Chrysemys picta - Painted Turtle
Chrysemys picta picta - Eastern Painted Turtle
Description- The Eastern Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta picta) is the sub-species of the Painted Turtle (Chysemys picta) found in the Northwoods. These reptiles generally reach 9-10 inches at maturity and can be identified by their smooth upper shells that may have yellow or red markings (Smith 1982). The upper shell is called a carapace and is made up of plates called scutes. The Eastern Painted Turtle's scutes are separated by thick lines. The outer edge of the carapace has red markings. The bottom shell is called a plastron and is yellow in the case of the Eastern Painted Turtle (Moran date unknown). Painted turtles inhabit quiet lakes shores, slow streams, ponds, ditches, and marshes (Collins 1959). However, Painted Turtles prefer marshes to channels (Tran et al. 2006). The Eastern Painted Turtle can most readily be spotted from March to October as they spend four to five of the winter months in hibernation. During this time, the Eastern Painted Turtle burrows in the mud underwater, does not breath, and performs respiration by way of their paired cloacal bursae (Smith et al. 1982). During the rest of the year, Eastern Painted Turtles spend much of their time basking in the sun. They bask on logs or on the water's edge and can often be seen basking with other turtle species (Moran M. date unknown). Peak basking behavior takes place at an intermediate temperature (24 C). As temperature increases beyond this point, Painted Turtles tend to spend more time in the water (Tran et al. 2006). Painted Turtles always feed underwater and ingest a variety of foods such as plants, insects, mollusks, crustaceans, mosquito larvae, and carrion. Mature females lay 5-20 soft eggs at a time between May and July. These reptiles can live up to 11 years (Collins 1959).
Range and Habitat- While the Painted Turtle species thrive from southern Canada to northern Mexico, the sub-species Eastern Painted Turtle inhabit the eastern portion of North America from New Brunswick to Georgia (Collins 1959). Since the Painted Turtle must feed underwater and hibernates under marine sediments, it thrives in soft-bottomed streams, ponds, lakes, marches, and swamps (Smith et al. 1982).
Resource Acquisition- Young Painted Turtles are mainly carnivorous, feeding on mostly maggots, larvae, and beetles. As they mature, they become omnivorous consuming a varied diet of snails, insects, crayfish, leeches, tadpoles, small fish, and many types of plants (Jeff L. date unknown). Painted Turtles always feed underwater and use their hard beaks to slice their food (Collins 1959). The Painted Turtle does not feed for several months out of the year due to hibernation. During their active months in spring, summer, and fall, Painted Turtles must acquire all food needed to grow and reproduce (Jeff L. date unknown).
Reproduction- Painted Turtles mate in the spring. During courtship, the male will swim in front of the female and touch her with the claws of his forelegs (Smith et al. 1982). From May to July, famales will lay 5-20 soft eggs in a burrow 2-5 inches deep dug with her front legs within 10 yards of water. The eggs will incubate for 8-12 weeks (Collins 1959). When the young hatch, they are fully independent. The sex of the turtles is determined by temperature. If the nest is warm, the turtles will become female, and if the nest is cooler, the turtles will develop into males (Moran M. date unknown). Young turtles generally hatch between late September and late October. If the temperature of the nest's surface becomes colder than the bottom of the nest, the turtles will overwinter and emerge the following spring (Nova Scotia Turtles date unknown).
Dispersal- Because the Eastern Painted Turtle must feed and hibernate in water, they are limited to areas in close proximity to water. Females will stay within 10 yards of water when traveling to sand or gravel beaches, road banks or cultivated fields during the afternoon to fashion a nest and bury her eggs (Nova Scotia Turtles date unknown). In one study, Painted Turtles exhibited no directional movement towards preferred habitats. Rather, they moved in a random fahion until they reached an ideal habitat. Because females must find a suitable place for a nest, females moved significantly more than males in this study (Tran et al. 2006).
Defenses and Natural Enemies- The Eastern Painted Turtle is most vulnerable to predation when it is young. It is preyed upon by herons, raccoons, larger turtles, crows, large fish, snakes, crows, hawks, bullfrogs, and foxes (Moran M. date unknown). The Painted Turtle's main defense is its hard shell.
Threats- The Eastern Painted Turtle is consumed by humans and it is often sold as a pet. However, the turtle's greatest threat is habitat destruction (Moran M date unknown). Since the arrival of Europeans in North America, turtles have suffered (Collins 1959). Wetland are one of the most threatened habitats worldwide, and have been declining at about 1% each year (Tran et al. 2006). Today, many turtles are run over by automobiles. If other animals that eat algae and aquatic plants are reduced, water bodies may become overgrown. As a result, turtles may be forced to leave (Moran M. date unknown).
Key adaptations- Painted turtles are freeze tolerant up to -4 C. However, hatchlings can supercool, enabling them to withstand temperatures of up to -20 C (Costanzo et al. 2003). While hibernating, the Painted turtle has no access to oxygen to perform aerobic respiration. Within the turtle's cells, the metabolic processess that produce and consume ATP are depressed. Also, the turtle's shell and skeleton have a high buffering capacity, allowing lactic acid that builds up during hibernation to be neutralized (Jackson 2002).
-Collins Jr. H. H. (1959) Complete Guide to American Wildlife: East, Central, and North
-Costanzo J. P., Baker P. J., Dinkelacker S. A., Lee Jr. R. E. (2003) Endogenous and exogenous ice-nucleating agents constrain supercooling in the hatchling painted turtle, The Journal of Experimental Biology 206: 477-485
-Moran M. (date unknown) Study of Northern Virginia Ecology, Painted Turtle, Accessed at April 13, 2008 at 
-(date unknown) Nova Scotia Turtles, Eastern Painted Turtle, Accessed at April 14, 2008 at 
-Jackson D. C. (2003) Hibernating without Oxygen: Physiological Adaptations of the Painted Turtle, The Journal of Physiology 543: 731-737
-Jeff L. (date unknown) Kildeer Natural Wetlands Preserve, Painted Turtles, Accessed at April 13, 2007 at 
-Smith H. M., Brodie Jr. E. D. (1982) A Guide to Field Identification, Reptiles of North America
-Tran S. L., Moorhead D. L., and McKenna K. C. (2006) Habitat Selection by Native Turtles in a Lake Erie Wetland, USA, American Midland Naturalist 158: 16-28