“Behold the turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out.” ~James Bryant Conant
On a warm, late summer day, as the pond was fading to fall, I spied some movement that did not look like a frog….I thought what I saw in a flash just couldn’t be. But then when I checked later, I saw this little head peeking out of the water….it is a turtle, I yelled as I ran into the house to tell my husband!
Oh my, what a wonderful new visitor to our pond. But who was this handsome fella? As I searched the Internet for eastern US turtles, there was no doubt this was a painted turtle (Chrysemys picta). A very shy painted turtle I named Tommy.
These turtles are the most widespread native turtle in North America. They love slow-moving fresh waters with dense vegetation, so our pond was perfect for Tommy. He was looking for a new home, and he seemed to find one here in our garden.
There are 4 different painted turtles, and I learned ours is most probably a midland painted turtle. Midland painted turtles can be found from southern Ontario and Quebec, to the eastern states down to West Virginia, and over to the midwest states south to northwestern Alabama. They are usually not found along the eastern seaboard where the eastern painted turtle reigns supreme.
We have never seen a turtle in our pond. This large adult visited our front yard in 2011 as he made his way from the wild area pond to a pond or nest in the woods across the street. Large turtles cannot get into our garden and pond area because of the fence. But a smaller young turtle, like Tommy, could and did.
Painted turtles eat aquatic vegetation, algae, and small water creatures including insects and fish. Our young turtle settled for vegetation and insects (we have no fish) in our pond as he hunted along the pond bottom and skimmed the surface too.
Painted turtles have many predators and are most vulnerable as eggs hunted by garter snakes, crows, chipmunks, gray squirrels, skunks, groundhogs, raccoons, and red fox. The hatchlings are also easy prey for fish, bullfrogs, snapping turtles and snakes.
Of course the adults are more protected by their hard shells from many predators, but they can still fall prey to ospreys, crows, hawks, bald eagles, and raccoons. Tommy is small and easy prey (he definitely hid a lot among the lily pads). Painted turtles do defend themselves by kicking, scratching (look at those claws) and biting. And they can right themselves when flipped upside down.
Painted turtles mate in spring and autumn. Females dig nests on land and lay eggs between late spring and mid-summer. Hatchlings do not leave the nest immediately. Instead it is thought in our area that they arrange themselves symmetrically in the nest (to keep warm) and overwinter to emerge the following spring. And still with all their protection, hard freezes can kill many hatchlings. Tommy was a lucky turtle.
During winter, the adult turtle hibernates, usually in the mud at the bottom of water like ponds. The painted turtle can survive extended periods of below freezing temperatures because their blood can stay cold, and their skin resists ice crystals in the ground.
The painted turtle is active only during warm days when it basks for hours on logs or rocks to regulate its temperature. We would see Tommy basking daily in the afternoon, on the pond edge amongst the dense vegetation. Because it was late summer, the sun did not shine for long periods on the pond so the only warm time of day was afternoons. It is interesting to note that at night, the turtle drops to the bottom of the body of water or perches on an underwater object and sleeps.
Our pond is constructed from a polyurethane liner, and we knew that it was too small to sustain a growing turtle. So Tommy would not be able to dig down far into the mud without digging through the liner which would empty the pond. So we decided to move him to the wild wetlands down the road. We trapped him in a live trap with shrimp and lettuce. Then we found the perfect safe, secluded spot and released him. He immediately went to the body of water there. Lots of vegetation, cover and mud to make any turtle happy. I was sad to see Tommy go, but we knew our pond was not the best home for him…..so good luck Tommy. Thanks for visiting and bringing joy into our lives. Live long and prosper!
Here are some interesting facts and folklore about Painted Turtles:
- Four U.S.states (Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Vermont) have named the painted turtle their official reptile. Ours, in NY, is the Snapping Turtle.
- Adults in the wild can live for more than 55 years. Good news I hope for Tommy.
- Fossils of the painted turtle have been found showing they existed 15 million years ago.
- Many Native American tribes regard the turtle as having strong feminine powers.
- Algonquian tribes have tales that tell of the painted turtle playing the part of a trickster.
With this wildlife story, I am joining in the meme Wildlife Wednesday hosted by Tina@My Gardener Says that happens the first Wednesday of every month, and with Saturday’s Critters hosted by Eileen@Viewing nature with Eileen that happens every Saturday. It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every week.
I leave you with another thought about turtles. Feel free to download the photo and share.
All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Living From Happiness, 2014-15. Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.