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Painted Turtles

Last Updated: 2/21/14

Molly, my female Eastern painted turtle, on 4/20/02.

Subspecies and Descriptions
Painted Turtles and Ponds
Behavior and Breeding
My Eastern Painted Turtle
Painted Turtle Photos
Painted Turtle Links

Here is a photo of an Eastern painted turtle that swam around in a pond in Pennsylvania owned by Judy in the summer of 2001. In comparison to Molly, I would say this turtle is male as the front nails are longer but it is hard to tell for sure. Judy sent a new photo in May of 2002. I am pretty sure the turtle is male. Here is the new photo.

To see photos of hatchling painted turtles, see my baby turtle photo page.

For more information on aquatic turtles, feeding, health, caring for hatchlings, links, turtle tanks, turtle ponds, and more, be sure to see my main turtle index page. This page is just specifically for painted turtles.

Subspecies and Descriptions

Chrysemys picta is the painted turtle which grows to 5-8 inches long. One study showed males with carapace lengths of 13.1 to 16.5 cm and females with 14.3 to 17.1 cm. There are four subspecies: Eastern (C. picta), Midland (C. marginata), Southern (C. dorsalis), and Western ( C. belli). Painted turtles are the most widespread turtle in North America. The Eastern painted turtle is native to the Northeastern United States. The Western is from the West and so on. They have beautiful red and yellow markings and are known for long periods of basking on logs and rocks during the day. All painted turtles have red along the margins of their carapace which is generally dark. The plastron is usually yellow. Legs and the neck have yellow and red stripes.

A general way to tell Eastern and Western painted turtles apart is that with the Eastern, the scutes are aligned in a row while, in the Western, they alternate (like an alternating brick pattern). See the photo at the top of this page of an Eastern scute pattern versus this one of a Western scute pattern. Southern painteds have a line along the back from head to tail which is more noticeable in babies.

Painted Turtles and Ponds

These are ideal turtles to use if you want to set up a turtle pond. Painted turtles prefer vegetated waterways with water lilies and pickeral weed. They eat insects, aquatic plants like lily pads, fish, snails, and live and dead small animals. Their plant intake increases with age. If your pond is large (>5000 gallons or so?), then you can add a few, and they will not decimate the plants and fish. Otherwise, you can give them their own pond with an enclosure around it. If some show up on their own that you do not want, try to nab them when they sun on rocks during the day and relocate them. I would love to make an enclosed pond for Eastern painted turtles.

I had a female Eastern painted turtle that literally fell into my lap in my 1800 gallon pond for all of a week. She was there so short of a time that her impact was non-existent.

The more I have communicated with others, the more appealing painted turtles have become for my pond (if it were ever fenced). I now think that a pond over 1000 gallons should be large enough so that any damage to plants or fish would barely be noticed.

Behavior and Breeding

Painted turtles hibernate at the bottom of ponds from mid-fall until mid-spring in Maryland and similar climates. They also usually sleep buried in the bottom (in dirt, leaves, etc.) at night but may sleep on a bare liner if no debris is available.

Males are smaller and have longer claws on their front feet. Males usually start to breed at 3 years old and females at about 6 years old. Breeding occurs in April and May in moderate climates. Females lay 5 to 20 eggs each year in early summer. The eggs hatch in early to mid-fall but some hatchlings may spend the winter in the nest and come out in spring. Wild painted turtles rarely live more than 10 years but they are known to live at least 20 years in captivity.


Painted turtles must swallow their food underwater. My turtle liked to eat grapes, frogbit, and earthworms. After grabbing food in her mouth, she used her front feet to push the food away while holding her head steady. This broke off a bite-sized piece.

Young painted turtles like to eat mostly insects including the larvae of dragonflies, caddisflies, and beetles. They also eat worms as do adults. Hatchlings in captivity are easy to feed on live blackworms but may also eat other live and frozen insect larvae, crustacea, and worms such as bloodworms, earthworms, and shrimp. Some can be enticed to eat commercial pellets as well.

Adults will eat all of the above plus large quantities of plants like lily pads, anacharis, algae, frogbit, and duckweed and animals like insects, snails, clams, crayfish, leeches, tadpoles, frogs, small fish, fry, fish eggs, snails, slugs, dead animals, etc. If it moves, it is fair game.

For more on turtle feeding, see my turtle feeding page.

My Eastern Painted Turtle

On 4/19/02, a co-worker gave me a turtle. After looking it over, I determined that it was a female Eastern painted turtle. I named her Molly. She was inside for a little while being treated with salty water and later "Dr. Turtle" medication to help clear up a little fungus on her back leg. She was missing some back toes. It took two days for her to start eating but then she started eating earthworms, grapes, and frogbit. On 5/1/02, I put her into my 1800 gallon pond. Molly measured 5.5 inches long and almost 5 inches wide. She was fully mature. I guessed she was 6-10 years old. I rarely saw her in the pond and when I did, she swam away from me and fast! I last saw Molly on 5/3/02. Either she scaled the rock cliff, or she was a VERY good hider! Update 1/17/06: I am reading this page to update it and have never seen Molly or any aquatic turtle near my pond since then so she is not hiding! She apparently ran for the hills!

Here are some photos of Molly.

Carapace - this is an above view of Molly on 4/20/02.
Back left foot - this shows her back foot which is missing a few toes and has mild fungus, 4/20/02.
Tail - this shows her tail which is one way to determine sex, 4/20/02. A male's tail is wider.
Front foot - this shows her front foot which also can be used to determine sex, 4/20/02. Males have longer nails than Molly's.
Plastron - this shows her belly which is yet another way to determine sex, 4/20/02. Molly's plastron is pretty flat. A male's would be concave (be rounded inwards) to allow him to mount (sit on top of) a female for mating.

Painted Turtle Photos

The photos of the painted turtle I had are in the last section. Here are some photos sent to me by other people, listed from newest to oldest.

Eastern painted turtle at the World of Pet's Expo on 1/29/11.

Corey sent these photos of a turtle for identification in Wyoming on 5/6/10. I asked "Painteds4life" (a screen name) to identify the turtle. He says it may be a melanistic Western painted turtle. No matter the species, this turtle is gorgeous.
Melanistic Western painted turtle - plastron
Melanistic Western painted turtle - head
Melanistic Western painted turtle - right side
Melanistic Western painted turtle - carapace

Jon sent this photo of a female Eastern painted turtle laying eggs on 6/15/09:
Female Eastern painted turtle laying eggs

On 6/10/09, Marla sent this amazing photo of an x-ray of a female Eastern painted turtle. The turtle had been run over so the bright white things are metal ties to hold her shell together. As you can see in the photos, there are about a dozen eggs (I count 14?) jammed in her body:
X-ray of an egg-laden female Eastern painted turtle

Cathy sent this photo of five hatchling painted turtles on a coke can on 8/28/08.
Hatchling painted turtles

On 6/24/08, Marlene sent these photos of a baby Eastern painted turtle named Bubba.
Baby painted turtle - plastron view
Baby painted turtle - plastron view
Baby painted turtle - carapace view

On 6/17/08, Larry in New York sent these photos of a baby Eastern painted turtle that he found.
Baby Eastern painted turtle - right side
Baby Eastern painted turtle - top view
Baby Eastern painted turtle - left side

For these photos, I lost the name of the person who sent them as well as the date (circa 2008)! I am putting them up anyway. It is a baby Eastern painted turtle.
Baby painted turtle - eating an earthworm
Baby painted turtle - basking with his back feet sticking out
Baby painted turtle

Shena sent me this photo of a baby turtle on 8/12/07. I think it might be a Western painted turtle.
Baby Western painted turtle

Lizzy sent these photos on 8/9/07 of her two young painted turtles, Bubbles (the smaller one) and Delilah. Don informed me on 11/16/07 that they are probably Eastern x Western painted turtle hybrids because their scutes alternate like Western turtles but the yellow spots on the side of the head and the carapace are more like Eastern painted turtles.
Bubbles - top view
Bubbles - front view
Bubbles - top view
Bubbles and Delilah - in the water
Delilah and Bubbles - top view on land
Bubbles - right side view
Delilah - top view
Delilah - right side view
Delilah - plastron (bottom) view

Here are two photos I am adding on 9/1/07 from long ago, maybe before 2000. I long ago lost the information that came with the photos as to who sent them and so on but decided to link them in here anyway. The two photos are completely unrelated.
Painted turtle - this turtle has its back feet stuck out and is laying on some water lettuce in a pond.
Four young painted turtles - my notes say this was a photo of four painted turtles that a lady was going to release.

Tonya sent these photos of her baby painted turtle on 7/9/07. She had had the turtle for a whole year in a 10 gallon tank but it was still under two inches long, and she wanted to know why. The photos are blurry.
Painted turtle - in the setup
Painted turtle - top view on the turtle dock
Painted turtle - in hand
Painted turtle - front view, swimming
Painted turtle - swimming in the tank

CK sent these photos of an adult Eastern painted turtle on 6/11/07. I think it is female.
Painted Turtle - right side view.
Painted Turtle - carapace (bottom) view.
Painted Turtle - top view.

Jessica sent these photos of a baby painted turtle for identification on 5/21/07.
Baby painted turtle - left side
Baby painted turtle - front view, blurry
Baby painted turtle - top view, in hand

Trish sent this photo of a painted turtle hatchling with two heads on 9/23/06. Because the heads are not fully separated, the baby most likely will not survive. Sometimes turtle embryos split (as with identical twins). If they fully split, the babies never hatch because there is not enough room in the egg for two babies. If they only separate at the head, then they are sometimes born but only rarely survive. Trish found a wildlife group to take him in.
Two-headed painted turtle hatchling

Randy sent a bunch of photos of his baby Eastern painted turtle in July 2006. He sent so many that I made an entire page just for the photos that he sent. Go to Randy's turtles page. Also, note that Joshua says that Randy's two "Eastern painted turtles" are really Midland painted turtles.

Some of the photos of baby painted turtles are on this page below but I may have left some only on the baby turtle photo page that are not here.

Sarah sent me these photos of her young painted turtle named Paintball on 11/19/05 and 11/20/05. Paintball may be a Southern painted turtle (if he/she has a stripe down the back).:
Baby paintball
Paintball on top of a map turtle
Paintball - plastron
Paintball - carapace
Paintball - hanging on a ledge
Paintball when he/she was a little older along with a map turtle and a hatchling red-eared slider in the photo.

Ashley has a young painted turtle and a young red-bellied turtle. She sent these photos on 11/14/05.
Red-bellied turtle (left) and painted turtle (right) - carapaces
Painted turtle (left) and red-bellied turtle (right) - plastrons

Danny sent me two photos on 11/7/05 of a painted turtle that was hatching by a creek.
Just-hatched painted turtle
Painted turtle coming out of the shell

Jennifer sent me these photos of a young painted turtle named George on 10/5/05:
George side view
George top front view
George bottom view

On 8/22/05, Michael sent these photos of his painted turtle hatchlings:
Painted turtles hatching
Painted turtle hatching - see the yolk on the baby's abdomen
Painted turtles hatching
Painted turtles hatching
Painted turtles hatching - with a penny for size reference

Here are two photos sent to me on 7/4/05 of a baby painted turtle hatchling:
Bottom view
Top view

On 5/1/05, Jenn sent two photos of a hatchling painted turtle. I thought I would link in these photos finally on 2/3/07.
Hatchling turtle - sitting on a fake log, a nickel next to him to show how tiny he is.
Hatchling turtle - left side and front view. His red color seems pretty intense for a painted turtle.

Jessica sent these three photos of a hatchling (I think) Western painted turtle on 4/13/05. I linked in these photos on 2/3/07.
Hatchling turtle plastron
Hatchling turtle - top view, fuzzy photo
Hatchling turtle - top view, sitting on a quarter

Two baby painted turtles sent to me by Paula on 3/1/05. The one on top is Margarita, about the size of a quarter. The one on the bottom is Little Bob who is about 3" in size and 11-months-old.

Someone (I cannot find their name) sent me some photos of their turtles in early 2004. They have a female painted turtle named Chubbly as well as others. You can see the female painted turtle's head and front legs, her plastron, entire body, and top view.

Here are two photos of Judy's male Eastern painted turtle in her pond in Pennsylvania:
Swimming Painted Turtle - summer 2001.
Painted Turtle - spring 2002.

Here are some photos that my brother and I took.

My brother took these photos on 6/9/06 of a HUGE painted turtle at Brookside Gardens. The nails are sort of long but I am not sure if they are long enough to verify a male. Usually the huge turtles are female.
Right side view
Top, behind view

I took these photos of large painted turtles basking out on tree limbs at the quarry pond at Ladew Topiary Gardens on 6/14/06.
Two painted turtles
Two painted turtles
Two painted turtles
Four painted turtles - two are at the upper left and two at the lower right

Go to my turtle breeding page to see four photos of a painted turtle laying eggs and the resulting hatchlings.

Painted Turtle Links

I need some better links! Let me know if you find one. Thanks. These links were last verified on 1/17/06.

Painted turtles - wild painted turtles. This is an archived version of the site as it is no longer on-line.

The Painted Turtle - article from the Tortuga Gazette on painted turtles.

Painted Turtles - Turtlecare.net

Painted Turtles - Chelonia.org

Painted Turtle Care - Chelonia.org

Painted Turtles- Grizzly Run

Painted Turtles - Reptile Forums

Video of Western Painted Turtle Hatchlings - Don's baby turtles, Fall 2008.

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