Western painted turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii)

Species Status: Endangered in Canada
Action Required: Headstarting, conservation breeding and population augmentation

The western painted turtle can live to well over 50 years old — if they can get through their infancy. With no shortage of hungry predators and no care from their parents once they have hatched, few young turtles survive to become adults. Unfortunately, humans aren’t making survival any easier, as urban development and other activities encroach on this species’ habitat.

The western painted turtle is the largest subspecies of painted turtle, with a shell that can reach approximately 25 centimetres long. It reproduces less often than painted turtles in other regions, although it lays plenty of eggs when it does. Although the eggs hatch in the fall, the hatchlings usually spend the winter hibernating in their nest chamber and emerge the following spring. Young western painted turtles feed mainly on tadpoles, insects, crayfish and snails, graduating to bigger prey like fish and frogs as they get older. To give them the energy they need for foraging and mating, these turtles will bask in the sun several times a day to raise their temperature.

Western painted turtles prefer the shallow waters of ponds, lakes, marshes and slow-moving streams. Ideal habitats have muddy bottoms, lots of vegetation and numerous basking sites. Females lay their eggs in loose, warm, well-drained soils, which can be up to 150 metres from the water’s edge.

The western painted turtle is found throughout central North America, with isolated populations in the southwestern United States and one population in Chihuahua, Mexico. In Canada, the range extends from southwest of Lake Nipigon, Ontario, across the southern portion of Manitoba and Saskatchewan to the low-lying valleys of the southern interior and south coast of British Columbia and Vancouver Island. It’s estimated that there are fewer than 250 adults in the Pacific Coast population.

Over the years, British Columbia has lost significant amounts of wetland to urban development. The western painted turtle habitat that remains faces ongoing threats from human activities that include water pollution, erosion, fragmentation and infilling. Furthermore, many females are killed on roads as they search for nesting sites. Nests and hatchlings are vulnerable to human-subsidized predators, such as raccoons, skunks and coyotes, whose numbers are artificially inflated by access to human garbage, crops and other food sources. Diseases and parasites carried by red-eared slider turtles that have been introduced to the area may also pose a danger, as does hybridization with other non-native subspecies of painted turtle that are illegally imported and released.

Recommended Recovery Actions

Although the Pacific Coast subspecies has been officially designated as Endangered by the federal government and red-listed in British Columbia, no formal recovery strategies exist yet. A federal Recovery Strategy is expected to be posted in 2016-17, and a provincial strategy for British Columbia is currently being drafted. In the meantime, it’s important to protect and restore habitat, monitor populations and release headstarted turtles to augment those populations.

What we are doing

Find out how Wildlife Preservation Canada helps save Canada’s reptiles and amphibians, including western painted turtles, and how you can make a difference.