Western Painted Turtle

Chrysemys picta belli

Species at Risk: Sensitive


Western Painted Turtles are the largest sub-species of Painted Turtles, with carapace lengths of about 251 mm. They are described as having a long, smooth, unkeeled carapace (top shell). They are generally black, brown or olive, with the front edge of the shield bordered with yellow, orange or red. The plastron (lower shell) is usually marked with red with a large central figure, which has branches extending along the furrows between the scutes (sections of the shell). They also have red and yellow patterns on their limbs.

Their diet consists of aquatic plants, insects, spiders, earthworms, mollusks, crayfish, fish and amphibians. Feeding starts in the spring when water temperatures reach about 15-18 C.

In Canada, mating season is late May-August. Like the familiar red eared slider, the females are generally larger than the males. A female painted turtle may lay her eggs 150 m or more from water, and can lay up to 23 eggs. Incubation averages about 76 days. As with many reptile species, the sex-ratio of the offspring is determined by the temperature of the nest site. With incubation temperatures over 29 C, all females will be produced, and with incubation temperatures under 27 C, mostly males will be produced. New baby turtles over-winter in the nest and emerge in the spring.


The painted turtle is the only turtle species native to Alberta. In Canada, their range extends from Lake Nipigon in Ontario, to Vancouver Island. In Alberta, hey are found in a few locations in Southern Alberta, in the Milk River drainage basin, Cypress Hills, the upper Oldman River. Recently (2005), a new population was discovered in the Waterton Lakes National Park. One population reported near Edmonton was thought to be the result of the release of captive individuals.

They are a fresh-water aquatic species, hanging out in ponds, marshes, lakes, ditches and slow-moving streams with soft, sandy or muddy bottoms. During the winter, these turtles hibernate buried in the mud where they will not freeze, and breathe through their skin!


Threats to the Western Painted Turtle include habitat loss due to drainage of wetlands, road construction (habitat loss and increased road mortalities), increased predation during drought years, climate change, water pollution, expanding raccoon populations, and release of captive exotic turtles (such as Red Eared Sliders), which compete for resources, and introduce new parasites and diseases into the population.

Remember, it is illegal to keep painted turtles as pets in Alberta. We especially discourage keeping wild-collected individuals. Wild turtle populations are already under stress, and do not need the added pressures of being captured for the pet trade. Depending on climatic conditions, it takes up to 10 years for a painted turtle to reach maturity, and given the low number of offspring they produce, each individual is important in a wild population!

Peterson Field Guides: Western Reptiles and Amphibians (3rd ed) by Robert C Stebbins.
Alberta Conservancy Association “Reptiles of Alberta”
COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Western Painted Turtle in Canada, 2006.

Photo by Alyssa Metro