Western Painted Turtle Habitat Stewardship

The Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii ~ Pacific coast population) is Vancouver Island's last remaining native turtle species and, unfortunately, it is already endangered.

About the Western Painted Turtle

turtle engelstoft 5Western 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.

How can I identify the Western Painted Turtle?

Western Painted Turtles can be difficult to tell apart from other introduced turtles.  Typically, the plastron (bottom shell) of the Western Painted Turtle has a striking red and black pattern. The red on the bottom shell is often visible even when the turtle is basking on a log. Western Painted Turtles also have a relatively flat, smooth upper shell when compared with the Red-eared Slider (the most common introduced turtle).

The BC Ministry of Environment has produced a Western Painted Turtle Identification Guide (pdf), and we encourage you to take a picture and forward it to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for identification.

Where do Western Painted Turtles live on Southern Vancouver Island?

Western Painted Turtles are known from a number of watersheds and lakes in southern Vancouver Island, including Elk-Beaver Lake, Swan Lake, and Matheson Lake.  Look for them basking on logs in the water, but please do not disturb them.

Why would a turtle be on land far away from a lake or wetland?

Turtles found on land are not lost - they are coming to or from their ground-based nests up to 300 metres from water. Only move turtles if they are in danger, and do not confine them. Watch for nesting turtles on south facing open slopes near ponds and wetlands in the following watersheds: Hagan, Tetayut, Bilston, Craigflower, and Colquitz. Please report and photograph all observations to HAT: 250 995 2428 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

What threats do Western Painted Turtles face?

Western Painted Turtles are threatened by shoreline development, intensive recreational use, road mortality, and nest predation by raccoons, other predators, and/or free-roaming pets. Painted Turtles require very specific freshwater habitats that are threatened by rapid urban development. Already southern Vancouver Island has lost more than 80% of its wetlands; habitat that is critical to Western Painted Turtles and many other species. Road mortality and nest site disturbance are two other main threats. 

What should I do if I find a Western Painted Turtle?

Please record and report the turtle sighting to HAT (250 995 2428 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), but do not pick up, move, or otherwise disturb the turtle unless it is in immediate danger (such as on a road). Check our "What you can do" page for more information.

Further Reading

HAT maintains a collabrative site to help conservationists share information, research, and best practices about Western Painted Turtles at http://speciesatrisk.hat.bc.ca/western-painted-turtle.

Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) Assessment and Status Report on the Western Painted Turtle

The BC Ministry of Envrionment's Frogwatch Program also has information about the Western Painted Turtle

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