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The Herps of La Crosse

Living With Herps

Easy Herp Monitoring

Herps as Pets

General Herp Info

Suggested Reading and Bibliography


About Me and Contact Info


Painted Turtle

(Chrysemys picta)




Pictured above: Painted Turtle head pattern (top left).  Female Painted Turtle excavating a nest to deposit her eggs (top right).  Painted Turtle plastron, or bottom shell (bottom).

    Description: Painted Turtles are a small to medium-sized turtle, with adults attaining a carapace (or upper shell surface) length of 3.5 to 7 inches (males generally being smaller than females).  Because it is an aquatic turtle, the Painted Turtle's carapace is flat and smooth.  It is olive with a barely discernable pattern of lines interiorly, while the edge has a reddish tinge.  The plastron (or lower shell surface) of this turtle is orange or red and covered with black, gray, or tan markings (pictured above).  A Painted Turtle's head, legs, and tail are olive with bold yellowish, and sometimes, reddish stripes (pictured above).  

    There are two sub-species of painted turtle found in the Upper Midwest.  The Midland painted turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata) has red stripes along its head and forelegs.  Furthermore, their plastrons are normally yellow, or orangish-yellow with a thin dark stripe down the center that covers less than half of the shell surface.  The other sub-species, the Western painted turtle (Chrysemys picta belli) does not have red stripes along the head or forelegs.  In addition, the plastron of the Western painted turtle is usually reddish orange with a central stripe that covers more than half of its' plastron, occasionally following the seams of each scute out to the margin of the shell.  The individuals pictured above are the western sub-species (C. picta belli).  All painted turtles are members of the family Emydidae.

    Habitat/Ecology: Painted Turtles are found in many types of water bodies, including lakes, ponds, marshes, swamps, rivers, and river impoundments.  They seem to prefer soft bottoms and dense aquatic vegetation.  In addition, because they often bask, they also require many logs or rocks to climb out of the water onto.  Generally they do not stray far from water, unless nest-building (usually late May through part of July), at which time they may travel over half a mile to find suitable nesting grounds, and during this time, female turtles are very susceptible to predators, desiccation, and road-related mortality.  Once they reach the appropriate site, the female will dig a flask-shaped hole with her hind feet, and deposit up to 20 elliptical eggs.  Some females will even lay two clutches of eggs per season.  These eggs generally begin to hatch in mid-August.  It has been reported that egg clutches laid late in the year may will hatch, but the young will remain in the nest (resisting freezing) and emerge the following spring.  

Painted turtles will consume a wide variety of prey-types, including invertebrates, fish, carrion, and even a significant amount of aquatic vegetation, such as algae and duckweed. 

    Painted turtles probably over-winter in bodies of water (such as rivers) that do not freeze and remain well oxygenated throughout the colder months.  In areas like the La Crosse River Marsh (located near Myrick Park), I have seen many painted turtles in shallow, stagnant water throughout the spring/summer.  It would be my guess that these individuals then migrate to the La Crosse River (which runs through the marsh) to hibernate.  Vogt (1981) reported finding several species of map turtle hibernating behind wing dams in the main channel of the Mississippi River.  It is not far-fetched to speculate that painted turtles living in the main channel of this river do likewise. 

    While young painted turtles fall victim to many predators (including birds, fish, and mammals), the only true threat to adults are humans.  

    Remarks:  While they can often be seen from a distance basking on logs or rocks, these turtles are wary and usually escape into the water at sight of people.  If captured, painted turtles retract into their shells and may hiss with mouths agape or urinate.  They may also bite if the opportunity presents itself.  Painted Turtles seem to withstand human disturbances to their environment better than many other aquatic turtles.

    Painted turtles are commonly found throughout the La Crosse area.  I have witnessed them on many occasions within the La Crosse River Marsh as well as near Green Island and Goose Island.  They are probably the most commonly seen turtle in the La Crosse area, and, along with the snapping turtle, may be the most common turtle in the Upper Midwest.

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