Meet Our Species of the Month: the painted turtle!

This blog series on Canadian wildlife explores key facts, threats and what WWF is doing to conserve these species. These Canadian species are also featured in the TELUS 2014 calendar. Check out the digital calendar and you can follow along with fun activities, download beautiful desktop wallpapers, colouring pages and more. 
Found in slow-moving fresh water across Canada, the painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) is one of North America’s most wide spread turtle species. In Canada, they range from Nova Scotia to British Columbia but their distribution is limited northward by cooler temperatures. Painted turtles get their name from the brightly coloured orange, red, and yellow markings along their neck, head and shell. Painted turtles can completely withdraw their head, limbs and tail into their shell when threatened for protection, whereas other turtles, like snapping turtles, are unable to withdraw themselves completely.

© Emily Giles / WWF-Canada
© Emily Giles / WWF-Canada

Did you know…

  • The painted turtle starts its day by basking in the sun. This is how the ectothermic, or cold-blooded reptile, regulates its body temperature and warms itself up before swimming in the chilly water.
  • Each of the painted turtle’s foot has five claws, and the claws are longer on males than on females.
  • The painted turtle is so common that they are often the species used for studies on turtle ecology and evolution. 

© Emily Giles / WWF-Canada
© Emily Giles / WWF-Canada

Why is the painted turtle at risk?
Habitat loss is the primary threat to painted turtles. Waters contaminated with garbage or other pollutants is another big threat to turtle populations. Turtles depend on clean, litter-free environments to live as they can sometimes mistake garbage for food, or get entangled in plastic rings. When juvenile turtles get trapped in garbage such as plastic 6-pack rings, they continue to grow but the plastic doesn’t grow with them, causing abnormalities and deformations. When turtles eat plastic, they die of starvation and malnutrition as they feel full from having a stomach full of plastic. 
© Emily Giles / WWF-Canada
© Emily Giles / WWF-Canada

What is WWF doing?
West of the Rockies, painted turtles numbers are in sharp decline, but WWF is evaluating the health of our waters across the country, and is working to  protect or restore healthy waters to protect the turtle’s habitat. 
What can I do?
Join WWF and Vancouver Aquarium and cleanup our waters from coast to coast with the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup this fall. From Sept 20-28, you can organize or join a cleanup in your local community. Sign up today at! 
WWF-Canada and TELUS are partnering to support the conservation of Canadian wildlife and their habitats through a new $1 million, four-year partnership. Click here to learn more.