Painted Turtle Habitat

Painted Turtle Habitat
Painted Turtle Habitat (Image: Photograph by em connell mccarty)

Painted turtles are beautiful and popular animals. People often adopt them, however, before realizing how much work is involved in providing a painted turtle with a healthy and adequate habitat. If you are considering a painted turtle as a pet, it is very important to learn about their habitat.


The painted turtle is an aquatic turtle found all over North America. She is an olive or black shelled turtle who has a yellow plastron (the shell covering her belly). The painted turtle will have red and yellow stripes on her neck and legs. She will grow up to ten inches long and can live up to 25 years. She is an omnivore which means she eats bugs, fish, meat, fruits and vegetables. As an adult she will need 60 percent of her diet to be made up of fresh greens, other vegetables and fresh fruit.

Natural Habitat

In the wild a painted turtle will live in a variety of water sources. Slow-moving streams, ponds and lakes are common places to find painted turtles. In general, a painted turtle looks for three things in her environment: a place to bask in the sun, a good supply of greens and a muddy bottom to hibernate in. She will spend five to six months hibernating in the mud of shallow water during the winter. While she hibernates, she absorbs oxygen through hiser skin. During the warmer months she will forage for food in the morning and spend afternoons basking in the sun.

Artificial Habitat

Painted turtles are a high maintenance pet. She will need a large space with both water and dry land, which needs to be kept clean, and she will have very specific basking needs. For swimming she needs the water to be twice as deep as she is tall. The surface area should be at least three times her length by at least two times her length. A 30-gallon tank would be the minimal size for a painted turtle habitat. For dry land you will need some soil and gravel, and for basking you will need rocks for her to cling to in order to be half in and half out of the water--her preferred method of basking.

Artificial Lighting and Heating

Provide a full spectrum reptile light for your turtle. Your turtle will need lights for health reasons, such as to keep free of parasites, to gain vitamin D and for proper calcium metabolism. Proper lighting will also keep her appetite stimulated. Additionally, provide an incandescent bulb for the purposes of basking. Your turtle will need a toasty 85- to 88-degree basking spot. Her water should be kept warm as well. Use a submersible heater to keep the water at 75 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.


Your painted turtle will need a clean pool of water, which means you will need to change the water regularly or invest in a filtration system. Even with a filtration system, recommends changing 25 percent of the water every week and all of the water every other week. This will cut down on bacterial and parasitic diseases as well as helping to keep the odor to a minimum.


Although it is fun to spot and watch painted turtles in the wild, you should not bring one home from the freedom of a pond or stream to put it into an aquarium. Instead, adopt a painted turtle from a pet shop, breeder or a painted turtle rescue. If you happen across a painted turtle in the wild--especially in late spring and early summer, which is the nesting season, leave it be. Even if you find it in the road and want to help, simply guard its crossing or assist it across the road and then leave her to her journey.

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