The Western Painted Turtle is BC's one and only native turtle. Named for their bright yellow stripes across their necks and brilliant red designs on their plastron (shell that covers their bellies), the Western Painted Turtle is a beautiful reptile. The Western Painted Turtle is on the provincial blue list, meaning they are very vulnerable to habitat loss. Habitat loss includes filling in of wetlands, pollution of wetlands (which makes them uninhabitable), and competing land use practices.
Western Painted Turtles prefer the edges of ponds and ditches as well as sluggish streams with muddy bottoms and lots of aquatic plants. These areas provide them with habitat for basking, shelter from predators, hibernation and food. Having plant-free sandy upland areas next to this aquatic habitat is also necessary for these turtles as they require sandy habitats for nesting. These turtles also require logs or other basking structures where they can get completely out of the water.
WESTERN PAINTED TURTLE
The Western Painted Turtle is BC's one and only native turtle. Named for their bright yellow stripes across their necks and brilliant red designs on their plastron (shell that covers their bellies), the Western Painted Turtle is a beautiful reptile. The Western Painted Turtle is on the provincial blue list, meaning they are vulnerable to habitat loss, including filling in of wetlands, pollution, and competing land use practices.
WHERE DO THEY LIVE?
Along lakes, wetlands and streams there is an area of plants that is called the "riparian area". It is a transition zone between the aquatic environment and the drier upland environment. Riparian zones support moisture-loving plants including cottonwood, willow, red-osier dogwood and wild rose. Since the 1800s, 73% of riparian ecosystems have been lost due to agricultural, urban and suburban settlement and development and the channelization of the Okanagan River.
There is another turtle that you may see in BC but it isn'tnative, the red-eared slider. The red-eared slider was a very popular pet turtle and was sold in pet stores as adorable little babies. These turtles can grow up to 40cm in length and as adults need huge tanks that are at least 120 litres. Red-eared sliders can live 50-70 years in captivity so having one as a pet is a BIG commitment.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Keep your distance from wildlife and be aware of when you're in turtle habitat so you don't trample one of their nests Install basking logs in small ponds, avoid "tidying" the logs out of your pond if you already have some. Add sand mounds adjacent to small ponds for turtle nesting habitat. Enhance buffers around ponds by planting native plants. Never take a wild turtle home and never leave a domestic pet in the wild.
What can you do?
Keep your distance from wildlife and be aware of when you're in turtle habitat so you don't trample one of their nests
Install basking logs in small ponds, avoid "tidying" the logs out of your pond if you already have some.
If you have livestock, limit their access points to ponds where turtles are present. This can be done by constructing fences with 'nose-in' areas. (For more information, read our 'Farming With Wildlife' page here.)
Add sand mounds beside small ponds for turtle nesting habitat.
Enhance the areas around ponds by planting native plants. These 'buffer areas' help filter pollutants out of water run-off that enters these important wetlands.
Never take a wild turtle home and never release a pet turtle to the wild!
There is another turtle in BC, but it doesn't belong here. The Red-eared Slider is naturally found in the American Southwest and was once a popular pet turtle species. A they were sold as very small babies, many people who bought them did not realise they are a huge commitment - they can grow up to 40cm (16") long, live for 50-70 years, and need very large tanks (125 L, or about 5' x 2' x 2'). Many unwanted turtles were released into local lakes or ponds and have since become an invasive species. Red-eared Sliders compete with Painted Turtles for food and they breed later in the year, sometimes digging up and killing Painted Turtle nests to lay their own eggs.
If you would like help enhancing turtle habitat on your property, please contact Okanagan Similkameen Stewardship at info[at]osstewardship.ca
Red-eared Sliders (right) can be identified by the red 'ear patch' on their heads, which Painted Turtles (left) do not have. They can also be identified by their blotchy, dull yellow plastron (belly), as Painted Turtles have vibrant red and yellow patches and swirls on their plastron (bottom left).