University of Massachusetts Amherst

Massachusetts North American Amphibian Program

Painted Turtle

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Herp Atlas 1992-1998 Survey

  • The map below shows the distribution of the Painted Turtle in Massachusetts based on the original intensive volunteer survey that took place from 1992-1998.
  • Download pdf of map

Updated Distribution Map

Chrysemys picta (4-8”)

Painted Turtle
Painted Turtle

Certainly our most visible turtle, the painted turtle may well be the most common and abundant turtle in Massachusetts. The painted turtle is a small to mid-sized turtle with an oval, smooth and flattened carapace (upper shell). The carapace is olive green to black with light lines outlining the scutes (scales). The edges of the carapace are marked with red and yellow patterns that give this turtle its common name. The skin is dark gray to black with yellow lines on the head, yellow spots behind the eyes, and red and yellow lines on the neck, legs and tail. Two subspecies occur in Massachusetts: the eastern painted turtle (C. picta picta) and the midland painted turtle (C. picta marginata). The yellow plastron (lower shell) is unmarked in eastern painted turtles and contains a dark pattern in midland painted turtles. The seams of the central scutes on the carapace align with those of the scutes on each side in eastern painted turtles and are staggered in the midland subspecies. Males are distinguished from females by the long claws on their front feet and long tails with the vent (the common orifice through which the contents of the digestive, reproductive and urinary systems are discharged) located beyond the edge of the carapace. Hatchlings are about an inch in size, round (rather than oval as with adults) and have a keel running lengthwise down the back of the carapace.

The painted turtle is found throughout Massachusetts where it inhabits lakes, ponds, rivers and sluggish streams, as well as marshes and swamps associated with these water bodies. They prefer habitat with soft, muddy bottoms and typically avoid areas with rocky substrates. Painted turtles hibernate under water in the soft mud, overhanging banks, and in muskrat lodges and bank borrows. They are occasionally spotted swimming under the ice in mid-winter. During the active season (April – October) painted turtles bask readily – sometimes in large groups – above the water surface on logs, stumps, rocks, sedge tussocks and other suitable objects. They have even been observed climbing on top of snapping turtles attempting to bask at the water’s surface. Painted turtles are wary while basking and will quickly scramble back into the water at the first sign of danger. The painted turtle spends most of its time in the water but will move long distances over land to reach suitable nesting areas or move from one water body to another.

Painted turtles feed on a wide variety of plants and animals, including dead plants and carrion. Although they will ambush prey they are more often active hunters, flushing and pursuing prey as they patrol their underwater foraging areas.

Although it may take place at other times of the active season, courtship and mating typically occur in the spring. Nesting occurs from late May through early July with some females laying two or more clutches in a given year. Clutch size generally ranges from 3-9 with some clutches containing as many as 20 eggs. The painted turtle has temperature-dependent sex determination with cooler incubation temperatures producing male turtles and warmer temperatures, females. Hatching occurs in the fall and it is not uncommon for hatchlings to remain in the nest all winter. Studies have shown that hatchling painted turtles can suffer a significant amount of body freezing in the nest and still survive to emerge in the spring.



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