After a long slumber buried deep in the protective mud beneath Adirondack lakes, the painted turtle is awake. Chrysemys picta, the eastern painted turtle, is common to many of our ponds, lakes and wetlands, preferring areas with abundant aquatic plants, ample spots for sunbathing, and sunny places with sand for nests.
Painted turtles are named for their intricate shell pattern and very distinct yellow stripes on their heads. Reaching an average length of 5 to 6 inches, they can live for more than 40 years. Being omnivorous, they feed on insects, crustaceans, fish, plants and any other food (plant or animal) they can find. Like snapping turtles, painted turtles can live in a wide range of habitats.
In March when most Adirondack amphibians and reptiles are still hibernating, the painted turtle will emerge. Shortly after awaking courtship begins. An underwater ballet takes place between March and June with the female using pheromones to attract the smaller males. It is not uncommon to see a larger female surrounded by smaller males vying for her attention. A female will mate with multiple males and can store their sperm for several months. In early summer a female will lay a clutch of eggs in a sunny area, which will generally hatch by September.
In some cases, the hatchlings will overwinter in the nest (both adults and hatchlings are tolerant of freezing temperatures). During winter, painted turtles hibernate buried in the mud, or in an abandoned muskrat den, dropping their heart rates to almost nothing. At this time, they don’t breathe or feed, but instead live off of stored body fat.
It’s difficult to see turtles at this time of year. My favorite spot is the pond exhibit at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake which allows for an up-close view.
Photos courtesy of Jeremy and Corrina Parnapy.