How To Take Care Of A Painted Turtle

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How To Take Care Of A Painted Turtle

This care sheet is for the general care of this species. It is important to do more research to develop a maintenance plan that is specific to the species you are caring for.

Painted turtles are one of the most popular and well-known pet turtles in the world.

Many people have wonderful childhood memories of floating down a lazy river or across a peaceful lake and finding hatchling painted turtles. The tiny little turtles were the gems of any camping expedition, with their brilliant eyes, yellow skin markings, and beautifully patterned plastrons.

In the past, obtaining one of these turtles nearly always resulted in its death within a few weeks or months, but modern understanding and technology allow for an easily kept animal as long as a person is willing to meet certain minimal needs.

The ability to properly care for them coupled with the ever-increasing success breeders are having, makes it feasible to acquire painted turtles from captive-born stock.

About Painted Turtles

Painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) are divided into four subspecies. While all appear similar, there are enough distinctions to make the subspecies easy to tell apart.

First and foremost, they all have smooth greenish-black carapaces with no serrations, as well as distinct areas of crimson coloration along the seams between scute plates.

Eastern Painted Turtle

Eastern Painted Turtle
Eastern Painted Turtle
Scientific Name:Chrysemys picta picta
Adult Size:4 – 8 inches
Lifespan:Around 20 – 30 years
Temperature Range (°F):Air – low to mid 80’s
Basking – high 80’s to low 90’s
Water – low to mid 70’s
Habitat:Found in marshes, ponds, lakes, beaver ponds, and farm ponds. They can also be found in sluggish sections of rivers.
Behavior:Turtles get used to being handled after a while. They adapt quickly and are quite docile around keepers, making them more pleasurable since they don’t run and hide when keepers approach them.
Beginner Turtle:Yes

The eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta picta) is found on the Eastern coast of North America, to the West it approaches the Eastern Great Lakes region where it intergrades with the Midland or Midwestern Painted turtles. 

The eastern painted turtle has a maximum length of 6.2 – 6.7 inches, although many individuals are considerably shorter. The most distinguishing feature of the eastern painted turtle is that it alone among all North American chelonians has aligned carapace scutes.

The anterior vertebral scutes, unlike on most turtles, actually align with the costals. This is one of the most readily identifiable turtles in the world because of this infraspecific feature.

The plain yellow plastron and yellow stripes on the head (which may appear to be large spots on top of the head) change to brilliant red on the rest of the body in eastern painted turtles.

Midland Painted Turtle

Midland Painted Turtle
Midland Painted Turtle
Scientific Name:Chrysemys picta marginata
Adult Size:5 – 9 inches
Lifespan:Around 35 – 40 years
Temperature Range (°F):Air – low to mid 80’s
Basking – high 80’s to low 90’s
Water – low to mid 70’s
Habitat:Found in marshes, ponds, lakes, beaver ponds, and farm ponds. They can also be found in sluggish sections of rivers.
Behavior:They’re frequently close with their keeper, whether it’s because to their delightful personalities or simply their acceptance of your presence.
Beginner Turtle:Yes

The midland painted turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata), which ranges from Canada to Illinois, is one of three subspecies. It mixes with all three other subspecies.

This is the most inconspicuous out of all the Chrysemys picta subspecies since it has characteristics of other races. The scutes on the carapace alternate as they do in other turtles. The top-of-the-head big dot-like stripes are present, but not the large round blotches.

The Eastern subspecies are generally accepted to be 6.7 inches long. The plastron of this subspecies has an unclear dark marking in the middle of the yellow plastron that looks somewhat like the black pattern seen in the Western subspecies. This mark never reaches beyond the edge of the plastron.

Western Painted Turtle

Western Painted Turtle
Western Painted Turtle
Scientific Name:Chrysemys picta belli
Adult Size:4 – 10 inches
Lifespan:Well over 50 years
Temperature Range (°F):Air – low to mid 80’s
Basking – high 80’s to low 90’s
Water – low to mid 70’s
Habitat:Found in marshes, ponds, lakes, beaver ponds, and farm ponds. They can also be found in sluggish sections of rivers.
Behavior:Long-term captives are frequently the first things to approach the glass of the tank, begging for food or just a little bit of attention.
Beginner Turtle:Yes

The western painted turtle (Chrysemys picta belli) is a species of North American turtle that lives in Southern Canada, Michigan, and British Columbia. The Western side of the Mississippi River to Kansas is home to isolated colonies further to the Southwest.

The western painted turtle grows to be approximately 8 inches long sometimes even more, making it the biggest of all of the Chrysemys turtles.

The carapace, which is a yellowish tan, has dark markings extending to the margins of the plastron. Indistinct pale yellow lines may be seen on the scutes of some individuals.

The carapace scutes alternate in all subspecies except the eastern painted turtle.

Southern Painted Turtle

Southern Painted Turtle
Southern Painted Turtle
Scientific Name:Chrysemys picta dorsalis
Adult Size:3.5 – 7 inches
Lifespan:Around 20-30 years
Temperature Range (°F):Air – low to mid 80’s
Basking – high 80’s to low 90’s
Water – low to mid 70’s
Habitat:Soft-bottomed shallow ponds, lakes, marshes and creeks
Behavior:They are sociable turtles that like to hang out and bask and are quite friendly. They appear to adjust well to change.
Beginner Turtle:Yes

The Southern Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta dorsalis) has a crimson line down the center of its carapace. This subspecies, unlike the eastern painted turtle, do not have scutes along the top of its carapace that are aligned.

The southern painted turtle subspecies is the smallest of the four, growing to only 5.9 inches in length.

The southern painted turtle’s territory extends from Alabama through southern Illinois and south to the Gulf of Mexico. This subspecies’ range does not extend beyond the Mississippi River west of it.

RELATED READ: How Much Does a Turtle Cost?


Adult Painted turtles may be identified as to their gender quite readily. The most straightforward method is to wait until they are adults since the sexual morphometric distinctions do not become apparent until the turtles mature. There is no tried-and-true technique for determining the sex of hatchlings.

As we mentioned earlier the four subspecies of painted turtles include the eastern painted turtle, midland or midwestern painted turtle, southern painted turtle, and western painted turtle (as well as intergrades of all of these). All the subspecies have the same sexually distinguishing characteristics.

There are three methods to determine this species’ sex, two of which use the tail and one of which uses the front claws. The distinctions between Painted turtles become apparent as they mature.

  1. The first method to identify the painted turtle sex is to look if it has a long tail and if its wider at its base. The female painted turtle has a smaller tail in terms of both length as well as width while the turtle male’s tail is both longer and thicker.
  2. The second approach is to look in the cloaca. The male-painted turtle’s cloacal opening is lower on the tail, near the end of the carapace. The female’s cloacal opening is considerably closer to the base of the tail than that of the male.
  3. The length of the front claws is a third way to distinguish the sexes in painted turtles. During courtship, males have significantly longer front claws that they wave and stroke the female with. The male has considerably longer front claws than the female.

It is relatively simple to determine the gender of painted turtles with a glance by employing the above techniques.

The distinction becomes simple in this case if both sexes are present.

The Essentials for Creating a Painted Turtle’s Habitat

painted turtle in aquarium

Before you bring home your new painted turtle, you will want to set up its habitat.

Here are the essentials you will need:


In a 75-gallon aquarium, single adult painted would do well. Single adult females will require at least a 125-gallon tank. This provides them with enough space as well as plenty of water to maintain excellent health and filtration.

You can adjust the size of your tank by two times if you add additional sliders to a habitat (1 male = 75 gallons, 2 males = 110 gallons, and so on).

Stock tanks are also wonderful alternatives to glass and acrylic aquariums.

Indoors Housing

The most useful form of indoor housing for painted turtles is an aquarium.

A water depth of 3 to 6 inches (7.5 to 15 cm) with one end constructed up with rocks would be ideal for hatchlings. A 20-gallon aquarium (30 inches by 12 inches, 75 cm by 30 cm) is a reasonable size for a hatchling.

The amount of space required by the species should be increased as it grows older in captivity.

Water depth is not as critical when turtles are younger, because they all have excellent swimming abilities. Water depth of 10 inches to 30 inches (20 cm to 60 cm) would be fine for turtles between 4 inches and adult size, which can reach 8 inches (20cm).

Outdoors Housing

When it comes to providing a comfortable outdoor home for your painted turtle during the summer, outdoor habitats that are predator-proof have several benefits over indoor shelters.

A child’s wading pool sunk into the earth in a safe enclosure is an inexpensive and practical alternative to an actual outdoor habitat. Your painted turtle may enjoy communing with nature while floating on decorative lily pads or sunbathing on a gorgeous floating log made of wood or plastic.

RELATED READ: How to Set Up a Turtle Tank


Painted turtles require a quiet refuge in which they can safely relax. Underwater plants, whether real or fake, may be used to give your turtle a sense of security. Make sure the water is deep enough for them to easily climb out to their hot resting spot.

Mimicking their natural habitat should be on your priority list when taking care of a painted turtle. They don’t need much to be happy but you will surely see a spike in his daily activities if you make the enclosure as natural as possible.

Plants that are safe for turtles include ferns, water lettuce (Nymphaea), and floating plants. Floating plants also help to prevent algae from growing on the surface of the water.

Plastic or live aquatic plants are suggested to provide a sense of security and hiding places.

Flat rocks, driftwood, and pebbles make excellent additions to your turtle’s habitat.

Make sure the substrate you choose is big enough so that it will not be able to swallow it; fine gravel-type soil should be avoided since it might cause digestive problems.

RELATED READ: The Best Turtle Substrate


Water quality is critical. If you spend some time and money creating and purchasing a suitable filtration system for your pets, many aquatic turtle problems may be prevented.

Because canister filters are easily cleaned and provide excellent water quality, we recommend them for adult painted turtles. Because of the depth of the water, hatchlings present more difficult filtration for; however, a submersible foam filter or power filter with regular water changes is necessary.

The temperature of the water should be in the low to mid 70’s°F (23°C – 26°C).

The eastern painted turtles are quite hardy, with most conditions in their range extending into the northern United States and Canada, making them ideal specimens for a year-round outside setting in most of the United States.

Those from warmer climates may not be able to withstand colder temperatures than those found in the north, according to some experts. If you’re going to hibernate in the northern United States, keep this in mind.

RELATED READ: How to Make Tap Water Safe for Turtles?

Lighting and Heating

In one part of the environment, a reflector clip light lamp from a hardware shop should be positioned to offer artificial basking opportunities. This should be placed in that area of the habitat to provide a 90-degree F basking location.

Painted turtles are avid baskers, so a safe and large basking area is required. A variety of materials can be used to make a basking spot, but it is important that the spot can maintain temperature.

Basking sites can be constructed of any material that will support their weight and is non-abrasive, such as dirt, sand, gravel, smooth rocks, or flat rocks. Driftwood and other non-abrasive materials are also acceptable.

In order to produce Vitamin D3, which is necessary for calcium metabolism, you will need a full-spectrum UVB-emitting fluorescent bulb. If you would like to use this type of lighting arrangement in your habitat, you have the option of using a Mercury vapor bulb that meets all standards.

RELATED READ: Why Do Turtles Bask?

Painted Turtle Diet

painted turtle diet

It’s critical not to overfeed your painted turtles. Adult turtles should be fed twice a week, while hatchlings should be fed once a day or every other day.

Painted turtles will eat greens like mustard greens, turnip greens, dandelion, spinach, carrots zucchini, and other aquatic plants such as duckweed and water lettuce.

They will eat a wide range of invertebrates, worms, and even fish. Many of the commercially available turtle diets on the market today are outstanding supplementary Painted turtle food.

Calcium must be provided in high doses. Calcium can be sprinkled on all meals, including those that are prepared or purchased.

If the animal is kept indoors, calcium supplemented with vitamin D3 should be used; if it is maintained outside, calcium alone should be used. If desired, a cuttlefish bone may be given to gnaw on.

It isn’t unusual for a Painted Turtle to go a few weeks without eating if they are active and displaying no symptoms of sickness.

RELATED READ: What Do Water Turtles Eat?

Feeding Schedule For Baby Painted Turtle

For the first 6 months of a turtle’s life, feed commercial pellets or meaty foods such as earthworms or fish once a day to satisfy their appetite but not make them overfeed.

Once 6 months have elapsed, begin feeding every other day. Romaine lettuce and other leafy greens can be offered free for grazing.

Overfeeding high-protein diets leads to excessive growth, shell deformation (pyramiding) and is thought to be dangerous to the liver and kidneys.

RELATED READ: What Do Baby Turtles Eat?

Painted Turtle Baby Care

The habitat of a hatchling should resemble that of an adult. The same lighting, heat, basking, and water depth are required.

Some keepers believe their turtle may drown in a deep aquarium and instead provide it with a shallow environment. That is absolutely incorrect. Hatchlings, even brand-new day-old hatchlings will thrive nicely in deep water.

Hatchlings require stability and cover from a variety of plants (artificial or real) for climbing, hiding, and exploration. Because of their high mortality rate, hatchlings and yearlings have slightly different temperature requirements.

Hatchlings and yearlings should be kept in the same temperatures as those stated above during the day and basking periods, but their water temperatures should be maintained at 78° to 80°F.

RELATED READ: How to Take Care of a Baby Turtle


Painted turtles are skittish, and they may bite or scratch due to their sensitivity. To avoid causing them stress and anxiety, you should handle them as little as possible.

These aren’t particularly loving or cuddly pets, and they like being alone most of the time.

Even so, if you can care for painted turtles as they require minimal maintenance, they may be a wonderful addition to your family. They frequently have an emotional connection with their owner, whether it’s through their lovely personalities or their broad acceptance of your presence.

Captives that live in captivity for lengthy periods are frequently the first ones at the tank’s glass, begging for food or simply being acknowledged.

How To Clean Painted Turtle Habitat

Place the turtle in a secure environment that is not linked to other animals or people. Unplug all of your appliances. (lights, heaters, filters, etc.) Remove any water from the tank. If you have a substrate in the tank, add a little quantity of water and stir it up to free any debris trapped beneath it.

Drain the dirty water and refill it with fresh water to rinse the substrate. Scrub the tank and furnishings (including the filter) with a reptile habitat cleaner or 3 percent bleach solution, then a disposable sponge or rag; scrub around the container and beneath it.

When the inside of the habitat and its decorations are clean, fill it with dechlorinated water at the same temperature (about 75°F) as before; water may need to be heated or cooled as needed.

Once you’ve replaced all of the furnishings and the water has reached a suitable temperature, your turtle can be carefully added. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling your tank, or any other aquarium decorations.

RELATED READ: How to Keep Turtle Tank Clean?

Habitat Maintenance

Clean water is one of the most essential elements for turtle health. This implies the water must be clean and of excellent quality. It should also be chemically balanced and at a suitable temperature.

Turtles produce a lot of ammonia quickly, and the easiest approach to keep them in line is to have enough filtration so that nitrates, which is a kind of friendly bacteria that lowers ammonia levels, can develop.

Water changes should be done on a regular basis, as well as removing any uneaten food, excrements produced by the turtle, and partial water changes.

RELATED READ: How to Clean a Turtle Tank


Painted turtles are generally skittish and may bite or scratch the owner if handled too much.

They should be cared for in a way that is not overwhelming to them, as they like being alone most of the time.

It’s important to note that overfeeding your painted turtle high-protein diets leads to excessive growth, shell deformation (pyramiding) and is thought to be dangerous to the liver and kidneys.

If you can care for these reptiles with minimal maintenance requirements, they may make an outstanding addition to your family. They frequently have an emotional connection with their owner through either personalities or broad acceptance of presence by humans.