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How Big Does A Painted Turtle Get?

Beautiful and easy to keep, the painted turtle is endemic to North America and as you might guess, it gets its name from the painted appearance of the turtle’s shell. So, how big does the painted turtle get and where can you find them in the wild?

Well, the painted turtle can reach a length of up to 10 inches (25 cm) and a mass of 13.1 oz (372 grams) which qualifies it as a moderately sized freshwater turtle.

As far as distribution, as a side-effect of the pet trade, this species has been introduced in places like Germany and Spain in Europe, Indonesia and the Philippines in Asia, and California (U.S.) in North America where it has thrived.

If you’re a turtle enthusiast or a new owner of a painted turtle, then today is your lucky day, as we’re going to explore the painted turtle’s growth cycle, along with some factors that can impact it, and we’ll also cover some fun facts about this species, it’s distribution, and more.

How big does a painted turtle get? Let’s take a look at all the important factors that you’ll need to know for a comprehensive answer!

Growth Rate

Painted turtle hatchlings are adorable
Painted turtle hatchlings are adorable!

The maximum size that the turtle reaches is actually going to carry a bit from one subspecies to the other. For instance, an adult eastern-painted turtle reaches a carapace length of 5 to 8 inches, while the western-painted turtle gets to a length of 8 to 10 inches.

If it’s a midland-painted turtle, then you’re looking at a mature length falling between 4 to 10 inches.

Below is a chart to show you the growth rate of the painted turtle arranged by subspecies. You’ll note that we’ve left out the southern painted turtle but this is on purpose – in 2014, it was found to be a separate species.

With that said, however, here are the growth rates of the Midland, Eastern, and Western painted turtles:

Age (years)Midland’s Average Shell LengthEastern’s Average Shell Length Western’s Average Shell Length 
13 inches (7.6 cm)3 inches (7.6 cm)4 inches (10.2 cm)
45 inches (12.7 cm)5 inches (12.7 cm)6 inches (15.2 cm)
57 inches (17.8 cm)6 inches (15.2 cm)8 inches (20.3 cm)
6-710 inches (25.4 cm)8 inches (20.3 cm)10 inches (25.4 cm)

As hatchlings, the species are a few inches in size (1 to 1.25 inches), but by the end of the first year, they reach a length of about 3 inches. From there, they continue to increase in size until they reach an adult length of 8 to 10 inches, around the ages of 6 to 7.

The size also varies between the genders, with the female tending to be larger than the male.

For instance, the eastern painted turtle male typically reaches a length of 5 to 7 inches (13 to 17 cm), while the females will usually reach a length of 6 to 7 inches (14 to 17 cm).

With midland painted turtles, the males generally reach a length of 4 to 8 inches, while females will be 5 to 10 inches and sometimes even a little bigger!

The western painted turtle is considered the largest subspecies, with males being up to 6 inches long, while females typically average 10 inches in carapace length. They also have unique markings on their upper shell – a mesh-like pattern of lines that define the scutes.

They are the only painted turtle subspecies with this pattern, so they’re not only the biggest painted turtles but also the easiest to identify!

Now that we’ve covered some basics, let’s take a look at some factors that come into play with a painted turtle’s growth cycle which may affect their size.

Factors That Affect The Size of the Painted Turtle

The Western painted turtle is the largest subspecies
The Western-painted turtle is the largest subspecies

Several factors affect the size of the painted turtle. These include the genetic makeup of the turtle, the diet, the sex, the age, the environment, and the subspecies. Also, the more the turtle has to eat and the more nutritious its diet is, the larger it will be!

The older the turtle is, the larger it gets, and if the environmental conditions are more favorable, the turtle will grow bigger. Then there is the gender factor, with adult females generally being larger than the males.

The subspecies is another important factor, as you’ve seen on the projected growth chart, and the final consideration is the turtle’s DNA – some painted turtles will be naturally bigger or smaller if those traits are strong in their genetic line.

We’ll take a closer look at some of these factors to help you get a better mental picture of how important they are to this turtle’s growth cycle and what you can expect with a painted turtle of your own!

Diet

The turtle’s diet is one factor you can easily control as a pet owner. After all, you determine the frequency of the feedings, as well as what foods will be on the menu. As such, it is essential that you do not overfeed or underfeed the turtle.

You do not want your turtle to become over or underweight, as either one will come with its own health issues, just as it does with humans.

The right diet for a painted turtle will vary a bit based on its age. While adults are predominantly omnivorous, juveniles and hatchlings are more carnivorous. So, you’ll want to feed the juveniles and hatchlings more animal proteins, while adults will need less of those and more plants and veggies.

Animal proteins to offer the turtle include fish, insects, and commercial turtle diets.

They’ll accept small fish, snails, tadpoles, slugs, shrimps, pinkie mice, mudpuppies, lean beef, krills, canned snails, chicken, crayfish, insects such as waxworms, super worms, silkworms, earthworms, mealworms, grubs, dubia roaches, bloodworms, and sowbugs, and crustaceans (in general).

For proper nutrition, you’ll also want to include a commercial turtle diet, specifically turtle pellets. They are easy to store, painted turtles enjoy them, and they also provide important nutrients such as vitamin D3 and calcium.

Some aquatic plants to offer include spike rush, waterweed, water lilies, pondweed, water hyacinth, frogbit, hornwort, and duckweed, and some leafy greens to offer include dandelion flowers and greens, collard greens mustard greens, romaine lettuce, red leaf lettuce, squash, and turnip greens.

Finally, the frequency of feedings is another factor determined by age. Growing hatchlings and juveniles should be fed once a day, while mature adults only need feeding once every two to three days.

Sex

Females are generally larger than males and while there is nothing you can do about that, you CAN determine the gender of your turtle so that you can anticipate just how big your painted turtle might eventually be.

Our guide to determining your turtle’s gender may be found here if you’re curious about how it’s done!

Age

As we mentioned in brief earlier in this article, the older the turtle is, the larger it will be, but this is only helpful for guessing age before the turtle reaches maturity.

As hatchlings, the species are a few inches in size (1 to 1.25 inches), and by the end of the first year, they reach a length of about 3 inches. After that, they’ll continue to increase in size until they reach a length of 8 to 10 inches by the age of 6 or 7 years old.

The largest western-painted turtle found so far measures about 10.47 inches and was found by Kelsey Marchand, a University of Regina student who was working with the Wasacana Turtle Program.

Environmental Conditions

Keeping your turtle's tank clean is vital for good health
Keeping your turtle’s tank clean is vital for good health

In the tank, important environmental considerations include exposure to UV radiation, conducive temperatures, and clean aquarium water. As far as temperature, the water should be between 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the air temperature (ambient temperature( should be around 80 to 85 degrees.

The basking area temperature should be a little warmer, with 85 to 95 degrees being the range you should target.

You;ll need to install UVB lighting, as well, to ensure that the turtle can bask in it, as this helps them to synthesize vitamin D3 which, in turn, helps them to properly absorb calcium for healthy bones.

To keep the water at its cleanest, you’ll need to ensure that a filter pump is installed and that it’s twice as strong as needed – so for a 50-gallon tank, you want a pump rated for 100 gallons. Turtles are messy, so this is important, but you’ll also need to change the water within the enclosure periodically.

The best way to do that is to change out about a third of the water once every week.

For more information on cleaning your turtle’s tank, be sure to check out our step-by-step turtle tank cleaning guide!

Subspecies

As mentioned earlier, different subspecies reach different sizes, with the western-painted turtle being the largest of the bunch.

If you have a painted turtle, but you’re not sure of the species, the easiest way to determine it is their shells. The midland, for instance, has a large grey mark on the bottom of its shell, while the western will have a patterning of red on the bottom.

The eastern-painted turtle is most easily identified by its distinctive upper shell, which features straight-aligned segments.

The Painted Turtle – Distribution and Useful Facts

We mentioned briefly that we would elaborate a little more on the painted turtle’s distribution throughout the world and while we’re on the subject, we thought that a quick primer on painted turtles might be in order as well. With that said, here we go!

Natural habitats

Painted turtles are normally found in freshwater bodies such as ponds, swamps, reservoirs, marshes, and streams that have aquatic vegetation, basking sites, and soft bottoms. The bodies of water it inhabits are generally slow-moving and shallow.

Painted turtles have a winter survival trait – Brumation

During winter, this species brumates to survive the cold, which is a process quite similar to hibernation. An important area where brumation differs from hibernation is that the turtle sometimes wakes up from time to time to grab a snack or to bask a little if it’s warmed up, before going right back to ‘sleep’.

Before you go, you can learn more about ‘turtle hibernation‘ in our informative article on that very subject!

Markings and coloration

Painted turtles have beautiful markings and coloration
Painted turtles have beautiful markings and coloration

Painted turtles are brightly marked and it does look like someone painted them that way, which is what gives the turtle its name. These markings are yellow and red on a dark upper shell (also known as a carapace), which is greenish brown or black.

The plastron ( lower shell) is yellow in color. Interestingly, the plastron can also be red and may have markets in the center.

The skin is dark in color as well. The coloration is darker than the shell. There are yellow android stripes on the skin. The feet are webbed. This helps it to swim.

Diet

The species are omnivorous and feed on aquatic plants, terrestrial plants, aquatic insects, crustaceans, fish, and even carrion. The hatchlings and juveniles are mostly carnivorous while the adults are mostly omnivorous.

Distribution

The painted turtle is endemic to North America and is one of the most common turtles on the continent, with a geographic range stretching from southern Canada to northern Mexico.

In Mexico, this turtle is endemic to Chihuahua, and in Canada, the species is endemic to Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec.

In the United States, the species is endemic to quite a few states, and you’ll find them in Arizona, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, New Mexico, Wyoming, Washington, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, and Maine.

That’s not all, however, as they’re also present in Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Navajo Nation, and Nevada.

Finally, you can find painted turtles in Utah, Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. Needless to say, these beautiful turtles are quite tough and geared to survive in many locations and climes!

In fact, this species has also been introduced to several places across the world, including Germany and Spain in Europe, Indonesia and the Philippines in Asia, and California (U.S.) in North America.

Subspecies

The painted turtle can be divided into several subspecies, including the eastern painted turtle (C. p. picta), the midland painted turtle (C. p. marginata), and the western painted turtle (C. p. bellii) — but don’t count the southern painted turtle (C. p. dorsalis), as it’s been considered a separate species since 2014.

The subspecies are named after their geographic range. The map below denotes the geographic range of the turtles.

Painted turtle distribution map
Painted turtle distribution map – Image courtesy of Wikicommons

The eastern painted turtle is endemic to the eastern portion of its range. This includes the Atlantic lowland on the east of Appalachia from Nova Scotia in Canada to Georgia.

The midland painted turtle’s geographic range extends from southern Canada (Quebec and Ontario) through New York and New Hampshire to Tennessee and Illinois.

The southern painted turtle is located in the southern part of its range. It has the smallest geographic range of the bunch, from the Mississippi basin to Illinois and through Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas. The subspecies may also be found in Kentucky.

The western-painted turtle is endemic to the western portion of its geographic range. This ranges from the Pacific coast to upper Missouri up to southwestern Ontario, Missouri, Wisconsin, and into the upper Colorado system. The range extends as far south as northern Chihuahua in Mexico.

Frequently Asked Questions

How big do painted turtles grow?

This turtle can reach a length of 10 inches or 25 cm making it a moderately sized freshwater turtle. The maximum size that the turtle reaches varies from one subspecies to the other. An adult eastern painted turtle reaches a carapace length of 5 to 7 inches.

The western-painted turtle gets to a length of 8 to 10 inches. The midland-painted turtle reaches a length of 4 to 10 inches.

How big is a 1-year-old painted turtle?

A one-year-old painted turtle is about 3 inches in carapace length unless it’s a western-painted turtle, which is the largest of the subspecies. For westerns, the average carapace length at 1 year of age will be about 4 inches.

How long does it take for a painted turtle to reach full size?

The painted turtle reaches its full size at ages 6 to 7 and while it technically might still grow, if it does the increments are almost unnoticeable. They tend to reach their mature size and pretty much stay there, unless they’ve got some large or small turtle DNA that has bred true for a few generations.

How big is a full-grown painted turtle?

A fully grown painted turtle is typically going to fall within a range of 8 to 10 inches and pretty much stay there. It might grow a little, but we’re talking 10ths of an inch type increments, so once they hit 8 to 10 inches in length then that’s about as big as your turtle is going to get!

Conclusion

The painted turtle is one of the most popular turtles kept as pets. Endemic to North America, they have one of the widest geographical ranges of any North American turtle – extending from Canada through the United States to Mexico.

The brightly colored markings on its shell are what gives this turtle its name, as they really do look painted on, as far as how big they will get, a carapace length of 9.84 inches (25 cm) (rounded nicely to 10) and an adult mass of 13.1 oz (372 grams) is quite typical of what you can expect with a female.

With a male, the turtle will likely be closer to 8 inches long or perhaps only 6! Now that you know the expected growth of the painted turtle and the important factors involved, you should have the info you need to help ensure that your own painted turtles grow up happy and healthy.

Just take advantage of our tips from today and your turtle (with Nature’s help) will take care of the rest!

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