Painted Turtles

Painted Turtle

Pet Painted Turtles

Painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) are the most widespread native turtle in North America, and they are very popular as pets. It is important, however, to understand the requirements of keeping a painted turtle before you adopt one. As an aquatic turtle they have some unique needs, but careful preparation can help you bring one home safely.

Painted Turtle Colors

Turtle Colors

Painted turtles are named for their unique and vibrant colors. While the topside of the shell is often plain and unmarked for natural camouflage, the turtle's head, legs, neck, and tail are marked with bright stripes of color in red, yellow, or orange. Depending on the subspecies of painted turtle, the underside of the shell may be boldly "painted" as well.

Baby Painted Turtle

Baby Painted Turtles

A baby painted turtle is tiny and delicate, measuring only an inch or two long, but painted turtles don't stay that size. A mature painted turtle will measure 4-10 inches long, and will require an aquarium that gives him plenty of room. Females are generally larger because they will carry eggs when they reproduce.

Turtle Pond

Proper Turtle Habitat

In the wild, painted turtles live in shallow ponds, marshes, and lakes that have plenty of aquatic vegetation for shelter and feeding. Turtles prefer areas with muddy bottoms and plenty of open logs and rocks for sunning. In your home aquarium, your turtle will need water that is at least twice as deep as the turtle is tall, and three to four times the turtle's length. Plants are great accents that will make the turtle feel right at home.

Turtles on a Log

Sunning Spots

As cold-blooded reptiles, painted turtles will spend hours every day sunning themselves to regulate body temperature. In the wild, you can often see painted turtles sunning on logs, rocks, or on the banks of a pond or river. However, in a home aquarium they will need a relatively level rock or log to enjoy under a heat lamp. Turn the lamp off at night, since these turtles are inactive during the nighttime.

Turtles Eat Dandelions

Painted Turtle Diet

In the wild, painted turtles will forage in the water for aquatic insects and plants, and they may eat some plants on land. In captivity, pet painted turtles should be fed every other day with a richly varied diet that includes both animals and plants, such as earthworms, crickets, snails, waxworms, dandelion greens, lettuce, apples, berries, and carrots.

Painted Turtle Claws

Turtle Defenses

Turtles may seem relatively slow and deliberate, but they can defend themselves against threats. Painted turtles will scratch, kick, and bite if they feel threatened, and they may urinate on predators as well. When handling a pet painted turtle, be respectful of its claws and jaws, and take care to wash your hands carefully after handling the turtle.

Nesting Painted Turtle

Turtle Reproduction

Painted turtles lay eggs to reproduce, and the female turtle will dig a shallow, vase-shaped nest in sandy soil near a water source to lay her eggs. She digs the nest with her hind feet, and will lay 4-12 eggs (older turtles will lay more eggs, while younger turtles may lay only a few). If you find a painted turtle nest in the wild, it is best to leave the eggs undisturbed.

Painted Turtle

Pretty Paint

Painted turtles are popular pets, but because they are aquatic turtles and require more care than land turtles (a painted turtle's aquarium should be cleaned one to two times per week), they may not be the best choice for novice turtle owners. Once you are familiar with turtles' needs, however, they can be fun and entertaining pets.

Learn more about pet turtles…

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Painted Turtles