Painted Turtle Care

Species Overview

Scientific Name: Chrysemys picta

The painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) is the most widespread native turtle of North America. It lives in relatively slow-moving fresh waters, from southern Canada to northern Mexico, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. They have been shown to prefer large wetlands with long periods of inundation and emergent vegetation. This species is one of the few that is specially adapted to tolerate freezing temperatures for extended periods of time due to an antifreeze-like substance in their blood that keeps their cells from freezing. This turtle is a member of the genus Chrysemys, which is part of the pond turtle family Emydidae. Fossils show that the painted turtle existed 15 million years ago. Three regionally based subspecies (the eastern, midland, and western) evolved during the last ice age. The southern painted turtle (C. dorsalis) is alternately considered the only other species in Chrysemys, or another subspecies of C. picta (Wikipedia).

The painted turtle (chrysemys picta) is North America’s most common turtle species. You can spot these small and beautiful reptiles relaxing in ponds throughout the continent. They rock beautiful, slender bodies with attractive coloration and are extremely docile. It goes without saying reptile lovers find painted turtles irresistible. Luckily, they are also easy to care for. You only have to provide them with a suitable environment, feed them a healthy diet, and keep your eyes peeled for health issues.

If you’re a new turtle parent, this painted turtle care guide will help you learn all the essentials you need to know to give your new pet a happy and healthy life. You’ll learn about the types of painted turtles, their appearance, lifespan, and much more.

care of a painted turtle

Colors & Appearance

A painted turtle’s shell is its most distinctive feature. The top of the shell is smooth and domed with an olive or black base color. There are vivid red, yellow, or orange markings along the edges. The underside of the shell is yellow with dark patterns. Unlike other turtle shells, painted turtle shells are wider than they are long, giving them a rounded appearance. You’ll also see yellow stripes on their faces and feet. Painted turtles have webbed feet that help them swim faster and more gracefully.

Average Size & Weight

Painted turtles are relatively smaller than other turtle species, with males growing up to 3 to 6 inches in length and females reaching 4 to 10 inches. Adult painted turtles weigh between 11 and 18 ounces on average. Females are on the heavier side to ease egg production. How big your turtle grows also depends on the subspecies. For instance, the southern young painted turtles are even less than an inch in diameter. The western painted turtles are the largest among the subspecies.


Painted turtles live long lives. They can survive about 40 years in their natural habitat. In captivity, on the other hand, their lives are slightly shorter, maxing at 25 years. This difference is because painted turtles are wild creatures. They are accustomed to vast areas, certain temperatures, and an array of foods. If you want your pet painted turtle to stick around longer and stay healthy, you’ll have to pay special attention to its habitat setup and the food it eats.

More About Painted Turtles

Painted turtles are commonly kept as pets for their stunning looks and friendly personalities. However, as with all other pet reptiles, painted turtles require special care and attention to thrive in captivity.

You can only take good care of your pet if you understand its natural habitat, how it looks when healthy, and how much it weighs as an adult. Here’s what you need to know about painted turtles:

painted turtle pet

Painted Turtle Habitat

Painted turtles are stunning and small aquatic reptiles that spend most of their lives underwater. They are everywhere in North America. Even Canada and Mexico have their fair share of painted turtles. These reptiles favor small ponds and lakes with slow-moving freshwaters. The bottom of the water bodies must be muddy so painted turtles can hide in them. The water temperature is important, too. When they want to bask in the sun, they leave the water and rest on logs or rocks near the shore. You must remember these specifics when setting up an aquarium for a painted turtle.

Types of Painted Turtles

There are four subspecies of painted turtles in North America. They all have their unique characteristics, but painted turtles generally have a vividly colored shell. Here is what you need to know about the four subspecies of painted turtles:

  • Eastern Painted Turtles: The eastern painted turtle has a smooth and sleek appearance with a colorful carapace featuring red, yellow, and black markings. Their skin is black with yellow and red stripes.

  • Western Painted Turtles: These guys are lighter in color than their cousins. The western painted turtle has an olive shell with large, dark spots on it. Its underbelly has a prominent red pattern, and its limbs are covered in yellow spots.

  • Midland Painted Turtles: The midland painted turtle is similar in appearance to the eastern subspecies, but it has fewer red markings on its black skin.

  • Southern Painted Turtles: Also known as the southern western painted turtle, this subspecies has a yellow dorsal stripe, and its shell is a greenish color with dark markings. Its skin is yellow with black stripes.

Painted Turtles Life Stages

Painted turtles go through three stages of life:

  • Hatchlings
  • Juveniles
  • Adults

Painted turtles grow most rapidly during their early years. But once they reach sexual maturity, between 6 and 10 years of life, their growth rate slows down. Research by UNL Digital Commons claims that female painted turtles grow faster than males. But since all hatchling painted turtles look the same, you can’t tell if you have a male or a female painted turtle until your pet gets 4-6 inches big.

Painted Turtles Predators

Since painted turtles live longer in the wild than in captivity, you might think they are safe from predators. But that’s not the case. Painted turtle eggs and babies are an easy target for predators, such as raccoons, skunks, birds, and snakes. Many get preyed upon on their first day of life.

As for the adults, they become food for skunks, foxes, and coyotes. Luckily, they have higher chances of survival, thanks to their tough shells.

snake eating painted turtle egg

What Makes Painted Turtles Good Pets

  • Unique Appearance: Painted turtles are stunning! Their vibrant shell markings and striped skin can make an aesthetic addition to any household aquarium.
  • Friendly Personalities: Painted turtles are known for being friendly, curious, and interactive pets. With proper care and handling, they can become quite comfortable around humans. Experts at Arbor View Animal Hospital also report that painted turtles can learn to recognize their owners and interact with them!
  • Long Lives: If you’ve always wanted a pet that will stay with you for decades, painted turtles are an excellent choice. If you care for your pet turtle correctly, it’ll stick around for about 25 years.
  • Easy to Feed: Painted turtles aren’t picky eaters. As per PetMD, you can feed painted turtles feeder guppies, cooked chicken pieces, and insects. They also enjoy chopped veggies like romaine and collard greens. So, you have plenty of options to keep your painted turtle’s diet interesting and healthy.
painted turtles as pets

Painted Turtle Care Sheet

Now that we’ve established that painted turtles make excellent pets, let’s prepare ourselves to become their best caretakers.

This simple care sheet will touch on the basics of painted turtle tank setup, food, and health checkup needs. These details will help you raise a healthy pet that’ll be around for a long time.

Environment and Housing

Painted turtles tend to enjoy most in a habitat that has water, a few rocks, and access to light. So, when you’re setting up a painted turtle enclosure, keep these three essentials in mind.

Ideally, a painted turtle’s tank should be at least 12 inches deep and 42 inches wide. That’s about 20 gallons of space for one turtle. Add 10 gallons per turtle to the tank capacity if you’re housing more than one turtle in the same tank.

Other tank accessories that’ll make your pet turtle’s life even more enjoyable include basking spots, plants, hiding places, and pebbles.

painted turtle enclosure

Temperature Requirements

Basking in sunlight is the highlight of a painted turtle’s day. It raises its body temperature, and the sun helps it synthesize vitamin D. It’s important for your pet’s health.

If you’re keeping your painted turtle outdoors, add smooth, flat rocks for it to swim out of the water and bask in the sun.

But if you’re keeping your turtle indoors, invest in a good UVB light bulb that simulates sunlight. Plus, don’t forget to keep an eye on the temperature of their habitat. A painted turtle’s ideal water temperature is 75-80°F. The basking area should stay between 90 and 95°F.

Painted Turtle Diet

Painted turtles are happy eaters. They enjoy an omnivorous diet of fish, insects, and greens. Some turtles also enjoy munching on turtle pellets. Since they are rich in omega 3 and 6, they make a great addition to the menu. Chopped apples and freeze-dried shrimp make great occasional treats. You can read more about what each subspecies of painted turtle likes to eat here.

Young turtles need to eat daily to keep up with their growth rate. You can reduce their meals to once every two to three days as they reach adulthood. Feeding adult turtles daily can cause obesity and digestive issues.

We also highly recommend using containers to feed your pet turtle. It’ll keep their tank cleaner and reduce the risk of bacterial infections.

painted turtle eating a fish


Painted turtles are aquatic species. So, naturally, they need a lot of water to keep going. They’ll drink and swim in their water habitat. So, make sure that they have access to clean, chlorine-free water at all times.

A good-quality water filter will keep your pet’s water clean. But you’ll also need to change 25% of the tank’s water every week to ensure a healthy environment for your turtle.

Behavior And Temperament​​

Painted turtles are gentle and sweet creatures. They enjoy turtle company and don’t mind being around humans, either.

On an average day, a painted turtle will swim a lot, bask under the sun, forage for food, and peacefully sleep at night.

The only time you’ll find two painted turtles bickering is when they are looking for a basking spot. So, make sure that your tank has enough spots for all turtles to sunbathe comfortably.

temperament of a painted turtle

Breeding and Egg-Laying

Painted turtles mate during the months of April-May. Male turtles use a vibrating head movement to get the female’s attention. They can also get romantic and caress their potential partner’s head with their long claws. If the female is interested, she’ll return the gesture by rubbing her claws against the male’s front legs.

Once the mating is over, female turtles will look for a suitable nesting site to lay their eggs. They prefer soft soil or sand that they can easily dig into. Keep in mind that this is a stressful time for the female turtle. So, make sure she has enough privacy and isn’t disturbed during this process.

Painted Turtle Health Issues

Painted turtles are generally healthy pets. But if things get nasty in their water habitat or they aren’t getting the right diet, they can develop respiratory infections, shell rot, or digestive issues. That’s why it’s crucial to keep their tank clean and feed them a varied diet.

Other ailments that might affect aquatic turtles, as highlighted by the vets at the VCA Animal Hospitals, include:

  • Cystic Calculi
  • Dystocia
  • Prolapses
  • Irregular Shell Growth

If your pet turtle is suffering, you’ll notice a drop in weight, breathing difficulties, swollen eyes, lethargy, and wounds on its body. Don’t wait for things to get worse. As soon as you notice any signs of illness, take your pet turtle to the vet.

sick painted turtle

Caring for Painted Turtles the Right Way!

Painted turtles are everything a reptile lover wants. They are gorgeous, sweet, and hardy. Plus, if you understand their love for sun, water, and a varied diet, they aren’t very hard to care for either.

If you’re thinking of getting a painted turtle as your next pet, keep the details mentioned in this painted turtle care guide in mind. Also, always remember to research further and consult a vet for any specific needs of your painted turtle.

Here’s to many happy years with your new shelled friend!