Western Painted Turtle

 The Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii) is the only remaining native pond turtle left in B.C and has a wide distribution in western North America. In British Columbia, there are two populations of the Western Painted Turtle: the Intermountain – Rocky Mountain Population in the southern interior and Pacific Coast Population in the southwest.

The Western Painted Turtle is named after the bright yellow stripes on its head, neck, tail and legs, and the glowing red on its plastron (shell covering the belly) and under-edge of its carapace (shell covering the back).   Occasionally, the carapace also has a light yellow pattern or worm-like markings.   The red and yellow patterns contrast with the olive-green of the skin, and the dark colouring of the upper carapace.

Painted Turtles have webbed hind feet, and slender claws on their front feet.  Males have much longer claws than females.  Painted turtles can grow to over a foot in length, with the carapace measuring up to 25 cm long – roughly the size of a dinner plate!

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. In the prairies, the Western Painted Turtle tends to be associated with rivers and is uncommon in wetlands and prairie potholes. 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.

In Canada, Western Painted Turtles are dormant during the winter and are typically from April until late September or October. Painted Turtles nest from late May to early July. The female excavates a nest cavity and lays 4­–23 (average 12) elliptical eggs. The number of eggs laid varies with age and size of the individual and the number of clutches produced (females usually reproduce every year, but 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 the 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.