Chrysemys pictaPainted Turtle

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Geographic Range

Painted turtles are one of the most common turtles in North America and are found from southern Canada to northern Mexico. (Canadian Forest Service, 2005; Kawartha Turtle Watch, 2005)

Habitat

Painted turtles prefer living in freshwater that is quiet, shallow, and has a thick layer of mud.

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams

Physical Description

Painted turtles are brightly marked. They have a smooth shell about 90 to 250 mm long. Their shell acts as protection, but since the ribs are fused to the shell, the turtle cannot expand its chest to breathe but must force air in and out of the lungs by alternately contracting the flank and shoulder muscles. The painted turtle has a relatively flat upper shell with red and yellow markings on a black or greenish brown background. Males mature at about 70 to 95 mm plastron (lower shell) length, usually at 3 to 5 years of age. Females at take longer (6 to 10 years) and are larger at maturity (c. 100 to 130 mm plastron length). The growth rate, for both sexes is rapid during the first several years of the of their lives. Turtles continue to grow slowly after maturity, and this species may reach 250 mm carapace (upper shell) length and live for many decades. (Harding, 1997)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Average mass
    57.5 g
    2.03 oz
  • Average mass
    371.812 g
    13.10 oz
    AnAge
  • Range length
    90 to 250 mm
    3.54 to 9.84 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.0236 W
    AnAge

Development

The sex of the turtle is determined during a critical phase of embryogenesis according to the incubation temperature. These temperature-dependent reptiles lack sex chromosomes. Low temperatures during incubation produce males and high temperatures produce females. Hatchlings have two threshold temperatures, 27 to 32 C and 22C. These thresholds may be important to some northern or woodland populations. The availability of water in the nests is more important than temperature in influencing survival, metabolism, and growth of the embryos.

  • Development - Life Cycle
  • temperature sex determination

Reproduction

Mating begins after hibernation and before feeding begins when the water temperatures are still low. Fall mating may also occur. Temperature is a major environmental cue for the regulation of the seasonal gonadal cycle, but the thermal dependence of the reproductive system differs markedly for the two sexes.

The breeding season lasts from late spring to early summer. Males mature at about 70-95 mm plastron (lower shell) length, usually at 3-5 years of age. Females take longer (6-10 years) and are larger at maturity (c. 100-130 mm plastron length).

  • Breeding interval
    Breeding occurs once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    The breeding season lasts from late spring to early summer.
  • Range number of offspring
    4 to 15
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    6 to 10 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    3 to 5 years

In the early summer females lay 4 to 15 oval, soft-shelled eggs, in a flask-shaped hole. Females choose soft, sandy soil with good exposure to the sun in which to dig the hole. Once the eggs are laid they cover the hole and leave. The young hatch and dig out of the nest on their own, they are independent immediately.

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

Painted turtles may live as long as 35 to 40 years, but most will not survive for this long. (Harding, 1997)

Behavior

Painted turtles bask in large groups on logs, fallen trees, and other objects. The sunning helps rid them of parasitic leeches. In many areas turtles hibernate during the winter months by burrowing into the mud and allowing their bodies to become very cold. Because of their small body size, they can move easily. Turtles dive quickly at the first hint of danger. Painted turtles are diurnal; that means they are active during the day. At night they will rest on the bottom of a pond or on a partially submerged object, such as a rock. During the day, painted turtles will bask in the sun, sometimes as many as 50 on one log, stacked on top of each other.

Communication and Perception

Sound perception is poor in turtles, but they do have a good sense of smell and color vision. They use touch to communicate with each other, particularly during mating.

Food Habits

Painted turtles feed mainly on plants, small animals, such as fish, crustaceans, aquatic insects, and some carrion. Young painted turtles are mainly carnivorous, acquiring a taste for plants later in life. Because they have no teeth, the turtle jaw has tough, horny plates for gripping food. Painted turtles must eat in the water, their tongue does not move freely and they cannot manipulate food well on land.

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • carrion
  • insects
  • aquatic crustaceans

Predation

A variety of predators will capture painted turtles. raccoons, otters, mink, foxes, and other medium-sized predators will prey on turtles and their eggs. Painted turtles are vigilant and seek refuge in the water at the slightest sign of danger, they can also retract their head and legs into the protection of their shell.

Ecosystem Roles

Painted turtles are important predators of small fish, crustaceans, and other invertebrates in aquatic ecosystems of North America.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Painted turtles are often used for educational purposes, they make excellent pets with proper care.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

As with many other reptile species, this species frequently has bacteria living naturally in its guts that can be harmful to humans (they are normal members of the gut flora of the reptiles). In particular, these turtles can be source of bacteria in the genus Salmonella. This is why it is illegal to sell small turtles as pets in the United States. Anyone keeping and handling turtles should be careful to maintain hygienic methods and wash their hands after handling.

Conservation Status

Painted turtles are relatively common and abundant throughout most of their range. However, in some areas they are threatened by the destruction of freshwater habitats, such as ponds and small lakes. In some areas many painted turtles are killed on roadways. In Canada, painted turtles have been placed on the federal blue list, which identifies animals considered vulnerable to human activities or natural events, but not immediately threatened. (Canadian Forest Service, 2005; Harding, 1997; Kawartha Turtle Watch, 2005)

Other Comments

Painted turtles are the most common and most widely distributed turtles in the North America. They are also frequently studied.

Contributors

Katie Knipper (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carrion

flesh of dead animals.

causes or carries domestic animal disease

either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
ectothermic

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

freshwater

mainly lives in water that is not salty.

heterothermic

having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

hibernation

the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

macroalgae

seaweed. Algae that are large and photosynthetic.

marsh

marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

natatorial

specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

omnivore

an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

swamp

a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

References

Ganzhorn, Darrie and Licht, Paul. 1983. The Regulation of seasonal gonadal cycles by temperature in the painted turtle, Chrysemys picta. Copeia 2: 347-58.

Gutzke, William and Paukstis, Gary L. 1984. A low threshold temperature for sexual differentiation in the painted turtles, Chrysemys picta. Copeia 2:546-7.

Canadian Forest Service, 2005. "Turtles of Ontario" (On-line). Natural Resources Canada. Accessed July 28, 2005 at http://www.glfc.cfs.nrcan.gc.ca/landscape/turt_e.html.

Harding, J. 1997. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor, Michigan: The University of Michigan Press.

Kawartha Turtle Watch, 2005. "Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata)" (On-line). Kawartha Turtle Watch. Accessed July 28, 2005 at http://www.trentu.ca/biology/turtlewatch/painted.htm.