Painted Turtle, Chrysemys picta

Painted Turtle, dorsal view

Turtles basking on logs or rocks at the edge of slow moving waters or ponds are probably Painted Turtles. They are usually alert and ready to slide into the water at the first sign of disturbance, so it is often difficult to get a good look at them.

From the distance the shell appears smooth and black and may be anywhere from 4 to 9 inches long. The front edge of the scutes on the back of the shell are light colored; this is a good field mark if the light is right. At close range you can see red markings on the lateral margin of the shell. The skin on the feet, tail and head is dark, except for yellow stripes on the side of the face, and in some individuals a conspicuous yellow spot behind the eye.

Painted turtles usually spend the night sleeping on the bottom of the pond. They emerge in the early morning and spend several hours basking, often in groups, before beginning to hunt for food. Adult turtles feed mainly on vegetation and animal material, both living and dead, found in the pond. Young turtles are more carnivorous. Most live prey are caught by flushing: the turtle pushes its head into clumps of vegetation; when the prey moves it is chased and captured. If the prey is large it is torn apart by the jaws and forefeet before swallowing. Basking is usually resumed in the early afternoon, and followed by another period of hunting for food which lasts until dusk.

Painted Turtle, ventral view

During the fall these turtles burrow into the mud of the pond bottom and slow their body processes down to the point where they can last out the winter on stored food reserves. In the spring, as vegetation begins to grow in the pond, they become active again.

Adults begin to mate in late spring or early summer. The male follows the female, then strokes her head and neck with his forefeet. If receptive the female strokes his forefeet in return. The female then sinks to the bottom of the pond where mating takes place. Nests are dug by the females in June or early July. The nest is located on sandy or loamy soil in an open area. The nest is usually dug in the evening the hindfeet are used to shovel out the nest. The nest usually contains 4 to 6 eggs with leathery white shells measuring about an inch in length. The eggs hatch in late August after an incubation of about two and a half months. In northern areas, such as the Adirondacks, the young often remain in the nest during the fall and winter, only emerging when greater amounts of food are available in the following spring.

Young Painted Turtles reach sexual maturity in about three years and may live as long as 20 years.

Reptiles and Amphibians Boquet River