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 water

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.


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