Painted Turtle

Chrysemys picta

These black-shelled turtles are commonly seen basking in groups. They can reach six inches, with females larger than males. The edges of the carapace scutes are in line rather than alternating as with other turtles. The head, legs and tail are black with yellow stripes. The undersides of the marginals have bold red markings. Males have longer tails with the vent posterior of the carapace edge and a concave plastron. Adult males also have elongated front claws used for courtship. Refer to a field guide for subspecies information.

Painted Turtles prefer still water with abundant aquatic vegetation and a soft bottom. Basking sites such as rock and fallen trees make a pond even more attractive to them.

Painted Turtles are our most herbivorous turtle. In addition to aquatic plants, they eat invertebrates and carrion. They must eat while submerged.

Painted Turtles are diurnal, spending nights on top of or burrowed into the soft bottom. Days are a cycle of basking, feeding and basking. When basking, they often stretch out their limbs and neck for greatest exposure. This may weaken or dislodge parasites such as leeches. A male will start courtship by stroking the female's cheeks with the backs of his long front claws.

Hatchlings are unique in that they may over-winter in the nest, surviving repeated sub-freezing temperatures. Emerging the following spring may have the advantage of greater food availability.

Painted Turtles are still abundant in most locales. As with all of the region's turtles, raccoons and other predators often destroy over half of a season's nests. Road mortality not only reduces a population, but also may skew its sex ratio since the majority of turtles killed are females to or from nest sites. Ironically, prime habitat has been created by fertilizer runoff, creating vegetation-clogged lakes; just what Painted Turtles like.

For detailed information about this species, we recommend Turtles of the United States and Canada by Ernst, Lovich, Barbour.

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Project Updates
Michael Jones (UMASS Amherst) continues his work with Wood Turtles. Learn more.

Liz Willey (UMASS Amherst) continues her research on Eastern Box Turtles. Learn more.

Lori Johnson (Antioch) starts her research on Musk Turtles. Learn more.
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