Western Painted Turtle

General Information

Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii) has a wide distribution in western North America, including western Canada south of the 51st parallel. In British Columbia, there are two populations: Intermountain - Rocky Mountain Population in the southern interior and Pacific Coast Population in the southwest. The coastal population is found in the Lower Fraser Valley and Sunshine Coast on the mainland and on Vancouver Island and some of the Gulf Islands in the Strait of Georgia. The distribution of the Pacific Coast Population overlaps with the relatively densely populated and highly modified southwestern part of British Columbia, where urban development, drainage of wetlands, forestry, road building, and other human activities threaten turtle populations.

The Western Painted Turtle requires wetland habitats for foraging and hibernation and suitable warm sites on land for egg-laying. Egg-laying habitats are often in short supply and a limiting factor for this species and other freshwater turtles.

Western Painted Turtle.  Photo by Todd Carnahan

How to Identify the Western Painted Turtle 

- Western Painted Turtle: Identification Guide

Status in Canada

The Pacific Coast Population of the Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii) was listed as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC)in 2006. The status was reassessed as Threatened by COSEWIC in November 2016. While threats from habitat loss and fragmentation from land development and other sources continue, survey efforts over the past decade have increased the known area of occupancy, particularly on Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast. This population is on Schedule 1 of the Canada Species at Risk Act. It is also on the provincial Red List of species at risk in B.C. The Intermountain - Rocky Mountain Population of the Western Painted Turtle is listed as Special Concern in Canada and is on the provincial Blue List in B.C.

See the COSEWIC Status report for more information.

More information about the Western Painted Turtle

- Reptiles of British Columbia

- Canadian Herpetological Society

- Wikipedia page on Painted Turtle

- Current taxonomy of turtles

Habitat Restoration and Threat Mitigation Techniques


Swan Lake, June 2010; K. Ovaska photo

Research & Survey Methods

Survey Techniques

      Water body surveys

      Nest surveys

      Capture Methods

      Measurements of captured turtles

      How to Mark Turtles

      Radio Telemetry

Snorkeling hand-capture.

Example of hand capturing turtles by snorkeling

Genetic sampling

Population Genetics

Since 2010, blood and carapace samples have being collected from Western Painted Turtles across BC by researchers. The ideal sample size per site is 20 or more turtles. These samples are used in a population genetic study at the University of British Columbia Okanagan to determine the genetic status of Western Painted Turtle populations in BC. 

The specific goals of this project are:
• to determine the genetic relatedness among Western Painted Turtles in BC to determine their status as conservation units,
• to determine origin and relatedness at the site level for the Pacific Coastal populations,
• to determine whether genetic introgression from other non-native subspecies of Painted Turtle is a threat to Western Painted Turtle genetic diversity

The work has resulted in a Master of Science dissertation by Evelyn Jensen (2011), who found that there are six discrete genetic units or subpopulations of Western Painted Turtle populations in British Columbia (samples from 604 individual turtles were analysed) in the following areas: Sunshine Coast, south coast (southern Vancouver Island and Lower Mainland), Cariboo, Thompson-Okanagan, and Kootenay. Her work indicates that while the turtles dispersed into BC relatively recently (in evolutionary time) from southern refuges after the last Pleistocene glaciation, about 12,000 years ago, considerable differentiation has occurred over the past 700 generation in different regions.

See the Protocol for the Sampling and Storage of Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta) Blood and Tissue for Genetic Analysis for details.

Best Management Guidelines

Guidelines for Forestry Lands

The following is a synopsis of Best Management Practices Guidelines prepared for forestry lands on Vancouver Island[1], but the recommendations might apply to other areas as well.

For more detailed information on the recommendations, see the forestry management guidelines page.

Guidelines for Landowners in Residential Areas

Landowner BMP

Turtle Injuries

Turtles sustain several kinds of injuries from predation, propellers, and grumpy males that allegedly will bite off the tip of the female’s tail.

Non-native Turtles found in BC:

Look out for rare pet trade turtles in our ponds and wetlands as well.


Please add any species that has been found in BC

Key to native and intoduced freshwater turtles in BC

The key was adapted by Gavin Hanke, RBCM (Sep 2011) from Powell et al. 1998[2] Follow link: Key to Introduced Turtles

Turtle Dictionary/Terminology

The initial glossary list was based on terms from Chelydra.org but terms have been added to this source list.

Follow link to glossary: Turtle glossary


  1.  Engelstoft, C. and K. Ovaska. Annual reports 2010 - 2016 on "Western Painted Turtle surveys and stewardship activities on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands" are available at Habitat Acquisition Trust website (Publications/Focal Species/Western Painted Turtle): http://www.hat.bc.ca/focal-species-publications/western-painted-turtle-publications
  2. Powell R., Collins J. T. and Hooper E. D. 1998. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, U.S.A. 131 p.