Rare: Western Painted Turtle

    The Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta) is also known simply as the painted turtle. Upon closer examination, it is easy to see why it is named so appropriately. The upper shell is olive to black, and the edges of shields or plates making up the shell are bordered with a yellowish color. The head, neck, and legs are marked with yellow lines, and a red spot appears behind the eye. The under shell and lower shell is brightly colored with reds and yellows.  Females can reach up to 9-inches in upper shell length. Males usually attain a length of 7-inches, the front claws are longer than females, and the vent...

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is situated farther from the edge of the shell. Some individuals are very dark and have been found with vermiculated lines on the shell and a reduced color pattern on the head, neck, and limbs. In Kootenai Country Montana, where the population is low and the land area high, we often run into the same folks in different spots. Especially near waterways and waterbodies. The activities of fishing, boating, canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, rafting, duck hunting, and birding always bring us near and into water. With the beginning of May, we flock to our local waterways. We stay on these until around the end of September, depending on how long an Indian Summer might last.

Our eyes are sharp on and near the water. We scan for “sleepers,” rocks that may tip our canoe. We look for signs of rising fish. Our outdoorsy senses are on when we are near water. After a chilly evening, the sun begins to warm. As we scan the logs at the water’s edge, a strange phenomenon occurs — a dark grayish object on one log. Then two, then four, then a dozen. At a distance, they appear saucer shaped but are definitely moving, ever so slightly. So slightly in fact, that one sometimes wonders if they really are moving. And then, one of the armor plated sentinels begins a slow army tank like crawl to the tip of the horizontal log.

Painted turtles are sometimes found in lakes, ponds, reservoirs and side sloughs that contain some shallow water areas and a soft bottom. Also at times they are found in slow backwater areas and oxbows with little current. They very often are seen using logs and rocks for basking. Painted turtles hibernate in bottom mud from early October to late April. They reproduce at 4-8 years of age, depending on climate. Usually, 5-20 leathery eggs are laid in nests excavated in gravel or sand. Food sources include aquatic vegetation, frogs, tadpoles, invertebrates, and small fish. These beautiful creatures are commonly found and are somewhat widespread across the state of Montana.

So folks, remember that log is alive!  If you pay attention to the slight movements you may be able to watch these colorful creatures as they bask and hunt our waterways.  At times, these slow moving army tanks may need a hand or foot across the road at the “Turtle Crossing!” Keep your eyes peeled for that interesting critter the painted turtle. It is most certainly designed with natures works of art in mind and a most noble form of “Plein Aire Art!”

(Author note: reference I.D. of Montana’s Amphibians and Reptiles. Reichel and Flath)