Turtle glossary

(Based on : http://www.chelydra.org/turtle_dictionary.html)


Abdominal scutes - the third rearmost pair of plastral scutes
Anal scutes - the rearmost pair of plastral scutes
Axillary scutes - the small plastral scutes opposite the armpits


Beak - the horny plate covering the jaws
Bridge - part of the shell connecting the carapace and plastron


Carapace - the dorsal part of the shell
Caruncle - the horny tubercle on snout of baby turtles used to break through eggshell ( egg tooth )
Caudial - pertaining to the tail
Central scute - one of large ( usually five ) scutes extending down the midline of carapace
Cloaca - chamber into which the digestive, urinary and reproductive organs empty
Costals - large ( usually four ) scutes running down each side of carapace
CRETACEOUS - a geologic period about 140 to 65 million years ago
Cruro - pertaining to the thigh or leg
Cryptozoic - conducting a hidden or secluded way of life



Endemic - naturally restricted to a particular area
Entoplastron - a single plastral bone occuring between and surrounded by epiplastra and hyoplastra
EOCENE - a geologic period approximately 55 to 35 million years ago
Epiplastron - one of the two anteriormost bones in the plastron
Estivation - state of inactivity during long periods of drought or high temperatures


Fontanelle - an opening present in young turtles skull or shell, filled with maturity


Glottis - closable opening in the floor of the mouth into which the windpipe opens
Gular scutes - the foremost plastral scutes ( paired or single )


Humeral scutes - the second pair of scutes in the turtles plastron
Hyoplastra - the second frontmost pair of plastral bones
Hypoplastra - the second rearmost pair of plastral bones


Inguinal notch - the notch at the rear of bridge from which the hind legs protrude
Inguinal scutes - scutes just in front of the inguinal notch
Intergular scute - a sometimes present small scute which separates the gular scutes


Jurassic - a geological period approximately 185 to 140 million years ago



Lamella - a thin plate made from bone or keratin


Marginal scutes - small scutes around the edge of carapace
Melanism - development of excessive dark pigment
Mesoplastra - in some turtles, plastral bones located between the hyoplastra and hypoplastra
Mesozoic - " Age of Reptiles ", a geologic era containing the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods
Miocene - a geologic epoch approximately 20 to 12 million years ago
Monotypic - a taxonomic category, a family with only one genus or only one species


Nominate race- The first-named race of a species, with its scientific name the same as the specific name
Nuchal bone - large bone at the front of the turtles carapace
Nuchal scute - a small scute at the front of the carapace, present in many turtles


Ocellus - a ring - shaped, often with dark center, marking
Oligocene - a geologic epoch approximately 35 to 20 million years ago
Ovipositor - a soft tubular structure extruded from the vent durin oviposition of eggs


Paleocene - a geologic epoch approximately 65 to 55 million years ago
Papilla - a soft elongate protruberance
Pectorial scutes - the third frontmost pair of plastral scutes
Pedicle - a thickened area of bone designed to withstand weight or pressure
Pentadactyly - a condition of having five digits in hand or foot
Permiah - a geologic period approximately 275 to 230 million years ago
Plastron - the lower part of the shell
Pleistocene - a geologic epoch approximately 2 million to 11 thousand years ago
Pliocene - a geologic epoch approximately 12 to 2 million years ago
Postorbital - a scale or other structure behind the eye
Pygal - the rearmost bone in turtles carapace



Rathke's Glants - glants from which some turtles can exude a highly odorous secretion


Seam - the line between two scutes
Serrated - saw - toothed edge
Supracaudal scutes - two rearmost marginal scutes ( sometimes fused in one )
Supramarginal scutes - scutes located between the costals and marginals ( present in Macroclemys )
Sympatric - occupying the same geographic area


Tachycardia - the slowing of heart during turtles dive
Temporal - the sides of the scull behind eyes
Teriary - a geologic period encompassing Paleocene to Pliocene
Tubercle - a small lump
Tuberosity - a large tubercle
Tympanum - a vibrating surface which forms the external ear in turtles
Type - the specimen on which a species is based and named
Type genus - the genus selected as a standard of reference for a family
Type species - the species upon which the description of a genus is based




Xeric - term used to describe dry environments
Xiphiplastra - the rearmost pair of plastral bones



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.