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.
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.
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 beside small ponds for turtle nesting habitat.
Enhance buffers around ponds by planting native plants. These buffers help to filter pollutants out of run-off that enters these important wetlands.
Never take a wild turtle home and never release a pet turtle into the wild!
If you have livestock, limit access points to watering ponds where turtles are present. For more information, read our Farming With Wildlife primer here.
There is another turtle that you may see in BC, but it doesn't belong here. 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 (16") in length and as adults need 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. Many unwanted turtles were released into lakes or ponds in our area and they have since become an invasive species that is breeding in the wild. These turtles compete with our native painted turtles for food and they breed later in the year and will sometimes dig up Painted Turtle nests to lay their own eggs.
In both sets of photos here, the Painted Turtle is on the left and the Red-eared Slider on the right. They can be distinguished by the ear-shaped red patch on the Red-eared Slider's neck, which Painted Turtles never have. They can also be identified by their plastrons (bellies). Painted Turtles have gorgeous red swirls on their plastron and Red-eared Sliders have mostly dull yellow plastrons with brown blotches. Sometimes you can see some of the red on a Painted Turtle's chest when they are basking.
If you would like assistance in enhancing existing turtle habitat on your properties, please contact Okanagan Similkameen Stewardship by email at info[at]osstewardship.ca