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Western Painted Turtle

Western painted turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii)

The Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii) is one of only two turtles that are native to the Pacific Northwest (the other is the Western Pond Turtle).

Since we don’t have very many turtles in our region, it is a real pleasure to see one in the wild. And it’s even more of a pleasure to see 10 Western Painted Turtles, of various sizes, all sunning themselves on a log at the Smith and Bybee Lakes Wetlands Natural Area in Portland. That’s where I recently had my first encounter with this species.

Western Painted Turtles are found in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, the Columbia River Gorge, eastern Washington, and southern British Columbia. They may have been introduced by humans to other areas.

Western Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta bellii)

Red coloration on the plastron (the underside of the shell) is one distinguishing trait of this turtle. Another feature that sets the Painted Turtle apart from the Western Pond Turtle is the colorful longitudinal striping along its head and neck.

If you see a turtle that looks like a Western Painted Turtle, but has a yellow plastron and a bright red mark behind each eye, you are looking at a Red-eared Slider. This species is not native to the Pacific Northwest. It is a very common terrarium pet and many have been released into habitats where they never existed previously.

Western Painted Turtles live in cattail ponds and shallow lakes with muddy bottoms and a lot of aquatic vegetation. Adults eat these plants, along with some animal prey, such as insects, crayfish, and tadpoles. Young turtles are more carnivorous.

Turtles bask in the Sun to warm up, so that they can actively search for food in cold water. Good basking spots are sometimes hard to come by, so turtles can be agressive towards each other when defending their spot in the Sun.

In winter, Western Painted Turtles bury themselves at the bottom of a pond or lake, or in the woods. There they hibernate until warmth returns in spring.

A male painted turtle courts a female by swimming backwards in front of her and vibrating his long claws on her cheeks. Mating occurs in both spring and autumn. When she is ready, the female buries up to 20 eggs on land. This is usually in June or July. Raccoons and skunks may dig up turtles nests to eat the eggs.

Hatchlings scramble toward the water, doing their best to evade predators, such as the aforementioned mammals as well as bullfrogs and birds.

Western Painted Turtles may live up to 40 years.

Smith Lake in Portland, OR

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19 comments… add one

  • jill i July 3, 2012, 2:36 PM

    I always learn something when I come to your blog! Thanks! BTW I see turtles regularly sunning themselves in a couple wetlands near my home in Seattle. think they are western painted but I will look more closely next time.

    • Ivan Phillipsen August 2, 2012, 7:01 PM

      Thanks, Jill! I hope you are able to identify your local turtles and I hope they are one of our native species.

  • scott July 13, 2012, 9:53 PM

    I just saw one of these guys while floating the santiam river in OR with them being so rare around here it was a real pleasure to see him even if it was only for a short while.

    • Ivan Phillipsen August 2, 2012, 7:00 PM

      I think it would be very cool to see a native turtle while floating on a river. Thanks for the comment, Scott.

  • Ginger July 30, 2012, 8:42 AM

    I found one in my GARAGE this morning!!! I live in Monroe, WA.

    • Ivan Phillipsen August 2, 2012, 6:58 PM

      Wow, Ginger. I hope the turtle found its way back to its natural habitat.

  • kristi August 23, 2012, 7:45 AM

    We live in Spokane and found one on our street last night. Since we’re in the middle of the city and not close to water, I’m wondering if it was someone’s pet that was abandoned or escaped-a wild turtle around here wouldn’t seem likely. It appears to have some healing bite marks on the top of its head, too-maybe from a neighborhood dog. Not too sure what to do with it…

    • Ivan Phillipsen August 23, 2012, 7:56 AM

      Hi Kristi,

      Hmmm… that is puzzling, isn’t it? It does sound like the turtle is an escaped pet.

      Is there any sort of wildlife rehabilitation center in Spokane? Otherwise, I’m not sure what to suggest. I don’t recommend releasing the turtle into a natural habitat because you don’t know where it came from originally and it may be diseased.

      Perhaps you could keep it as a pet? In any case, thanks for the comment and good luck!

    • nora nicolaysen October 17, 2012, 9:29 PM

      That is the night my turtle ran away! he has been very tame for 3 years. I have a hundred dollar reward for him. Please call me even if you put him in a pond he has identifying marks. (509) 370-1770 please call

    • nora nicolaysen October 17, 2012, 9:32 PM

      if you found my turtle he is very tame and his name is floyd. I will gladly give 100 dollars if you find him and call me we miss him! nora (509) 370-1770

  • kristi August 23, 2012, 8:35 AM

    Thanks! I’ll see if I can find a local resource. I’m not opposed to adopting him if he can’t be released, just need to do lots of research and figure out how to care for him, I guess (I have NO clue).

  • nora nicolaysen October 17, 2012, 9:35 PM

    I have seen a couple comments about finding northwest turtles in spokane. I have been checking craigslist and all the local pet stores and spokanimal for weeks! if you even found my turtle and put him in a local pond i will give the reward. Nora (509) 370 1770 day or night!

  • nora nicolaysen October 17, 2012, 10:06 PM

    please anyone who has seen a painted turtle in spokane since august please Please call me at (509) 370 1770! or noranicolay @gmail.com. Reward! The tree frog and the cats will chip in their allowance! we miss him!

  • nora nicolaysen October 17, 2012, 10:27 PM

    if you have seen floyd he has a tiny chip in his shell and a bend at the end of his tail. reward if he comes home please call (509) 3701770

  • shannah April 14, 2013, 2:08 PM

    can you buy and keep painted turtle in oregon?

    • Ivan Phillipsen May 2, 2013, 4:24 PM

      Hi Shannah,

      Thanks for the question. No, as far as I know you cannot have a native painted turtle as a pet in Oregon. They are protected as a sensitive species by the state.

  • kim February 21, 2014, 9:50 AM

    Can you keep any aquatic turtles as pets in oregon? I was in washington and they sell them everywhere, but not so much here at home…..

  • Jamie Donley July 14, 2014, 10:18 AM

    I live in Moses Lake WA . Our community has had a natural park that Has ben given to a doctor named Dr. Dexter through squatters rights four years ago. he now plans on turning it into multiple houses. It’s on the lake and lots of painted turtles use this lot for their eggs. Do you have any Ideas to stop him from developing what use to be a natural environment for children to learn from and enjoy it’s natural beauty.

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