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Turtles in Alberta

There is only one type of turtle in Alberta. The province of Alberta is located to the west of Canada. The province is part of the prairie provinces which include Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, and is part of Western Canada.

To the north of the province is the Northwest Territories; to the west of Alberta is British Columbia and to the east of Alberta is Saskatchewan. Montana (the United States’ state) is south of the province.

The prairies of Alberta are home to a diverse collection of wildlife including fauna including bears, mountain lions, wolves, moose, elk, pronghorns, bison, and countless others. Regardless of Alberta’s rich fauna, the province is home to just a single turtle species and this is the Chrysemys picta bellii – Western Painted Turtle.

Turtles in Alberta

1. Western Painted Turtle

Western Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta belli) in Socorro County, NM
Western Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta belli) in Socorro County, NM – source
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Chrysemys picta bellii
  • Adult Size: 10 inches (25 cm)
  • Lifespan: 25 to 30 years
  • Conservation Status: Special Concern in Canada,  Endangered in the Pacific Coast of Canada, Least Concern on IUCN Red List

The only turtle native to Alberta is the Western painted turtle.

The western painted turtle is the largest of the painted turtles with a length of 25 cm or 10 inches. While this turtle isn’t as large as the snapping turtle, it is still quite large.

The species has a relatively flat carapace which is dark in coloration (black or dark green). The turtle is called the painted turtle because of the bright red and orange patterns on the edge of the carapace.

These blotches are quite colorful. The carapace features a mesh-like pattern of lines that separate the scutes.

The plastron (the underside of the turtle) has bright red blotches that are formed along the edges of the plastron. These blotches can be orange or red.

Regardless of the coloration, they are brightly colored. This is one way to identify the western painted turtle.

The geographic range of the western painted turtle is quite large but isolated. They can be found in the southwestern United States in isolated populations.

They can be found in Wisconsin to  Missouri and Oklahoma to Washington and Oregon.

In Canada, they can be found from British Columbia to Ontario; from Lake Nipigon through Manitoba and Saskatchewan. In Alberta, this species can be found in the Milk River basin which is situated in southern Alberta. The species can also be found outside its geographic range in Alberta.

The species can also be found in Mexico, specifically in Chihuahua.

The painted turtle prefers slow-moving shallow freshwater bodies such as ponds and lakes. They can also be found in slow-moving and quiet rivers and streams.

Other habitats they can be found in include marshes and swamps. The habitat should ideally have a thick layer of mud at the bottom, and a lot of aquatic vegetation. The habitat also has to have several basking sites.

Gravid females lay their eggs close to bodies of water in well-drained soils which are warm and loose. There must be high sun exposure where the gravid females lay their eggs. Examples of such places include shorelines, meadows, shoulder of gravel roads, and forest clearings.

The female’s nest is always close to a body of water – within 100 to 200 m (330 to 660 ft).

The western painted turtle is an omnivore that feeds on aquatic crustaceans, insects, carrion, fish, macroalgae, algae, and leaves. While juveniles are more carnivorous, adults are more herbivorous.

There are several threats to the wild populations. This includes the loss of wetlands.

This is particularly true of wild populations in coastal British Columbia. The species’ populations are also affected by road mortality.

This is quite common during nesting season when females try to get across roads in search of the ideal nesting spots.

Nest predation is another issue that the species face. Many of the eggs are eaten by predators such as raccoons.

Another threat to the wild population is the collection for the pet trade and food. Collection, trade, and ownership of the western painted turtle are illegal and prohibited in Alberta.

If you live outside Canada, it may be legal to keep the western painted turtle as a pet. If you wish to keep this turtle as a pet, there are a few things to consider.

Firstly, turtles have lengthy lifespans when compared to other pets such as dogs and cats. The western painted turtle can easily live to be 30 years. That is much longer than any cat or dog.

The enclosure of the turtle must have a sizable water area. When kept indoors, an aquarium is best. The lt turtle requires at least 20 gallons of water in the enclosure.

For the large Chrysemys p. bellii, I recommend 40 gallons of water. Hatchlings can do with 10 gallons of water. Several individuals can be housed in garden ponds, stock tanks, and even plastic totes.

The species require UVA & UVB radiation. This allows the turtle to synthesize Vitamin D and remain active throughout the day.

Achieve this by exploring the turtle to sunlight when housed in a pen. When housed inside a glass/plastic enclosure, exposure to the sun isn’t a good idea as heat builds up in the enclosure and can kill the turtle. Use a UVB lamp for turtles housed inside.

Temperature needs are also quite important. The basking spot should have temperatures of 85 to 90 °F. The water temperature should be 70 to 74 °F.

You may need to install an aquatic water heater within the enclosure.

The species eats plant matter with as much gusto as it does animal matter. You should provide a wide variety of foods. I recommend a mix of animal matter and plant matter (50-50 or 40-60 respectively).

Foods that they accept include duckweed, water lettuce, water hyacinth, leafy greens, insects, worms, fish, and commercial aquatic turtle diets.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it legal to own a turtle in Alberta?

It is legal to own some turtles in Alberta but not all turtles.

Of course, owning sea turtles is strictly prohibited. These are very rare and near impossible to care for as an individual unless you can afford and run an oceanarium.

Sea turtles native to Alberta include:

  • Caretta caretta (Loggerhead Sea Turtle)
  • Chelonia mydas (Green Sea Turtle)
  • Dermochelys coriacea (Leatherback Sea Turtle)
  • Lepidochelys kempii (Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle)

All the freshwater turtles native to Canada are prohibited. These include:

  • Actinemys marmorata (Northwestern Pond Turtle)
  • Apalone spinifera (Spiny Softshell)
  • Chelydra serpentina (Snapping Turtle)
  • Chrysemys picta bellii (Western Painted Turtle)
  • Chrysemys picta marginata (Midland Painted Turtle)
  • Chrysemys picta picta (Eastern Painted Turtle)
  • Clemmys guttata (Spotted Turtle)
  • Emydoidea blandingii (Blanding’s Turtle)
  • Glyptemys insculpta (Wood Turtle)
  • Graptemys geographica (Northern Map Turtle)
  • and Sternotherus odoratus (Eastern Musk Turtle)

The following turtles are not necessarily endemic to Alberta but are still prohibited and these include 

  • Mud turtle species of the Genus Kinosternon
  • Softshell turtles of the Genera Amyda, Aspideretes, Chitra, Pelochelys, and Rafetus
  • Map turtles (Genus Graptemys)
  • European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis)
  • Alligator Snapping turtle (Macroclemys temmincki)

The turtles listed above are prohibited and illegal to keep in Alberta. You may need a special permit to keep any turtles mentioned above.

Turtles such as the common box turtle (Terrapene carolina) can be kept as pets. Turtles such as sliders, sideneck turtles, helmeted turtles, and tortoises can be traded and kept as pets in Alberta.

Before you import a turtle into Alberta, sell, or buy a turtle in Alberta it is essential that you make sure it is legal to do so.

The Alberta Wildlife Regulation provides a list of prohibited/controlled species. It is a good idea to have a look at it if you live in Alberta and wish to keep any animal as a pet.

You can find the Wild Regulation here  –

How do I adopt a turtle in Alberta?

Adoption is an excellent way to acquire a turtle. As you already know, turtles have a long lifespan.

As such, older turtles can be up for adoption. Because of their long lifespans, even old turtles live for several years and even decades.

Here are some links you can check out if you wish to adopt a turtle in Alberta – Edmonton Reptile Rehab & Rescue (Facebook page), and Calgary Humane.

You can always use Google to find Reptile Rescues near you.

Before you adopt a turtle, you need to be ready for the turtle’s needs. Caring for turtles can be expensive and rescues can be extra expensive.

Initial costs can be above $1000.  Monthly costs and herp veterinarian services are also expensive.

How do I buy a turtle in Alberta?

You can acquire turtles at pet stores or through respectable breeders. As always, it is necessary to ensure that the turtle you plan on buying can be legally owned in Alberta.

The previous question provides a list of turtles that are illegal to own and collect in Alberta. It is essential that the turtle you plan on keeping as a pet is not on the list.

Turtles are expensive. Initial costs can be as high as $1000 or more.

It is essential that you thoroughly research the turtle you wish to acquire. For beginners, a turtle such as a slider or a box turtle is recommended.

These turtles are relatively easy to care for and are legal to own in the province of Alberta.


The Albertan painted turtle is the only turtle native to the province. This chelonian can be located in the Milk River basin which is situated in southern Alberta. This is the only location where you can find a native turtle.

Chrysemys p. bellii is a controlled/protected subspecies. This makes it illegal to own and keep an individual of the subspecies without a special permit.

However, this isn’t the only chelonian available in Alberta. There are several turtles you can keep as pets. Examples of these include sliders, sideneck turtles, helmeted turtles, and tortoises.

Check out the question ‘Is it legal to own a turtle in Alberta?’ in the FAQs section for more information on the turtles you are prohibited from keeping as pets and the ones you can keep as pets.

If you have any questions or information, your comments are welcome.

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