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Painted Turtle - Chrysemys picta

Painted Turtles are the most widespread turtle in North America. Their range extends from British Columbia to Nova Scotia, south to Georgia, west to Louisiana, north to Oklahoma, and northwest to Oregon. Isolated Painted_Turtlepopulations can also be found in the southwest. Painted Turtles have an olive or black shell without any keels. The scute seams are bordered with olive, yellow, or red markings. All Painted turtles have red bars or crescents on the marginal scutes. The plastron is yellow with or without markings. Painted turtles have red and yellow stripes on their neck and legs. The female of the species is usually bigger, but the male has a thicker tail, and long claws on it's front limbs.  

Typical painted turtle habitats are slow moving streams with mud, lakes, pond etc. They are one of the first reptiles I look for when I do my spring time hiking.

Frankly, in order to properly maintain a painted turtle, you must do work. They are diurnal so they DO need UV lights etc to help them process calcium. They are messy - really messy so they need to be cleaned frequently. Letting their area get and stay dirty will promote disease - not only to your turtle but possibly to you as well. However, they are active animals and "hand feeding" is a lot of fun.

Also, it is easy to find one in the "wild" and take it as a pet - don't, leave wild animals wild. If you really want a painted turtle, seek out a breeder, dealer or reputable pet store - support responsible ownership.

This is a medium difficulty animal in my estimation. 

Average Size - A full grown painted turtle can reach 5 - 10 inches in length (measured as the carapace, or top shell, length). Males tend to be smaller than females, but have large claws on the front legs and longer tails than females.

Life Span - painted turtles can live 15 to 25 years.

Diet - painted turtles are omnivores, meaning they eat a mixture of animal and plant material. Younger turtles eat more animal protein than adults, though. Juveniles should be fed daily, but adults can be fed every 2-3 days.

Turtles can be fed a mixture of prepared commercial food and fresh food. Special food formulated for turtles can be used, but this should not make up any more than 25% of the total diet. Another 25% of the diet should be made up of meat, and can include fish, earthworms, crickets, waxworms, cooked chicken or beef, and aquatic snails. Young turtles can be feed smaller items such as blood worms, shrimp, dapnia and krill. The remainder of the diet (up to about 60% of the adult diet) should be made up of fresh greens, vegetable, and fruits. Good choices for greens include collard, mustard and dandelion greens, lettuce (avoid iceberg since it has little nutritional value), carrots (tops are fine too), squash and green beans. Fresh fruits can be given too,  like apples, bananas and berries. 

Habitat - painted turtles need an adequate amount of water to move about and swim. The water should be at least 2 times as deep as your turtle tall. The surface area of the pool 3 -4 times the length of the turtle, and the width should be at least 2 - 3 times the length of the turtle. A thirty gallon aqaurium would work for a turtle.  

The land surface of an aquatic terrarium should comprise both soil and gravel. This is essential; decorations may then be added in the form of logs and plants. These not only look attractive but they provide cover and an important sense of security for the turtles.

Lighting - In addition to the basking light, a full spectrum reptile light should be provided. Exposure a full spectrum reptile light is necessary for proper calcium metabolism, and also appears to have other benefits to overall health such as improving appetite. It is also nice to take your turtle out into natural sunlight in warmer weather. 
 Temperature - A submersible heater should be used to keep the water at 75 - 86 degrees F. Protect both the thermometer and heater as turtles may bump, bite or move it.

A heated basking spot should also be provided in the area provided for the turtle to get out of the water. An incandescent bulb will do the job, make sure there is no way the turtle can touch the light or that the light can fall into the water. The temperature at the basking spot should be 85 - 88 F. 

Feeding - Feeding can be every other day. Make sure that all food items are removed. A good quality complete reptile vitamin and mineral supplement should be added to the food once or twice a week. In addition, extra calcium can be provided by giving turtles a cuttlebone (break into pieces and float in the water) or calcium block to nibble on.

Housing -  A 20 gallon tank is considered a minimum, though larger turtles will need a larger tank to provide ample swimming room, so even if you have a smaller turtle you might want to invest in a larger tank to allow room to grow.

Substrate - gravel (large) for water area  or even slate, potting soil or gravel (small) for land/basking area

Filtration One of the most common problems with keeping an aquatic turtle is keeping the water clean. Dirty water carries bacterial and parasitic diseases - it also stinks. Regular water changes as described above are one way of doing this. Another method is to use a filter system similar to one that would be used for a fish tank. Even if you implement a filtration system, you will need to replace at least 25% of the water each week and fully change the water once every other week. Ammonia, nitrates, nitrites and bacteria will still buildup causing health problems. These are available in three main types:

Undergravel filters  I would not use an undergravel filter. They are meant to create a biological filtration system in lightly stocked fish tanks. They do not clean out waste, rather they draw waste down into the gravel and ultimately below the gravel. They need periodic total breakdowns - and that is a pain. Even if you use reverse (powerhead blowing water under the filter which then comes up through the gravel) in my estimation it just is not worth it.

Internal canister filters  These are relatively cheap and can be highly effective. Use the largest size you can install in your tank. The best filter medium is foam. This can be taken out and washed whenever it becomes clogged.

External canister filters For large tanks/pools - this filter is superior. The filter and pump are outside the water, only the inlet and outlet tubes are exposed in the water.

Recommended Supplies:

  • Habitat with secure lid
  • Thermometer
  • Book about turtles
  • Light timer
  • Substrate  
  • Undertank heat source
  • Incandescent light or ceramic heater
  • Full spectrum lighting source
  • Filtration system

Painted Turtle Subspecies:
The Eastern Painted turtle is found on the Eastern coast of North America as far west as the Eastern Great Lakes region where it intergrades with the Midland or Midwestern Painted turtle. It attains a maximum length of 9 inches although many adults are considerably smaller. The most distinguishing characteristic of the Eastern Painted turtle is that it alone of all the species of chelonia found in North America has aligned carapace scutes. Rather than being alternating as on most turtles the anterior vertebral scutes actually line up with the costals. The eastern painted has a plain yellow plastron and yellow stripes on the head (these may appear to be large spots on the top of the head)  that change to bright red on the remainder of the body. 

The Midland Painted turtle is found from Canada through the Eastern Great Lakes to Southern Illinois. It intergrades with all three other subspecies. Of all the painted turtle subspecies this is the most non-descript, having characteristics of all of the other races. The carapace scutes alternate as is typical for turtles in general. The head, neck and body markings are similar to the Eastern subspecies though the large dot like stripes on the top of the head are not present.  Maximum size for this subspecies is also about 9 inches.  The plastron of this subspecies has an indistinct shadowy dark marking in the center of the yellow plastron somewhat reminiscent of the dark pattern found in the Western subspecies. This marking never extends to the edge of the plastron.  

The Western Painted turtle is found from Southern Canada in the North, Michigan in the East and British Columbia in the West. The range extends down the Western side of the Mississippi river to Kansas wit isolated colonies being found further to the Southwest.  The Western Painted reaches 91/2 inches in length, making it the largest of the painted turtles. The head and body markings are yellow and the plastron is pink with a large dark design extending to the edges of the plastron. Indistinct light yellow lines can sometimes be seen on the carapace.  The carapace scutes alternate.  

The Southern Painted turtle  has a distinctive red stripe down the center of its carapace. While this subspecies has the same solid yellow plastron of eastern painted turtle and body coloration, it does not have the aligned carapace scutes.  It is smaller than the other subspecies, reaching only 8 - 8 1/2 inchess or so. The Southern Painted turtle can be found from Alabama to Southern Illinois, then South to the Gulf of Mexico.  Other than isolated colonies this subspecies’ range does not extend West of the Mississippi river.   

Habitat Maintenance Change at least 1/2 the water twice weekly. Thoroughly clean the tank at least once week: set turtle aside in a secure habitat; scrub the tank and furnishings with a 3% bleach solution; rinse thoroughly with water, removing all smell of bleach; dry the tank and furnishings; and add clean substrate

Grooming and Hygiene Don't handle unless necessary; wear latex gloves. Wash your hands after handling the habitat contents to help prevent Salmonella and other infectious diseases. 
Signs of a Healthy Pet:

  • Clear eyes
  • Clear nose and mouth
  • Body is rounded shell is hard  
  • Active and alert
  • Eats regularly
  • Healthy skin

Common Health Issues and Red Flags:

  • Soft shell
  • Vomiting
  • Discharge in nose or mouth
  • Abnormal feces or urine
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy
Overcrowding in tanks is a major contributory factor regarding disease. It is far better to under-stock a tank than to over-stock it. A tank that is crowded will quickly become fouled, smelly and probably full of bacteria. Good filtration helps, but is not a substitute for common sense in stocking; and remember, small turtles can grow very quickly. The more water volume and fewer turtles you have in a tank or pond - the better.

As with all pets in this category, it is important that you find a veterinarian that practices in EXOTICS – this is critical. The typical small animal practitioner may not have sufficient knowledge in this area.

Even this guide is general in nature and should not be used to diagnose your pet. 

Page Last Updated: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 21:27 EST
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