General Description: Painted Turtles get their name from the vibrant markings of color along their head, neck, and shell. The smooth carapace is primarily olive to black in color and decorated with flashes of red or yellow atop the marginal scutes. Being of medium size, the carapace lengths range from 10–25 cm in females and 7–15 cm in males. Males are typically flatter and smaller than females, have thicker tails with cloacal openings farther from the edge of the shell, and have elongated claws on the forelimbs. The plastron is primarily yellow, but has a series of brownish-black markings that vary in shape and size on the plastron, and can have large amounts of red or orange coloring as well, though this may fade with age. Similarly, the skin of this turtle ranges from olive to black, with stripes of yellow trickling down the neck leg and tail. The Painted Turtle has yellow eyes with a horizontal dark bar through the pupil, yellow spots behind the eye on either side of the head, and two wide yellow stripes that start at the chin and extend to the tip of the notched upper jaw, forming a wishbone pattern.
Behavior: A diurnal species, the Painted Turtle typically spends the nights sleeping, and becomes active around sunrise. Like most South Dakota turtles, on sunny days this species basks on logs, rocks and other surfaces individually or in groups of similar or different species. Painted Turtles are omnivorous, and actively forage for a wide variety of food items, including plants, algae, aquatic insects, fish, and crustaceans.
Reproduction: Most of the breeding activity happens in early May to June, with eggs being laid in June to July. Clutch sizes range from 5–15 elongate eggs and are laid in sandy substrate, including the edge of a wetland or on the side of a dirt road. When these eggs hatch, typically in August, it takes four to six years to reach sexual maturity. In northern latitudes, juveniles may remain in the nest after hatching, feeding off energy reserves, and emerge the following spring.
Habitat: Painted Turtles occupy a wide variety of habitats including permanent and temporary bodies of waters, ranging from the rivers to wetlands such as the Missouri River and the Prairie Pothole Region. Typically, they occur in shallower habitats with little to no flow, where individuals can forage and seek refuge from potential predators.
Species Range: This species can be encountered across North America, reaching west into British Columbia, north into Nova Scotia, and throughout the eastern and midwestern United States, and some isolated populations occurring in the southwestern United States and Mexico.
South Dakota Range: The Painted Turtle is South Dakota’s most common turtle and can be found in nearly every permanent body of water throughout the state.
South Dakota Status: This species is not listed by South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks.
Account written by Jillian K. Farkas and Drew R. Davis