The painted turtle is an aquatic turtle that you will commonly find in and around ponds and small lakes mostly on logs basking in the sun and drying off. They hibernate when it’s cold. It grows to an average of between 4-12 inches, but the females grow to about a foot longer than the males. If it lives in the wild, the painted turtle can live to be more than 50 years old.
Because of its bright painted markings, the painted turtle is very popular as a pet, but it’s not the easiest turtle to take care of. Wild turtles aren’t the best for homes with small kids or people with compromised immunity because as a reptile they carry salmonella, so you should always wash your hands before and after handling any aquatic turtle.
Types of painted turtles and their appearance
Eastern painted turtle
This turtle has a very glossy black shell with red markings along the edge and a bright yellow belly. It has thin yellow and red lines on its skin that are separated by thicker black areas. It has a large yellow dot on both sides of its head and red stripes on its legs. This turtle can grow to about 6 inches in length with the females reaching 6-8 inches.
Midland painted turtle
This painted turtle looks more like the Eastern turtle but what makes it different is it has seams that are staggered, its underbelly has a dark center and different patterns on its shell. It has yellow stripes from the tip of its nose down to its neck and red stripes on its legs. When it’s fully grown, it can reach a length of about 7 inches with the males being smaller, and you’ll mostly find them in its native habitat in Canada Ontario, and along the Mississippi River.
Western painted turtle
This turtle is lighter than the other types of painted turtles and it mostly has olive green carapaces with large dark areas on its underbelly than you’ll find in its Midland counterpart. It’s the most colorful with vibrant yellow stripes on its head and legs. It’s the largest of the other painted turtles and the females can reach a length of about 8-10 inches when fully grown. You will mostly find it in the U.S, Canada, and Mexico.
Southern painted turtle
This turtle has a yellow-orange stripe running down the middle of its carapaces and it has a yellow underbelly. It also has yellow and red stripes on its head and arms. This is the smallest painted turtle that reaches about 6 inches in length as an adult. You’ll mostly find it in the Mississippi area, Missouri, Alabama, and Louisiana.
How to care for a painted turtle
Painted turtles can make for excellent pets because of their docile nature, but they require a great deal more care than pet mammals and possibly a lifelong commitment because of their lengthy lifespan. Also as mentioned earlier, reptiles carry salmonella, so you should always clean your hands and observe good hygiene at all times.
Housing painted turtles
Whether you decide to house your painted turtle inside or outside, you should know that the turtle enclosure needs enough water, light, space, and heat.
Since painted turtles are aquatic creatures, they will spend most of their time swimming and the remainder of the time eating and basking in the sun on dry land. This means they will need a large tank that is filled with water that is at least 12 inches deep and a basking area where your turtle can leave the water completely to help it thermoregulate. There should be an underwater hiding place, but you should ensure your turtle doesn’t drown or get trapped there. You can place non-toxic live or plastic plants for forage and to provide a hiding place, although painted turtles will usually shred the plants. To give the bottom of the tank a more natural look, use gravel or sand with particles that aretoo big but not too small so they don’t end up in your turtle’s digestive tract.
Use quality water filters to keep the water fresh and clean. Submersible filters will not only filter the water constantly, they will also keep the water aerated. Dirty water can cause health problems for your painted turtle.
For your turtle to stay healthy, it will need good lighting daily and the UVB rays in the sun will help its body synthesize the cholesterol in its body to create vitamin D3 which helps in calcium balance and metabolism. If you intend to keep your turtle indoors most of the time, you should use both fluorescent and incandescent lights to provide light and heat to certain parts of the tank and also place them in the basking area, but keep a thermometer in the basking area to avoid overheating. The fluorescent lights will also provide UV light that is good for the overall health of your painted turtle.
The temperatures the average human is comfortable in are too cold for the painted turtles because they’re ectothermic which means they get their bodies warm using external heat sources. You can use a submersible water heater or an under tank heater to provide supplemental heat, but ensure you monitor the heat and temps in the tank to prevent overheating the water. Use electric thermometers with alarms that will alert you any time the temps drop or go too high so you can easily maintain the temps. The temps in the water should be between 75-80 degrees F. and 85-95 degrees F. in the basking area.
Painted turtle food
Painted turtles are omnivorous so they can eat both plant and animal matter. They can eat leafy veggies and aquatic plants like water hyacinth, water lettuce, and duckweed, and also insects, fish, and worms. You can also give them commercial turtle food that has been formulated to provide enough nutrition for all stages of your turtle’s growth. Get the diet with 30-40% protein, high in calcium to phosphorous ratio, low-fat content, and vitamin D. you should also give them mineral and vitamin supplements.
You should feed the adult turtle every 2-3 days and because they’re very messy eaters, they like to eat with their head in the water. For baby turtles, they need to eat every day so you can buy commercial food formulated for young turtles until they reach 2 inches then feed them adult food. You can also supplement their food with the veggie matter, earthworms, fish, bloodworms, and crickets that you feed your adult turtles.
Painted turtle health
If you provide proper housing and diet for your painted turtles, there are very energetic and active pets to have around. They’ll need to be checked by a veterinarian that deals with exotic species because just like any animal, turtles are prone to illnesses and diseases like subcutaneous abscess where the skin is swollen, eye problems like ulcerated cornea and conjunctivitis, inability to submerge, excessive basking or refusal to enter the water, frothing at the mouth, gaping, or bubbles in the nose, irregular growth, and any other abnormal behavior.
Painted turtle hibernation
Painted turtles that live in the wild usually hibernate under the water in winter. They bury their bodies in muddy bottom water to protect themselves. If you keep your painted turtle in an outdoor pond, they will behave the same way. The pond should be deep but it shouldn’t freeze at the bottom and they will need an air hole in the ice. If you keep your painted turtles inside they’ll not need to hibernate, but will only do so when the temperatures begin to drop.
Painted turtle handling and temperament
Although painted turtles aren’t very social animals, they can cohabitate with other turtles from their species and others who have similar housing needs. Both male and female sexes can exhibit territorial or dominant aggression, but if there are enough space and hiding places this behavior doesn’t result in serious injuries. However, if you note consistent aggression, you can opt to create a larger habitat or isolate the aggressive turtle.
Painted turtles aren’t domesticated animals that need human contact and affection to thrive, so you should only handle them when necessary. Handling is stressful to the turtle which can result in you getting bitten or scratched. You should only handle the painted turtle when checking on its health or injuries or when relocating the turtle to another container when you’re cleaning or doing maintenance in its habitat.
Because turtles don’t like being handled, they can become defensive if they feel threatened which means they can bite so don’t put your finger in their mouth, scratch, and even kick you if they feel frightened. They can even urinate on you and other predators if they’re scared. Don’t pick them up by their shell because it’s painful instead scoop them up and put them on your hand to sit so that they feel secure.
Always remember to wash your hands with warm soapy water before and after handling turtle-related equipment or material to avoid transmission of any diseases between turtles and humans.
Common health problems
If your painted turtles don’t receive enough calcium and UVB light, they’re prone to developing shell deformities and metabolic bone disease.
Most reptiles including painted turtles have intestinal parasites, but they only become a problem when they begin to overpopulate in the intestinal tract. Your veterinarian should perform a fecal parasite exam annually to check if your turtle has an overpopulated intestinal tract.
When you don’t feed your painted turtle the proper diet, it can develop a lack of vitamin A in its body which is called hypovitaminosis A. some of the symptoms you’ll notice with this disorder include swollen eyes, stomatitis, raw skin, and nasal drainage.
If the water in your turtle’s pond has a problem, your turtle can get ear, skin, and shell infections caused by dirty water. If there’s a lot of algae build up on your turtle’s skin or shell, you can brush it using a soft toothbrush to keep it clean. If your turtle has an ear infection because of the poor quality of the water, you’ll notice a large bump behind its eyes which means you’ll need to visit your vet.
These are pus-filled swellings in the tissue of your turtle’s body that may appear hard tumor-like swellings on the skin. Reptiles usually have very hard and thick pus with the consistency and texture of cottage cheese. The abscess will usually develop in the turtle’s ears which will look like large swellings on the side of the head behind its eyes. This is mostly brought about by a lack of vitamin A.
How are turtle disease treated?
- Bacteria causes respiratory infections in turtles which could also be caused by an underlying vitamin A deficiency that will need to be corrected. Your vet will run cultures and some blood tests and take x-rays to determine the exact cause of the infection. The treatment for respiratory tract infections is administering antibiotics that can be taken orally, if possible nose drops, or through an injection. However, if your turtle is very sick, it will need intensive care in the hospital which will include force-feeding and fluid therapy.
- If your turtle has a vitamin A deficiency, you can administer the vitamin A orally or using an injection. Lack of vitamin A means your turtle is not getting the right nutrition and this must be corrected. You should only perform the treatment as instructed by your vet because it’s very easy to get a vitamin A overdose.
- Treating abscesses is done surgically since the abscesses have to be opened up and drained and the affected tissue treated with a medicated cleaning solution. Your vet will usually get a culture of the abscesses to determine the kind of bacteria causing the abscesses. Apart from the topical medication, your turtle will also need oral and injectable antibiotics.
- Shell infections can be a challenge to treat, but it will mostly involve doing a microscopic analysis and culture to determine if it’s a bacteria, virus, or fungus causing the infection, cleaning the shell thoroughly, then treating it with the right medication.
- Gastrointestinal parasites are treated with deworming medication, but a microscopic analysis of your turtle’s stool needs to be done to identify the type of parasite which will help determine the type of medication that is needed.
Some interesting insights to know about painted turtles
Painted turtles have some very interesting biological concepts you should know about.
When the male painted turtle wants to mate with a female, he exposes his head and neck when approaching her. To show that she like him, she will gently swipe the side of his face with her foot and if he swipes back, it means he’s ready to mate. Once he knows she’s ready to mate, he’ll quickly dive and swim to an open area at the bottom of the pond hoping that the female will follow him. This mating ritual may look a bit complicated, but it’s normal courtship behavior in the wild.
Many species in the animal kingdom display unique and intricate mating rituals like birds have elaborate dances, some rat species collect shiny objects for the ones they love, and frogs have very distinct sounds they make with their throat sacks depending on the species.
According to research, painted turtles have an amazing ability to find their way back to specific locations using various complex senses that helps them to find their way. They do this by recognizing unique features in the landscape like the current, specific scents, landmarks, and other features. Even if you release the painted turtle over 4 miles away, they can still find their way home.
The breeding season for painted turtles begins in late spring and ends in early summer. These turtles are amniotes which means the females have to nest on land preferable to soft sandy soil and good exposure to the sun. The turtles use their hind feet to dig the nests that it’s not less than 10-12 cm and they’re usually 200 feet near the water. The female can lay between 4-15 oval-shaped, soft-shelled eggs in the round-shaped hole on the ground.
Painted turtles are known to be timid and prefer to be left alone instead of being handled by humans. Apart from shoving each other to get the best basking spot, painted turtles are docile animals and they aren’t as nervous and jittery as other turtle species. Most of their time during the day, they will spend it basking in the sun, foraging for their next meal, then retire early. However, when feeding the painted turtle will tend to be a bit more active.
Foxes, raccoons, minks, and other medium-sized animals like to prey on turtles and their eggs. Painted turtles like to seek refuge in the water at the first sign of danger and to protect themselves, they usually retract their head and legs into their hard shell.
Painted turtles are beautiful reptiles with striking colorings that need more care than other types of pet turtles and they don’t enjoy being handled. If you can commit to all their care needs and you don’t want a pet that needs to be cuddled and human interaction, the painted turtle is a great choice. With proper care and feeding, you can enjoy having this turtle in your home for many years to come.