Southern Painted Turtle

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Species group:

Other common names: Painted Turtle

Scientific name: Chrysemys picta dorsalis

The basics:
Found abundantly southern Illinois to Alabama in the U. S., the Southern Painted Turtle has adapted to life in shallow slow moving waters in most any climate. They are a communal species preferring to bask with dozens of their friends. They are a common and well studied species. There is a lot of good information available on their natural habitat, behavior, and diet that owners can use to help them provide optimal care for their pet Southern Painted Turtle.

Appearance / health:
The smooth, flat, and muddy olive colored shell and skin of the Painted Turtle allows them to camouflage well with their preferred habitat. They earned their common name from the beautiful red and yellow markings found mostly on their skin. They have red patterns and stripes that stand out on the legs, tail, neck, and inside the shell. Their head has bright yellow stripes.

Identifying which subspecies you have can be done by closely inspecting the upper and lower shells. Although they regularly crossbreed where their populations mix which can make identification down to the subspecies level not possible. These mixes will have some combination of their parents’ markings.

Southern Painted Turtle (C. p. dorsalis): At only 5 - 6 inches this is the smallest of the subspecies. They have a red, yellow, or orange stripe running down the middle of the carapace and a solid colored plastron.


AVERAGE ADULT SIZE: 5 - 6 inches

If you have the subspecies Western Painted Turtle (C. p. bellii) go here to rate your turtle: Western Painted Turtle

If you have the subspecies Midland Painted Turtle (C. p. marginata) go here to rate your turtle: Midland Painted Turtle

If you have the subspecies Eastern Painted Turtle (C. p. picta) go here to rate your turtle: Eastern Painted Turtle

Behavior / temperament:
The Southern Painted Turtle delight their owners with their individual personalities and playfulness. They are social and enjoy basking with others. They sleep under water.

The Southern Painted Turtle is easy to house outdoors as they can thrive in most any climate. Since they need to have their temperatures adjusted seasonal, by housing them in an outdoor pond you can let nature take care of your turtles for you. An outdoor pond will need an highly efficient filtration system and regular water changes. The turtles will enjoy a pond that is designed to mimic their natural habitat with slow moving water, gravel or sandy bottom, mud, and natural plantings. They will also like rocks and logs to bask on, often their first task in the morning.

LIFESPAN: 20 – 40 years

TEMPERATURE/HUMIDITY: They can survive at most any temperature or humidity. They will only eat at temperatures above 59° F.

HIBERNATION / ESTIVATION: They hibernate through the winter by burrowing into mud.

HEALTH CONCERNS: Southern Painted Turtles can carry salmonella and internal parasites. The most common illnesses of pet turtles are due to poor care and nutrition. As a result they can suffer from Metabolic Bone Disorder (improper calcium/phosphorous amounts), Gout, and Pyramiding. Pyramiding is the overgrowth of the shell from too much protein in the diet. They can also suffer from respiratory illnesses; symptoms will include runny eyes and nose, and swimming erratically or floating lopsided.

Young Southern Painted Turtles are mostly carnivorous. As adults they move to an omnivore diet, eating whatever they find in their freshwater habitat. This includes plants, fish, insects, and frogs. While the young can be fed a diet high in protein, adult pet Painteds need a more varied diet. They can be fed commercial pellet food, feeder fish, mealworms, crickets, and a variety of veggies. A reptile vitamin should be sprinkled on their food twice a week. They must be fed in water; the structure of their tongue prevents them from being able to eat on land.

The males are mature at 3-5 years of age and females at 6-10 years. They breed before they hibernate and lay their eggs after hibernation. The eggs are laid in mud with lots of sunlight.


hardiness, reddish orange stripe, good pets, red neck, smaller turtle


bacteria, sharp little claws, child


Water quality, big baskers, fresh fruits, heat lamp, fresh plant life

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