Red-eared sliders and painted turtles belong to the same family of turtles, Emydidae, but they are classified into separate genera. Sliders belong to the genus Trachemys, painted turtles to the genus Chysemys. There are four regional variations of painted turtles, but they all belong to the same species. Red-eared sliders and painted turtles are distinguished from each other by characteristics of their shells and markings. They also differ slightly in size. Painted turtles live in a wider range than red-eared sliders, but their ranges overlap in much of the United States.
Red-eared sliders get their name from the red ear mark located behind their eyes. Adult sliders may be difficult to identify because their coloration darkens over time and the red ear mark is not always visible in older animals. Painted turtles do not have this marking. Red-eared sliders have rounded lower jaws; painted turtles have flat lower jaws.
The carapace, or top shell, of the red-eared slider has a higher dome, while the painted turtle's carapace is flatter. The slider's carapace also has a slight keel, a raised ridge running down the center. A keel is absent from the painted turtle's carapace. The slider's lower shell, called the plastron, is yellow with large, dark splotches. The painted turtle's plastron is solid yellow.
Red-eared sliders tend to be slightly larger than painted turtles. Red-eared sliders average 5 to 8 inches in length. Eastern, midland and southern painted turtles average 4 to 6 inches long. Western painted turtles have greater variability in size; they average 3.5 to 7 inches long.
Painted turtles live coast to coast, although their range is not continuous, and have a larger range than red-eared sliders. Eastern painted turtles range from Nova Scotia to Georgia. Midland painted turtles range from southern Quebec and Ontario to Tennessee. Southern painted turtles range from southern Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico. Western painted turtles range from Missouri to the Pacific Northwest. Red-eared sliders cover much of the same territory, ranging from West Virginia southwest to New Mexico and south the Gulf of Mexico. Red-eared sliders generally do not live on the Pacific coast, northern plains nor in the far southwest.
- "Reptiles and Amphibians: Eastern/Central North America"; Roger Conant and Joseph T. Collins; 1991
- Washington Nature Mapping Program: Painted Turtle vs. Red-eared Slider
- World Chelonian Trust: Differentiating Painted Turtles
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
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