache, and even vomiting. 

Hypovitaminosis A (Vitamin A Deficiency) 

Hypovitaminosis A or Vitamin A deficiency is most common in semi-aquatic turtles, including painted turtles. This occurs when turtles are lack vitamin A in their diet, which may cause symptoms like swollen eyes, lack of appetite or loses weight, raw skin, stomatitis or mouth infection, and respiratory infections. Furthermore, turtles that have excessively high on proteins can also cause disruptions in the normal function of their liver, which may result in kidney failure. 

Lack of vitamin A on the turtle’s body thickens their cells which results to the disturbance of the normal functions of their skin and organs that’s why it is important that your pet has enough vitamin A on their body and has an appropriate diet in order to avoid these kinds of symptoms. If you noticed that your pet has kind of symptoms, you must take your turtles to the veterinarian for them to cure immediately.

 Metabolic bone disease 

This disease occurs in turtles when they lack calcium, or they have an imbalanced proportion of vitamins and minerals in their diet. The common symptoms of this disease to the turtles include anorexia, softening of their carapace and plastron, bone fractures, and weakness. These symptoms can make changes in their movement or behavior since they have insufficient vitamins, specifically, calcium in their bodies. In addition, not having adequate exposure to UV light can also cause them to have this kind of disease. 

Therefore, if you notice that your pet causes any changes in their behavior, especially on the deformity of their shells, it’s advisable to give them the proper vitamins they need as well as proper attention. Moreover, taking them to the veterinarian is the best way to do because they will be able to give them the proper level supplement of vitamins.

Reproductive Diseases 

During the reproductive cycle of females during sexual maturity, it undergoes different processes to form the eggs. The problem arises anywhere this process; a common reproductive problem is when the eggs remain too long in the oviduct and fail to ovulate that may be a cause of decomposition that leads to yolk coelomitis, which cause different complications that is fatal. When a fully grown egg can’t go out because of its size, it may move to different areas of the turtle’s body, such as their urinary bladder or colon that causes obstruction and complications. These stuck eggs should be removed by means of surgery only.

For males, their penis becomes traumatized and somehow deformed during the mating process, and sometimes, they tend to copulate on things that have a shape or looks like a turtle such as rocks. If their penis remains extruded due to swelling, it needs medical attention. In some severe cases, the penis may be amputated.

Foreign Bodies 

Snake-necked turtles are quite curious about everything that they see. They use to eat everything that they see, especially small items such as gravel, jewelry, coins, etc. If the turtles are large enough, it can just pass through in its digestive system without a problem; however, large items may be trapped in their digestive system that may cause an obstruction. If not removed, it may be fatal, which is why at times surgery is needed. In captivity, make sure that their housing is always clean free from small accessories that they can put in their mouths.

Trauma 

Even though the shell’s appearance is hard, the turtle can feel pain when somebody knocks on it or when the turtle bump on something. They can get trauma through accidents, and this is seen on their shells. You should be able to determine a mild to severe damage on the shell. There are techniques made so that the shell will be repaired.

Shell Rot 

This is commonly caused by a fungus or bacterial infection. Any cuts, abrasions, lesions, or scrape is where bacteria can enter. If these bacteria are not treated, it may lead to shell rot that causes septicemia, which is an infection to the bloodstream. Shell rot is characterized as having white powdery, flaking patches on the skin. Medical assistance is needed to give first aid. 

Swollen Eyes

If your tortoise has a vitamin A deficiency, bacterial infection, and improper diet, it is evident in the eyes of the turtle. You need to take it to your veterinarian for the proper dosage of antibiotics. If their eyes are also exposed to a dirty environment, there is a tendency that their eyes will be infected as well. 

Preventing Diseases

Painted turtles like any other animals are also prone to different diseases and illnesses. In order to avoid this, we must first maintain the cleanliness of the surroundings of these turtles.  Most of the common diseases and infections that occur in turtles came in different forms of bacteria from a dirty environment; that is why it is important for them to have a clean environment to prevent these diseases. 

Providing your turtle foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals, especially having an appropriate diet can also prevent them from the emergence of diseases and can help them to have a healthy body. If happened that your pet suffers from diseases, you should immediately take them to the veterinarian in order for them to be cured. If they are taken in captivity, it is important that you monitor them daily and give these turtles proper care and attention for them to be able to prevent different harm most especially to these diseases.

Captivity Breeding

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These types of turtles are one of the most common pets for inexperienced and beginners due to their behavior and temperament. However, caring for them is quite intensive, and since they have a lengthy lifespan, you may need to have a budget for their food for a couple of years.

Availability-Where to Get One?

Since the population of these turtles is stable, you can have them through aquatic pet shops or the main breeder. However, places like in Canada where this species is at risk or endangered, you cannot be able to get one of these turtles from physical stores and online shops. In addition, most temperate species are restricted for the breeding season during spring and summer. Captive-bred babies are usually available from May through September season. Furthermore, since there are numbers of babies hatched yearly, they are most commonly available for most of the year at affordable prices. 

How to Care Reptile as a Pet

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Housing

Painted Turtles are usually adaptable in their environment. They can be housed in any suitable sized tanks like glass aquarium, plastic totes, stock tanks, and garden ponds where they can swim, bask, hide, and rest. These turtles love to swim; that is why make sure that their housing has both land and water area.

 You should ensure that the tank of your turtles is clean in order for your turtle to prevent different kinds of infections and diseases from remaining them in good health condition. 

Temperature and Lighting

Proper lighting and temperature are important in maintaining the health of your turtle. The temperature of your tank should range between 72 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and with a water temperature between 63 to 73 degrees. The humidity level of your tank must be about 70 %. It is advisable to monitor the tank thermometer and humidity gauge daily to ensure that your turtles are getting enough temperature and lighting. You must also ensure that you’re changing the UV-B light of the turtle’s basking area every 6 months.

Turtle Handling and Temperament

Experts suggest to only handle your turtle if you know that it is already established in their housing and if they are already comfortable. If you started out from hatchlings, you need to wait for a couple of feedings before you can handle them more often because when a turtle eats in their habitat, that is an indication that your pet is already adjusting. In general, they do not like to be handled often. They can be aggressive faster when they are not comfortable with how you handle them. It is only advisable to handle them if you are checking or observing their overall physical appearance to ensure that they are healthy.

Feeding 

Since these turtles are omnivorous, you should provide your pet with commercial turtle food that is high-quality, and meets its nutritional requirements. These include meat like worms, fish, and insects and leafy green vegetables. To help keep your turtle’s housing clean, do not just throw their food into the aquarium but provide them a separate dish. It is also advisable to ask your veterinarian about the calcium and other vitamins for your pet.

Breeding

Placing one male and female in a tank would definitely lead to breeding and mating as long as their tank is kept warm. Females should be given calcium and protein in their diet. You can place at least 2 or more turtles in one big tank if you want them to reproduce faster.

Conservation Status

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Painted turtles are not subjected as endangered or at risk of extinction because they are considered as abundant species due to their different ranges. However, one of the subspecies of the painted turtle, which is the western painted turtle that is found in North America is already endangered and subjected already in extinction. In addition, some of these turtles are said to be vulnerable to human activities like the expansion of cities wherein female turtles are usually get hit by the cars for nesting sites, and natural events like climate change. They are also threatened by the destruction of their habitats such as lakes and ponds due to soil erosion and water pollution. Hence, according to The International Union for Conservation of Nature and  Natural Resources (IUCN), these species are considered to be “least concern” or not being a focus on conservation.

Facts about Painted Turtles

  • In captivity, painted turtles and their other species are known to live for a long time. They are known to live up to 50 years and possibly longer.
  • Painted turtles can survive without oxygen, especially during their hibernation. They can hold their breath for as long as 5 months.
  • They don’t have teeth, but they use their sharp jaws in order to grip their food. In addition, they eat on the water for them to swallow their food easily since their tongue can’t move freely.
  • The age of these turtles can be determined by the number of scutes they have in their shells.
  • The sex of their offsprings is determined by the temperature of their eggs. Warm temperature is produced by females while the cold temperature is produced by males.
  • They are beautiful and attractive because of their bright colors.
  • At any size, painted turtles can be very aggressive. They can cause a hazard to other living animals inside the tank at a small size, while larger sizes can be dangerous for both tankmates and the keeper.
  • Be careful in handling painted turtles because they can bite you because they do not like being handled by humans frequently.
  • Painted turtles are a delicacy in some places and such as turtle soup. This activity contributes a lot to the slow extinction of this species. 

FAQ Section

Do Painted turtles bite?

When threatened, these turtles have the ability to bite with their powerful jaws. Good thing, their jaws are too small to cause serious damage, but you still need to be careful every time you will handle them.

How long can a painted turtle go out of water?

They go out of the water to bask and eat, make sure that they will not stay for a whole day long in the land area without water. They can stay in the water for no more than 8 hours a day.

What are the predators of the painted turtle?

The usual predator that eats painted turtle and its species are otters, raccoons, foxes, mink. Their eggs are also being attacked, which causes great effect in their lifecycle.

How many times does painted turtle eat?

Your painted turtle is usually fed four to five times a week, especially the adult ones. For the young, they are usually given food every day with the applicable size.

Will my painted turtle die if the water is too cold?

Whether the water is too cold or too hot, it will surely affect how the painted turtle behaves. You should always maintain the temperature in their tank to avoid any sickness. 

Do painted turtle feels loneliness?

These species are not social creatures, they do not need somebody else on their tank because they do not feel any loneliness.

Does painted turtle recognize their owners?

Yes! These turtles know their owners by means of sounds and visual appearance. You may perceive that they do not recognize you, but they actually acknowledge you as their owners. 

Do these turtle species have feelings?

Like other animals, they have feelings as well. They can feel pain, especially pain inflicted on them physically. 

Do they like being touched?

Turtles are commonly taken into captivity because they are desirable pets. However, they do not like being handled too often, that is why if you don’t have any idea about caring for them, they may die sooner.

Do painted turtle bond with humans?

There are times when your turtle is in the mood to bond with you. They like their chins and heads to be stroked instead of their shells. Be sure to always wash your hands when you handle them because they may carry bacteria which is the 

Salmonella can be transferred to humans. 

How can you tell a painted turtle’s age?

For you to know the age of your turtle, you may count the rings on the scute.

What kind of noise does your painted turtle make?

They do not have vocal cords; that is why it is impossible for them to make other noise other than bellowing, hissing, and grunting. They usually do this when they tend to be aggressive or if it is during their mating period.

Can a painted turtle survive without its shell?

This turtle will not die automatically without his shell, but since this shell protects the turtle’s important organs such as its lungs and spinal column, there is a possibility that it cannot live long without it.

Do your painted turtle bite?

As a defensive mechanism, aside from hiding in their shells, they may bite when threatened, and it may cause mild to severe injury depending on the size of the turtle.

How long can a painted turtle go without eating?

They can live for months without food, but a responsible pet owner wouldn’t leave their turtles for weeks without food and water. 

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