Painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) are the most abundant turtle species in North America. They are the only turtles whose native range extends from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean.
There are so many exciting things to learn not just about painted turtles as a whole but about each subspecies. That’s why we have pooled together the most interesting things about them for you to read in this very article.
The midland painted turtle, western painted turtle, southern painted turtle, and eastern painted turtle are the four subspecies of painted turtles. They all have olive to black smooth shells with yellow markings on their heads. These reptiles are omnivores and live in slow-moving water.
What is the difference between these 4 types of painted turtles?
To start getting to know them better, dive down into the extended guide below.
Table of Contents
4 Types Of Painted Turtle
Painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) are reptiles of the Emididaye family and the Chrysemys genus.
They are abundant in numbers in North America, Canada, and even parts of Mexico. The northern populations of many painted turtles make these reptiles the northernmost American turtles.
Painted turtles are reptiles and beautiful animals. They have olive to dark upper shells and yellow markings on their faces. They go by the name "painted" because of the intricate paint-like markings on their faces, necks, forelimbs, and hind feet.
Although these turtles might seem similar in many ways, the markings on their shells and the places where they live help us to distinguish one from the other.
These turtles live in water and are especially fond of quiet, slow-moving creeks and lakes. These choose their home in places where they will readily find plenty of vegetation.
They are cold-blooded, basking turtles that regulate their body temperature through their environment. These basking turtles spend time in the sun at sunrise and then on one or two more occasions throughout the day in between foraging and other activities.
How many subspecies of painted turtles are there?
There are four subspecies of painted turtles. Here is a list of them.
- Midland painted turtles
- Western-painted turtles
- Eastern-painted turtles
- Southern-painted turtles
Are you ready to get to know these sub species a little better?
Then take a splash into the next section of this article where we will be discussing each painted turtle in detail.
Midland Painted Turtle
To start the ball rolling, let’s get to know a pretty awesome turtle, the mainland painted turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata).
Just like all painted turtles, this one has a dark green to black carapace (top shell) and yellow and red markings on its head. The turtle also has reddy-dark orange markings on its marginal scutes.
What makes the midland-painted turtle different from the others?
The midland-painted turtle is the hardest to tell apart from the other turtles in the sub species. But here are a couple of things that make it stand apart from the rest.
This turtle has a yellow or dark tan bottom shell. The bottom shell (plastron) has dark markings or a symmetrical shadow on it which is sometimes called its butterfly mark.
The butterfly marks on these turtles are all slightly different. Some are bigger, while others are smaller, and some are more prominent than others.
This feature makes the midland-painted turtle truly special.
The midland painted turtle is a medium to large size turtle.
How big is it?
Its body averages 4 to 10 inches long. Its carapace is normally 5 to 5.5 inches long.
Ok, so its size is nothing in comparison to the massive leatherback turtle, but it is a decent size for a turtle of this type.
If you want to get a closer look at a real-life midland turtle in its natural habitat, you’ll need to search the places where they are most readily found.
What is the natural habitat of a midland turtle?
You will find many northern populations of midland painted turtles in parts of southern Canada, from southern Ontario to Quebec. Their populations then move down through North America to some midwest states, not including southwestern Virginia, west Virginia, or east Kentucky.
These turtles like to live in shallow, slow-moving water where there is lots of tasty vegetation and basking sites. You are most likely to find them in the following aquatic habitats:
- Slow-moving rivers
This painted turtle likes still and quiet water more than almost every other sub species in this category. It is often spotted in coves and on shores.
That’s right, these reptiles like to live in quiet, peaceful, and secluded places. Who could blame them?
Now we’ve got to the most important part. A midland turtle’s menu.
What does this painted turtle like to eat?
The midland painted turtle has an omnivorous diet similar to that of other painted turtles. This is what it eats.
- Aquatic plants such as the American water lily and duckweed.
- Aquatic insects such as crayfish and dragonfly larvae.
If you want to spot a painted turtle, then going to places with a high density of water lilies and duckweed is definitely a good start.
Males and Females
Male and female painted turtles can look really similar but some surefire tricks will help you tell them apart.
What is the difference between a male and a female midland turtle?
Midland male painted turtles are slightly smaller than the females. They also have longer, thicker tails.
You will be able to tell a female from a male by looking at its claws. The male midland painted turtle has much longer claws on its front feet than the female.
Yes, that’s right, the females are bigger than the males!
Western Painted Turtle
It’s now time to get to know our next beautiful turtle, that is the western-painted turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii).
The western-painted turtle has an olive-black colored top shell. They have orangey-red patterns running over their legs and yellow stripes and yellow spots on their heads, necks, and legs.
What makes the western-painted turtle different from the other turtles in this sub species?
The turtle’s carapace has lots of fine, mesh-like light lines running over it. The pattern on its shell is almost parallel from the turtle’s head to its tail.
Its bottom shell has a large splot on it that is similar to that of the midland-painted turtle's but is often red and spreads to the edges of the shell. This splotch is what makes this painted turtle different from the rest.
These splotches are very unique and vary in size, shade, and depth of color. It is always so fascinating to come across this sub species and investigate which kind of splotch it will have.
The western painted turtle is the largest in this sub species.
How big is it?
Its carapace can reach almost 10 inches long.
In the world of painted turtles, this is a massive member of the genus. You won’t find a painted turtle bigger than this!
The western painted turtle is really quite fascinating and lots of people like to observe it in its natural habitats.
But where do western painted turtles live?
You will find western painted turtles from the southern parts of western Canada such as Vancouver Island and British Columbia to the midwestern states of the US including Colorada, Kansas, and even some parts of New Mexico. Its habitat range stretches as far as northern Mexico, particularly around the Rio Santa María.
These turtles like to live in streams and lakes just like other painted turtles do but this sub species is particularly keen on roadside pools and pasture ponds. You will also find western-painted turtles at high elevations, up to 1,800 feet!
Yes, these turtles have a very impressive range, it is by far the biggest range of any other painted turtle.
The western painted turtle has an omnivorous diet and will feed on the same types of food that other painted turtles will. But what this turtle consumes depends on the season.
What does the western-painted turtle like to chow down on?
Here is its normal eating routine.
- In the early summer, insects will make up 60% of this turtle’s diet.
- In the late summer, plants will make up 55% of its diet.
- Western-painted turtles enjoy eating fish and frogs all year round.
Yes, that’s right, the western-painted turtle has a more carnivorous diet in the early summer and a more herbivorous diet in the late summer. Its varying diet is just another one of the many things that make this subspecies special.
Males and Females
Male and female painted turtles are very similar at first glance.
So, is it possible to tell one from the other?
Yes, it is. As with all painted turtles, the western-painted turtle male is smaller than the female.
The male measures just 4 to 7 inches whereas the female can measure between 8 and 10 inches.
So, to tell the two apart, you’re going to have to get your tape measure out.
Eastern Painted Turtle
We’re now at painted turtle 3 of 4. Let’s find out everything there is to know about the eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta picta).
The eastern-painted turtle has a dark green to black carapace with yellow stripes on its chin.
What makes this turtle different from the others?
The segments on the eastern painted turtle’s carapace are in straight lines. These straight lines do not occur on the top shell of any other North American turtle.
Some of these turtles have a pale white mark running down the middle of their upper shells and red markings running around the edges of their shells.
The eastern-painted turtle’s bottom shell is yellow or sometimes has dark gray spots on it. Some turtles have just one dark gray spot in the lower half of their bottom shell.
They have two yellow spots behind their eyes and yellow stripes on their chins.
Yes, the color patterns on this painted turtle are really what makes it stand out.
How big is it?
The eastern-painted turtle measures 5 to 7 inches long. This is a medium-sized painted turtle, it is neither big nor small.
The largest painted turtle of this subspecies ever found measured 7.2 inches.
Now that’s a pretty impressive length for this genus.
If you fancy taking a look at this painted turtle in its natural habitat you will have to take a trip to one of the coastal states.
Where exactly does this turtle live?
Eastern painted turtles occur in the eastern parts of Canada to the US from Nova Scotia right down to South Carolina and Georgia.
The eastern painted turtle is probably the most aquatic of all other painted turtles. It will only leave the body of water where it lives to spend time soaking up rays at its favorite basking sites and when a drought comes.
These turtles like to live in the following aquatic habitats.
- Brackish water
- Bodies of water with lots of vegetation and with sandy soil and muddy bottoms.
The female painted turtle likes to find nesting sites among sandy soil about 200 to 600 meters away from the water’s edge.
So, if you are near a painted turtle’s habitat and it is mating season, you may be close to one of their nesting sites!
Like all of us, the painted turtle likes to make its home near a place where there is lots of food.
What does this painted turtle like to eat?
This turtle is an omnivore but it has the most intriguing diet of all the painted turtles. It more readily feeds on injured or dead fish than it does on live ones.
While this turtle is occasionally found on land eating, it likes to eat most of its dead fish meals and aquatic vegetation in the water.
Young painted turtles eat a more carnivorous diet while the adults eat a more herbivorous diet.
Yes, this painted turtle certainly has the most interesting diet of the 4. This turtle is quite a scavenger!
Males and Females
As with all painted turtles, the male eastern turtle and the female look very similar.
What must you do to tell them apart?
The male eastern-painted turtle measures 5 to 7 inches long whereas the female measures 6 to 7 inches long. Adult males also have elongated front claws that are much more prominent than the females.
The male’s shell is flatter and the female’s shell domes slightly towards the back.
So, telling the two apart will involve a mixture of measuring the turtles and observing the shapes of their shells. This will be easiest for you to do if you have two of these aquatic turtles to compare one to the other.
Southern Painted Turtle
Last, but certainly not least, let’s take a look at the southern painted turtle (Chrysemys dorsalis).
The southern-painted turtle has an olive green to black color carapace.
What makes this turtle different from the others?
The southern-painted turtle has red markings dividing its marginal scutes. It has a red or orange stripe running down the center of its upper shell.
This turtle has yellow stripes running down the sides of its head and on its chin. It also has a yellow spot behind its eyes.
This turtle has red, dark markings running down its arms and legs.
It is the more delicate details on this turtle that make it unique from the rest. It is a bit more challenging to tell them apart but well worth the effort.
Look out for the fire-red markings running around its marginal scutes to quickly tell it apart from any other painted turtle.
Southern painted turtles are small turtles and are the smallest in this sub species.
How big is it?
The southern painted turtle measures 4 to 6 inches in length.
Yes, this painted turtle is tiny and absolutely adorable. And if there’s anything cuter than the adult, it’s a hatchling!
We all want to get a closer look at these painted turtles.
Where will you find them?
The range of southern painted turtles is limited to the southern states of the US. These include Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas.
Like the midland painted turtle, this turtle likes to spend time in very still water. It thrives in shores and coves and loves places where there is a lot of dense vegetation such as the following.
They are often called pond turtles as they like to live in shallow ponds, drainage ditches, and other bodies of water with muddy bottoms.
You are more likely to see these turtles in the early spring and summer as in the winter months they retreat to denser wetlands and bury themselves in mud.
So it is definitely easier for you to spot these reptiles in their natural habitat during the warm weather months. Why not give it a go this summer?
No one likes to eat the same thing every day and the southern painted turtle is the same.
What does it eat?
The southern-painted turtle is an omnivore and likes to eat a varied diet. Its favorite things to nibble on are frogs, fish, algae, duckweed, and snails.
Young turtles will eat a more carnivorous diet and adult turtles will eat a more herbivorous diet.
That’s right, the turtle’s diet will gradually change as it gets older.
Males and Females
Telling a male and a female turtle apart is never easy. Here are a couple of tips that will help.
As with the other painted turtles, the females in this sub species are larger than the males. They have a bigger dome shape on the back of their shells whereas the males have flatter shells.
Compare a few of the turtles side-by-side to help you see the difference between the males and the females more clearly.
The Ultimate Comparison of Painted Turtles
So, we have had a good look at each of the painted turtles in this genus and we now know so much more about them than we did before.
But what if you’re not sure of the differences between the four turtles?
Then we’ve got you covered as up next, we will be listing each painted turtle subspecies and their outstanding features that make each one different from the rest.
Let’s get comparing!
In this section, include a table. In the first column put “factor” and then in each of the following put the names of the turtles.
|Midland painted turtle
|Western painted turtle
|Eastern painted turtle
|Southern painted turtle
|Chrysemys picta marginata
|Chrysemys picta bellii
|Chrysemys picta picta
|Bottom shell dark symmetrical butterfly shadow
|Red splotch under shell
|Straight lines segments on carapace
|Red-orange center carapace stripe
|4 to 10 inches
|Up to 10 inches
|5 to 7 inches
|4 to 6 inches
|Midland states and southern Canada
|West and midland states, New Mexico, and southern Canada
|Eastern coastal states and east Canada
|Coves, shores, still water
|Roadside pools, elevations up to 1,800 feet
|Shallow water with muddy bottoms
|Aquatic plants and insects
|Aquatic plants and insects, fish, and frogs
|Dead fish, plants
|Frogs, fish, and aquatic plants
FAQ About Painted Turtles
Painted turtles are incredibly fascinating reptiles that we simply cannot get enough of. There is so much to learn about these aquatic creatures.
Is there something you would like to know about these animals and the differences between the 4 subspecies?
Then stick with us as up next, we will be answering the most asked questions about painted turtles.
How Many Kinds of Painted Turtles Are There?
There are 4 kinds of painted turtles. These include midland, eastern, southern, and western painted turtles.
Red-eared sliders and cooters are similar species of turtle but they are from different families.
When Were They Discovered?
People started investigating the differences between these reptiles in the late 1700s.
The midland and southern turtle were discovered by Louis Agassiz in 1857. The eastern turtle was recognized as a full species by Johann Gottlob Schneider in 1783.
The western turtle was recognized as a full species in 1855 by John Edward Gray.
How Can You Tell the Difference Between Painted Turtles?
At first glance, painted turtles seem very alike. But there are many ways to tell them apart.
Here are some of them.
- Look at their carapaces. If the lines on the carapace are straight, it is an eastern turtle. If there is a red-orange stripe running down the center it might be a southern turtle.
- Examine their bottom shells. If it has a dark butterfly-like pattern on it it might be a midland turtle. If it has a red pattern on it it might be a western turtle.
- Measure them. If it is big, almost 10 inches in length, it might be a western turtle. If it is small, just 4 inches in length then it might be a southern turtle.
- Observe their habitat. If you find the turtle in a state on the east coast it might be an eastern turtle. If you find it a southern state it might be a southern turtle. If you find it near the Missouri River it might be a western turtle.
What Is the Difference Between Eastern and Midland Painted Turtles?
If it is your first time coming across painted turtles they might look similar to you. But upon closer inspection, there are lots of things that make one stand out from the other.
Here are the main differences between eastern and midland turtles.
- Carapaces. The segments on an eastern turtle’s carapace are in straight lines whereas the midland turtle has alternating segments. The eastern turtle may have red markings on the sides of its shell. Observing the patterns and colors on the top of the turtle’s shell is a good way of telling them apart.
- Under shell. The eastern turtle’s undershell is yellow or lightly spotted whereas the midland turtle’s undershell has a dark symmetrical pattern on it. You will need to gently lift the turtle and look under it to see the difference between the two.
- Measure them. An eastern turtle will measure 5 to 7 inches whereas a midland turtle will measure 4 to 10 inches. Ensure the turtle is an adult and then measure it to find out which subspecies it is.
- Location analysis. If you found the turtle in one of the eastern coastal states or east Canada it might be an eastern turtle. If you found it in a midland state it might be a midland turtle. A careful look at the turtle’s habitat could tell you which species it is.
- Habitat analysis. If you found the reptile in brackish water or a muddy or sandy body of water it might be an eastern turtle. If you found it in a cove or a shore then it might be a midland turtle. This is important to analyze as the habitats of these reptiles differ greatly.
- Diet. If the reptile eats a lot of dead or injured fish it might be an eastern turtle but if it eats a balanced diet of plants and animals it might be a midland turtle.
If you are still struggling to work out what species your turtle is, check out the complete comparison in this article.
Where Do You Find Eastern Painted Turtles?
If you want to have a look at an eastern turtle in its natural habitat, you will need to know where to find one. You will find this turtle in the following parts of Canada.
- Nova Scotia
- New Brunswick
If you are in the US, you will find this reptile in the following states.
- New Hampshire
- Rhode Island
- New York
- New Jersey
- West Virginia
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
In these states, you are most likely to find this reptile in the following places.
- Brackish water
- Bodies of water with lots of vegetation, plenty of sand, and mud
Which Type of Painted Turtle Is the Smallest?
There are 4 different kinds of painted turtle and each kind grows to a slightly different size. Some are notoriously big and others are much smaller.
The smallest kind of painted turtle is the southern turtle. This turtle measures, on average just 4 to 6 inches.
The male is usually noticeably smaller than the female.
Hatchlings are less than 1 inch in diameter. Juveniles are about 1.5 to 2 inches long.
Yes, these reptiles are tiny and so adorable!
Because of the risk of salmonella, these reptiles are often too small to be sold to the public.
What Does an Eastern Painted Turtle Look Like?
Identifying an eastern turtle among the rest is tricky because they are similar looking. Here is a full description of this reptile that will help you to differentiate it more easily.
The main carapace color of this reptile is olive green to black. On its carapace, you will find the segments in straight, pale lines.
It also has red stripes running across its side and it may have a white line running down the middle of it. The carapace is smooth without any ridges.
The eastern turtle has a dark green to black carapace with yellow stripes on its chin.
The bottom shell is rather plain. It is usually pale yellow.
If the bottom shell is not just pale yellow it might have dark gray spots on it. Some will have as few as just one single dark gray spot in the lower half of the bottom shell.
This reptile has yellow stripes that run across its chin. It also has yellow spots behind its eyes.
Its skin is olive to black.
Fun Facts About the Painted Turtle
The painted turtle is extremely fascinating, and there are still so many more things to learn about it.
Are you ready to find out some of the most mind-boggling facts about this species?
Then hold on tight as we are about to go through the rapids with some quick-fire turtle facts.
- The painted turtle can survive long periods without oxygen. It does this when it hibernates underwater. While hibernating in water, it will stay within two meters of the water’s surface. But if the body of water has a muddy bottom, the turtle may dig a further meter into the mud. Amazingly, it can still survive without oxygen for months.
- You will find many populations of the western turtle by the Missouri River in Montana, South and North Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri.
- There is a 130 km gap east of Lake Superior where you will not find any painted turtles. This is due to the extremely harsh temperatures in this area.
- The painted turtle was first given the name Testudo picta in 1783 by Johann Gottlod Schneider. It wasn’t until 1855 that John Edward Gray changed its name from Testudo picta to Chrysemys picta.
- This reptile was designated the state reptile of the state of Michigan in the US in 1995. It is also the state reptile of Vermont, Illinois, and Colorado.
- US federal law prohibits the sale of any turtle smaller than 4 inches to prevent the spread of salmonella from the reptile to humans. Because of this, it is often tricky to get hold of a pet southern turtle as these are rather small (just 4 to 6 inches long).
- Because of the dwindling number of western turtles in British Columbia, you are no longer allowed to fish this species there. They are now protected.
- The painted turtle is rather agile when it comes to catching prey. It can catch smaller prey items in its mouth as it skims its open mouth across the top of the water. It can rip large prey to pieces by holding the animal in its mouth and then pulling it with its forefeet.
Summarizing the 4 Painted Turtles
Since all painted turtles have the same main colors on their shells and bodies, many people find it difficult to tell them apart. But thanks to this article, we have seen that the area where the turtle lives, what it eats, and the finer details and color patterns on and under its shells can help you tell the difference between them.
There are 4 types of painted turtles including the midland, western, southern, and eastern painted turtles.
Did you find this article interesting?
At Oddly Cute Pets, we always strive to provide you with the best articles about the map turtle, painted turtle, red-eared slider, and other similar species of reptiles. For more information on what to feed a freshwater tortoise or how to look after any of the reptiles we’ve mentioned today, check out our website.
Thanks for reading!