The Southern Painted Turtle is a stunning animal that makes for a truly interesting pet. It does take specialist care, though, to keep it happy and healthy.
If you’re considering getting a Southern painted, this guide will give you all the information you know to keep your new reptile friend in the best condition.
From enclosure guidelines, to feeding tips, here’s all you need to know to care for your beautiful new Southern painted pal:
The Southern Painted In The Wild
Southern painted turtles (Chrysemys Picta) are stunning animals with a smooth shell. They have a black and green shell and body, with bright red and yellow markings and stripes.
In the wild, you will find the Southern painted in all kinds of watery environments like streams, meandering rivers, marshes, ponds and other slow moving sources of water with a soft bottom. They can be found across North America most commonly, but can be found much further afield too.
Sadly, the animals can be caught for food, for fun or to be unethically sold in the pet trade by humans. In the wild other animals will prey on Southern painted turtles for their meat and eggs, which is why they use the water as their ‘safe place’ where they hide and pull their body into their shell if attacked.
If you see a Southern painted in the wild you can expect it to be basking on objects on or around the water, like logs or stones. They will commonly be seen with other Southern painted turtles and the group of them together is called a ‘bale’.
How To Get A Healthy Southern Painted
Southern painted turtles are beginner turtles because they can be handled easily at just 6 inches long, their adult size. They do, however, get snappy if you make quick movements near their head and they aren’t naturally friendly. So they may well be a turtle to enjoy watching, not touching. Although it is handy to know you can pick one up to examine or move to another enclosure/ travel box if needed.
If you care for your Southern painted well it can live up to about 20 years or more in captivity. Of course, this is only if you care for them well and also if you get a healthy specimen to begin with.
Getting a healthy Southern painted turtle means buying one from a breeder, or taking on an unwanted pet. Both methods involve you doing a lot of checks and homework on the seller to make sure the turtle is in good health.
Rescue centers are a good starting point because they can speak to you about painted turtles they have, as well as giving you advice on breeders should they not have any suitable animals for you.
As a general rule, breeders and people looking to move their pets on should be willing to answer any questions you have. They should be able to give you a full history of the animal too. Breeders will also be able to provide information like who the parents of the turtle are, and they should also be able to show you other painted turtles they have in their care.
You’re looking for:
- Clean living conditions
- Ethical living conditions
- Healthy turtles with no signs of damage, discharge or distress
- Lively turtles
- Transparency from the owner/ breeder
They should also be willing to give you vet check certificates or allow you to go and do a vet visit with them before you take the turtle home and hand over your money.
The Southern painted is going to be with you for a very long time, hopefully, so it makes sense to check if it is a healthy and happy animal when you buy it. This avoids a lot of expensive veterinary care on your part, and potential heartbreak if your new pal is so sick it doesn’t make it.
How To Care For A Southern Painted
The tank of a Southern painted needs to be about 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit in ambient temperature.
The turtle tank of a Southern painted should ideally be around 10 gallons per inch of shell. So an adult six inch Southern painted needs around a 60 gallon tank, ideally. 40 gallons is probably the minimum size tank you could get away with to keep one male Southern painted turtle, but it is not ideal. As the females tend to be a little bigger they need a minimum of 50 gallons, with 75 or more gallons being ideal for them to be happy.
You should also add 20 gallons for every extra male, or 40 gallons for every extra female.
The Southern painted is aquatic so it has to have water to be happy. Around double the length of the average Southern painted (6 inches) is a good starting point for depth. However, more than 12 inches is probably better for a happier turtle.
You will need to use a water heater to keep the water nice and warm at around 70-75 degrees, with two water heaters being placed if you have a very large tank. You will also need to treat the water to remove chemicals before putting it in, and pay for the best filter you can afford. If it filters 60 gallons and you have a 30 gallon tank, that is a good choice for a turtle tank. Turtles make a lot more poop than fish, so you need to work hard to keep them clean and hygienic.
Southern painted turtles are often spotted in the wild basking. This is the area of the enclosure you need to make sure has heating and lighting to keep your turtle happy and healthy.
Turtles rely on UVA light and heat to trigger their inner biological systems, telling them it is time to be active and move. They also get their body heat and energy this way. For this reason, you need to make sure the surface temperature of the basking platform is around 80-85 degrees.
This platform also requires something called UVB, which is what your turtle uses to make vitamin D, which allows them to absorb calcium from the food they eat. Without this they can get a nasty condition with their shells where it becomes deformed.
You can get a lamp or tube light (like these ones) that provides warmth, UVA and UVB and most manufacturers will state how close each lamp wattage should be from the platform to provide the right levels for the turtle.
This distance has to be very precise so the turtle gets the benefits of the rays, but also so they don’t get burnt.
You can use special thermometers and ray guns (check these ones here) to capture the levels of this platform. By checking the levels you can change the bulb when needed so your turtle never gets less UVA, heat or UVB than they need.
You can make the Southern painted turtles basking platform from driftwood, smooth wooden planks or even large stones. As long as it is stable and they can fit on it and turn around (plus a gentle ramp to get on and off) you can be quite creative with how it looks.
Southern painted turtles require enrichment in their tanks to be happy. Non-toxic plastic and real floating and weighted plants are always fun for them to investigate and hide in. Smooth rocks are another great choice, as well as floating basking stations. Anything you do add needs to be:
- Unable to trap them by falling over
- Unable to trap them because of the gap it provides
Keeping The Southern Painted In A Pond
Some people feel the best enclosure for a Southern painted is a pond outside. This is because it is the most natural option for them, and it also keeps them away from younger children inside the house, controlling the risk of salmonella.
If you live in an area where the weather is nice and sunny most of the time you could well keep your Southern painted outside. To do so you need to provide them with:
- A prefab/ natural pond of 50 gallons+
- Filtered pond water
- Ramps so the turtle can get in and out of the water
- Fencing of 6 inches deep and 2 foot high plus netting to keep other animals out of their enclosure
- Basking spots
- Burrowing spots
If your winter dips below 40 degrees Fahrenheit you also need to provide an indoor enclosure for your painted Southern turtle. Hibernation is an option but it is risky in captivity so do speak to your vet about it.
How To Feed A Southern Painted
The painted turtle likes to feast on so many different food types. That is because they are omnivores and they regularly eat whatever they can find in the wild. Snails, insects, roots – they will eat most things.
However, in captivity they don’t have that same natural range of foods so you need to provide the right nutrients for them to keep them healthy. These types of turtles do well with a lower level of protein provided every couple of days, plus veggies the rest of the time as their staple foraging food.
Protein – Worms, insects, snails, chicken, crickets and mealworms are all great options. Just be sure they are not processed and are bred for use in the food chain. To stimulate your turtle’s natural instincts try offering them live insects every now and then. They will love the movement and it will encourage them to move instinctually to catch them for food.
Vegetables – Duckweed, romaine lettuce and dandelion greens free from chemicals and processing are all great foods for your turtle. Try introducing some floating veggies to encourage your turtle to eat as they would in the wild.
You can also feed your turtle something called turtle pellets (such as these here), but they should not make up their entire diet. Your vet can advise on these, as well as supplements sometimes recommended for turtles.
If your turtle is not eating it could be down to a number of reasons such as a Vitamin A deficiency, boredom, injury or parasites. The best thing to do is speak to a vet who has turtle experience so they can quickly diagnose the problem. It is better to be safe than sorry with sick turtles, as the sooner they are diagnosed the better their chance of getting the right treatment to get them back to health.
When Will You Get Your Southern Painted Turtle?
A Southern painted pet is an exciting, interesting and sometimes loyal pet.
With our tips and information above – and your own further research – soon you will be caring for your new Southern painted well, helping them to absolutely thrive in your care for many years to come.
Be sure to check out My Turtle Shop Here for the essentials you need to help you set up.