Painted Turtles

The painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) is not your average aquatic turtle. This species has the largest range of any north American turtle, and can found in suitable habitats from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast of North America. It is also colorful, outgoing, moderately-sized, and very undemanding. Let’s take a closer look at painted turtles and see whether they are the right pet turtle for you.

Tank Setup

Tank setup for painted turtles generally follows the basic design already described. Like the red-eared slider, with which it is often confused, painted turtles are the quintessential basking-type turtle that inhabits ponds, lakes and lazy rivers, around which they spend a great deal of time soaking up the sun. If you’ve ever seen them in the wild, you will understand just how important these basking sites are. Juveniles and adults will often be piled up on one another in the choicest sunning spots, and long tanning lines of individuals will form on sufficiently thick tree branches. Consequently, you will need a good heat lamp or ceramic heater, and it is also a good idea to use a UV-B emitting bulb as well.

Feeding

Painted turtles will happily accept most turtle food. Like other basking species, they tend to start life as carnivores, eating insects, small fish, tadpoles, etc., and then move towards a more vegetable-based, omnivorous diet. Make sure to dust prepared foods with a high quality supplement. I have always used Rep-Cal for providing crucial vitamin D and calcium, and would not recommend any other. A failure to supplement foods with these vitamins is just asking for trouble, and is particularly damaging to young, growing turtles that are likely to manifest shell deformities as they mature.

Sexing

Young turtles are very difficult to sex, but as they grow males will show several differences. Males will tend to have larger front claws, a longer, thicker tail, and a more concave plastron (underside of shell) compared to the flat plastron of the female. Of course, the female will normally get significantly larger than the male as well.

Lifespan

Like most basking turtles, the painted variety is very long lived. The eastern subspecies is reported to live between 20 to 40 years, and mature in about 10 years. This is likely a very conservative estimate of this species lifespan in the wild. In captivity, a well cared for turtle should easily live for more than 20 years.

Painted Turtles as Pets – The Verdict

These are generally colorful and easy to please aquatic turtles that should thrive in a basic turtle tank setup provided they are given enough room. While all of the subspecies can be maintained in captivity, some of the subspecies adapted to the northern latitudes may have a tendency to go off feed in the winter, even if adequate water temperatures are maintained year-round. For this reason, the southern painted variety may be a more ideal choice as a pet, since it hails from a much warmer clime. In addition, as the smallest of the subspecies, it can be housed in slightly smaller enclosures.