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The Complete Western Painted Turtle Care Guide

One look at their ornate shell and skin patterns and you’ll see how the Western Painted Turtle gets its name. These turtles live all over North America, not just in the west. Their widespread habitat and beauty make them one of the most popular pet aquatic turtles in the hobby.

Painted Turtles will eat almost anything and are some of the longest lived pets you’ll ever own. So how do we care for these colorful reptiles?

What is the Western Painted Turtle?

Western Painted Turtle

Painted Turtles are the most widespread aquatic turtles in North America. They are found from Southern Canada, all the way to Northern Mexico. They also live on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the United States.

Painted Turtles get their name from their bright red and yellow lines running on their skin and shells. They are much brighter in color than other turtles, which tend to be mud brown, gray, or green. 

These bright tones make them a favorite of pet turtle enthusiasts. Since most aquatic turtles don’t enjoy being handled the Painted Turtle puts on a better show through sheer beauty.

The Algonquian Tribes of North America saw the Painted Turtle as a trickster in their lore. Painted Turtles are also a species that thrives in human-disturbed landscapes that other animals tend to avoid. 

Painted Turtles may even move into man made ponds and streams in golf courses, city parks, and suburban backyards. It’s common to find them sunning themselves a short distance from the shoreline, waiting for prey to wander past.

  • Common Names: Western/Eastern/Midland Painted Turtle, 
  • Scientific Name: Chrysemys picta subspecies
  • Origin: Southern Canada, United States, Northern mexico
  • Length: 4 to 10 inches
  • Aquarium Size: 40+ gallons
  • Painted Turtle Lifespan: 50+ years
  • Ease of Care: Easy

Types of Painted Turtles

The Western Painted Turtle is just one subspecies of Painted Turtle. There are three in total; Western, Eastern, and Midland. You may also find the Southern Painted Turtle in stores, which is a separate species from these three. 

While this sounds confusing at first, the different types of Painted Turtle are all easy to tell apart.

The Western Painted Turtle is Chrysemys picta bellii. It is the most distinct because the plastron (belly shell) has red swirls covering it that the other three subspecies do not have. Meanwhile, the Eastern Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta picta) has a plain, light yellow to cream colored belly.

The Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata) has faint gray blotches against the light yellow belly. And the Southern Painted Turtle (Chrysemys dorsalis) has a red stripe running along its back on the top of its shell.

Painted Turtles are also related to Red Ear Sliders and other Pond Sliders. But the different turtle species don’t interbreed in the wild, even though they often hang out together on rocks and driftwood.

How to Take Care of a Western Painted Turtle

Western Painted Turtle care is complicated and similar to caring for any other aquatic pet turtle. So long as they have a varied diet, proper lighting, and clean water, they will leave for decades.

Western Painted Turtle Size

Baby Western Painted Turtles are hard to resist. But these animals won’t stay small. So how big do Western Painted Turtles get?

Like all aquatic turtles, Painted Turtles show strong sexual dimorphism. The males are much smaller than adult females. A full grown male Painted Turtle will be 3 to 6 inches long. A female Painted Turtle will be 4 to 10 inches long. 

Males also have long claws on their forelegs that help them hold onto mates in the water. Last, their tail is thicker, with a cloaca that is further along the length of it than a female’s.

Painted Turtle Tank Setup

From aquarium volume to lighting output, the key to Western Painted Turtle care success is buying the right tools from the start.

Painted Turtle Tank Size

The standard rule of thumb for turtle care is to provide 1 inch per gallon of length. How large an aquarium you need depends on not just the size but also the sex of the animal. 

Painted Turtle males and females vary a lot in size. So knowing for sure which you have will prevent you needing to buy more than one aquarium upgrade.

A male will be able to live with comfort in a 55 gallon tank alone. A female will need anywhere from 55 to 100 gallons of space, depending on her final size.

Lighting for Western Painted Turtles

Aquatic turtles are a little picky when it comes to their lighting requirements. It is not enough to place standard visible light fluorescent bulbs over their tank. 

Turtles need visible, ultraviolet (UVb), and infrared (heat) radiation. This combination mimics the output of the sun and ensures various biological processes happen.

Turtles are ectothermic, meaning the speed of their metabolism depends on the temperature of the environment. When kept too cold, for instance, their growth rate, digestion, elimination, breeding urges, and immune responses all slow down. 

This is why you find aquatic turtles basking on rocks in the early morning. They are gathering heat so they can swim, eat, digest, and grow as normal throughout the day.

The infrared bulb should cover the basking area but the aquatic zone should not be heated from above. This offers the turtles a cool respite from the heat of the “sun.” 

Western Painted Turtles prefer an air temperature of 85-95°F. The exact wattage of the heat bulb required depends on the size of your tank as well as the distance the basking area is from the bulb itself.

Ultraviolet light serves another purpose. UVb kills germs and algae on the shells of Painted Turtles. It is also absorbed by their skin, helping to convert cholesterol-based chemicals to Vitamin D3. A UBb bulb is critical for good health and should be run along with the heat and visible light bulbs.

Painted Turtle Water Conditions

Clean, well-filtered water is just as important to Western Painted Turtle longevity. Turtles are infamous for pooping and eating in their water. Crumbs of matter spread through the tank in days. If you aren’t using a good turtle tank filter the aquarium water will stink and become a pool of bacteria.

A turtle tank heater is also important as Painted Turtles prefer warm swimming conditions. The water temperature should be 75-80°F, which a submersible heater will maintain with ease.

Make sure that any submersible heater you use has a mesh heater guard covering it. Heaters may be cracked by diving turtles. Once water enters and contacts the metal heating element, electricity will be conducted into the tank. 

This may end up electrocuting your pet turtle. Or it may injure you when reaching into the Painted Turtle tank setup to do maintenance.

What Do Western Painted Turtles Eat?

Aquatic turtles are omnivores. Like us humans they enjoy diversity in their diet. Painted Turtles eat aquatic insects like dragonfly larvae, crayfish, fish, snails, and other animals. They also eat water lilies, algae, and any soft aquatic plants they find.

Western Painted Turtle food should be a varied blend of plant and animal based sources. Leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, and chard are just as good as aquatic plant foods. 

For animal protein, most local pet stores carry mealworms, hissing roaches, and other invertebrates. You might even offer a thawed pinky mouse as a treat every so often.

Chunks of seafood like fresh fish and shrimp, snails and slugs from your garden, earthworms dug up…Painted Turtles will eat all of these things.

If you want to ensure your turtle is getting enough nutrition, dust their food with vitamin powder before offering it. Baby Western Painted Turtle pets should eat every day as they are still growing. 

But a full grown adult needs to eat just 2 or 3 times per week. Much more than this will cause your turtle to grow unhealthy and fat.


Western Painted Turtles are an excellent turtle for beginners to start out with. They are colorful, manageable in size, and will live for several decades. Turtles don’t enjoy being held. But if you have to keep your hands off, there are few species better looking than the Western Painted Turtle.

More Frequently Asked Questions About Painted Turtles

Western Painted Turtles are so popular I do get some questions asked more frequently than others. So here are some quick answers to the ones I get the most often.

Where to Find Western Painted Turtles For Sale Near Me

Any pet store catering to the reptile hobbyist trade will be able to order in Western Painted Turtles. They are one of the most popular species of aquatic turtle so they are bred in huge numbers. You should also be able to order Eastern, Midland, and Southern Painted Turtles with ease.

Western Painted Turtle Male or Female?

Sexing Painted Turtles is simple to do once they are full grown. A male is much smaller than a female of the same age. He will be 3 to 6 inches long as an adult. Meanwhile, a female Painted Turtle will be 4 to 10 inches long. Males also have long claws on their front legs and a thicker tail.

Where Do Western Painted Turtles Live?

Western Painted Turtles are found from Illinois and Wisconsin all the way west to Washington and British Columbia. This range map demonstrates where you will find each of the four types of Painted Turtle.

Jason Roberts
About Jason Roberts
Jason is an aquarium fanatic that has been a fish hobbyist for almost three decades.