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.
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.