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Western Pond Turtle

Western Pond Turtle (Actinemys marmorata)

The semi-aquatic Western pond turtle is also known as the Pacific pond turtle. Its scientific name is Actinemys marmorata, but it was previously Clemmys marmorata.

These turtles have close similarities with the European Pond Turtles (Emys orbicularis).

Below, we’ll share with you the distinguishing features and other interesting facts about this semi-aquatic turtle.

Quick Reference Section

  • Scientific Name: Actinemys marmorata
  • Alternate Name: Pacific Pond Turtle
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Size: 11 to 21 centimeters (largest recorded at 24 cms. or 9.5 inches)
  • Weight: 600 to 900 grams (22 to 33 ounces)
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Lifespan: average at 40-50 years, and the longest recorded lifespan is 80 years

Interesting facts about Western pond turtles

Western Pond Turtle (actinemys marmorata) sitting on rock
Western Pond Turtle (actinemys marmorata) sitting on rock

The second part of its scientific name, marmorata, means marbled. Female Western pond turtles often have heavy patterns on their carapace.

You can recognize a male Western pond turtle by its light to pale yellowish throat.

These turtles are diurnal. They are most active and do their hunts during the day.

Western pond turtles can be skittish. They quickly dive into the water and retreat into their hard shells whenever they sense danger.

Although mostly quiet, these make very high-pitched sounds when they feel threatened. Hissing is also a common sound turtles make.

These are semi-aquatic turtles, and they can survive out of the water for at least 6 months.

IUCN lists Western pond turtles as Vulnerable on a global scale since 1996.

What does the Western pond turtle look like?

Western pond turtles on log
Western pond turtles on log

This turtle is medium in size. Their colors go from dark brown to pale olive and may or may not have streaks or patterns.

Western pond turtles have yellowish plastrons. Sometimes, these have dark patches in the center of their scutes.

Males have concave plastrons, while females have flat ones.

Males also have their anal vents at the back of the rim of the carapace. For female Western pond turtles, the anal vent is anterior to the rim of their carapace.

They have a low but broad carapace, which is often widest at the back middle part. Adult Western pond turtles have a smooth carapace, and without serrations.

These turtles are sexually dimorphic as adults, meaning, female adults are larger than males similar to the yellow bellied slider for example.

Where can the Western pond turtle be found?

This turtle type can be found along the western coast of the U.S. and Mexico. Some colonies were spotted in the rivers of Nevada.

Their origins still remain a mystery. Researches think that the Pacific pond turtles of British Colombia, which were collected in 1936, originally came from the United States.

What kind of habitat do the Western pond turtles live in?

Pacific pond turtles (actinemys marmorata)
Pacific pond turtles (actinemys marmorata) basking on rock with grass behind

These pond turtles are mostly solitary. They live in the streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, and marshes around Western Washington state up to Baja California.

They prefer temperate areas, and they choose slow moving water habitats.

You can spot some of them in gravel pits, shallow wetlands, and even sewage treatment lagoons.

While they spend time mostly in water, they need a terrestrial habitat that’s fit for nesting.

You can see them basking in groups over fallen trees, rocks, and aquatic vegetation.

They usually hibernate outside the water during winter. These pond turtles burrow in the mud during the cold and winter season.

Western pond turtles also need a safe terrestrial habitat. They spend so many months out of the water to nest and overwinter.

They choose a terrestrial habitat that provides a lot of hiding spots to keep them safe from floods, predators, and extreme temperatures.

What does the Western pond turtle eat?

In the wild, Western pond turtles feed on what’s generally available in the area.

It’s not unusual to see their opened jaws on the surface of the water. This method of filter feeding allows them to capture particulate food matters in the water.

Their diet includes algae and other aquatic plants. They eat crayfish, snails, insects, and spiders. They will heartily have the flesh of dead fish and frogs.

Males choose larger food items and eat more insects than female ones. Females, on the other hand, eat a lot of algae.

If you have a pet Western pond turtle, feed your juveniles small insects. Offer a bigger-sized turtle food as they grow bigger.

How long does the Western pond turtle live?

Western pond turtles can live for a long time. The average length is 50 years.

The longest recorded lifespan is 80 years in captivity.

How many eggs does the Western pond turtle lay?

There isn’t a lot of information about how these turtles reproduce. In California, females are sexually mature at 6 years or when they get to 11 centimeters in size.  But in other populations, females take around 10 years before they reproduce.

The mating season occurs from April to June and sometime in late August. Nesting season is at its peak from the end of May to early July.

Females can nest near streams or ponds, but they can also lay eggs far away from the water.

Female Western pond turtles seem to choose nesting places that catch a lot of sun.

The clutch size is small, from 1 to 2. Others lay eggs every other year. A typical clutch is around two to eleven eggs.

What predators does the Western pond turtle have?

Hatchlings are easy prey to land predators. Their survival rate is from 8 to 12%.

As they get bigger, they get higher chances of survival. Adults have a recorded survival rate of 45%.

There are many known predators of the species. Some are coyotes, raccoons, domestic dogs, foxes, and black bears. Other predators are river otters, bullfrogs, ravens, crows, and kingsnakes.

Is it legal to have the Western pond turtle as a pet?

This turtle is protected in some regions, so check with your local state before attempting to acquire this turtle in the wild or from a pet shop.

This video below from Oregon Zoo introduces you to Western pond turtles and gives good information on their conservation.


The Western pond turtle is an interesting pet choice. Pet owners who love dressing up their tanks will certainly enjoy setting up a tank for this turtle.

Since it is fond of staying out of the water for long periods of time, make sure to give it sufficient ground for exploring, basking, and burrowing.

Since they are an at risk species, you should only get one if it is coming from a captive bred breeder. Please do not take any turtles from the wild or sellers who sell wild caught turtles.

These turtles love solitude and may become aggressive to other turtles. So it may not do to introduce another buddy in its tank.

References: IUCN, Oakland Zoo

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