Species Identification


The following descriptions are from Conant (1975), Ernst & Barbour (1972), and Klemens (1993).


The painted turtle is a small turtle (10-26 cm) with a smooth, unkeeled, oval, and flattened carapace. The posterior margin of the carapace is unserrated, olive to black in color with yellow/red borders along the seams, and with red markings on the marginals. The bridge has no colorful markings. The unhinged plastron is yellow, often with a black or reddish-brown mark that varies in size and shape. The skin of the turtle is black. The neck, legs, and tail have red and yellow stripings. The head has yellow stripes. There is also a yellow stripe extending from below the eye towards the back of the head. The chin has two wide yellow stripes meeting at the tip of the jaw, with a narrow, yellow stripe in between.

(Photo from Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History website)


Females and males can be distinguished visually based on differences in overall size, length and size of tail, length of foreclaws, and position of their anal opening. Females 1) are larger than males; 2) have a thin, short tail and shorter foreclaws; and 3) have an anal opening that is located under the rear margin of the carapace. Males 1) are smaller than females; 2) have a thicker, longer tail and longer foreclaws; and 3) have an anal opening that is posterior to the rear margin of the carapace.

There are 4 subspecies of Chrysemys picta:

Distribution of Chrysemys picta in the United States

(From Ernst & Barbour 1972)









Only the eastern and midland painted turtle are found in Connecticut. In areas where the subspecies ranges overlap, there is hybridization between the species (Conant 1975). Refer to the map below for the distribution of painted turtles within Connecticut.

Distribution of painted turtles in Connecticut (From Klemens 1993)

Chrysemys picta picta:

Size: 4.5-6 inches.

Description: It is the only species where the large carapace scutes are arranged in straight rows across the back rather than in alternating fashion. It has two yellow spots on each side of the head, red and black shell margins, olive bands across the carapace, and a plain yellow plastron.

Eastern painted turtle

(Photo from Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History website)

Distribution: Nova Scotia to Alabama

Eastern painted turtle

(Photo from Nova Museum of Natural History website)


Chrysemys picta marginata:

Size: 4.5-5.5 inches.

Description: It has large alternating carapace scutes. Markings are similar to the eastern painted turtle, but it also has a dark, usually oval, mark on the plastron. This dark mark, unlike the western's, does not send out branches along the seams of the scutes.

Distribution: S. Quebec and S. Ontario to Tennessee


Midland painted turtle

From Ernst &Barbour 1972



Chrysemys picta dorsalis:

Size: 4-5 in.

Description: It has large alternating carapace scutes. Distinguishing marks include a broad red (but occasionally yellow) stripe running down the back and a plain yellow plastron (sometimes with 1-2 black dots).

Distribution: S. Illinois to the Gulf; W. Alabama to southeastern Oklahoma.


Southern painted turtle

From Ernst & Barbour 1972



Chrysemys picta bellii:

Size: 5-7 in.

Description: It has large alternating carapace scutes. The carapace has a network of fine lines. The marginals do not have much red. It has a large plastral mark with branches extending along the scute seams.

Distribution: S.W. Ontario and Missouri to the Pacific Northwest; some scattered populations in the Southwest.

Western painted turtle

(Photo from Happy Hollow Park & Zoo website)



Western painted turtle-plastral view

(Photo by Stan Levin-Tortuga Gazette website)


Conservation Status

Currently, there are no special protections in place for Chrysemys picta. The painted turtle is quite abundant in the state of Connecticut and in other areas of its natural range. The species has been able to maintain high densities because of its high reproductive rate and ability to survive and even flourish in areas that have been altered by humans. Natural and human-caused rates of mortality are low compared to its rate of reproduction. As Klemens (1993) notes, it is quite common to find painted turtles in polluted ponds because of the high levels of algae. While many natural water bodies have been destroyed, painted turtles have been found in impoundments, reservoirs, and artificial ponds.

(From the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory website)

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