Eastern Painted Turtle
The eastern painted turtle (subspecies) is by far an away the most commonly found turtle in New England, and the painted turtle species is the most widely distributed turtle in North America. Often times you can spot them sunning themselves on a roadside pond while driving by; they are nicknamed the “sun turtle” since they perch themselves on logs/rocks in full sun. They are found in permanent freshwater habitats including, but not limited to, rivers, ponds, and swamps.
Their carapace (top) is smooth (without a ridge), and black or dark green in color with lighter colors at the border of each scute. The marginal scutes of the carapace have red markings. The plastron is yellow/orange in color. Their skin is greenish to black with red, orange, and/or yellow striping on the head, legs, and tail. They are difficult to see when partially submerged in water inundated with aquatic vegetation since the markings on their head make them well camouflaged. The eastern painted turtle is distinguished from other subspecies (i.e. midland, southern, and western painted turtles) by straight-aligned scutes on the carapace. Mature painted turtles range is size from 4-10 inches.
The lifespan of the eastern painted turtle in the wild is approximately 40 years.
Eastern painted turtles are omnivorous; they eat fish, crustaceans, insects, worms, aquatic plants, algae, fruit, carrion, etc. They have a hard beak for chewing (i.e. no teeth), but they usually swallow their food whole.
Male or female?
Male eastern painted turtles are typically smaller than females at full maturity, and have longer front claws and longer, thicker tails. Males have concave plastrons (bottom shell) that are more suitable for mounting females during copulation. Their sex is determined by external temperature during embryogenesis; therefore, there are no genetic male or female Painted Turtles. Warmer temperatures produce females, and colder temperatures produce males.
Painted turtles are found at the highest lattitude for North American turtles followed closely by the snapping turtle. They are able to withstand colder temperatures than most cold-blooded animals due to their higher freeze tolerance and significant metabolic depression (i.e. heart rate is lowered significantly). During the coldest months, painted turtles either burrow themselves in soft mud at the bottom of their freshwater habitat, or remain exposed and mostly sedentary at the bottom. Painted turtles can absorb oxygen in water through blood vessels in the walls of their mouth and throat; this is done during overwintering and while sleeping underwater. Complete freezing of water body (to bottom) will results in mortality. Painted turlte hatchlings over winter in nests (out of water); this results in high mortality rates (from freezing) during colder winters.
This picture shows the plastrons of a painted turtle (left) and a spotted turtle (right).
For more infomation on how turtles survive the winter, please see our post on overwintering.