The painted turtle is perhaps the most popular native reptile of North America. It ranges widely in range, occurring in dry to moist habitats, ranging from southern Canada southward to northern Mexico, from the Pacific to the Atlantic. In nature, the painted turtle is a semi-aquatic creature, generally found in fresh or saline waters. It is nocturnal, but spends much of its time on land, basking in sunlight. It preys mostly on aquatic invertebrates such as snails and clams. These creatures provide the necessary nourishment for long-lived hatchlings and young turtles.
The eastern painted turtle (Cheltyshoe Tortoise) is one of two freshwater species in this genus. The western painted turtle (Cheltyshoe Squamata) is smaller and is typically less colorful than the eastern species. They are more localized in their distribution than the eastern species, however, and are found in mostly smaller bodies of fresh water along the sides of larger bodies of salt water. The marine species of this genus are found in the northern Atlantic, off the shores of Nova Scotia and Maryland, in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coasts of southern Florida and Texas, and along the kelp forests of Pacific Northwest Washington. These animals are known from pictures but are actually still alive in the wild.
The marine variety of these turtles are distinguished by having gill covers on the upper portions of their shells. These vented areas allow some air to circulate around the animal's respiratory organs. Although they breathe through gills, the venting faces forward, away from the viewer. This trait helps to keep them cool when swimming. These turtles are ambush predators, attacking unsuspecting fish, squid, and other crustaceans that pass by.
Although this is a beautiful animal, Painted Turtles is not as well known as other species of this genus such as the Leatherback, Green Sea Turtle, or Sea Turtles. One reason for this is because they are not generally seen or collected in the wild. Because they are nocturnal creatures, they have adapted an elaborate lifestyle that includes a high rate of metabolism and slow growth. For this reason they can remain undetected in their natural habitat for years at a time. Only when disturbed do they usually become caught, and once they are out in the open they are nearly impossible to find.
Because of their slow reproduction rate and long life span (many years being produced before coming off the sea floor), it is rare to see a painted turtle in the wild. A study was conducted in Florida to determine the population status of this turtle species. It was found that there were only six adult females between the ages of sixteen and thirty-two years old in a population of nearly thirty thousand! With such a short life span, it is likely that very few females remain in their native waters to breed. This is in contrast to the rapid reproduction rates of marine turtles which can produce hundreds if not thousands of eggs in a short period of time.
With few sightings recorded in the wild, the future of this species remains unclear. There is evidence however of conservation efforts in areas of its native habitat in efforts to increase its numbers. These efforts are aimed at enhancing the chances of reaching maturity, increasing reproductive success, reducing inbreeding and extinctions of certain subspecies of these turtle species. There are a handful of areas in which these turtles are currently being threatened, with the most severe being the decline in sea levels that is expected to affect populations in the coming years. In the face of such threats, it is likely that the painted turtle will not be able to recover, remaining only in a limited habitat of the southern Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
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