Painted Turtles

Painted turtles on a log in a pond
Painted turtles love to bask in the sun or under a heat lamp. Getty Images/Brian E. Kushner


  • Names: Painted turtle, Chrysemys picta, Eastern Painted turtle, Southern Painted turtle, Midland Painted turtle, Western Painted turtle
  • Size: Four to ten inches long with the males being smaller
  • Lifespan: Over 50 years in the wild

Painted Turtle Housing

The painted turtle is an aquatic (water) turtle. It spends the majority of it's time swimming and the rest of the time eating and basking on a dry rock in the sun.

The care of painted turtles is much more like that of a fish in that they need a tank almost entirely filled with water but they also need a full reptile lighting set up.

Full grown painted turtles need plenty of swimming space. The largest tank possible is needed for your water turtle so ideally your turtle enclosure will hold over 100 gallons of water. Gravel built up with larger rocks to create a beach on one side of the tank serves well as a basking area and dry docking station for your turtle. You can also use a variety of floating accessories that are available at pet stores.

Water quality is very important to animals that spend the majority of their lives in H2O and aquatic turtles are no exception. Dirty water can cause a number of infections in your turtle, among other things. Quality water filters are a must for any painted turtle enclosure to keep the water clean, clear, and fresh.

Submersible filters like the Cascade Internal Filter and canister filters are your best options for clean water. They should be constantly running to not only provide filtration but also aeration to the water.

Painted Turtle Diet

Painted turtles typically eat their food while swimming but some other species of aquatic turtles have been noted to eat on dry land.

Aquatic turtle pellets are a good staple diet for painted turtles but your turtle should also get some fresh leafy vegetables or plants. Dark, leafy greens like romaine, dandelion greens, and fresh parsley should be offered on a regular basis. These can be placed in the water or clipped to the side of the tank with a suction cup clip sold in the fish department at the pet store. Fresh, chopped apple pieces and freeze dried shrimp can be offered as treats.

Painted turtles also eat some insects, crustaceans, and fish. Fatty fish like goldfish should be avoided along with larger high protein food like mice. The majority of your aquatic turtle's diet should be plant based.

Painted Turtle Lighting

If housed indoors, UVB lighting and supplemental heat lights should be provided to aquatic turtles. Painted turtles don't need extremely warm temperatures but they will be more active and eat better if their home is kept around 85 degrees Fahrenheit. If temperatures are allowed to drop below the 60's your turtle may become lethargic, not eat well, and start to go into hibernation. Turtles that are housed outside in warmer months should be brought inside when the outside temperature gets too cool otherwise they may go into hibernation.

UVB lighting should be provided for 12 hours a day year-round in the form of a special reptile UVB bulb. It should also be replaced every six months since the invisible UVB rays expire before the visible white light does. Painted turtles that are housed outside do not need supplemental UVB lights since they receive natural UVB rays from the sun.

Painted Turtle Health

Painted turtles are relatively easy to care for with the proper setup and diet. But they can run into some health issues.

Intestinal parasites are found naturally in most reptiles, including painted turtles, but they can become a problem  for your turtle if they overpopulate the intestinal tract. Therefore, annual fecal parasite exams should be performed by your exotics vet.

If water quality is a problem, your turtle can get skin, shell, and ear infections from the dirty water.

If too much algae is building up on your turtle's shell or skin, use a soft toothbrush to help keep it clean. Ear infections from poor water quality are recognized as large bumps behind your turtle's eye and need to be addressed by your exotics vet.

Your turtle's beak and nails should be maintained at a good length. They may need periodic trimming if your turtle is unable to grind them down in their environment or because there is an underlying health issue causing the excessive growth.

Without proper UVB lighting and calcium from the turtle pellets, painted turtles will develop metabolic bone disease and shell deformities but these are serious issues that can be easily avoided with proper care. 

If you suspect your turtle has a health issue get him in to see a vet as soon as possible. With your help, your turtle can live a long and healthy life.