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Male Vs Female Painted Turtle – Gender Guide

If you want to know if you’ve got a male or a female painted turtle, how do you tell? When it comes to a Male Vs female Painted turtle, how to tell your turtle’s gender is easier than you think! It’s all about knowing what to look for and today we’ll tell you all about it.

There are many reasons why you would want to know the gender/sex of your turtle. Perhaps you wish to breed painted turtles and need to determine how many males and females you have within your enclosure.

Maybe you want to create a peaceful environment for your turtles since having several males in an enclosure can lead to aggressive behavior.  You might even just want to know your turtle’s gender so that you can name it!

Whatever the reason, today we’ll give you the information that you’ll need so that you’ll have all the info you need to tell the difference between a male and a female painted turtle.

If you’re ready, then let’s get this show started and we’ll tell you how it’s done!

Shell Size

Painted turtles basking
The shells can sometimes give you a clue about the turtle’s gender

The size of a turtle can be used to determine the sex of a mature painted turtle. This won’t work with juveniles or hatchlings, as both males and females will be close to the same size until they’re fully matured.

Males generally stop growing at  3 to 5 years. Females, on the other hand, keep growing until they reach 6 to 10 years of age.

The measurement normally used for painted turtles is carapace length. The carapace is the upper shell. The carapace length refers to the length of the upper shell. When both are fully grown, the adult male can reach a carapace length of 6 inches (15.3 cm).

By contrast, the adult female can reach a carapace length of up to 10 inches (25.4 cm). Thus, when they are mature, the size difference is plain to see – Painted turtle females are much bigger than the males!

When a male first reaches maturity, is will have a carapace length of 3.1 to 3.9 inches (8 to 10 cm), and for females, that should be a length of 4.3 to 7 inches (11 to 18 cm). Upon reaching maturity, the turtle will continue to increase in size until 5 years (for males) and 10 years (for females).

Some small growth may occur after this but it is almost unnoticeable.

Another way to measure the size of a painted turtle is by using the plastron length. The plastron is the lower shell or you might just think of it as the underside of the turtle.

When both are fully grown, the adult male plastron measures 2.75 to 3.74 inches (7 to 9.5 cm), and the adult female plastron measures 3.93 to 4.72 inches (10 to 12 cm).

Plastron Shape Differences

The shape of the plastron can tell us a lot about the gender (sex) of the turtle, as it differs between males and females. The turtle needs to be quite large for you to be able to notice the plastron shape differences but differences should be quite noticeable in painted turtles from the ages of 2 and up.

When checking your painted turtle’s plastron, Males will have more concave plastrons, while females will have flat plastrons. This is by design – the inwardly curved plastron of the male helps him to mount the female properly during mating.

Since females don’t need this trait, their plastrons never evolved a curve, and thus remain flat.

Plastron shape is one of the easiest ways to tell the sex of a painted turtle and once you’ve seen the differences a few times, you should be able to identify gender fairly quickly as long as the turtles are at least 2 years old.

To see the plastrons of all 4 species of painted turtles, check out this informative PDF from the Carter Nature center – it’s got some lovely pics and info!

Claw Size Differences

Similar to other pond turtles, there is a difference in claw size between males and females. The claws that have this disparity are the front claws — also known as the foreclaws. These are the claws on the toes of the front limbs and you’ll want to take a look at these to see their length.

The claws of the male are long, while the claws of the females are short and quite stubby.

The male’s longer claws play an important part in signaling courtship. The male painted turtle will touch the female’s face with his claws and then he’ll use them to make vibrations. This behavior is called ‘titillation’ and if the female is receptive, then the courtship may proceed.

Tail Size Differences

The tail can help you determine a painter turtle's gender
The tail can help you determine a painter turtle’s gender

The tail size is another way that you may determine the gender of the painted turtle. While males have long, thick tails, females have thin short tails. The reason why males have larger tails is because they store their sex organs within their tails!

You’ll need to be extra careful if you decide to use the tail size to tell the gender of the painted turtle, as many turtles have had their tails nipped by other turtles and this is seen sometimes in both wild and captive turtles. It is more common among captive turtles, however, due to the close quarters.

Tail-nipping is something you’ll see occasionally when several turtles are within the same enclosure — eventually, one may try to bite off another’s tail. Since the turtles do not usually lose all of the tail, it may simply end up healing and presenting as much shorter than it would normally be.

Inspect the turtle carefully and ensure that it hasn’t been bitten.  If you are confident that the tail is intact, then the size is a fairly reliable way to determine the gender of the turtle. While you are inspecting tail size, you might as well examine the cloaca.

This is an orifice found on the tail or near the tail, which is used to excrete waste, as well as to lay eggs and for reproduction.

Cloaca Position

All turtles have a cloaca that you’ll find on or near the tail, and the position of it is what will help you to determine the gender of your turtle. Now, we’ve mentioned that the cloaca is used for reproduction, egg-laying, and excreting waste, but did you know that a turtle can also use it to breathe?!

Well.. sort of. The process is called cloacal respiration, and it’s more about diffusing oxygen into the turtle and expelling carbon dioxide, this type of respiration is mostly employed when the turtle brumates – a process similar to hibernation.

The male-painted turtle’s cloaca is located near the end of its tail, which allows it to better access the female’s cloaca during mating. The female painted turtle’s cloaca is located closer to the body, almost underneath their shells.

Now that you know, you’ve got another fact at your disposal to help you accurately determine the gender of your turtle!

If you’ve just brought home a painted turtle of your own, check our painted turtle care guide when you’re done here – there’s lots of great information waiting!

Behavioral Differences

Painted turtles sunning themselves
Painted turtles sunning themselves

Behavioral differences are most noticeable during mating and breeding season, especially when you have turtles of both sexes within an enclosure. Mature males will pursue mature females around the enclosure and they may also become quite aggressive and even territorial where other males are concerned.

By examining the behavior of the painted turtles within the enclosure you can often tell the males from the females in this fashion.

The males will be quite noticeably chasing the females and may have altercations with other males – sometimes to the point that you may need to separate some turtles with another tank.

Mature females lay eggs most years from late May to mid-July — even if they do not mate! If they have not mated, the eggs will simply not be fertilized. It is essential that females lay these eggs to avoid dystocia.

Also known as ‘egg binding’, dystocia is a condition where females are unable to lay all of their eggs. This condition can be fatal — aside from physical discomfort, eggs can break inside and cause infection. To prevent this, you’ll want to create a nesting box so that your turtle will have a place to lay her eggs.

If you aren’t sure about the gender of your turtle yet, then provide a nesting box anyway — just to be on the safe side!

Behaviors that show that the turtle wishes to nest include scratching the substrate to dig a nest, and a noticeable lack of appetite. She may also be restless and try to escape the enclosure if a suitable nesting location cannot be found within the enclosure, or even lay some eggs in the water!

Females nest between the ages of 6 to 10 years and at plastron and carapace lengths of 3.93 to 4.72 inches (10 to 12) cm to 4.3 to 7.08 inches (11 to 18 cm) respectively.

Sex Determination Based on the Temperature of the Nest

The sex of painted turtle hatchlings is determined by the temperature of the nest where the egg develops. At this early stage of embryogenesis, the painted turtle doesn’t have sex chromosomes, and measuring the temperature is the only way to determine the sex of individuals.

If you are breeding and incubating the eggs, then you can largely determine the sex of the individuals by regulating the temperature of the incubator.

Males are produced when temperatures are low and females are produced when temperatures are high. The mid-point here is 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius), and gives you a mix of both sexes.

To produce females, the temperature during incubation should be 80.6 to 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit (27 to 32 degrees Celsius), and to produce males, the temperature during incubation should be 71.6 to 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit (22 to 27 degrees Celsius).

Professional breeders usually maintain a temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit ( (24 degrees Celsius)) when they want to produce males and a temperature of 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) when they want to produce females, so this is information you can use for breeding your turtles if you like.

Hatchlings have a different diet than adult painted turtles – find out what painted turtles eat in our handy guide!

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you tell the gender of a painted turtle?

There are several ways to tell the gender of a painted turtle. For starters, you can determine the sex of the turtle by looking at the size of the turtle.

When both are fully grown, the adult male can reach a carapace length of 6 inches (15.3 cm), and the adult female can reach a carapace length of 10 inches (25.4 cm). As evident here, females have larger shells.

Males reach maturity at a carapace length of 3.1 to 3.9 inches (8 to 10 cm) and females reach maturity at a carapace length of 4.3 to 7 inches (11 to 18 cm). Upon reaching maturity, the turtle will continue to increase in size but at a much slower rate.

The plastron shape can also be used to tell the gender. Males have more concave plastrons and females have flat plastrons.

The claw size can also be used to tell the gender. The claws of the male are long while the claws of the females are short and quite stubby.

The tail size can also be used to tell the gender.  Males have long tick tails and females have thin short tails.

You can also use the cloaca position to tell the gender of a painted turtle. The male-painted turtle’s cloaca is located near the end of its tail. Females have their cloaca located almost underneath their shells.

At what age can you tell if a turtle is male or female?

Depending on the information at hand, you can tell if a turtle is male or female at any age from egg to adult.

If an egg is incubated at a temperature of  80.6 to 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit (27 to 32 degrees Celsius) then the hatchling will be female. And if an egg is incubated at a temperature of  71.6 to 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit (22 to 27 degrees Celsius) then the hatchling will be male.

If you plan on determining the sex using the shape of the plastron, it is easiest to determine the sex of a turtle when it is at least 4 inches. If you plan on determining the sex using the turtle’s size, it is easiest to determine the sex if the turtle is 6 years or older.

Can painted turtles lay eggs without a male?

Female painted turtles can and WILL lay eggs without a male, and as such it is absolutely essential to prepare a nesting site for the females where they will feel comfortable laying their eggs.

Failure to do so may result in those eggs becoming impacted, so be sure that a nesting box is available from May to mid-July.

Which is usually bigger among painted turtle’s males or females?

With painted turtles, females are generally bigger. When both are fully grown, the adult male can reach a carapace length of 6 inches (15.3 cm), and the adult female can reach a carapace length of 10 inches (25.4 cm).

Conclusion

Now that you’ve got the facts that you need, determining the gender of your turtle should be a piece of cake! There are many ways to go about this. For instance, the size of the turtle can be used to tell the sex of the chelonian, provided that it’s mature.

You can also use the plastron shape, claw size, tail size, cloaca position, and if you’re breeding turtles, the temperature of the nest will determine the gender of the hatchlings that you’ll be seeing later!

When mature, females are noticeably larger than mature males. In terms of plastron shape, males have more concave (inner curved) plastrons, while females have flattened ones. Males also have larger claws and larger tails.

The cloaca can also tell you the gender of your turtle, with the male’s being located near the end of its tail, while a cloaca closer to the body and almost under the shell indicates a female.

With incubation temperature, eggs that are incubated at a temperature of  80.6 to 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit (27 to 32 degrees Celsius) produce female painted turtles, and eggs that are incubated at a temperature of  71.6 to 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit (22 to 27 degrees Celsius) produce male painted turtles.

Now that you’ve got the facts, try identifying your painted turtles at home you should quickly and accurately be able to determine their genders. Best of all, with practice, you can tell in moments!

Until next time, thanks for visiting and we wish you and your turtles the very best!

If you’re curious how a painted turtle compares to a red-eared slider? Check out our comparison of the painted turtle vs the red eared slider!

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