Painted Turtle

Common Name: Painted Turtle.

Scientific Name: Chrysemys Picta.

What to look for?  Official State Reptile of Illinois – but no state seal on its shell! Painted Turtles are medium-sized turtles. Their “carapace”, or top of their shells, is olive green to black. Their skin comes in the color of the shell. The “plastron”, or the bottom half of the shell, is generally yellow or red and has a dark colored center. The Painted Turtle has red and yellow stripes on the skin of neck, tail and legs. You will note that its face has a pair of black eyes bulging out of each side and a nose that snouts out. Unlike other turtles, the limbs of the Painted Turtle are webbed. It does not have outer ears. Instead, they have thin flaps of skin covering internal ear bones. The skin flaps allow vibrations and low-frequency sounds in the ear canal -- so the turtles can hear to some extent, but their hearing is not very good. They actually hear better underwater.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? Look near the shallow edges of Carillon Stonegate Pond. Painted Turtles are seen basking in the sun (this is not hypothetical; sun does shine here in Chicago area – sometimes!) on logs or rocks or some other available site.

How big are they? The Painted Turtle averages approximately five to seven inches in length. They weigh in at around 1 pound.

What are their skills? Swimming! Painted Turtles are strong swimmers. Aided by their webbed back legs, Painted Turtles swim fast in the water.

How else do they behave? Painted turtles can sleep underwater, buried in the sand or mud at the bottom of their habitat. They can breathe air and also absorb oxygen in water. The shell of a painted turtles, or “carapace”, is made up of 13 separate bone plates called “scutes”. When the turtle grows, it sheds the outermost layer of these scutes and grows new, larger plates underneath.

What’s for dinner? Painted Turtles are omnivorous. They eat fish, insects, plants, fruit, carrion, and almost anything else they find. They do not have teeth. Rather they have a hard beak that allows them to chew, although they prefer to swallow their food whole.

Where do they take up residence? Painted Turtles are found across much of the continental U.S. and into Canada. They live in permanent freshwater habitats such as ponds, lakes, marshes, sloughs, and creeks. They spend time in the soft bottoms of these bodies of water as well as in the aquatic vegetation and in sunny basking spots on or near the water.

When and where do they breed and nest? They mate in early spring (males are known to move between aquatic habitats, presumably looking for mates) with the females coming out of the water to nest during the day in May and June. They typically lay 2-8 eggs, sometimes a few more. The eggs hatch in late summer or early fall, but hatchlings usually remain in the nest until they emerge the following spring. Hatchlings are more carnivorous than adults and grow quickly, sometimes doubling in size in their first growing season. Hatchlings usually overwinter in nest.

Where do they migrate? They do not migrate, they hibernate. As described in a Shedd Aquarium blog, “So how do painted turtles survive Great Lakes winters, when the days commonly average in the 20s and 30s? They take the ultimate ‘polar plunge’. Painted turtles hunker down and hibernate underwater for the winter. They bury themselves in the mud, or in a muskrat burrow at the bottom of a shallow body of water (usually 1 to 7 feet deep). That’s right—air-breathing, “cold-blooded” animals bury themselves under near-freezing water for the winter. Hibernation can last from October to March, and luckily for painted turtles, millions of years of evolution have helped them to adapt for Great Lakes winters.”

Do they make any interesting sounds? Turtles have no vocal cords, but they can sometimes make hissing sounds.

Interesting Facts About Painted Turtles:

  • Painted turtles can swim underwater.

  • A group of turtles is called a 'a bale of turtles'.

  • Painted turtles don’t have teeth - they have horny plates, like rough sandpaper, on their jaws that helps them grip food.

  • They can hold their breath a long time - most painted turtles hibernate on the bottom of ponds and lakes, holding their breath all winter.

  • You can count the rings on a painted turtle to see its age, just like a tree. When the turtle grows, it sheds the outside layer of its “scutes” and grows new plates underneath. Count the rings on the “scutes” and you’ll know the age of the turtle.

  • A turtle is a boy or a girl based on its temperature during embryogenesis. Painted turtles are not male or female by genetics. Instead, their gender is determined by outside temperature while they are in their eggs. Colder temperatures produce males, while warmer temps —usually above 84 degrees — produce females. That means most eggs in a nest hatch as the same gender.

  • Painted turtles like the sun – they will come out of the water to spend time in the sun, called basking which helps rid them of parasitic leeches.

For more information on the Painted Turtle and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit Prairie Research Center, Warner Nature Center, Shedd Aquarium and the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, insects and plants. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.

 

Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!