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Eastern Painted Turtle

Chrysemys picta picta

Family: Emydidae

The Eastern Painted Turtle is a sub-species of the Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta).

COSEWIC status:
  • Not Assessed
SARA status:
  • No Status
IUCN status:
  • Least Concern

Description

Eastern Painted Turtles have a smooth, gently rounded carapace (upper shell) that is dark green to black in colour with red markings on the sides. The plastron (lower shell) is tan to yellow and is usually unmarked, but it may have small dark blotches in the center. The head and the limbs are black to green with yellow and red stripes. Unlike the other subspecies, the front edges of the scutes (scales) on the carapace have a yellowish colour band which forms more-or-less straight bands across the carapace. Individuals can reach a maximum carapace length of 19 cm, but most are much smaller than this. Hatchlings have an average carapace length of 2.5 cm and resemble the adults in colour and pattern but they have a keeled carapace and proportionately larger head, legs and tail than the adults.

Similar Species

Eastern Painted Turtles can easily be distinguished from the similar Midland Painted Turtle and Western Painted Turtle based on distribution, although there is a zone of overlap with the Midland Painted Turtle in south-central or southeastern Quebec. The front edges of the scutes on the carapace of the Midland Painted Turtle do not line up and lack the broad colour bands found on the Eastern Painted Turtle. No other Canadian turtle species have red markings at the edge of the carapace. The exotic Red-eared Slider also lacks the red markings at the edge of the carapace and the rear margin of the shell is lightly serrated.

Distribution

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Painted Turtles have the widest range of any freshwater turtle in Canada, occurring from British Columbia to Nova Scotia. The Eastern Painted Turtle occurs in southeastern Quebec, southern New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. In the United States, the Eastern Painted Turtle subspecies also occurs throughout the Atlantic coastal states south to Georgia and west to eastern Alabama.

Habitat

Painted Turtles inhabit shallow aquatic habitats with slow-moving water, soft bottoms, aquatic vegetation, and abundant basking sites. They occur in a diversity of habitat types, including swamps, marshes, permanent or temporary ponds, creeks, rivers and lakes. Females nest in sandy or gravelly soils in open-canopy habitats with high sun exposure, such as in forest clearings, meadows, shorelines, fields, and the shoulders of roads. The nest sites are typically within 200 m of a water body. Painted Turtles overwinter at the bottom of water bodies or under submerged undercut banks.

Biology

In Canada, Eastern Painted Turtles are dormant during the winter and are typically active from April until early October. Females nest from late May to early July. The female excavates a nest cavity and deposits 1–11 (average 5) elliptical eggs. The number of eggs laid varies with age and size of the individual and the number of clutches produced each year (females usually reproduce every year, and may lay more than one clutch). The eggs hatch in the fall, approximately 2.5 months after they were laid, but some individuals overwinter in the nest before emerging the following spring. Painted Turtle hatchlings are capable of supercooling and are freeze-tolerant, allowing them to survive sub-zero temperatures as low as −10°C in the nests. The sex of the offspring depends on incubation temperature; warmer incubation temperatures produce females and cooler temperatures produce males. In Canada, female Painted Turtles reach sexual maturity at 12–15 years of age, and males mature between 7–10 years of age. Painted Turtles can live for over 50 years in the wild, and possibly much longer. Painted Turtles are omnivorous and forage primarily during the day for invertebrates, small vertebrates like fish or frogs, carrion, and a variety of plant material. Painted Turtles bask regularly throughout the active season, especially on sunny days. Individuals may make use of multiple wetlands over the course of the year, and home ranges can be several kilometres in length.

Threats

Wetland loss has resulted in decline and extirpation, primarily in southern parts of the Canadian range, and ongoing habitat loss continues to threaten this species. Painted Turtles are especially susceptible to mortality on roads, particularly during the nesting period when females are making overland movements. Since Painted Turtles are relatively long-lived, even low rates of road mortality can result in population decline. Nest predation by subsidized predators (e.g. Raccoon, Skunk) can be a serious threat in areas where these nest predators are hyper-abundant. Other threats include illegal collection for food or as pets, introduction of exotic or invasive species, mortality and injury from fishing by-catch (including drowning in commercial fishing traps), and chemical contamination of aquatic habitats. Climate change poses a potentially serious future threat to Canadian turtles.

Additional Information About This Species In Canada