How to Care for Your New Western Painted Turtle

 
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Western Painted Turtle Factoids

Quick I.D. Red belly with design
Sexing Males have longer front claws and longer tails
Size 4 to 10 inches.  Males smaller than females.
Origin Rivers, lakes, ponds, marshes west of Mississippi
Attitude Likes to bask in the sun (and eat, of course)
Diurnal Sleeps on bottom at night
Hibernation October thru April in the mud
Breeding Late May depending upon temperature
Egglaying June
Hatching Late August
Sexual Maturity 4 to 6 years of age
Longevity 20 years
Foods Whatever they find -- older painteds eat plants also
Threats Not many when grown

LA
Painted turtles in good condition look like this.

LA
But there's lots of variation.

LA
Painted turtles looking like this are ready to shed.

LA
Baby painted turtles have the brightest colors.

LA
If yours look like this, wipe off his shell.  It's harmless, but wipe him off anyway.

LA
If you don't change your water often, your turtle starts looking white from lime in the water.

Quick I.D.  Flip your turtle over and look at his belly (plastron).  The plastron was named after the metal shield worn on the chests of warriors before someone invented bullets.  His plastron protects his chest and guts -- sort of the ultimate "six pack."  It comes in handiest when basking.  Oh, I digressed so much I almost forgot, his belly shell is mostly red with a yellow and greenish-black pattern.

LA
Painted turtles basking in the sun at our Des Moines Blank Park Zoo.

Professional Baskers.  As card-carrying members of the AAPBA (Aquatic American Professional Baskers Association), painted turtles while away innumerable hours sun-bathing.  This warms up their ectothermic tootsies, helps them build vitamin D3, and kills some of the stuff that tries to grow on their backs -- fungi, algae, and leeches.

 

LA
Nice beak on these guys.  Pick them up by the other end.  Most will bite you if you're careless.

LA
Larger but less excitable guy.

LA
Pick your painted turtle up by the butt end.

Foods.  Anything alive or formerly alive tastes fine to warm painted turtles.  They use their beaks to tear off swallowable orts   Because they have no tongue, they need to eat in the water.  Young ones eat mostly meat.  Adults also eat plants.  The ones in the middle eat crawdads, frogs, worms (and other fish bait), insects, tadpoles, minnows, goldfish, leeches, turtle pellets, turtle sticks, frozen foods, freeze-dried foods and anything dead they stumble across or swim into.  Fishermen hate them because a herd of turtles will quickly devour an entire stringer of fish.  And the fish hate them, too.  Fishermen (and women) also hate them because they steal their bait.

krittersinthemailbox.com/animals/turtles

Why Did the Turtle Cross the Road?  Well. it wasn't to show the chicken how it's done.  (Come to think of it, you don't see any chickens crossing the road these days.)  Female turtles possess a built-in urge to lay their eggs in the stomping grounds from which they emerged as quarter-sized hatchlings.  The smart ones sneak across  the road at night (when the traffic is lighter but the concrete's still warm).  The slow ones are still on the road.

LA
Males sport longer "finger" nails.

LA
Males also have longer tails.

Sexing/Breeding.  Painted turtle males sport longer nails and tails.  As the weather warms in the spring and the lilacs are in bloom. the male swims in front of a hopefully willing female and caresses her cheeks with those long "finger" nails.  If she's receptive, she does the same to him.  He then swims behind her and uses his long front nails to grasp her securely.  He then moves his tail under her to breed her.  In time, she'll lay her small clutch of eggs in a nest she digs in sandy or loose soil that gets plenty of sun.  As mentioned earlier, she attempts to return to her ancestral breeding grounds just like the endangered sea turtles.  The eggs hatch in August if not eaten by raccoons or one of my neighbors.  If the temp was cool (below 82 F), mostly females develop.  Above 86, mostly males hatch out.  Don't ask how they know.  The stats have been in for years.  Males want to breed at four years of age.  Females mature sexually at six.  Both sexes live two decades.

LA
Under four inches -- Verboten.

LA
Cute but not sellable.

Street Illegal.  Back in '73, the feds came thru and killed all our little turtles.  See Salmonella Turtles now have to be four inches or longer before we can monger them.  We've heard of kiosks being set up in malls and mongering the little guys for "scientific or educational purposes only."  They sell the baby turtles for half a day then fade away into the milling crowds.  They're illegal for us to sell under four inches, but you can keep any size you capture from the wild -- provided, of course, that you possess a valid fishing license.  Your best chances of capturing a wild baby turtle occur in August/September.

LA
Don't think painted turtles can't climb.  Snappers can't, but these guys can.

Great Escapers.  If you keep your painted turtle in your backyard, he's liable to go missing.  When not basking, they are looking for that red EXIT sign.  Since they have nothing else to do, they spend all their time wandering around looking for a way out.  If you put one in your pond, it will also likely wander off.  If a lot of children live in your neighborhood, your turtle's chances of wandering off go way up.

 

LA
Fatty, fatty, Two by four ...

Hibernation.  Your painted turtle gets chunkier in the fall -- sometimes so stout he can barely pull into his/her shell.  In the wild (like my backyard), they hibernate over the winter.  They live off that fat when they hibernate.  They slow their heartbeat and add Prestone anti-freeze to their blood.  They absorb the O2 they need thru their skin.  If your painted turtle goes off his/her feed during the months with an R in them, it probably means he's full.  It could also mean he's too cool or sick.  If warming him/her up to 80 F does not help, call your reptile vet.  Contact one that works with turtles.  Other vets will often refer you to such vets.

LA
Baby turtles face many threats.

Threats.  Not many critters can pester an adult turtle.  Cold snaps and dirty water are their biggest threats.  Little ones are threatened by raccoons, skunks, opossums, dirty water, and cold snaps.  Even large fishes can gulp down a baby turtle.  Kids may also pose a threat but may insure that little turtle lives his full 20 years.

LA
Herd of western painted turtles.  Ketchup squirter for size.

LA
Here's a devoted western turtle fan who brought in his turtle for us to see.

LA
10-incher returning to the wild.

Last Words.  Turtles make very easy and entertaining pets.  Keep them out of your mouth.  Wash your hands after handling them.  LA

© 2006, © 2008, © 2009  LA Productions
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