Painted turtle

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Photo by: Miles Away Photography

Species: Painted turtle

Scientific name: Chrysemys picta

Status: common

Description: In Ontario there are two subspecies of painted turtles. The Midland painted turtle is found in southern and eastern Ontario. Its carapace (top shell), and skin are a olive/black colour. Its markings are yellow, orange or even red. The plastron (under shell) of this turtle is yellow with an irregular “butterfly” marking that runs along the midline of the plastron.  The shell is broad, smooth and flat and on average reaches 12-14 cm. The Western painted turtle is larger than the Midland, reaching shell sizes up to 25cm. It lives west and north of Lake Superior. This subspecies has a green carapace (similar to the Midland) with red or orange markings. The plastron can be used to tell these subspecies apart, as the Western painted turtle has a large irregular mark on its plastron that may cover over half of this part of the shell. As with other turtle species, the females are much larger than the males. The males of both subspecies have longer claws on the front feet, which are used to “tickle” females before breeding.

Habitat: The Painted turtle is one of the most abundant turtle species in Ontario. They can be found in all types of waterbodies including ponds, marshes, lakes, and even slow-moving creeks. A suitable habitat will have abundant basking sites (places they can lay out in the sun), soft bottoms, and plenty aquatic vegetation. This turtle will hibernate on the bottom of waterbodies.

Breeding: Female painted turtles will nest during the summer, from late May to early July. Nests will be constructed in sandy soils or grassy/loamy areas that have plenty of sun. The female will deposit 4-23 eggs, with the number of eggs deposited depending on the size of the female. It is typical to find nests of painted turtles side by side in at suitable nesting sites. Hatchlings (baby turtles) may dig out of their nests in fall, but most often spend the winter in the nests (as hatchlings) and emerge the following spring. Hatchlings are able to survive winter temperatures, because they have biological “antifreeze” that stops their tissues from freezing. The gender of offspring from a turtle nest will be determined by the temperature of the nest during incubation.

Diet: The painted turtle is a diurnal (day active) species. They are considered opportunistic feeders and eat a wide variety of food including algae, invertebrates (e.g., bugs, insects), fish, frogs, carrion (dead animals) and aquatic vegetation.

Threats to species: The painted turtle is a common species seen basking on rocks. They do however, have a number of threats that contribute to population loss. Nest predation is a huge problem, with raccoons, foxes and skunks predating (eating) a large proportion of nests. In areas where these predator populations are high, turtle populations can be decimated in the egg stage. Commonly, predated nests will identified by egg shells in a small area and a hole in the ground where the nest used to be. Other threats are habitat loss, fragmentation (breaking up their habitat), and road mortality (being run over by cars). It is most often gravid (pregnant) females that are hit by cars as they travel to suitable nesting sites (shoulders of roads provide optimal nesting substrate).

Threat to humans: This turtle is no threat to humans. If you were to pick one up, it will tuck its legs, arms and head in its shell. The worst thing it will do is pee on you and maybe hiss. If you find these little ones on a road, please help them by moving them to the other side of the road in the direction they were traveling in. If you try and put them back to where they came from, they will just try and cross the road again. And place them away in the direction opposite of the road.

Fun facts:

During courtship the male painted turtle will use its long front claws to stroke the head (tickle) of a female. If all goes well for the male, the female will sink to the bottom of the pond where the male can mate with her.

After laying her eggs, the painted turtle will provide no parental care for their babies. That means, when hatchlings come out of their nests,usually at night, they are on their own to find water and survive.

Baby painted turtles have an “egg tooth” which is a found in their upper snout and falls off a few days after they have come out of their egg.

Sources:

Toronto zoo: http://www.torontozoo.com/exploretheZoo/AnimalDetails.asp?pg=483

Ontario Nature: http://www.ontarionature.org/protect/species/reptiles_and_amphibians/midland_painted_turtle.php

Macculloch, R.D. 2002. The ROM field guide to amphibians and reptiles of Ontario.

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