The Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii) is the only remaining native pond turtle left in B.C and has a wide distribution in western North America. In British Columbia, there are two populations of the Western Painted Turtle: the Intermountain - Rocky Mountain Population in the southern interior and Pacific Coast Population in the southwest.
In 2006 the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) listed the Pacific Coast Population of the Western Painted Turtle as endangered. The Intermountain - Rocky Mountain Population of the Western Painted Turtle is listed as Special Concern in Canada.
The coastal population can be found in the Lower Fraser Valley and the Sunshine Coast on the mainland and on Vancouver Island and some of the Gulf Islands in the Strait of Georgia. The Intermountain population can be found in the Okanagan Valley, Kamloops Lake, Shuswap Lake, and the Creston and Nelson Area.
The dense population and highly modified southwestern part of British Columbia has overlapped with the distribution of the Pacific Coast population. The Western Painted Turtle requires wetland habitats for foraging and hibernation and suitable warm sites on land for egg-laying.
A short supply of suitable habitats due to urban development, drainage of wetlands, forestry, road building, and other human activities are a limiting factor for this species and other freshwater turtles.
The Western Painted Turtle is named after the bright yellow stripes on its head, neck, tail and legs, and the glowing red on its plastron (shell covering the belly) and under-edge of its carapace (shell covering the back). They have webbed hind feet, and slender claws on their front feet, with males having much longer claws than females. Painted turtles can grow to over a foot in length, with the carapace measuring up to 25 cm long.
The Painted Turtle can often be confused with the introduced Red-Eared Slider. To differentiate between the two species, look at the red markings. Painted turtles do not have any red markings on the neck or head, whereas Sliders do.
To avoid predators (such as raccoons and skunks), Painted Turtles like to bask on vegetation mats and logs completely surrounded by water.
The Western Painted Turtle diet mainly consists of insects, snails, earthworms, frogs, tadpoles, algae, aquatic plants, and carrion (dead animal matter). They always swallow food under water, as they have difficulty swallowing dry food. Painted Turtles in northern climates eat more protein than those in southern areas. This helps them grow more quickly, providing more energy and resources to survive winters.
Female Painted Turtles reproduce about every second year, laying one clutch (batch of eggs) in June or July. They lay 6 to 18 oval eggs, which are approximately 3 cm long each.
Nest sites can be up to 150 m away from the water, and females may have to cross roads to reach a good site. If predators do not find the nest, the hatchlings (baby turtles) break out of their eggs around September and stay in the nest until the following spring.
The Greater Vancouver Zoo first showed a strong interest in being involved with the conservation efforts of the Western Painted Turtle in 2009; when the British Columbia Western Painted Turtle Working Group was first formed. The group was formed as a way to share knowledge and resources, standardize survey and monitoring methodology, test and improve habitat restoration methods, collaborate on research, share public education and outreach materials, and collaborate on grant writing and fund raising proposals.
It wasn’t until spring 2012, when the Greater Vancouver Zoo began actively participating in taking eggs from emergency locations and bringing them back to be incubated at the Zoo. In the same year, the British Columbia Western Painted Turtle Working Group was the recipient of the Carcnet Silver Salamander Award. The award is presented to an individual or an organization in recognition of a specific contribution to the conservation of amphibians and reptiles in Canada.
In August 2013, an energetic group from the Western Painted Turtle Recovery team which included our caregivers from the Zoo and several biologists from the Ministry of Environment; released the first turtles back into the same location where they originally collected the eggs.
If you see a Painted Turtle, the best thing to do is to keep your distance. Be careful not to trample on turtle nest sites. And never take wild turtle’s home as pets.