Skip booklet index and go to page content

Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys Picta Bellii)


Global Range

Chrysemys picta belliioccurs in central North America, from the southern portion of central and western Canada, southward to Missouri, northeastern Colorado, and Kansas (Figure 4). It extends as far east as Illinois, Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan, and westward around the Great Basin, to east and north Wyoming, northern Idaho, and Washington (Figure 4). There are isolated populations in the southwest United States, namely in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and southwest Colorado. There is also an isolated population in Chihuahua, Mexico (NatureServe 2004). The global range of C. p. bellii overlaps with the coniferous forest and tall and short grass prairies of central North America, contouring around the Great Basin, high plateaus (Columbia and Colorado), and mountain ranges (e.g., Coast Ranges, Cascades, Rocky Mountains).

Figure 4: Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii) Range in North America

Figure 4: Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii) range inNorth America.

Canadian Range

After the Wisconsin glaciation, the Painted Turtle was one of only three species of turtle to move northward into central and western Canada (Cook, 1984). Chrysemys p. bellii occurs from the southwest corner of northwestern Ontario, through southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan and extreme southern Alberta, to the low-lying valleys of British Columbia’s southern interior and south coast (Figure 5). Progressive continental cooling over the past 3000 to 4000 years appears to have prevented the Painted Turtle from expanding its range north of the 51st parallel (Bleakney 2004). Its range roughly coincides with areas of western and central Canada that have: (1) frost-free days until early November; (2) mean daily July temperatures of at least 17.5°C; (3) mean annual January temperatures above -20°C in Ontario and Manitoba, where there is significant snow cover, and above -12°C in the drier prairies, where mean annual snowfall is less than 100 cm (Hare and Morley 1974). These conditions offer a long growing season, with adequate warmth during the egg incubation period, and tolerable subterranean freezing levels for the overwintering hatchlings.

Province by province range descriptions for the Western Painted Turtle are as follows. The species has a continuous distribution in the southwest corner of central Ontario. It is found from the wetlands and streams of the Thunder Bay District that drain into Lake Superior, north to the Vermillion Lakes of Rainy River District, and west to the Lake of the Woods area of the Kenora District. In Manitoba, the Western Painted Turtle occurs along the margins of the large Lake Winnipegosis and Lake Winnipeg, and in their vast associated networks of inlets and wetlands. There are records as far north as Riding Mountain National Park, in western Manitoba, from lakes connected to the Assiniboine River watershed (W. Vandershuit pers. comm. 2005). In Saskatchewan, there are records for this species in the most southern headwaters of the Saskatchewan River (e.g., Swift Current Creek) and in the Qu'Appelle and Souris headwaters of the Assiniboine River, all of which drain into Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba. There are also Painted Turtle records in the Frenchman River drainage of Saskatchewan, which merges with Milk River in Montana (Missouri River headwater). Critical habitats in Saskatchewan appear to be in the lower reaches of the Souris River, and around this river’s confluence with Roughbark Creek. In Alberta, the species is restricted to the Milk River, Cypress Hills, and upper Oldman River. Very recently, Western Painted Turtles have been found in Waterton Lakes National Park (P. Achuff pers. comm. 2005), and as far northwest as the Crowsnest Pass Municipality of Alberta, where the montane Douglas fir/limber pine landscape meets the fescue grassland foothills (R. Quinlan pers. comm. 2004). Turtles further north are thought to be released pets (R. Quinlan pers. comm. 2004). Although these records in the Oldman River headwaters are only within a few kilometres of the nearest B.C. watershed (Elk River), the mountains between the provinces represent a formidable barrier to movement. The nearest turtle locations in B.C. are confined to the low-lying Rocky Mountain Trench, and have undoubtedly originated from Montana. In British Columbia, C. p. bellii is present in other lowlands of the Southern Interior as well, including the valleys of Kootenay, Arrow and Okanagan Lakes, and of the Thompson River. On the South Coast of B.C., the Western Painted Turtle occurs in the Georgia Lowlands (Fraser River valley from Hope to Vancouver; Sunshine Coast up to Powell River), the Nanaimo Lowlands of southeast Vancouver Island, and some of the Gulf Islands. South Coast and Southern Interior locations are isolated from one another by the Cascade Mountains.

Figure 5: Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii) Range in Canada

Figure 5: Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii) range in Canada.