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Western Painted Turtle: Pictures, Facts, Diet & Care Guide

Rachael Gerkensmeyer

By Rachael Gerkensmeyer

Western Painted Turtle eating a mealworm

The Western Painted Turtle is an extremely popular species because they’re the most widespread in North America. They are unique in that they have brightly colored underbellies that look like they have been painted. These turtles also happen to be easy to care for, making them excellent pets for beginners and younger folks. If you are interested in learning more about the Western Painted Turtle or are thinking of getting one as a pet, you’ve come to the right place! Here is what you should know about this species.

Size: 4–10 inches
Weight: 11–18 ounces
Lifespan: 25–30+ years
Suitable for: First-time turtle owners, younger people, families, singles, seniors
Temperament: Calm, independent, docile

This type of turtle is small, being no more than about 10 inches when fully grown. They are independent creatures that do not like being handled much, but they can cohabitate with other like-minded turtles, and they are fun to watch while they engage with their environment. Western Painted Turtles can live 30 years or more, making them a long-term commitment for anyone who decides to care for one.

Western Painted Turtle Characteristics


How Much Do These Turtles Cost?

The average cost of a Western Painted Turtle can range anywhere from $50 to $100 or more, depending on things like where they are sourced from, their age, and their sex. If you purchase a turtle online, there are likely to be extra shipping fees, which can be as much as $50. You may also have the opportunity to purchase “add-ons” like hydration and heat packs to ensure the safety and comfort of your new turtle.

A Western Painted Turtle on a rock by a pond
Image Credit: Stephen Bonk, Shutterstock

Western Painted Turtle Behavior

These turtles are docile and independent and tend to stick to themselves whenever they can. However, they do enjoy investigating their habitats and exploring their surroundings. Most Western Painted Turtles do not like being handled and can develop stress if they’re held too often. Handling can scare them and make them feel unsafe. Therefore, they are best left in their habitat where they can be observed from afar. That said, these turtles do enjoy the company of other turtles if they have plenty of room to hide and keep to themselves whenever they feel like it.

Do These Turtles Make Good Pets?

Yes! The Western Painted Turtle can make an excellent pet for turtle enthusiasts of all experience levels. Younger children and those who have never cared for a turtle before can easily learn how to care for this reptile. They don’t want or need much handling and can get along well on their own in their habitat. They are small turtles, no more than about 10 inches long, so they don’t take up much space and can easily and safely be kept indoors.

Western painted turtle
Image Credit: GOR Photo, Shutterstock

Western Painted Turtle Tank Mates

Western Painted Turtles can live with other turtles. They are fine with cohabitating with their own species and with other types of freshwater turtles, such as Musk, Mud, and Slider Turtles. However, factors like temperature requirements must be taken into consideration. Also, aggressive turtle species, such as snapping and softshell turtles, are not appropriate to house with Western Painted Turtles. If you are in doubt, consult a reptile veterinarian to learn more about the species that you can house together with your Painted Turtle.

Care Sheet & Habitat Setup

Light Requirements

The Western Painted Turtle likes heat in their basking area, so you’ll need to place a UVB light with a heating element over it for warmth and illumination. Fluorescent lighting can be added for extra illumination in the rest of their habitat. There are no special lighting requirements to worry about, so there is plenty of room for customization.

Tank Size

Western Painted Turtles are active animals for their size, so they need room to move around and explore throughout their day. These are aquatic turtles, so they require a tank that has a section of water that’s at least twice as deep as their shells are long. They also need a place to bask, so a rock formation or another kind of platform that rises above the water is necessary. One Western Painted Turtle should have access to at least 10 gallons of water, so their tanks should be at least 20 gallons. Add an extra 10 gallons of water and 5 gallons of tank space for each additional turtle in the habitat.

female painted turtle close up with soft focus background
Image Credit: Debra Anderson, Shutterstock

Water Temperature

The temperature of a Western Painted Turtle’s water should be maintained between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, so a water heater may be necessary during colder parts of the year. If you keep the habitat in a temperature-controlled space, you may not have to install a heating system. The basking area should have a maintained temperature of between 85 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit.


Plants are not required in a Western Painted Turtle’s habitat, but they do provide engagement for them and color and aesthetics for you. They can be used to create hiding places for your turtle, and any type of water or faux plant can be used in the habitat. Just keep in mind that your turtle needs plenty of room to swim, and overcrowding of plants can inhibit this.


An aquatic canister filter can help keep your turtle’s habitat clean so excrement and other contaminants don’t build up too quickly for you to keep under control. This type of filter is installed underneath the aquarium habitat and provides multi-level filtration. Choose a filter that can handle processing at least twice the amount of water that is in your turtle’s tank each hour.

Western Painted Turtle Closeup
Image Credit: Prism Acres Rebecca Young, Shutterstock

Things to Know When Owning a Western Painted Turtle

If you are interested in taking on the responsibility of caring for a Western Painted Turtle, you need to know about things like their diet, what to expect as they grow, and any health conditions that they are susceptible to.

Food & Diet Requirements

When Western Painted Turtles are young, they eat a predominantly carnivorous diet, and as they age, they start eating more plant matter. Aquatic insects, tadpoles, tiny fish, small snails, and crustaceans are all suitable types of animal protein for these turtles. Once adults, these turtles should receive meals that are half fresh produce, such as collard greens, berries, carrots, and squash, and the other half should be made up of animals and turtle pellets that are specially designed to meet their needs.

Size & Growth Chart

Age in Years Shell Length
By 1 2–4 inches
By 4 5–8 inches
By 10 8–10 inches
Western painted turtle Close up
Image Credit: reptiles4all, Shutterstock

Lifespan and Health Conditions

The average Western Painted Turtle can live in captivity for 25 to 30 years, sometimes even longer if they are properly cared for. That said, there are common diseases that aquatic turtles are susceptible to and that all prospective owners should be aware of.

Minor Conditions
  • Shell infections
  • Abscesses
Serious Conditions
  • Vitamin A deficiency
  • Gastrointestinal parasites

Male vs. Female

There are no noticeable differences between male and female Western Painted Turtles, aside from the fact that females can be bigger than their male counterparts. The sex that you choose can be based on your personal preferences. Maybe you want a turtle that you can name something feminine, or you’re just partial to having a male in the house to counteract all the female family members.

3 Little-Known Facts About the Western Painted Turtle

1. They Live All Over North America

The Western Painted Turtle can be found all over North America, from Canada to Mexico. These turtles live near and in ponds, marshes, lakes, and rivers that don’t experience too much current.

2. There Are Multiple Painted Turtle Species

The Western is just one species of Painted Turtle. There are also Eastern, Midland, and Southern Painted Turtles. They are all extremely similar when it comes to size, coloring, and lifestyle.

3. Their Shells Shed as They Grow

The Painted Turtle’s shell sheds as they grow to make room for new “skin” that will better protect them. The entire shell does not come off—just the top layer, which looks like a burned leaf. This is a normal process and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

Beautiful Western Painted turtle Chrysemys picta
Image Credit: ELAMARAN ELAA PHOTOGRAPHY, Shutterstock

Final Thoughts

Western Painted Turtles can make great pets for people of all ages. These animals are easy to care for, they don’t require (or want) to be handled, and their habitats don’t take up too much space. Now that you know all about this species, you can make an educated decision about whether this is the right type of pet for you and your household.

See also:

Featured Image Credit: Cat Hammon, Shutterstock

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