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Southern Painted Turtle Care Guide

As the attractive southern painted turtle is common, they are quite easy to find. When getting a southern painted turtle, it is best to get captive-bred. Wild turtles may be infested with parasites. Also, wild turtles may find it difficult to adapt to captive life.

As you may or may not already know, there are three other types of  painted turtles. These include the midland painted turtle, the eastern painted turtle, and the western painted turtle. To me and many others, the southern painted turtle is the most attractive of all the painted turtles.

Southern Painted Turtle Facts

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Chrysemys picta dorsalis
  • Average Adult Size: 4 to 6 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 to 40 years
  • Clutch Size: 10 eggs
  • Egg Incubation Period: 72 to 80 days
  • Food: Aquatic turtle food
  • Tank Size: 20 to 70 gallons (ideally 40 gallons or more)
  • Average Temperature: 85°H/75°L
  • UVB Lighting: Needed
  • Average Price Range: $20 to $40
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern on IUCN Red List

The southern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta dorsalis) is one of the subspecies of the species Chrysemys picta. This species belongs to the genus Chrysemys and the family Emydidae, which contains most of the turtles endemic to North America.

Interestingly, the southern painted turtle is the smallest of the painted turtles reaching lengths of just 4 to 6 inches (10 to 14 cm). They have a prominent red line that runs down their shell, and their plastron is deeply tanned and usually spotless. The red and yellow markings on the limbs, head, and shell make the turtle appear to be painted thus their common name.

The southern painted turtle can be found from southern Missouri and Illinois to Louisiana. In Tennessee, they can be found  to the west. In Oklahoma, they can be found to the extreme south-east – in particular, McCurtain County.

In Alabama, they can be found in much of the entire State. In Arkansas, they can be found to the west towards Texas. In Texas, they can be found in the northwest – Caddo Lake region.

Southern Painted Turtle Habitat

The aquatic southern painted turtle prefers slow-moving freshwater habitats with dense aquatic vegetation. Although they have been known to live in brackish habitats, they are mostly found in rivers, lakes, ponds, and marshes. In addition to dense vegetation, the southern painted turtle also prefers water bodies with basking sites and soft bottoms.

Southern Painted Turtle Care Sheet


Tetra Aquatic Turtle Deluxe Kit 20 Gallons, aquarium With Filter And Heating Lamps, 30 IN (NV33230)

For the active southern painted turtle, a large aquarium will do as this gives them a lot of room to swim in. There are many theories on the right tank size for turtles.

As a rule of thumb, many turtle keepers recommend you multiply the length of a turtle by 10 to know the capacity (in gallons) of the tank you need to get. As such, a 6-inch turtle requires a tank that holds 60 gallons of water.

As you can see, this scales up rather quickly. I recommend getting a tank that can hold about 40 gallons of water. The southern painted turtle will thrive even in a 30-gallon aquarium.

Hatchlings require less water. House a single hatchling in 10 gallons of water, 2 hatchlings in 15 gallons of water, and 3 hatchlings in 20 gallons of water.

There is no need to acquire a small aquarium for a hatchling, and then a bigger one when it reaches maturity. Get a 40-gallon aquarium and fill it with just 10 gallons of water.

The aquarium needs a canister filter. This ensures the tank is kept clean every minute of every day. When acquiring a filter, get a powerful one such as the SunSun HW-302.

This canister filter ensures that the water is properly filtered. Something less powerful filters are unable to do. Also, change about a quarter of the water in the aquarium every 5-10 days.


Although it is not needed, many keepers prefer to have substrate at the bottom of their turtle tank as this gives the aquarium a more natural appearance.

If you must have a substrate, get one that doesn’t float or mix with the water when stirred up. Also, the substrate needs to be large enough so the turtle doesn’t ingest it.


As North American species, painted turtles can thrive even in low temperatures. However, to keep them comfortable, aim for a water temperature above 75 F, an ambient temperature of around 85 F and a basking spot temperature of about 95 F.

You don’t need to heat the aquarium’s water to achieve these agreeable temperatures. However use thermometers to ensure the water, and air temperatures are within the right temperature range.

The southern painted turtle basks often and as such, basking lamps must be installed above the basking spots. These lamps can be incandescent, ceramic or mercury vapor.

Ceramic lamps may be more expensive but they don’t produce light and as such can be on throughout the entire day.  In addition to basking lamps, you may also need a lamp clamp or fixture to hold the lamp.

Many aquariums come with these fixtures. However, if they don’t, acquiring one isn’t difficult. The lamps also need a thermostat to ensure it doesn’t overheat the aquarium.


In addition to a heat lamp, the turtle also requires UVB light, which they need to synthesize vitamin D3. This vitamin is needed for bones and shell development.  A good UVB lamp is the Zoo Med ReptiSun.

To maintain the circadian cycle, ensure the lights are on for 12 hours during the day and off for 12 hours during the night. This ensures the turtle sleeps at night.

Don’t place the aquarium near a window as sunlight can heat the glass and cause heat to build up within the aquarium.


Accessories can be used to beautify the enclosure as well as to provide hiding spots for the turtle. Obstacles are very important if you house more than one turtle in the tank.

Lack of hiding spots and obstacles can lead to aggressive behaviors. Popular accessories include driftwood and aquatic plants. Other accessories to consider include cave hideouts such as the Penn-Plax Cave Hide-Out.

The southern painted turtle basks about 3 times each day and as such, they need a basking platform. The turtle regulates its body temperature by alternating between the water and the basking spot.

While some tanks come with basking spots, these are reptile aquariums such as the Tetra Aquarium Reptile Glass Kit. Don’t expect most aquariums to come with a basking platform.

However, a basking platform is easy to obtain and are usually low cost. Popular basking platforms such as the Penn Plax Turtle Tank Topper are easy to install and use.

Feeding the Southern Painted Turtle

As the southern painted turtle is an omnivore, it is important to provide it with a well-rounded diet. The diet should be a mix of plant matter, animal matter, and commercial turtle diet. This provides the turtle with all the needed nutrients.

When choosing a turtle diet, choose one specifically made for aquatic turtles such as the Mazuri Aquatic Turtle Diet. This contains about 30 to 40 percent protein.

Healthy turtle diets are also high in calcium and contain vitamin D3. For babies and juveniles, the baby turtle formula diets such as the ReptoMin Baby Floating Food Sticks are sure to provide all the needed nutrition.

Plant matter to feed the turtle include greens such as red leaf lettuce, escarole, dandelions, mustard greens, kale, endive, romaine zucchini, collard greens, and beet leaves.

In addition to this also feed them aquatic plants such as water fern, water starwort, water milfoil, frogbit, hornwort, pondweed, duckweed, water lettuce, water lilies, and water hyacinth.

Animal matter to feed them include bloodworms, crickets, and mealworms. You can occasionally offer them fruit slices.

In addition to the foods fed them, you may want to supplement the meal with vitamin and mineral supplements.

Feed juveniles and hatchlings daily and adults about four times a week.

Southern Painted Turtle’s Temperament & Handling

First-time turtle keepers will have no issues caring for the southern painted turtle. Not only are they hardy, but also they are tame and active even around people.

As such, they won’t hide whenever you approach the enclosure. This behavior extends to other turtles. Several painted turtles and terrapins can be housed with the southern painted turtle as far as they also do well around other turtles. While they are not exactly social creatures, they tolerate the presence of other turtles very well.

Regardless of how large the enclosure is, still be on the lookout for aggressive behavior if there are several southern painted turtles in the same enclosure. However, with a large enclosure with several hiding spots, aggressive behavior is rarely a problem.

Only handle the southern painted turtle when you need to. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling them.

Southern Painted Turtle’s Lifespan

Although among turtles, the southern painted turtle is not long-lived, it still lives longer than most pets. As such, expect to care for it for several decades. The southern painted turtle has a lifespan of 25 to 45 years. With good care, expect them to attain their full lifespan.

Common Health Concerns

There are several signs to keep an eye out for such as excessive basking, loss of appetite, frothing at the mouth, irregular shell growth, cracked shell, wounded skin, unwillingness to enter water, sunken/swollen eyes, and other irregular behaviors.

If you keep an eye on the turtle and feed it on a regular schedule, you should be able to notice these changes. In case of illness, see a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles and amphibians – in other words, a herp vet.

Parasites – Parasite infestations are not uncommon especially if the enclosure is unkempt. Parasite infestation is also common among wild southern painted turtle. It can be difficult to tell if your turtle has parasites without input from a vet.  Annual fecal parasite checkups are one way to ensure your painted turtle is relatively parasite free. These checks are done by a vet.

Hypovitaminosis A – This is simply vitamin A deficiency. Symptoms include raw skin, nasal discharge, stomatitis, and swollen eyes. The best way to prevent this is to supplement the turtle’s diet with vitamin and mineral supplements.

Vitamin D/Calcium deficiency – Deficiency of vitamin D3 and calcium generally leads to metabolic bone disease. This disease causes bone and shell deformity.

Shell deformity is permanent even if the diet is later adjusted. Severe metabolic bone disease can lead to death. MBD can be prevented if you feed the turtle with foods high in calcium and expose them to adequate amounts of UVB. You can also supplement their diet with vitamin D3.

Pricing and Availability

The southern painted turtle is a popular southern painted turtle that is readily bred and finding specimens is not easy. They are most common from May to September. As they are quite plentiful, their prices are usually low.

Southern Painted Turtle For Sale

You can acquire a southern painted turtle for $20 to $50. Depending on where you acquire one, expect to pay as much as $80.


According to the IUCN, the species Chrysemys picta are not endangered or even vulnerable. They have a status of Least Concern, and their populations across North America are stable.

The main reason for this is their high reproduction rate and their ability to survive in polluted wetlands. Regardless of this, some local populations have seen declines.


Since the southern painted turtle is a widespread and readily bred turtle, they are common and their needs are well documented. Their active nature and colorful appearance make them one of the most popular terrapins.

First-time turtle keepers will be hard-pressed to find a more affable turtle. As with all turtles, the southern painted turtle is not to be handled regularly. Apart from hosting salmonella, handling is a stressful ordeal for the turtle. If you have any information, remarks, and questions, kindly leave a comment.

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Lillian kanouse

Saturday 3rd of October 2020

Hello! I came across a southern painted turtle in mid-Michigan and I can’t find any other links with people relating so I’m confused, do they come around here?


Saturday 11th of April 2020

It could be the temp or cleanliness. Do you heat the water? What temp do you keep it at? What about using a filter? Have you checked the PH levels as well?

Christopher James Saladino

Saturday 11th of April 2020

My turtle won’t go in the water. What is the issue. Is it temperature? There is water on his floating dock that I feed him on and there are pockets of water he seems to either trying to swim deeper or like he is looking for more food. I am worried. Please help me Thank you

Christopher James