Chrysemys picta
(Painted Turtle)


Key Characteristics
Olive to black carapace
Red on bridge and plastron
Yellow and/or red lines on neck and limbs
Webbing between toes

General Description:
The Painted Turtle is the only species of turtle that occurs naturally in Idaho so identifying them should be straight forward.  However, due to escaped pets and introduced species, one must become familiar with the general characteristics of Painted Turtles to avoid confusing them with such turtles as Box Turtles, and Red-eared Sliders (both common pet species).  Painted Turtles are easily recognizable, their plastronClick word for definition, neck and limbs are so brightly colored with yellow or red lines and markings that the common name seems very apropos.  Painted turtles have the generalized body form of aquatic turtles, having a somewhat shallow carapace (as opposed to the high domed carapace of a land tortoise) and having webbing between their toes which facilitates swimming.  The carapace is usually a solid olive to black color but some light yellow vertebral lines can be present.  The plastron contrasts with the dull carapaceClick word for definition in being brightly colored with shades of red and yellow.   Often, there is a dark central pattern that extends toward the margin of the plastron (Nussbaum et al. 1983).

Painted turtles can attain maximum carapace lengths of around 25 cm (~ 9 in.) (Nussbaum et al. 1983).  Female Painted turtles are usually larger than males and the sexes can be further distinguished by the male's long front claws (Stebbins 1985), concave plastron and cloacaClick word for definition opening past the margin of the vent (Storm and Leonard 1995).  Like all turtles, Painted Turtles lack teeth, and have a ridges or row of tubercules parallel with the margin of the jaw (Stebbins 1985).

During courtship, male Painted Turtles use their long claws to stroke the cheeks of the female to prepare her for mating (Nussbaum et al.,1983).   Mating occurs at the bottom of the body of water and egg-laying most likely takes place during June and July (Nussbaum et al., 1983).  Painted Turtles lay a clutch containing between 4 to 20 eggs  in open areas that are exposed to the sun for much of the day, such as fields, roads, etc. (Storm and Leonard 1995).  The eggs are white and elliptical in shape and hatch between 70 to 104 days later, and in some cases may overwinter until the following spring (Nussbaum et al.1983).

Idaho Distribution:
In Idaho, Painted turtles can be found in the northern portion of the state, and have recently been reported in western Idaho in waters associated with the Payette and Boise Rivers, and in eastern Idaho near St. Anthony.

From southern Canada to central Gulf Coast, and from East Coast to Pacific Northwest, with isolated populations in Colorado, New Mexico, and Mexico. Introduced and apparently established in other scattered localities in western states, including southeastern and southwestern Idaho.

Painted Turtles are found in shallow lakes and ponds, as well as in slow moving streams and rivers.  Aquatic vegetation is usually present and the turtles will use this as cover to escape capture.  The body of water will often have some floating debris, fallen logs etc. that provide baskingClick word for definition sites for the turtles.   Except for the trekk onto land for egg-laying, Painted Turtles are rarely found terrestrially.

Found in slow-moving, shallow water (streams, marshes, ponds, lakes, or creeks) containing soft bottom, suitable basking sites, and aquatic vegetation. May colonize seasonally-flooded areas near permanent water.

Feeds opportunistically on various plants and animals, living or dead. In Idaho, aquatic insect larvae are major diet item of juveniles and adults.

HibernatesClick word for definition in water in bottom mud. Most active diurnally from March through October, though warm weather may stimulate activity in other months. Evening activity on land may occur during nesting. Eggs and hatchlings incur high mortality from various predators. Population density in ponds and lakes varies greatly; some areas may contain up to several hundred individuals/hectare, other areas may have as few as a dozen/hectare. Forages on water bottom or among aquatic plants.

In Idaho, mating may occur in fall and spring. Most nesting occurs from late May to early July. Females often produce more than 1 clutch/yr; clutch size ranges from 8-19 eggs. Idaho study found hatchlings usually wintered in nest and emerged in spring. Females reach sexual maturity in 6-7 yr in northern Idaho.



Protected nongame species

Global Rank:


State Rank:


Important State Reference:
Lindeman, P.V. 1988. Comparative life history of the painted turtle, Chrysemys picta, in the inland Pacific Northwest. M.S. Thesis, Univ. Idaho, Moscow. 102pp.

Original images provided by Charles R. Peterson, 1997
Species description, key characteristics and original html by John Cossel Jr. 1997.
Updated design, image optimization and final revision by Ean Harker ©1999, 2000.
Adaptation for DAI by Stephen Burton 1999.