Mid-week Reptilian #13: Chrysemys picta bellii

Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 8:41 PM Bookmark and Share
I had previously written a post about the Common Snapping Turtle, which just so happens to be the official New York state Reptile.  I decided to showcase another state reptile this week, and being from Colorado the choice of which state reptile to choose was a no brainer: so without further ado, I bring you the official Colorado State Reptile, the Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii).

Figure 1: Western Painted Turtle, photograph by Paul Bratescu
along the Republican River, Nebraska.


Figure 2: "A young adult male Western Painted Turtle from Lyon County, Kansas; this
is the most attractive of the races of this species." From the Peterson Field Guide to 
Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern/Central North America, 3rd Ed.

The Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta) is relatively widespread across North America. The only species in the genus Chrysemys, it is comprised of 4 subspecies: Western (C. p. bellii), Southern (C. p. dorsalis), Midland (C. p. marginata), and Eastern (C. p. picta). 

Figure 3: Range map showing the distribution of Chrysemys picta subspecies. 
From Peterson's Field Guide to Eastern/Central Reptiles and Amphibians, 3rd Ed.  
The range of P. d. bellii continues west to the Pacific coast (not shown).

In the grander scheme of things, turtles are members of the order Testudines, which includes all extant turtles, tortoises and terrapins (Chelonia being the superorder that includes a few other extinct relatives).  As far as reptilians go, recall that turtles are the most distantly related of all reptilians, having the earliest most recent common ancestor to any other group of reptilians.

Painted turtles are members of one of the more diverse turtle families, Emydidae -- the pond turtles, box turtles and related water turtles. This family includes many of the familiar turtle species:  pond turtles, map turtles, sliders, cooters, Blanding's Turtle, Spotted Turtle, the Bog and Wood Turtles, and the über-awesome Box Turtles, just to name a few.

Frequently seen basking on logs or small islands in freshwater ponds, all subspecies of C. picta are omnivores.  Amazingly, they can hibernate buried deep in the mud at the bottom of waterways and ponds. There, thanks to some nifty physiological adaptations, they can survive without taking a single breath of air for 3-4 months!

Their offspring, before hatching, often overwinter in the egg and can pretty much freeze stiff during winter. In spring, they emerge with the return of the warm weather. 

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