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The Painted Turtle Care Guide

Known for their intricately designed shells that resemble artwork, painted turtles, often referred to as Sun turtles, are one of the most abundant turtle species in North America. Spanning an impressive geographical range from northern Mexico to southern Canada, the painted turtle family comprises several subspecies, including the eastern, midland, western, and southern painted turtles.

While caring for painted turtles may seem straightforward, it demands a keen attention to certain factors. This includes vigilant monitoring of water quality in their habitat, maintaining appropriate temperatures, and ensuring the provision of suitable nourishment. As we delve deeper into the fascinating world of painted turtle care, you’ll gain valuable insights to ensure your pet turtle thrives in its environment.

Painted Turtle Facts

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Chrysemys picta
  • Other Names: Sun turtle
  • Average Adult Size: 4 to 10 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 to 40 years
  • Clutch Size: 10 eggs
  • Egg Incubation Period: 72 to 80 days
  • Food: Aquatic turtle food
  • Tank Size:  75 to 100 gallons (depending on size)
  • Average Temperature: 85°H/75°L
  • UVB Lighting: Needed
  • Average Price Range: $20 to $40
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern on IUCN Red List

Species of Painted Turtle

Although all the painted turtles belong to the same species – Chrysemys picta, there are disparities between subspecies. The painted turtle is also North America’s most widespread turtle.

Eastern Painted Turtle

Eastern Painted Turtle

The eastern painted turtle (C. p. picta) is 5 to 7 inches long with olive-green to black carapace with a pale stripe down the middle and red marking. Their plastron is plain yellow or lightly colored. The range of the eastern painted turtle stretches from southeastern Canada to Georgia.

Learn More about the Eastern Painted Turtle

Midland Painted Turtle

Midland Painted Turtle

The midland painted turtle (C. p. marginata) has a length of 4 to 10 inches. They are the hardest to distinguish from the other subspecies. The unique feature of the subspecies is a dark shadow found in the center of their plastron. The midland turtle can be found from southern Ontario and Quebec to the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama.

Learn More about the Midland Painted Turtle

Southern Painted Turtle

Southern Painted Turtle

The southern painted turtle (C. p. dorsalis) is the smallest of the species. This turtle reaches adult lengths of 4 to 6 inches. Their carapace features a red top stripe. Their plastron is tan and usually spotless. The southern painted turtle has a geographical range from southern Illinois and Missouri to the south.

Learn More about the Southern Painted Turtle

Western Painted Turtle

Western Painted Turtle

The western painted turtle (C. p. bellii) is the largest of the species and is usually 10 inches in size. Unlike the other subspecies, the western painted turtle usually lacks the top stripe. The western painted turtle ranges from southwestern Canada through Ontario to British Columbia.

Learn more about the Western Painted Turtle here.

Painted Turtle Care Sheet  

Below is a general care sheet on how to care for painted turtles. We cover everything from Habitat to food to health issues. Check it out below.

Painted Turtle Habitat

Painted turtles are very aquatic, spending almost all their time in water. This species prefers fresh waters with aquatic vegetation, basking sites, and soft bottoms. As they prefer slow-flowing water, they can be found in marshes, creeks, ponds, and lakes.


Tetra Glass Aquarium 55 Gallons, Rectangular Fish Tank (NV52018)

The painted turtle needs an aquatic set up with adequate basking options. The enclosure need not be elaborate. For starters, the water depth needs to be as almost twice the width of the turtle’s length.

The turtle doesn’t require substrate although you can add some. The volume of the water needs to be between 25 and 40 gallons. A 20-gallon tank should be the absolute minimum for a single adult. As the adults swim a lot, the water capacity needs to be high.

For babies/hatchlings, a water capacity of 10 gallons should be enough. Instead of acquiring a 10-gallon tank get a 20-gallon tank and fill it with just 10 gallons of water. For every additional baby add 5 gallons of water. For the 20-gallon tank, I recommend the Marina LED Aquarium Kit.

Painted turtles bask often so you need to provide a basking platform. There are generally two ways to accomplish this. You can use a plastic basking platform or you can stack flat wide rocks.

Getting a basking platform is the simplest way to provide a basking option for the turtle. The basking platform should be large enough to hold all the turtles with no part of their bodies touching the water. Check out the Penn Plax Reptology Life Science Turtle-Topper Above-Tank Basking Platform.

A filter ensures the water in the tank is always clean. Using a submersible canister water filter is a must unless you house the turtle in a pond. I recommend the Marineland Penguin Power Filter. Not only is it affordable, but it is also highly effective. You also need to change about 25% of the water every week. Fill the tank with dechlorinated water.


Nature's Ocean Coral Base Rock 4-8 INCHES, 20 LBS

As already explained, turtle tanks don’t need substrate. However, to improve the aesthetics of the tank, you can lay down some substrate. Although I prefer natural-looking substrates, some turtle keepers prefer glow in the dark substrate. The choice is yours.

When choosing a substrate, make sure it doesn’t float or easily dissolve in the water. Some good substrates include GloFish Aquarium Gravel (which glows in the dark) or for a more classy look river rocks.


Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle UVB & Heat Lighting Kit

As creatures that live in a temperate climate, it may not be necessary to install a water heater. The water temperature needs to be above 70 F. 

Optimally the water temperature needs to be in the mid 70 F. The ambient temperature needs to be around 85 F. To achieve this temperature, you can instal a heat lamp.

A basking lamp must be installed, this allows the turtle to dry out and the lamp also provides warmth in the enclosure. I recommend the Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle UVB & Heat Lighting Kit, this provides both heat and UVB light.

Having a thermometer is a great way to ensure the water temperature is right. I recommend these LCD Digital Aquarium Thermometers.


Zoo Med ReptiSun Desert Compact Fluorescent UVB Lamp, 26 Watts

Lighting is an important part of turtle care. Ensuring the turtle gets the right amount and intensity of UVB light is beneficial to their health. To prevent any health complications install a UVB light such as the Zoo Med ReptiSun.

You can also place the tank in a room that receives a lot of indirect sunlight. This will perfectly supplement the artificial lighting offered.

The light in the enclosure should be on for only 12 hours each day. During the night, ensure the lights are off.


Provide places for the turtle to hide under the water. These hiding places shouldn’t trap the turtle.

This also gives you the chance to decorate the aquarium and gives it a natural look. Potted aquatic plants and driftwood is an excellent way to provide hiding spots and beautify the aquarium.

Feeding the Painted Turtle

Tetrafauna ReptoTreat Gammarus 0.35 Ounce, Shrimp Treat For Aquatic Turtles, Newts And Frogs

In the wild, painted turtles are omnivorous, although adults are more herbivorous and juveniles are more carnivorous.

Painted turtles feed on aquatic plants, and small animals including aquatic insects, crustaceans and small fish. They also eat carrion. Although they have no teeth, they use their tough jaws and horny plates to grip food. They can also feed in water.

As omnivores, painted turtles accept both plant and anima;l matter. They do enjoy feeding and are a wonderful way to bond with them. Plant matter you can feed them include green, leafy vegetables (such as fresh parsley, dandelion green, and romaine lettuce) and aquatic plants such as duckweed, water hyacinth, and water lettuce.

Chop up the vegetables into pieces and place them on the water during feeding time. Also, you can feed them using suction cup clips such as the SLSON Plant Suction Cup Clip.

As treats, you can offer apple slices, or freeze-dried krill and shrimps. The treats should make up just 10 percent of their meals.

The animal matter you offer them needs to low in fat (as such don’t feed them goldfish). Feed them insects and healthy fish. Mealworms, crickets, and trout chow are all good choices.

A stress-free way to feed them is to make formulated turtle food the main source of nutrition. These are designed to provide the turtle with all the needed nutrients.

There are turtle diets formulated for hatchlings and juveniles such as Tetra Tetrafauna Pro ReptoMin Baby Turtle Formula Sticks. For adults, I recommend the Zoo Med Natural Aquatic Turtle Food. As treats feed them, TetraFauna ReptoTreat Gammarus Whole Shrimp Treat. They love it.

When acquiring turtle food at a pet shop, peruse the ingredient label. The diet needs to be low in fat, have a protein proportion of 30 to 40 percent, and have a high calcium (& vitamin D) to phosphorus ratio. You can also offer vitamin and nutrient supplements.

Feed juveniles and hatchling every day and feed adults every other day or thrice a week.

Painted Turtle’s Temperament & Handling

Painted turtles are generally sociable when it comes to cohabitating with other painted turtles. To ensure there is little chance of aggression, ensure there are several hiding spots and enough room.

However, if you notice constant aggression, you may need to move the aggressor to a separate enclosure or provide an even larger enclosure.

Unlike snakes and other reptiles which can be handled regularly. The only time you need to handle them is when you need to inspect for injuries and symptoms of an ailment. Also, you may need to handle time if you wish to move them to a secondary enclosure so you can clean their primary enclosure.

Remember to wash your hands before and after handling a painted turtle.

Painted Turtle’s Lifespan

While painted turtles are not as long-lived as other turtles, they are still enduring creatures, especially as pets. Painted turtles generally live to be 35 to 40 with good care.  As such before you acquire one, make sure you are committed. Also, if you cannot care for your painted turtle, try to find a new home for it.

Common Health Concerns

With the right care, your painted turtle should have no health problems. However, regardless of the care given, painted turtles are not immune to health problems. Similarly, you may have acquired a not-so-healthy specimen. Here are the common health problems to watch out for.

Intestinal parasites

This is a problem that affects several turtles and the painted turtle is no exception. Parasites are commonly found in wild turtles. An intestinal parasite problem is best diagnosed by an exotic vet through yearly fecal parasite exams.

Skin infection

With turtles, skin infections are a major problem. This is usually caused by poor water quality. Clean algae buildup with a soft toothbrush. But most importantly ensure the water is clean and clear at all times. Use an adequately powered water filter to keep the water clean. Additionally, change the water as needed.

Other types of infections include shell and ear infections.

Vitamin deficiency

Lack of vitamin D and calcium result in metabolic bone disease and shell deformities. Similarly, vitamin a deficiency leads to nasal drainage, raw skin, swollen eyes, and stomatitis.

To prevent vitamin deficiency, ensure the turtle is fed a balanced diet, have adequate access to UVB light, and receive enough supplements.

If you suspect health problems, kindly contact your vet.

Pricing and Availability

As the most widespread turtles of North America, painted turtles are quite easy to acquire. Just acquire them from a reputable breeder. This ensures that the turtle you acquire is captive bred and healthy.

Painted turtles cost between $20 to $50.


The painted turtle (Chrysemys Picta) has a Least Concern status on the IUCN. As the most widespread and abundant turtle species in the United States and Canada, they face little to no current extinction risk. Their populations are quite stable at the moment.


Painted turtles are the most widespread turtles in North America and are common pets. They are relatively easy to care for and are interesting turtles. Their unique markings make them interesting and easy to identify.

There are four subspecies of painted turtles including the southern painted turtle (C. p. dorsalis), the midland painted turtle (C. p. marginata), the eastern painted turtle (C. p. picta) and the western painted turtle (C. p. bellii). If you have any questions or extra information, kindly leave a comment below. Thanks.

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Monday 11th of October 2021

Hi. I have a 3 yr old western painted turtle. He is very healthy. He LOVES to be held. He follows me and climbs on me he insists on what I call face time. He has to be very close to my nose/eyes. I believe it’s because I got it as a new hatchling and that’s what it saw when I looked in its tank. K. So I’ve had it for years. It basks real well and often except this time of the year. It is just wanting me. It’s constantly swimming in the corner that I pick him up in. He swims in my hand. It isn’t basking now either. Just wants me. He does not bite. I can do anything to this little one. But what can I do at at this time of the year. I think he should be basking. It just quits this time of the year. Any suggestions Thank you Jennifer

Andrew Kovatch

Saturday 5th of September 2020

I have marked and observed the West. P. Tur. for many years here on Echo Lake for many years. Our females will nest every summer solstace (June 21st or so) and I mark the nests and open the nests by April 15th of the next year. By fall I am sure the young are mature when hatched. I understand the young winter over (hibernating?) I have opened about 25 nests always in April for 20 years. I have rescued probably 75 young ones. Any info you could provide would be helpful Echo Lake is a warm water lake about 7 miles NW of Bigfork, Montana in the Flathead Valley. Please answer===Thank you. Andrew Kovatch 437 East Village Dr. Bigfork, Montana I currently have 4 nests marked.