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Habitat Atlas for Wildlife at Risk
Painted Turtle
Chrysemys picta belli

Painted Turtle
Painted Turtle

  • Plastron (belly) length: Males: 9-17 cm, Females: up to 22 cm.
  • Weight: Males: 800 g; Females: 1400 g.
  • The top shell or carapace is generally black to greenish.
  • Yellow stripes on the head, neck, tail, and legs, as well as red markings around the edges of the plastron (belly) and under the rim of the carapace.
  • Males distinguished from females by long, slender claws on forefeet.

Habitat map not available.


British Columbia Blue List

Special Significance

The Painted Turtle requires wetlands, ponds or similar small bodies of water for hiding and foraging, adjacent to upland areas with dry, light-textured soils for nesting. Unfortunately, within its limited British Columbia range, the Painted Turtle is threatened by alteration or destruction of this important habitat. Wetlands and ponds are drained, filled and modified to meet human needs. Landowners can assist the continued survival of British Columbia's only native freshwater turtle by taking care to avoid disturbing turtles and protecting known breeding locations on their property.


  • In British Columbia, turtles are irregularly distributed but locally abundant in Southern Interior valleys, including the Rocky Mountain Trench north to Golden, the Creston and Nelson areas, the Okanagan Valley and the Kamloops-Shuswap lakes area; also a population near William's Lake; recorded in the Fraser Valley from Vancouver to Hope, in the Sechelt-Powell River area, and on southeast Vancouver Island.
  • Found up to about 1000 metres in elevation.


  • Painted Turtles inhabit muddy bottomed ponds and marshes, the margins of small lakes, sluggish streams and river back-waters with abundant aquatic plants.
  • Nest sites are usually within 150 metres of ponds and may include dikes, road shoulders and parking lots.
  • Turtles require warm, unvegetated, south-facing slopes with dry, light soil for burying their eggs.
  • Preferred basking sites include boulders, floating logs and other sites surrounded by water.


  • Males are sexually mature at 4 years, females at 7 or 8 years.
  • Turtles mate in early spring and females lay clutches of 6-18 (usually 12-13) leathery, white eggs from early June to early July; one clutch produced each year.
  • Eggs are incubated for 70-80 days and hatch in late August or early September.
  • Hatchlings remain in the nest until May or June of the following year.

Food Habits

  • Painted Turtles eat a variety of aquatic insects and larvae, snails, earthworms, frogs, tadpoles, fish and aquatic plants.
  • Turtles will scavenge on dead animal material.
  • Studies indicate that young turtles are more carnivorous and become more herbivorous as they mature.

Interesting Facts

  • Painted Turtles can live 20-30 years and grow to be the size of dinner plates.
  • Painted Turtles are the most northerly occurring, and most widespread turtles in North America.
  • Young turtles hatch in the fall and endure winter temperatures well below freezing before they leave the nest in late spring or early summer.
  • Because turtle ribs form part of their shell, they are unable to breathe by expanding and contracting ribs; instead, they contract and relax their abdominal muscles to pump air in and out of their lungs.
  • Turtles have no external ears but their shell conducts low-frequency vibrations to the middle ear.
  • Turtles can dive to 2 metres depth while feeding and can stay underwater for almost an hour.
  • Up to ninety percent of all turtle nests are lost to predators; of those that make it out of the nest, only one in five will survive to adulthood.


  • Alteration or destruction of wetlands and ponds with suitable nesting sites in close proximity.
  • Traffic mortality on roads adjacent to wetlands.
  • Human disturbance of basking or nesting turtles.
  • Trampling of turtle nests by livestock and destruction by all-terrain vehicles.
  • Illegal capture of turtles for pets.
  • Release of unwanted, introduced turtles such as the Red-eared Slider which may compete with the Painted Turtle for food and introduce disease to native turtle populations.

Management Considerations

  • Protect key habitat including remaining wetlands, ponds and other small waterbodies.
  • Restrict the development of roads, trails, beaches and campgrounds in key turtle habitat.
  • Observe turtle basking sites from a distance and avoid nest sites.
  • Keep dogs leashed near turtle habitat and don't pick up turtles.
  • Alert provincial or municipal habitat protection staff about land developments that threaten turtles or their habitat.
  • Restore degraded wetlands, provide basking logs and create nesting sites.
  • Erect fences around wetlands and known nesting habitat to prevent trampling by livestock and damage by all-terrain vehicles.
  • Take unwanted, non-native turtles to the SPCA; do not release them into the wild.


1. Blood, D.A. and M. Macartney. 1998. Wildlife at risk in British Columbia brochure: Painted Turtle. Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, Lands and Parks, Victoria, British Columbia.
2. Gregory, P.T. and R.W. Campbell. 1984. The reptiles of British Columbia. British Columbia Provincial Museum Handbook No. 44. Victoria, BC.
3. Behler, J.L. and F.W. King. 1997. National Audubon Society field guide to North American reptiles and amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.


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