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Painted Turtle Eggs

Painted turtle eggs, in case you’ve never seen them, are about an inch long and three-quarter inches wide. They are oblong-shaped and pinkish-white, and they darken in coloration as the egg incubates over time.

Not all painted turtle eggs are fertile, but regardless of whether or not the female nests, she may well lay eggs, and females start to lay eggs at ages 6 to 10. The carapace and plastron lengths of a mature female capable of nesting are 4.33 – 7.08 inches (11 to 18 cm and 3.93 to 5.11 inches (10 to 13 cm) respectively.

Gravid females may lay up to 5 clutches, although they usually lay 2, so you’re looking at egg counts of around 23 eggs at most, but more commonly only 5 to 11.

There’s a little more to it, of course, so let’s explore painted turtle eggs and what you need to know!

Egg Description

Painted Turtle hatchling
A painted turtle hatchling leaves the egg

The painted turtle egg is similar in appearance to that of other pond turtles. The eggs are white with soft shells that feel leathery and the egg itself is tiny. It measures a width of about 0.75 inches and a length of about 1 inch and is elliptical.

Hatchlings are cute but they won’t stay that size forever – find out more about their growth cycle when you’re done here with our handy painted turtle growth guide!

Reproduction

Mating

Painted turtles generally mate after brumation, a state similar to hibernation but used exclusively by reptiles. This places their mating period in spring, although they also mate in the fall. The temperature of the water body they live in is a major determining factor.

Water temperatures need to be 50 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 to 25 degrees Celsius. These temperatures are most conducive to mating. Mature females will ovulate in the spring and the reproductive cycle starts during the prior year in mid-summer.

Mature males produce sperm in early spring. Females can store sperm from the male for up to three years and will use it to produce as many as three clutches of eggs. The female can also store the sperm of multiple males and use that to produce clutches having more than one father.

Courtship

Before mating occurs, there has to be courtship. When a mature male comes into contact with a mature female, he will follow her until they are face-to-face. The male will proceed to touch the female’s face and neck using his front claws.

Males have longer front claws, and they will use these to create vibrations. Receptive females will reciprocate the males’ behavior and this is repeated several times.

The male will then retreat and return to the receptive female several times and the female will swim to the bottom, if she’s receptive, where they will mate. Males will sometimes coerce the female to mate by inflicting injuries using the cusps on their beaks, as well, as their front claws.

Egg-laying

Turtle eggs
A turtle laying eggs

The process of egg-laying is fairly straightforward. The female creates a suitable nest by digging into the available substrate, and when she is happy with her work, she then lays the eggs.

Gravid females nest from late May to mid-July, laying eggs in sandy soil with southern exposure. The soil has to be soft and sandy, with decent exposure to the sun, and the nests are almost always close to a water body.

Since the painted turtle is aquatic, the hatchlings also require access to water. Most nests are found within 200 meters of a water body, although some can be found as far as 600 meters from a water body when a closer option is not available.

For instance, in a survey of nests in Michigan, the nests were found 3 to 58 feet (1 to 164 meters) away from water and an average of 196 feet (60 meters) away from a freshwater body. In a survey of nests in Quebec, the distances were noticeably larger.

The nests were found 3 to 2037 feet (1 to 621 meters) away from water and an average of 294 feet (90 meters) away from a freshwater body.

Females may return to the same site to nest year after year and among eastern painted turtles, females have been known to partake in communal nesting.

Before nesting, females may press their throats against the ground of several potential nesting sites, likely checking the warmth, smell, texture, and moisture levels of the site. The finished nests are about 2 to 4 inches (5 to 11 cm) deep. 

The body temperature of nesting females is generally about 84 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit (29 to 30 degrees Celsius). If temperatures are too hot, the gravid female will nest at night when temperatures are low.

Females dig the nests using their hind feet. After digging the nest, the female will then lay the eggs. It may take up to four hours for her work to be completed. Bigger females lay bigger eggs. Bigger females also lay bigger eggs.

After laying 2 – 5 clutches (5 to 23 eggs), incubation lasts for about 70 days with an average range of 62 to 80 days. The emerging hatchlings measure 1.04 inches (26.6 mm) on average but may be anywhere from .70 to 1.21 inches (18 to 31 mm).

Not sure how to make a nesting box? Find out how to build one step-by-step!

Egg Development (Incubation)

The sex of the hatchling is determined by the temperature of the nest (or incubator) during embryogenesis. Embryogenesis refers to the early part of the development of the embryo and involves cell fate specification.

Similar to other pond turtles (emydids), the painted turtle lacks sex chromosomes and relies on the temperature to determine the sex of the individual.

Here as with other pond turtles, high temperatures produce female hatchlings and low temperatures produce male hatchlings, with 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius) being the middle point. At the middling point, you’ll get a fairly even mix of both genders.

Temperatures of 80.6 to 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit (27 to 32 degrees Celsius) should yield mostly (or all) females, while temperatures of 71.6 to 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit (22 to 27 degrees Celsius) should yield mostly (or all) males.

If the nest is too hot or too cold, however, then there may be problems. Temperatures above 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) aren’t conducive to embryo development, nor are temperatures below 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius).

Apart from a conducive temperature, moisture is necessary for the survival of the eggs as they grow. If moisture levels are too low, the eggs will die. The eggs cannot be submerged in water as they will drown, so they need to be well-aerated in a humid environment within the right temperature range.

If you would like to learn more, ArsTechnica has a great article entitled ‘How turtles use temperature to figure out their sex’ that can tell you a little more!

About The Painted Turtle – A quick primer for beginners

The painted turtle is one of the more popular turtle species in North America, and it gets its name from the bright colorations/markings on its shell. These look like they were painted onto the turtle and the bright colorations are yellow, orange, and red and are found on a greenish-brown or black background.

This is a medium-sized turtle, with a carapace length range from 9 to 25 cm or 3.5 to 9.8 inches.  Males can reach a carapace length of 6.02 inches (15.3 cm). Females are larger and can reach a carapace length of 10 inches (25.4 cm(. The average mass of the species is 13.1 oz or 371.8 grams.

Males reach reproductive maturity quicker than females do. Males reach reproductive maturity at age 2 to 4 although some individuals are known to reach maturity at age 6. Females take longer to reach maturity and only do so between the ages 6 to 10.

Males reach maturity at a carapace length of 3.14 to 3.93 inches (8 to 10 cm) while females reach maturity at a carapace length of 4.33 to 7.88 inches (11 to 18 cm). Provided the male and female have these respective sizes, the painted turtles can reproduce and females will be ready to lay eggs at this age.

 It is considered to be the most widespread turtle native to North America and is quite popular in the pet trade.

This turtle can be found across North America from Canada through the continental United States to northern Mexico. Within Canada, the species is endemic to Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec.

Within the United States, the species is endemic to Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and South Dakota.

You can also find them in Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Washington, Indiana, New Mexico, Wyoming, Arkansas, Idaho, and Arizona.

Within Mexico, the species is endemic to Chihuahua.

Painted Turtle Distribution – Image courtesy of Wikicommons
  • Orange: Midland (C. p. marginata)
  • Red: Western (C. p. bellii)
  • Yellow: Eastern (C. p. picta)
  • Blue: Southern (C. dorsalis)

There are three or four subspecies (depending on the source). These are eastern  (C. p. picta), western (C. p. bellii), southern (C. p. dorsalis), and midland (C. p. marginata).  The southern painted turtle is often considered a separate species.

The geographic range of the subspecies can be demarcated, as seen in the map we’ve included.

Within its range, the turtle lives in shallow slow-moving water bodies. The habitat must have a soft bottom, vegetation, and basking sites. Some environments that the species live in include lakes, ponds, swamps, marshes, streams, and reservoirs.

They can even be found in seasonally flooded zones close to permanent water bodies. Similar to most other North American pond turtles, painted turtles brumate underwater.

Females lay eggs during the springtime after brumation in nests created in soft soils in open areas that are close to water bodies. The recorded distance from a waterbody varies depending on the location.

According to a survey by Congdon and Gatten (1989), in Michigan, the nests were found 3.2 to 538 feet (1 to 164 meters) away from water and an average of 196 feet (60 meters) away from a freshwater body.

According to a survey by Christens and Bider (1987), in Quebec, the nests were found 3.2 to 2037 feet )1 to 621 meters) away from water and an average of 295 feet (90 meters) away from a freshwater body.

Considering a painted turtle of your own? Find out how to take care of them properly in our Painted Turtle Care Guide!

Frequently Asked Questions

How many eggs does a painted turtle lay?

A female painted turtle of egg-laying age usually lays about 5 to 11 eggs, which amounts to 2 clutches, although some can lay up to 23 eggs – which is considered 5 clutches.

How long does it take for painted turtle eggs to hatch?

After the female turtle lays the egg, it takes about 70 days to hatch. Incubation of the eggs can range from 62 to 80 days, however, so sometimes you’ll get early hatchlings and sometimes they just need a little longer to properly develop.

Can painted turtles lay eggs without a male?

Yes, they can, although these eggs won’t be fertile and no hatchlings will result. Mature females usually lay eggs even if they have not mated, so it is essential to provide a nesting area for your turtle regardless of whether or not they have a male in the tank.

How do you know if a painted turtle egg is fertile?

There is no foolproof way to tell whether an egg is fertile or not. However, if a currently lone female has laid an egg, but has not mated within the last three years, then the eggs aren’t fertile. A female can only store sperm for up to three years.

If the egg is laid by a female that mated, then the egg is most likely fertile. You can further examine the egg by holding a flashlight to the underside of it in a dark room. You should be able to see if there is an embryo.

Make sure not to turn the egg or shake it as that may well kill the embryo — Turtle eggs are very fragile.

Fertile eggs may die along the way, but eggs that contain a live embryo will change color from pinkish white to darkish white while the embryo grows. The egg will also change its texture over time to get a ‘leathery’ feel.

What kills turtle eggs?

Some things that kill turtle eggs include lack of air, lack of humidity, and other animals. The eggs should also be well aerated – they will die if completely submerged underwater. The nest itself should be humid, because if it is dry, then the egg will lose too much water and die.

Several predators will eat painted turtle eggs. Examples include:

  • Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes)
  • American minks (Neovison vision)
  • Northern river otters (Lontra canadensis)
  • Groundhogs (Marmota monax)
  • Eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis)
  • Thirteen-lined ground squirrels (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus)
  • Plains garter snakes (Thamnophis radix)
  • Raccoons (Procyon lotor)

What temperature kills a turtle’s eggs?

Temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit and temperatures below 70 degrees Fahrenheit can kill the painted turtle’s eggs. Appropriate temperatures for the turtle’s eggs are 71.6 to 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit (22 to 32 degrees Celsius).

Conclusion 

The painted turtle is known to lay  5 to 11 eggs annually, on average, but may lay as many as 23 eggs. Not every mature female lays eggs each year, but when they do, the eggs laid are about an inch long and three-quarter inches wide. They will be pinkish-white and have an elliptical shape.

These eggs take about 62 to 80 days to incubate and the resulting hatchlings measure 1.04 inches (26.6 mm) on average with a range of .70 to 1.21 inches (18 to 31 mm). Just remember that even if you won’t be breeding your turtles, all females MUST have a nesting area, as they will still lay eggs!

Sources:

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