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Herp Highlight #6: Eastern Painted Turtle

Lazily swimming in the Woodland Pond exhibit is a colorful little reptile known as an Eastern Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta). Named for their vibrant red and yellow colors, these aquatic turtles are the most widespread native turtles in North America, and are commonly found all throughout Virginia. They are easy to identify by the two yellow blotches on each side of the head, and the reddish bands that run across the shell.


Painted turtles are omnivores and eat both meat and plant matter. They often prey upon worms, insects, leeches, snails, crayfish, frogs, tadpoles and fish. When hunting, these turtles lumber about the bottom, jutting their head in and out of vegetation to stir potential prey out into the open water where they will hunt it down.


During the winter months, these small turtles burrow down into the muddy bottom of a body of water. Special adaptations allow the turtle to survive extreme lactic acid buildup and even acquire some oxygen through its skin. Because of this, the painted turtle may go as long as 5 months without breathing…longer than any other air-breathing vertebrate!


Fun Fact: Painted turtle fossils have been found as far back as 15 million years ago! They have played a large role in Native American culture; traditional tales of the Algonquian tribes often portray the painted turtle as a trickster!


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