Painted Turtle Care Sheet (A Beginner’s Care Guide)

The Painted Turtle is a very hardy species. They require similar care to that of the famous red-eared slider, yet, they grow at a much smaller decent size (depending on gender and subspecies). They are distributed all around North America, into Canada and Mexico.

The Western Painted Turtle is found in British Columbia south to Missouri, northern Oklahoma, eastern Colorado, Idaho, and northern Oregon. The Eastern Painted Turtle is found southeast of Canada to New England, Georgia, and Alabama. Midland’s range from central US to Quebec, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia. Finally Southern Painted’s range from Illinois, Missouri, down the Mississippi River, and into Alabama and Louisiana

Painted Turtle Appearance

One of the defining features of the painted turtle is its hard shell, known as the carapace. Unlike the smooth shells of some turtle species, the painted turtle’s carapace exhibits an intricate pattern of vibrant colors that makes each individual uniquely identifiable. The shell’s top ridge, or keel, tends to be slightly raised, giving it a distinct, sculpted appearance.

In terms of color, the carapace is typically a dark shade, such as black or olive green. However, it is edged and streaked with red, orange, or yellow, similar to how an artist would have delicately painted it – hence, their name “painted” turtles. This bright coloration is not just for show; it plays an important role in their camouflage mechanism, helping them blend in with their aquatic environments.

Underbelly and Skin Tone

Turn a painted turtle over and you will find its plastron, or belly, sporting hues of red, yellow, and occasionally pink with complex, symmetrical patterns. Contrasting with the carapace, the plastron presents a lighter tone. This dramatic contrast adds to the painted turtle’s striking appearance and aids in the identification of the species.

Their skin, matching the top shell, is generally dark, mostly black or brown. However, it is adorned with streaks and spots of red, orange, or yellow. These streaks extend even to their legs and tail, maintaining the consistency of their vibrant appearance.

Head and Limbs

A painted turtle’s head stands out with a greenish-yellow hue, decorated with vibrant red or yellow stripes. The intensity of these stripes often varies from one individual to another, rendering each painted turtle unique. Their eyes, encircled by a yellow or red ring, are a captivating feature, adding to their overall allure.

The painted turtle’s limbs are muscular and well-adapted to their aquatic lifestyle. Their webbed feet are equipped with claws, aiding them in swimming and digging.

Here’s a summarized table to visually breakdown the painted turtle’s unique features:

Body PartDescription
Carapace (Shell)Dark (black or olive green) with edges and streaks of red, orange, or yellow
Plastron (Underbelly)Lighter tone with hues of red, yellow, or pink
SkinDark with streaks and spots of red, orange, or yellow
HeadGreenish-yellow with red or yellow stripes
EyesEncircled by a yellow or red ring
LimbsMuscular with webbed feet equipped with claws

Painted Turtle Size

Painted turtles, like most creatures, don’t achieve their full size overnight. They go through a series of growth spurts in their journey from adorable hatchlings to fully grown turtles. Based on my extensive knowledge and hands-on experience with these creatures, I’ve noticed that most painted turtles reach their full size by the time they’re around five years old. However, remember, every turtle grows at its own pace.

Determining the Size of Painted Turtles

Here is the key information: Painted turtles typically fall within the 4 to 10 inches range when they’re fully grown. However, there’s a slight variance in size based on the gender of the turtle:

GenderAverage Size
Males5 to 6 inches
Females6 to 10 inches

The painted turtle species display a clear sexual dimorphism, with females outgrowing their male counterparts, reaching up to 10 inches in shell length. Males, on the other hand, generally tend to stay within the 5 to 6 inches range.

Painted Turtle Lifespan

The lifespan of a Painted Turtle varies considerably between wild and captive environments. In the wild, Painted Turtles are exposed to a variety of threats such as predators, environmental factors, and diseases, limiting their lifespan to approximately 20-30 years.

In contrast, under the controlled conditions of captivity and with the provision of comprehensive care, Painted Turtles can easily exceed this natural lifespan, reaching an impressive age of 40 to 50 years or even longer.

Do Painted Turtles Make Good Pets?


Painted turtles can indeed make great pets for the right owner. However, like all pets, they come with their unique set of pros and cons. Here’s what you need to know before deciding to bring one of these delightful creatures home.

The Upside to Owning Painted Turtles

1. Low Maintenance

First and foremost, painted turtles are low-maintenance pets compared to their furry counterparts. They don’t require daily walks or constant attention, making them an excellent choice for busy individuals or families.

2. Long Lifespan

Painted turtles have a long lifespan. With proper care, these hardy creatures can live up to 25-30 years, providing decades of companionship.

3. Easy Diet

Their diet is relatively easy to manage. A balanced mix of commercially available turtle pellets, vegetables, and occasional protein from insects or fish makes a nutritious meal.

4. Educational Experience

They can be a great educational experience for children, teaching them about reptile biology, habitat, and the responsibility of pet ownership.

5. Fun to Watch

Lastly, painted turtles are simply fun to watch. Their colorful shells and active nature can bring a lot of life to your home or backyard pond.

The Downsides to Owning Painted Turtles

1. Special Habitat Needs

The biggest challenge in painted turtle care lies in their habitat requirements. They need a combination of water for swimming, a basking area under a heat lamp, and UVB lighting. You’ll also need to ensure water cleanliness, which means investing in a good filter and doing periodic water changes.

2. Risk of Salmonella

Turtles, like many reptiles, can carry Salmonella bacteria, which can be transmitted to humans through handling or contaminated surfaces. It’s critical to follow hygiene practices when handling your turtle or cleaning its habitat.

3. Long-Term Commitment

Their long lifespan can be a double-edged sword. Owning a painted turtle is a long-term commitment, considering they can live up to three decades.

4. Not Cuddly Pets

If you’re looking for a pet to cuddle or interact with, a painted turtle might not be the best choice. They are not typically affectionate and don’t enjoy being handled often.

5. Environmental Impact

Lastly, it’s essential to source your painted turtle responsibly. Buying a turtle captured from the wild can contribute to declining wild populations. Always choose to adopt or purchase from a reputable breeder.

Painted Turtles Habitat


Understanding the habitat requirements of Painted Turtles is vital for their proper care and survival. Drawing upon my extensive experience and knowledge in reptile care, let’s delve into the core factors that create an ideal home for these vividly colored creatures.

Appropriate Aquarium Size

A fundamental rule you must remember is: bigger is better. Painted turtles are active swimmers and enjoy ample space. A minimum of 40-gallon tank size is recommended for a single adult turtle, and for every additional turtle, increase the tank size by 20 gallons.

Water Quality

Turtles are sensitive to water conditions. Clean, well-filtered water is a necessity for painted turtles to avoid health issues. Invest in a high-quality filtration system that can handle the load of turtle waste. Regularly monitor and maintain the water pH levels (between 6 to 8 is ideal).

Basking Area

Basking areas are integral to painted turtles’ habitats. These reptiles need a place to dry off and absorb heat. The basking area should be large enough for the turtle to completely come out of the water. Under-tank heaters, ceramic heat lamps, or mercury vapor bulbs can serve to provide the essential heat.


Painted turtles require two types of lighting: UVA and UVB. UVA light stimulates appetite, activity, and reproductive behavior. On the other hand, UVB light aids in the synthesis of vitamin D3, which is essential for calcium absorption and healthy shell growth.

Light TypePurpose
UVAStimulates appetite, activity, and reproductive behavior
UVBAids in the synthesis of vitamin D3


The substrate is the material that lines the bottom of your tank. While some opt for the aesthetics of pebbles or gravel, bare-bottom tanks are the safest choice for painted turtles. This removes the risk of accidental ingestion of substrate material, which can lead to dangerous impaction.

Decorations and Plants

Add natural or artificial plants and hideaways for the turtles to explore and hide, replicating their natural environment. But be cautious not to overcrowd the tank, as this can restrict their swimming area.

Temperature Regulation

Maintaining proper temperature gradients in your turtle’s habitat is crucial. The water temperature should hover around 75-78°F, while the basking area should reach temperatures of 85-90°F. Use a high-quality thermometer to keep track of these temperatures.

Painted Turtles Diet

Painted turtles are omnivores, meaning they eat both plant and animal matter. In their natural habitat, they have access to a diverse array of foods. Therefore, it is crucial that you replicate this diversity in their captive diet. Do not limit their diet to only one or two types of food.

Animal-Based Foods

Young painted turtles lean more towards the carnivorous side. Hence, their diet should contain about 70-80% animal-based food. Here are some excellent choices:

  1. Mealworms
  2. Waxworms
  3. Earthworms
  4. Small fish (like guppies and goldfish)
  5. Cooked chicken or turkey (sparingly)

Plant-Based Foods

As painted turtles age, their diet should gradually include more plant matter, up to 70-80% of their diet in adulthood. The following make for great options:

  1. Leafy greens (like collard greens, kale, and spinach)
  2. Shredded vegetables (such as carrots and bell peppers)
  3. Aquatic plants (like anacharis and duckweed)

Note: Avoid feeding iceberg lettuce as it is low in nutritional value.

Feeding Frequency and Portion Size

It’s crucial to feed your painted turtle the correct amount. Overfeeding can lead to obesity and health problems.

  • Baby painted turtles should be fed daily.
  • Adult painted turtles should be fed every 2-3 days.

A good rule of thumb is to feed an amount that is roughly the size of the turtle’s head and neck.

Feeding Chart

To make it easier for you, here’s a handy feeding chart summarizing the dietary balance for painted turtles at different life stages.

Life StageAnimal-based FoodsPlant-based Foods

Avoid Feeding

Painted turtles should never be fed:

  • Processed human food: This includes bread, meat, or sweets.
  • Large prey: Animals like mice and rats are not a suitable diet for painted turtles.
  • Dairy products: Turtles are lactose intolerant.

Vitamins and Minerals

Painted turtles require extra vitamins and minerals for their shell and overall health. Calcium and vitamin D3 supplements can be added to their diet. I strongly recommend a good reptile multivitamin, used according to the instructions.

Access to Clean Water

Lastly, painted turtles require access to clean, fresh water at all times. Not only do they drink this water, but they also live and hunt in it.

Painted Turtles Cost

Acquiring a painted turtle as a pet isn’t just about the cost of the turtle itself. The overall cost goes beyond that initial payment. To give you an in-depth understanding, we’ll break down the costs associated with painted turtles into three categories:

  1. Initial Costs
  2. Habitat Setup
  3. Ongoing Costs

1. Initial Costs

The cost of a painted turtle can range from $20 to $40. This price varies based on factors such as the turtle’s age, size, and health status. I can assertively claim, from my extensive research and firsthand experiences, that hatchlings are usually cheaper, while healthy adult turtles tend to be on the more expensive end of the range.

It’s important to buy your turtle from a reputable breeder or pet store to ensure it’s healthy and has been properly cared for. A turtle with health issues can lead to significant veterinary costs down the line, not to mention the emotional toll of caring for a sick pet.

2. Habitat Setup

Setting up an appropriate habitat for your painted turtle is a crucial investment. It is not a place to cut corners. As an authority in turtle care, I can assure you that a well-set habitat significantly impacts your turtle’s health and longevity.

Here’s a breakdown of the necessary equipment and their approximate costs:

EquipmentCost Range
Basking Area$20-$50
UVB Light$20-$50
Heat Lamp$20-$40
Water Heater$15-$30

Please note, the cost ranges presented here are approximations and the actual cost will vary based on the brand, size, and where you purchase the equipment from.

3. Ongoing Costs

Finally, painted turtles require ongoing care which includes feeding, tank maintenance, and potential vet costs.

Typically, you should budget around $10-$20 per month for food, which includes a variety of commercial turtle food, leafy greens, and occasional treats like mealworms or crickets.

For tank maintenance, you’ll need to replace the UVB bulb approximately every six months, which can cost between $20 and $50 per bulb. Filters also require periodic maintenance, such as replacement cartridges, which can add up to around $20-$30 per year.

Lastly, always budget for potential vet costs. Turtles can live for many years and like any pet, they can have health issues. A regular checkup with a vet experienced with reptiles can cost $50-$100.

Common Health Issues in Painted Turtles

As an experienced turtle enthusiast, it’s crucial to assert that Painted Turtles, while hardy and generally healthy, can also experience a range of health issues. It’s essential to identify these potential problems early, and take the necessary steps to treat them.

1. Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections are a frequent issue for painted turtles, typically manifesting as wheezing, gasping for air, or a runny nose. Often caused by improper temperature or humidity levels in the habitat, these infections can rapidly escalate if not addressed swiftly.

Treatment: Consult a vet experienced in reptile care, who may prescribe antibiotics. Ensure the habitat conditions—especially temperature and humidity—are appropriate to prevent recurrence.

2. Shell Rot

Shell rot, an unfortunate yet common aility, often manifests as discolored, soft, or smelly areas on the shell. This condition is frequently a consequence of a persistently dirty environment and can lead to serious health complications if untreated.

Treatment: A professional reptile vet should inspect the shell, and a thorough cleaning or antibiotics may be necessary. Regularly clean your turtle’s habitat to avoid a reoccurrence of the issue.

3. Metabolic Bone Disease

Painted turtles need sufficient UVB light and calcium to maintain their bone and shell health. In its absence, they can develop Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD), marked by a soft shell and skeletal deformities.

Treatment: Consult a reptile vet promptly. Increase your turtle’s exposure to UVB light and ensure an adequate dietary intake of calcium.

4. Vitamin A Deficiency

Vitamin A deficiency can result in eye swelling and a lack of appetite. It is typically caused by a diet that lacks the necessary nutrients.

Treatment: A reptile vet will typically administer a Vitamin A injection, and you should ensure a nutritious diet for your turtle moving forward.


Filled under: Turtles and Tortoises

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