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Painted turtle

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Painted turtle
C. picta.jpg
Scientific Classification
  • C. p. picta
  • C. p. marginata
  • C. p. bellii
  • C. p. dorsalis
Midland painted turtle

The painted turtle is a species of turtle known by the scientific name (Chrysemys picta). They are one of the most widely distributed turtles in the continent of North America, and have a wide variety of colors depending on the subspecies. Although most do not stay alive for this long, they can live up to 35-40 years of age.1

They hybernate, becoming dormant in the winter time and an interestingly the babies, if hatched in the winter, can stay alive even if frozen. The temperature during incubation is also a major factor in determining whether the offspring will be a male or female. Not many animals are affected by temperature for gender, but one other animal that has this is the lizard, which is a reptile as well as the turtle.2


Western Painted-Turtle. From Tributaries of the Lower Columbia. By Blake Matheson

All subspecies of C. picta have four webbed and clawed feet for swimming. Males have longer foreclaws and bigger tails, while the females have shorter foreclaws and shorter tails, the females are still much bigger as adults then the male turtles, even though the female growth rate is much slower. On the turtle's back is a smooth carapace that is usually green to black and is 90 to 250 mm long. On the underside of the turtle there is a plastron that is usually yellow and is 70 to 95 mm. The painted turtle's rib cage is connected to the shell, which makes it so that the turtle can't expand it's chest to breathe. 3

The painted turtle's subspecies all vary slightly in size, color, and characteristics:

-The eastern painted turtle, ( C. c. picta) is usually 5-7 inches long, the longest one recorded is 7.1 inches long. This subspecies has a plain yellow plastron and yellow stripes or spots on it's head. It's body and carapace is lined with a bright red.4

-The midland painted turtle, (C. p. marginata) is usually around 5-6 inches in length. It has yellow and red streaks of color down the body and the carapace is lined with red and patterned. This subspecies's plastron is patterned with orange, yellow, and a peach color with a black outline.5

-The southern painted turtle, (C. p. dorsalis) is the smallest subspecies of the painted turtle. This subspecies has a red stripe running straight through it's carapace.6

-The western painted turtle, (C. p. bellii) is the largest subspecies with the adults over 7-9 inches long.7 It's plastron is a pinkish color with a black design, while the rest of it's body has yellow lines running across it.8


painted turtle. By Phil Myers

Reproduction begins in the later part of spring and continues until the beginning of summer and happens only once every year. Mating occurs in low temperature waters after they hibernate and before they feed. Another factor to the turtle's mating ritual is that it takes place when both sexes reach a range of size, males grow to about 70-95 mm long and females grow to about 100-130 mm long. For males this growth only takes 3 to 5 years, but for the females, this may take up to 6 to 10 years. The male will swim up to the female C. picta and extend his forearms out and rub the female's cheeks and neck with a vibratory manner, if the female accepts, she will reach out her arms and stroke the male's forearms.9 Then the male will start swimming away, luring the female to follow, eventually the female will swim to the bottom of the pond where the two turtles mate.

The female gives birth to 4-15 soft-shelled eggs in a Erlenmeyer flask-shaped hole that the female makes about 200 meters away from the water in soft sand with decent exposure to the sun.10 The incubation period for the hatchlings is about 76 days, and when they hatch they use an eggtooth, that falls off in a few days after getting out, to pry themselves out.11


C. picta have a very large range of where they live:

  • The eastern painted turtle, (C. p. picta) - Southeast Canada, New England, Georgia and Alabama.
  • The midland painted, (C. p. marginata) - Quebec, Ontario, central United States, New England, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland.
  • The southern painted turtle, (C. p. dorsalis) - Illinois, Missouri, Louisiana and Alabama.
  • The western painted turtle, (C. p. bellii) - Ontario, British Columbia, Missouri, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Chihuahua and Mexico.12

All Wild painted turtles tend to like shallow ponds, marches, creeks and lakes with a muddy bottom so that they can burrow in it during the winter months when they become dormant. Also, they usually reside where there is a good supply of underwater vegetation and some sort of half submerged object where they can bask for hours in the morning before starting there day. In there shallow habitats, C. picta are omnivorous and eat almost anything that they can find. They mainly feast on snails, slugs, any insect, crayfish, tadpoles, algae and underwater plants.13

In being that the painted turtle is one of the most widely distributed turtles in North America, a lot of this species live as pets in houses. The caretakers feed them basically the same things to it as the turtle would eat in the wild, but in a broader sense. Instead of feeding the turtles slugs, insects, crayfish and the like, most people just feed them things like most freshwater fish, food sticks or pellets, and various aquatic plants.14The painted turtle's diet helps keep it's prey from not overpopulating an area.15

Gender Determined by Temperature

One thing that is fairly unique about this species is that all of the subspecies's offspring's gender can be altered and controlled by the temperature of the nest and the area surrounding it. Not many animal's eggs are affected by the incubation temperature, most rely on X and Y chromosomes to become a male or a female. For C. picta,higher temperature around 87 degrees Fahrenheit will produce a female turtle. If the nest's temperature is lower, around 77 degrees Fahrenheit, the newborn will be a male turtle. But studies have determined that at the precise degree of 84 degrees Fahrenheit, there is a chance for the offspring to be either male or female.16


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