Southern Painted Turtle

Lisa Selvaggio
by Lisa Selvaggio
fast facts

About Southern Painted Turtle

25-50 years
Commercial turtle diet, non-toxic aquatic plants, fish, vegetables, insects, worms, snails
Difficulty Of Care
Low Maintenance
Comparable Breeds
Eastern Painted Turtle, Midland Painted Turtle
Top Breed
Southern Painted Turtle General Info

The Southern Painted Turtle is an attractive turtle that is commonly kept as a pet, so it is easy to find hatchlings that were bred in captivity. This is important because experts do not recommend keeping wild turtles as pets, and wild turtles should not be taken out of their natural environment.

There are actually four types of Painted Turtles, and the Southern Painted Turtle is the smallest. Some people even consider this type of Painted Turtle the most attractive of all four types.

These semi-aquatic turtles are low maintenance and a good beginner option if you are new to keeping turtles as pets.

Southern Painted Turtles are attractive turtles that are commonly kept as pets.

Native Habitat
Painted Turtles are found throughout the United States, from the east coast all the way to the west coast, as well as up to southern Canada and down to northern Mexico. Southern Painted Turtles, in particular, are found in Missouri, Illinois, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi.

These turtles prefer still and slow-moving freshwater environments that feature plenty of aquatic vegetation; however, they have also been seen in brackish environments. They like to make their homes in bodies of water that feature soft bottoms, and they need to be in habitats that also provide basking areas, so they favor everything from rivers and swamps, to ponds and lakes.

Overall Description

Southern Painted Turtles are similar in appearance to the Eastern Painted Turtle, but they do not feature aligned scutes on the carapace. These turtles are also smaller when compared to the size of the other three types of Painted Turtles.

When looking at a Southern Painted Turtle, you will notice that the males have long front claws. Males will also feature longer tails than females, and the tails will be thicker at their base. Males can also be distinguished from females because they are smaller when they are fully grown.

Southern Painted Turtles spend a lot of time basking.


The Southern Painted Turtle features a dark green carapace that has a thin red, orange, or yellow stripe that runs right down the middle of the shell from the top to the bottom. Also, when you look at this turtle’s head, you will notice markings that include wavy or jagged yellow stripes. There are also markings along this turtle’s marginals. The legs, which are black or dark green like the head, will also feature colored stripes, and the plastron will be yellow or tan without any patterning.

Southern Painted Turtles spend a lot of time basking, so you will need to provide your pet with a basking area that has overhead UVB lighting and a heat lamp that will maintain the temperature anywhere from the upper 80s to lower 90s Fahrenheit.

You will also need to maintain the water temperature in the low to mid 70s Fahrenheit, so a high quality submersible water heater will be necessary. A high quality filtration system will also be required in order to keep the water pure at all times.

Your turtle’s enclosure should have water that is deep enough that he can completely submerge and swim around. A good place to start is to make the water about 10-12” deep.

You can opt to leave the bottom of the tank bare, but if you do choose to use a substrate, gravel or sand is recommended. No matter what substrate you choose, make sure the particle size is either small enough that it can move through your pet’s digestive tract with ease, or large enough that it can’t be swallowed in the first place.

The minimum recommended tank size for just one male adult Southern Painted Turtle is 40 gallons, but 55 gallons or more is a better option. Because females will grow to a larger size than males, a single adult female should have a tank that is at least 55 gallons, but the preference would around 75 gallons. If you are planning on housing more than one Southern Painted Turtle in the same enclosure, you should add a minimum of 40 gallons for each female and a minimum of 20 gallons for each male.

Provide your turtle with hiding places under the water, but make sure that they are safe, as you don’t want your turtle to get stuck and drown. You can also add non-toxic plants to the enclosure in order to give your turtle more places to hide, as well as extra sources of food.

Southern Painted Turtles are a good option if you wish to build a community habitat for several different turtle species.

Care Requirements

These turtles follow an omnivorous diet. Therefore, to keep your Southern Painted Turtle healthy, you can feed him a commercial turtle diet, as well as fish, vegetables, non-toxic aquatic plants, crickets, insects, worms, and snails.


Southern Painted Turtles are a good option if you wish to build a community habitat for several different turtle species, as these animals will get along with other Painted Turtle breeds, as well as Map Turtles, Cooters, and Sliders. Always watch out for aggressive behavior in community tanks, and provide your turtles with plenty of space and places to hide.

Handle your Southern Painted Turtle only when necessary, and be aware that these turtles can bite if they are provoked, frightened, or stressed.

Photo credit: Suzanne L Collins/Wikimedia; André Karwath/Wikimedia; ilouque/Flickr
Lisa Selvaggio
Lisa Selvaggio

Lisa Selvaggio is a freelance writer and editor, and our resident cats-pert, with certifications in pet nutrition and pet first aid. She enjoys producing content that helps people understand animals better so they can give their pets a safe and happy home.

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