The Midland Painted Turtle’s carapace (top shell) is smooth, relatively flat, and ranges in colour from olive to black. The base colour of their skin also olive to black. The outer edge of the carapace has bright red lines on the top and bottom, giving them a painted look. Their head and throat are striped with bright yellow that transitions to red on the neck and forelimbs. The tail is also typically marked with yellow or red stripes. Adults vary in size but females are larger than males, and they are generally just a bit larger than a grapefruit. Males have considerably longer claws on their front limbs than the claws of their hind limbs, whereas females are all the same length. Males also have thicker tails than females. Painted Turtles are the only species with red markings on them, so this can be used as a key identification feature.
Midland Painted Turtles are omnivores that consume a wide variety of vertebrates, invertebrates, aquatic plants, and algae. They have a higher preference for vegetation as they get older. Common food species include snails, tadpoles, small fish, insects, crayfish, worms, and duckweed. Midland Painted Turtles will typically feed while swimming, but they will also feed off the bottom of shallow lakes, ponds, wetlands, and rivers. Like Snapping Turtles, Midland Painted Turtles cannot consume food on land since they do not have the ability to move their tongues.
Biology and Behaviour:
The Midland Painted Turtle’s active season begins as ice cover retreats. The Midland Painted Turtle will spend some time basking and feeding to warm up, and then they will make their way to their spring mating habitats. This movement generally happens once turtles are able to raise body temperatures above 15 to 20 degrees Celsius. Spring is primarily the breeding season, where turtles will meet up to mate and then disperse. Females can store more than one male’s sperm, which means they can have clutches that have multiple fathers to help spread genetic material.
In Ontario, nesting season typically spans 20 to 40 days – typically from mid May until early July. Midland Painted Turtles will generally lay 10-12 eggs, and incubation is 65-80 days before they hatch in August or September. Most females lay one clutch per year, but a few will lay 2 clutches where the second one overwinters underground and emerges in the spring. Nesting sites happen in sand, clay, or gravel, which is generally along roadsides. Once it starts to get cool, Midland Painted Turtles will head back to their overwintering sites, which are generally in wetlands and shallow bays of lakes.
Predation is responsible for most nest failure but flooding, desiccation, infertility and low incubation temperatures also contribute to nest loss. Young turtles are predated by American Mink, River Otter, Coyote, Red Fox, Raccoon, Shrews, Great Blue Heron, American Crow, Bald Eagle, Common Raven, American Bullfrog, Northern Watersnake, and large fish species like Catfish, Pike, and Largemouth Bass. Adults are predated by Mink, Otters, Coyotes, Dogs, Racoons, Crows and Ravens. However, road mortality is the number one cause of death for the Midland Painted Turtle.
- There are no other subspecies of Painted Turtles in The Land Between, so if you see red and yellow lines on a turtle then it will be a Midland Painted Turtle
- The non-native and invasive turtle species Red-eared Slider- which is native to the midwestern United States- can sometimes be found in Ontario if it was relocated. Please note that Red-eared Sliders are an invasive and damaging species and should be reported and removed if found. Red-eared Sliders also have red striping on their carapace, but they can be distinguished by two red stripes that are located behind each eye that Midland Painted Turtles do not have
Conservation and recovery strategies:
Since Midland Painted Turtles are only listed as Special Concern in Canada, and not listed at all in Ontario, not much is being done to protect this species and their habitat. Ideal policies would be to ensure habitat restoration and protection through stewardship, restoration projects and land acquisition. The Government would need to discourage road development near and around wetlands, and development that destroys wetlands. Increased control and regulation of invasive species- particularly phragmites, invasive aquatic plants, pet turtle species, and large predatory sport fish. While Midland Painted Turtles are not being protected at the government level, there are many organizations that have stepped up to help. The Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre in Peterborough will incubate eggs and rehabilitate injured turtles, and here at The Land Between we have staff and volunteers that are out on busy roads during the spring and summer to ensure that all turtle species can safely nest and cross roads. We even have the ability to excavate Midland Painted Turtle nests for incubation and release once they have hatched. Even though the Midland Painted Turtle is marked as a low risk Species at Risk, populations are still declining at a high rate, and protection must occur if this species is to survive.
Moldowan et al. 2015. Diet and feeding behaviour of Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina) and Midland Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta marginata) in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario
Riley, J.L., G.J. Tattersall, and J.L. Litzgus. 2014. Potential sources of intra-population variation in overwintering strategy of Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta) hatchlings. The Journal of Experimental Biology 217:4174-4183
COSEWIC. 2018. COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Midland Painted Turtle Chrysemys picta marginata and the Eastern Painted Turtle Chrysemys picta picta in Canada. Ottawa. Xvi + 107 pp. https://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/virtual_sara/files/cosewic/srMidlandPaintedTurtleEasternPaintedTurtle2018e.pdf
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