Five facts you probably didn’t know about painted turtles

Annie and Jeff loved the Dickinson County Nature Center.

But they're not visitors. They don't even work here. Actually, they live here!

That's because, even though they have human-like names, Annie and Jeff are the nature center's painted turtles (Chrysemys picta.)

Photo of a painted turtle with its head sticking out above wateropens IMAGE file

Annie the painted turtle

Everyone loves checking out our painted turtles, so here are some fun facts about painted turtles you might not have known before. Memorize them and look like a genius at the dinner table tonight!

Painted turtles don't have teeth.

But they can still eat. Painted turtles have horny plates, like rough sandpaper, on their jaws that helps them grip food. They have to eat in the water because their tongues don't move freely, so the water helps to swish the food around their mouths as they grind up it up with their horny plates.

They can hold their breath a long time.

Most painted turtles hibernate on the bottom of ponds and lakes, holding their breath all winter.

How long can you hold your breath?

You can count the rings on a painted turtle to see its age, just like a tree.

The shell of a painted turtle is made up of 13 bone plates, called scutes. When the turtle grows, it sheds the outside layer of its scutes and grows new plates underneath. Count the rings on the scutes and you'll know the age of your turtle!

A turtle is a boy or a girl based on its temperature during embryogenesis.

Painted turtles are not male or female by genetics. Instead, their gender is determined by outside temperature while they are in their eggs. Colder temperatures produce males, while warmer temps ---usually above 84 degrees --- produce females. That means most eggs in a nest hatch as the same gender.

Painted turtles like the sun.

Painted turtles will come out of the water to spend time in the sun, called basking. This helps rid them of parasitic leeches. Annie and Jeff often sit on top of each other to bask, and this isn't unusual. Some researchers have seen up to 50 turtles on one log, stacked on top of each other.

They're everywhere! 

Painted turtles are the most common and widely spread turtles in North America. They are found from southern Canada to northern Mexico and all across the United States.


Button turtle

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Painted and snapping turtles survive winter underwater

We see many types of turtles roaming around northwest Iowa in the summertime, especially painted turtles and snapping turtles. But we don’t see any in the winter. Where do they all go? Painted turtles and snapping turtles spend their winters in lakes or ponds, living beneath the ice the forms. They survive because of a Read More »

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Turtle or tortoise? What’s the difference?

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What kind of turtle is it?

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What does Teddy the Turtle eat?

Teddy — named after conservationist former President Theodore Roosevelt — is an ornate box turtle. That means he is an omnivore and will eat both plants and animals, just like humans! See naturalist Ashley Hansen feed Teddy and learn what his favorite foods are in this video! You can also see more Teddy videos on Read More »

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  1. dario on January 1, 2020 at 9:43 am

    painted turtles are adorable i have one at home that is 1 and a half years old. 😉

  2. Wilson on November 25, 2019 at 11:58 pm

    That’s awesome! I have two and one is only a few weeks

  3. Lori on July 29, 2019 at 4:29 pm

    Jessica have any of your turtles laid eggs? I’m in desperate need of help. I have an Eastern, found in our driveway after a recent hail storm. Last night she laid a single egg in her pool of water. I have no idea how to care for it or if it’s even a viable fertilized egg. Do you have any knowledge you can pass on to me or know of anyone that does? Please and thank you!

    • turtle lover on November 13, 2019 at 9:30 am

      what else can i know to find out if my turtle is male or female

      • kiley on November 13, 2019 at 4:07 pm

        It does somewhat depend on species. You can usually Google search your species of turtle and find out how to determine the gender.

  4. Jessica russ on July 12, 2019 at 10:04 am

    I have 3 painted turtles one eastern and 2 western they are my heart. They know my voice they know my face. My eastern painted even gives me high fives.

  5. Bob on June 3, 2019 at 7:24 pm


    • Georgia on June 23, 2019 at 10:12 am