The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 5, 2009


Painted Turtles

STOP!! A Painted Turtle trudged in front of our car as we drove down Russell Street. I jumped out and helped it across the road, thrilled to see another live turtle.

One of the signs created by Claire Brandhorst. (Photo by Kay Fairweather)

I would have to say that Painted Turtles are my favorite type of turtle. I just love all their bright colors and stripes, also that they’re very common in Carlisle. I remember once last summer when my dad and I were canoeing and he spotted a Painted Turtle lying in the sun. Just lying there enjoying itself. We paddled quietly towards it. It stayed still. I looked at it, amazed at its calmness. Awesome, I thought. Awesome.

Snapping Turtle. (Photo by Jody Isaacs.)

Painted Turtles, Chrysemys picta, are among the most common turtles in North America. They are popular in the northeast part of the USA and in many parts of Canada. They can be found in lakes, ponds, marshes, slow-flowing rivers, or basking in the sun on half-submerged logs. These turtles like habitats with soft bottoms, vegetation, and logs. During the winter they bury themselves in the mud to hibernate. In March, they come out of the mud. If ice is still on the water, painted turtles can be seen swimming UNDER THE ICE, or even hauling themselves out onto the ice where they bask in the sun.

These colorful turtles like to eat insects, worms, tadpoles, small fish, crustaceans, duckweed and other aquatic vegetation.

Painted Turtles are named because of their bright yellow plastron (the bottom of their shell). People normally identify painted turtles by the red and yellow stripes on their head, neck, legs

Painted Turtle. (Photo by Claire Brandhorst)

and tail. Also by their smooth, flat carapace (upper shell), which is rimmed with red. The shells of adult painted turtles in our area can be just over seven inches long.

To find out if a Painted Turtle is male or female just look at the claws and the tails. Male Painted Turtles have long front claws and long thick tails, whereas females have somewhat short front claws and short tails. Also, females grow to be much larger than males.

Painted Turtles normally lay eggs in May, June and July. They can lay up to 20 eggs, though they normally lay only about six. The eggs are white, sometimes with a yellow tint, and are about 1¼” long and ¾” wide. The eggs are laid in nests about 4” deep, and 1½” or 2” wide. These nests are normally made in sandy soils, lawns, mowed fields, gravel pits, roadside, or railroad beds. Once the eggs are in the nest, the mother completely covers them with dirt, making it almost impossible to see. The mother then leaves the nest. Within 80 days the quarter-sized turtles wander off to start a life of their own.

But Painted Turtles aren’t the only turtles in Carlisle. This past Saturday (May 30) we were lucky enough to see two snapping turtles in our neighbor’s lawn. We watched as one of them wandered

Another Snapping Turtle. (Photo by Marilyn Cugini)

around and then started to dig a hole in which we thought she would lay her eggs. Oddly enough, she sat there for an hour, but no eggs were laid. Meanwhile, a second snapper lumbered out of the neighbor’s garden!! Within half an hour they had both returned to the brook.

Sources: Critters of Massachusetts, by Ann E. McCarthy; Stokes Nature Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles, by Thomas F. Tyning; National Audubon Society Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians; The Book of Wild Pets, by Clifford B. Moore; The Living Pond, by Helen Nash; and New England Wildlife, by Richard M. DeGraaf and Mariko Yamasaki. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito