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Reptiles of Washington

Painted turtle
(Chrysemys picta)


What they look like

  • Painted turtles are medium-sized turtles with a shell length of 4 to 10 inches.
  • Females tend to be larger than males, but males have longer foreclaws and longer thicker tails than females do.
  • As suggested by their name, painted turtles are ornately colored throughout their body; they have black to olive skin with red and yellow stripes.
  • Their lower shells are mostly yellow with varying shapes and sizes of other colors, like red, black, and/or reddish-brown. They have smooth, flattened, and oval upper shells ranging from green to black.

Where they live

  • Can be found throughout the entire United States and are the most widely distributed North American turtle.
  • Spend most of their time either basking during the day or sleeping on pond bottoms during the night.
  • Most often live in slow-moving shallow waters of ponds, marshes, creeks, and lakes with soft muddy vegetative bottoms and suitable basking sites.

What they eat

  • Younger painted turtles feed on a wide range of small animals, including crayfish, tadpoles, snails, slugs, insects, small fish, and dead animals.
  • Older painted turtles tend to feed more so on aquatic plants.


  • Sometime between late May to mid-July, females dig a flask-shaped nest near water in slightly moist or sandy soil at sunny spots.
  • Around 2 to 20 eggs are laid and, after around 76 days, the young hatch out of their eggs using a small egg tooth atop their beaks.
  • Young are born with more vibrant markings than adults.


Cool Biology Facts

  • When young painted turtles are captured by largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), they can oftentimes thrash and claw inside its mouth to the point of being released by the fish. 
  • As many as 50 painted turtles have been seen basking on a single log!


Dan Dzurisin, Creative Commons

Distribution Map


Painted turtle populations are healthy and common in Washington State. One of their main threats is vehicle collisions, especially females when they move to and from nesting sites.