Western Painted Turtle

painted turtle with head in shell held in one hand

The Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii) is the only turtle native to North Idaho. The painted turtle, which has four subspecies, is native to most of the US as well as parts of Canada and Mexico. Fossils show that the painted turtle has existed for over 15 million years, and has developed several interesting adaptations to help it survive for so long. These adaptations include several designed to allow them to survive freezing temperatures, such as tough skin to avoid penetration by ice crystals and blood that can be super-cooled. Painted turtles are also specially adapted to survive underwater hibernation, able to go for months without oxygen and endure severe lactic acid build-up.

While painted turtles are a species of least concern, their basking habits have lead to a rise in road-kill deaths. In our area, you’ll notice a turtle crossing sign on Highway 200 near the Idaho Club. Please be cautious when driving this stretch of road, as the turtles can often be hard to spot on the roadway!


Interesting facts about the Western Painted Turtle:

  • They can live to be up to 55 years old
  • Unlike land tortoises, painted turtles can right themselves if flipped onto their shell.
  • The western painted turtle can be distinguished from other subspecies by its brightly colored bottom shell
  • When deciding to mate, painted turtles stroke each other’s faces with their claws to show attraction
  • As part of its adaptations, the painted turtle can absorb oxygen through its skin