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Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys Picta Belli)

Western Painted turtles are fairly easy to care for as long as you get a large enough tank. While they don’t enjoy being handled, it’s great fun watching them swim around their tank. Even beginners can look after one of these impressive, beautiful turtles.

Painted turtles are among the most popular and accessible aquatic turtles in the reptile hobby. Western Painted turtles (Chrysemys picta belli) are the largest subspecies of Painted turtle, but that doesn’t make them awkward to have as pets.

While you can find them in the wild, try and adopt a Western Painted turtle from a local animal shelter. If one isn’t available, then buy from a captive-bred turtle from a licensed breeder.

In this article, we’ll teach you everything there is to know about Western Painted turtle care.

Western Painted Turtle Facts

Western Painted turtles are the official state reptile of Colorado, while other subspecies have been adopted as state reptiles in Illinois, Michigan, and Vermont.

Western Painted turtles will shed their shells as they grow larger. The old shell resembles a burnt or fallen leaf.

When eggs are laid in a nest, the temperature of the surrounding ground affects which sex the hatchlings will be. Temperatures above 85ºF (30ºC) will usually yield females.

What does a Western Painted turtle look like?

Western Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta belli) on a log basking by Ted Floyd
Western Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta belli) on a log basking by Ted Floyd

Western Painted turtles have black to dark brown shells and a net-like pattern of lightly-colored lines on the top of the carapace. The plastrons are typically red with a central patch that incorporates green and orange markings.

The skin is brown with yellow stripes on the face and chin. Males have longer, thicker tails than females but are much smaller overall. Both sexes have webbed feet, but males will have longer claws.

How big do Western Painted turtles get?

Male Western Painted turtles typically reach between 4 and 7 inches (10 to 18 cm) and get to about 11 ounces (300 g). Females are larger, measuring between 8 and 10 inches (20 to 25.5 cm) and weighing approximately 18 ounces (500 g).

Where do Western Painted turtles live?

Western Painted turtles have the largest range of any Painted turtle subspecies. The entire group has the biggest range of any turtle in North America, found across the United States and Canada. There are 23 individual states where Western Painted turtles are native or non-native:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada (Non-native)
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • South Dakota
  • Texas Utah (Non-native)
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

What kind of habitat do Western Painted turtles need?

Western Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta belli) in Socorro County, NM
Western Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta belli) in Socorro County, NM – source

Western Painted turtles inhabit slow-moving waters such as lakes, marshes, ponds, and streams. These areas need clean, shallow water and soft substrates as well as plenty of aquatic vegetation. Unlike other Painted turtles, Western Painted turtles can live at a maximum elevation of 5900 ft (1800 m).

How long do Western Painted turtles live in captivity?

Western Painted turtles can typically live for between 30 and 50 years in captivity.

What do Western Painted turtles eat?

Western Painted turtles have a varied omnivorous diet throughout the year. In the spring and early summer, most of their diet (approximately 60%) comes from insects such as crickets.

Towards the end of summer, Western Painted turtles will switch to a slightly more herbivorous diet (55%), consuming plants and seeds.

How do Western Painted turtles breed?

Western Painted turtles have two breeding opportunities – one in the spring and one in the fall. The water must have a temperature ranging from 50 to 77ºF (10 to 25ºC) for mating to commence. When courting, males will try to stroke females on their face and neck.

If they couple up, the turtles swim down to the bottom to mate. The females will then nest between May and July. A burrow is excavated in sandy soils and a clutch of as many as 12 eggs are laid. Females can have between two and five clutches a year.

The eggs incubate for between 70 and 80 days and typically hatch from August to September. The hatchlings will stay in their nest throughout the winter before emerging in the following spring.

What predators do Western Painted turtles face?

Vulnerable eggs are typically eaten by predators such as birds and snakes as well as mammals such as raccoons or squirrels. Hatchlings can be preyed upon by large fish, frogs, snakes, and other turtles. The adults are only really vulnerable to larger predators such as alligators, birds of prey, and raccoons.

Western Painted Turtle Care sheet:

Western Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta belli) in pond surrounded by algea and brush by Isis Khalil
Western Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta belli) in pond surrounded by algea and brush by Isis Khalil

Enclosure

Being the largest subspecies of Painted turtles, it’s no surprise that Western Painted turtles need a large enclosure. If you want to use a fish tank, you’ll need at least a 75 gallon enclosure for an adult male and a 125 gallon enclosure for a large adult female.

If you can protect the turtle(s) outside, you could also build a custom pond or use something like a large stock tank. For each turtle that you add to a tank, you’ll need to provide extra room equivalent to about half of the gallon capacity of the tank.

When it comes to water depth, the level needs to measure at least twice the width of the turtle’s carapace. You’ll also need to provide a basking spot in the form of either a commercial turtle dock or a land area built into the tank with some substrate.

Within the tank, you’ll also want to provide some vegetation in the form of artificial or live plants. Choose live species carefully as the turtle may eat some of these. An underwater hiding spot is also a good idea to give your turtle a safe haven.

You can cohabit Western Painted turtles with other members of their subspecies or even with other types of Painted turtles. You can also house them with species such as Red-eared Sliders.

Never house males together as they will fight, and always make sure that all of the turtles in the enclosure are of a similar size.

Recommended basic products

Here are a few recommended basic products to get you started with your Western Painted turtle:

Cleaning

Western Painted turtles need clean water in their tank to keep them healthy. Without adequate cleaning, bacteria can build up and cause health problems. The best way to keep the tank clean is to use a combination of a filtration system and partial water changes.

When choosing a filter, get one that can process at least three times the water capacity of your tank. This means that for a 75 gallon tank, the filter should be able to cycle at least 225 gallons. Because Western Painted turtles are a larger species, an external filter is the best bet to stop them from bumping into it.

Partial water changes once every fortnight will also be required to keep the tank clean. Change about a quarter to a third of the water each time and always use dechlorinated water. Once a month, empty the tank completely and clean the whole enclosure thoroughly to remove any bacteria.

Substrate

Western Painted turtles won’t really need a substrate in the bottom of their tank. With aquatic setups, most substrates make it much harder to keep the tank clean. The basking spot can be built up with a series of large rocks or a sandy substrate.

If you do want to create a more natural-looking tank, you can always use large flat rocks on the bottom of the tank. Make sure that these are too big for your turtle to swallow.

Temperature

When caring for Western Painted turtles, you’ll need to keep an eye on the air temperature, water temperature, and basking temperature. Keep track of these with thermometers.

The main thing to maintain is the water temperature, which needs to be kept between 70ºF and 75ºF (20ºC to 24ºC). If your climate doesn’t allow for this naturally, you can use a submersible water heater.

Western Painted turtles need an air temperature of 80 to 85ºF (26 to 30ºC). The basking spot needs to be maintained between 85 to 92ºF (30 to 33ºC).

Humidity

As aquatic turtles, Western Painted turtles have their humidity taken care of by the water in their tank. If you want to, you can use a hygrometer to keep the humidity level between 60 and 70%.

Lighting

Turtles rely on UVB light from the sun to help them process key nutrients. These include calcium or Vitamin D3. Turtles get this by basking out of the water, which is why providing a basking spot is crucial.

The basking spot should incorporate both a basking bulb and a UVB bulb. These can be two individual bulbs or combined as a mercury vapor bulb. Place the lights on a 12-hour day/night cycle and replace UVB bulbs every six months.

If you’re keeping your Western Painted turtle(s) outside, make sure that an area of their enclosure always gets direct sunlight. You won’t need to provide any special lighting for turtles housed outdoors.

Accessories

Adding some accessories to your Western Painted turtle’s tank helps enrich the environment for your turtle. Plants are one of the best ones, either artificial or live. These can provide some food for your turtle as well as some cover.

An underwater shelter is also a good accessory to add. This can be an arrangement of rocks or a large fish tank cave ornament. You’ll also need a basking spot. This can either be a turtle ramp or dock or a spot built out of rocks.

Feeding

Western Painted turtles eat an omnivorous diet throughout the year. In spring and early summer, they’ll need a more protein-based diet. Commercial turtle pellets, crickets, earthworms, and mealworms are good choices.

In the late summer, feed them more plant matter such as duckweed and vegetables. Feed your turtle every other day and boost the nutrients with some calcium or Vitamin D supplements once or twice a week.

Younger turtles (less than six months old) should be fed every day with more protein-based foods. Here’s a list of common foods that are great for Western Painted turtles:

  • Black Soldier fly larvae
  • Bloodworms
  • Carrot
  • Collard greens
  • Commercial turtle pellets
  • Crickets
  • Dandelion greens
  • Duckweed
  • Earthworms
  • Feeder fish
  • Kale
  • Mealworms
  • Mustard greens
  • Red leaf lettuce
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Squash Water hyacinth
  • Water lettuce

A quick note: perfectly healthy Western Painted turtles have been known to occasionally go two or three weeks without taking food. As long as the turtle looks healthy and is still active, this shouldn’t be cause for concern.

Temperament and handling

Plastron of a Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii) in Davis County, Utah by Pink Sherbet
Plastron of a Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii) in Davis County, Utah by Pink Sherbet

Are Western Painted turtles good pets?

Western Painted turtles are great pets for most reptile keepers. They have a calm temperament and easily become tame. They aren’t fond of handling but it’s a lot of fun to watch them swim around their tank or bask. They’re also extremely beautiful turtles and have an impressive size. Avoid handling them unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Some keepers might not have the space for Western Painted turtles, and these also aren’t great pets for young children. But for a low-maintenance aquatic turtle with a calm, tame attitude, Western Painted turtles take some beating.

Signs of good health

Getting a healthy Western Painted turtle should be a top priority for keepers looking to add this species to their collection. To help choose a health specimen, here are a few signs to look out for:

Healthy Western Painted turtles should have nice, smooth shells without any strange bumps, flaking, or signs of pyramiding. The latter is a symptom of Metabolic Bone Disease, while a flaking shell is a symptom of other serious health conditions.

The turtle should have bright, clear eyes without any cloudiness. The turtle should behave alertly, looking all around the room. The nostrils should be free of dripping mucus, which can indicate a respiratory infection.

Always ask to watch the turtle eat. Healthy specimens should be eager for food, so if the turtle refuses food that could indicate a health problem.

Health concerns

Western Painted turtles are a large, hardy species, but they can still be vulnerable to certain health conditions. Here are a few of the main ones to look out for.

Metabolic Bone Disease is a common problem for turtles and is caused by insufficient levels of UVB light. Not getting enough light prevents the turtle from processing Vitamin D, which is needed to absorb key nutrients like calcium. This causes the bone structure of the turtle to deteriorate and grow abnormally.

If you spot irregular bumps on the skin or signs of pyramiding, your turtle may be experiencing Metabolic Bone Disease. Other indications of this condition include eye irritation or strange open cuts on the skin.

Respiratory infections can also become a problem if the humidity and temperature of an enclosure are too low for your Western Painted turtle. Lethargic movement, nasal mucus, watery eyes, and a loss of appetite are all symptoms of a respiratory infection.

As hardy as they are, Western Painted turtles can still pick up cuts or scratches from sharp edges in their enclosure or bad interactions with other turtles. These cuts can become infected quickly, so minimize the presence of sharp corners on water heaters, filters, or rocks in the enclosure.

If your turtle has been wounded, pat them dry before applying a topical iodine solution (such as Betadine solution) to the wound with a cotton bud. If any of these health problems begin to develop, take your turtle to a specialist vet immediately.

Video about the Western Painted turtle conservation

Breeding Western Painted turtles

To breed Western Painted turtles, place your male and female together in an enclosure during the spring. Observe them to make sure that aggressive behavior doesn’t occur. Once you believe they’ve mated, you can check the female after a month or so to see if she’s carrying eggs.

Pick the female up with her head pointing upwards. Gently place your fingers into the inguinal cavity, which is the opening located between the rear legs and the shell. You should be able to feel the eggs.

You can either provide a nest box for egg laying or let the female lay the eggs in your yard if it’s large enough. Supervise the female during a walk around the yard.

To make a nest box, use a warm, dry container and fill it with enough substrate and room for the female to dig in. A good choice of nesting substrate is Exo Terra Soil Mix but damp sphagnum moss also works well.

If breeding is successful, the female will dig a nest in the box and lay between up to 12 eggs. Females are capable of producing between two and five clutches per season. Use an incubation medium such as HatchRite Incubation Medium.

Maintain temperatures between 82 and 86ºF (27.5 to 30ºC) on average. If you want female hatchlings, set the temperatures just above 86ºF (30ºC). The eggs should hatch after approximately  70 to 80 days.

Western Painted Turtle Hatchling Care

Once the hatchlings have emerged, you’ll need to take care of them. While Western Painted turtle hatchlings follow many of the guidelines for adults, there are a few differences.

First, they’ll need a smaller enclosure – around 10 gallons with a couple of inches of water. The water capacity can be increased as the hatchlings grow. You’ll also need to keep the humidity and temperatures on the higher end of the scales that apply to adults.

The diet is probably the biggest difference. For the first six months of their lives, hatchlings and juveniles need their diet to be mostly comprised of protein. You can also offer some plant matter every day.

Young turtles need to be fed every day until they reach six months old. Then, you can switch to feeding them every other day.

Frequently Asked Questions about Western Painted turtles

Can you have a Western Painted turtle as a pet?

Western Painted turtles make great pets and can be kept in many areas. However, always check the legislation for each individual state. In some regions, it may be illegal to keep Western Painted turtles (such as Oregon) or there might be restrictions in place.

Is the Western Painted turtle endangered?

While they aren’t technically classed as Threatened or Endangered, Western Painted turtles are still legally protected in many states. This is especially relevant in terms of taking them from the wild, which is prohibited in many areas and shouldn’t be encouraged.

Do Western Painted turtles bite?

While they usually have calm temperaments, Western Painted turtles will still bite if they feel threatened. To avoid getting a nip, pick the turtle up from the back or sides of the shell and keep your fingers out of range of their neck. If the turtle does bite you, it’s not likely to cause noticeable harm.

Are Western Painted turtles invasive?

While Western Painted turtles have been introduced to some areas where they were not previously native, they aren’t considered to be as invasive as many other species, such as Red-eared Sliders.

Conclusion

That wraps up our care guide for the Western Painted turtle. These large, beautiful turtles make great pets for most herping enthusiasts, but may not be the best for small children as they shouldn’t be handled too often.

If you’ve got the space for a Western Painted turtle, make sure to try and adopt one from a local animal shelter. If this isn’t possible, then make sure to purchase a captive-bred baby from a licensed breeder.

Always check your local laws to make sure that Western Painted turtles are legal in your region. If you enjoyed this care guide, feel free to leave a comment down below and discuss Western Painted turtles with fellow herping enthusiasts!

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Chris Motherwell

Tuesday 13th of October 2020

FYI, all of the turtles on thus page are Red-eared or Yellow-bellied Sliders, not Western Painted Turtles The red on the side if the head us a big give away and also the yellow colouring on the shell.

Brock Yates

Tuesday 13th of October 2020

Thanks Chris! What a slip up on our side! I will get some new pics asap to swap them out. Really appreciate you letting us know!

Lisa Gillooly

Monday 8th of July 2019

I would adopt these turtles