Eastern Painted Turtle
Chrysemys picta picta

Common Name:

Eastern Painted Turtle

Scientific Name:

Chrysemys picta picta



Chrysemys is derived from the Greek words chrysos meaning "gold" and  emys which means  "freshwater tortoise".


picta is derived from the Latin word pictus which means "painted".


picta is derived from the Latin word pictus which means "painted".

Average Length:

4.5 - 6 in. (11.5 - 15.2 cm)

Virginia Record Length:

7 in. (17.9 cm)

Record length:

7.2 in. (18.2 cm)

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: This species is small (10-25 cm), maximum body mass 600 grams, with red markings on the marginals and a notched upper jaw. The carapace is smooth, oval flattened, and keelless, with the highest and widest points at the center, posterior margin without serration. The carapace is olive to black with yellow or red borders along the seams and red bars or crescents on the marginals; 12/12 marginals, 4/4 pleurals, and 5 vertebral scutes, most variation is in additional or divided vertebrals. Transverse seams of vertebral and pleural scutes aligned or nearly so and seams bordered by band of yellow to yellow-orange 1-5 mm wide to form 2-3 narrow crossbands, the anteriormost one being the widest. Marginals have very little markings on top but they are brightly patterned with red circles on the plastral side. Plastron usually has no pattern but some individuals have dark figures of highly variable design and size bordering the midline. It is yellowish, hingeless, and is 89-96% of carapace length. Skin is black to olive and the neck, legs and tail are striped with red and yellow. The head is striped with yellow and a yellow line extends rearward from below the eye and may meet a similar line from the lower jaw. There is a yellow streak on each side of the head behind the eyes. The chin is marked with 2 wide yellow lines which meet at the tip of the jaw and enclose a narrow yellow stripe *2988,10760*.

SEXUAL DIMORPHISM: Adult males have elongated foreclaws and flattened shells. Females are bigger in all shell dimensions. The shell of mature females is slightly domed posteriorly and they lack elongated foreclaws *10760*.

JUVENILES: They look like adults but carapace is more round during first two years. Hatchlings are 18.3-29.2 mm carapace length, 17.3-26.4 mm plastron length and weigh 2.6-5.8 grams *10760*. Confusing species: They can be confused with Pseudemys rubriventris and P. concinna but these turtles lack the 2 yellow spots on the head, and are usually much larger, and have high domed shells compared to painted turtles. Trachemys scripta scripta have a serrated posterior margin of the carapace and an elongated yellow bar on the side of the head. T.s. elegans has an elongated, reddish patch behind the eye. Deirochelys reticularia has a high domed carapace and a very long head and neck *10760*.

GEOGRAPHIC VARIATION: Considerable variation exists throughout Virginia populations of C.p. picta, the eastern painted turtle. The alignment of the seams on the pleural and vertebral scutes, and presence of the specific figure on the plastron of C.p. marginata, the midland painted turtle. Populations in the upper James River drainage in Bath and Highland may be intergrades between the two subspecies. The olive color of these turtles is considerably lighter than elsewhere in Va. and there is great variation among individuals. Some painteds in dark blackwater or cypress swamps have nearly black carapaces with bright yellow plastrons *10760,11624*.

REPRODUCTION: Mating occurs from March to June. They have 1-2 clutches of 3-9 eggs per year. Nesting usually occurs between May and July. In the lab incubation time was between 62-76 days but in the wild hatchlings may overwinter in the nest *10760*. The eggs are elliptical in shape with average dimension of 1.3 by 0.905 inches *1027*. The shell is white and thin *1007*. The male is sexually mature at 4 years, and the females are sexually mature at 5 years *2988*. The male chooses a female and by swimming rapidly overtakes her. When well in front, the male turns to face her and continues to swim, now backwards, extending his forelimbs, with palms outward, he rapidly caresses her chin and side of head with the back of his long claws. This continues over and over again until copulation occurs *1007*.

BEHAVIOR: They season of activity lasts from March through October. Hibernation occurs in the water wedged under logs or stumps or in beaver or muskrat lodges. They rarely move on land except adults during the nesting season. Juveniles show to move the least often, and when they do, the distance has proved to be the shortest, or to the closest pond. Due to the small size of juveniles, terrestrial movement would be highly risky. A study at Blandy Experimental Farm, in Clarke County, showed that adult males moved between ponds more than any other class of age or sex. Such interpond movement is hypothesized to be a response of habitat and reproductive quality. Most movement seemed to coincide with lowering water levels at the pond from which the animal left. They are frequent baskers and are often seen piled on logs or other partly submerged object. Aggressive behavior has been observed during basking sessions; mainly pushing and biting. Males are more frequently active early and late in the activity seasons while females expend much of there energy during nesting *10760,2988,11624,12107*.

ORIGIN: This species is native *10760*.

POPULATION PARAMETERS: The sex ratio is 1:1 *2988*. One Henrico population had 517+/-17 individuals in the population. Adults had a 94-96% chance of survival from one year to the next while juveniles only had a 46% chance. They have been known to live over 30 years *10760*.

AQUATIC/TERRESTRIAL ASSOCIATIONS: Predators of adults are raccoons and predators of juveniles include mink, muskrats, crows, black racers, larger turtles, bullfrogs and large fish. Predators of eggs include gray squirrel, skunks, foxes, raccons, garter snakes and man *2988,11624*. Automobiles and pesticides are causes of mortality for adults *2988*. They are found anywhere there is freshwater but they perfer a site with a soft substrate, aquatic vegetation and several basking sites *10760*.

References for Life History

  • 1007 - Babcock, H.L., 1971, Turtles of the Northeastern United States, 105 pgs., Dover Publ., New York, NY
  • 1027 - Carr, A.F., 1952, Handbook of Turtles. Turtles of the United States, Canada, and Baja California, 542 pgs., Comstock Publ. Assoc., Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, NY
  • 1038 - Pope, C.H., 1939, Turtles of the United States and Canada, 343 pgs., Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, NY
  • 2988 - Ernst, C.H., R.W. Barbour, 1972, Turtles of the United States, 347 pgs., Univ. Press of Kentucky, Lexington
  • 10760 - Mitchell, J. C., 1994, The Reptiles of Virginia, 352 pgs., Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC
  • 11624 - Mitchell, J. C., 2001, Personal Communication, Expert review for GAP Analysis Project, Mitchell Ecological Research LLC
  • 12107 - Bowne, D. R., 2003, Interpond movement patterns of Chrysemys picta picta (eastern painted turtles) in Virginia. Linnaeus Fund Research Report, Chelonian Conservation and Biology, Vol. 4, Num. 3, pg. 739-741, Chelonian Research Foundation

Identification Characteristics:


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Verified County/City Occurrence

Accomack County
Albemarle County
Alexandria City
Alleghany County
Amelia County
Amherst County
Appomattox County
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Augusta County
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Campbell County
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Essex County
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Henrico County
Henry County
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Verified in 93 Counties/Cities.


Virginia is home to 28 species of frogs and toads.


We have a large diversity of salamanders consisting of 56 different species and subspecies.


Virginia is home to 9 native lizard species and two introduced species, the Mediterranean Gecko and the Italian Wall Lizard.


The Commonwealth is home to 34 species and subspecies of snake. Only 3 species are venomous.


Virginia has 25 species and subspecies of turtle. Five of these species are sea turtle.