Tacony Creek Creatures: Painted Turtles

Intern Emmanuel Hampton continues his Tacony Creek Creatures series with the Painted Turtle! You can see this creature in Tacony Creek, at the Learning Trail, and painted on the Tacony Creek Park Trail as part of the Love Our Park Mural project.

Read the previous features in this series! Red FoxGreat Blue Heron, and next up, Northern Water Snake!

Stop by the River Alive Learning Trail to see the heron, fox, painted turtle, and other creatures up close. River Alive Learning Trail free program information here.

Written by: Emmanuel Hampton, TTF Intern

Alongside snakes, turtles are abundant in Tacony Creek Park. The most abundant being the popular Painted turtle. With its vibrant colored spots, lines, and shell trimming, this turtle is a sight to behold.

Photo: Dream State by Aimee Nicole Grobe, 2021 2nd Place Adult winner in the 2021 TTF Watershed Photo Contest

The color runs through their whole body and can be many different variations. Though their colors are bright, they are theorized to be meant for camouflage to sneak up on their prey.

Known for feeding on mainly vegetation and plants, these turtles are also known for consuming small animals like fish and insects. Painted turtles are capable of eating carrion (decaying animal flesh) and crustaceans like small krill and shrimp. Their ability to eat both plants and animals makes them able to be classified as an omnivore. The eating of rotting flesh also makes them a scavenger.

Painted turtles don’t use their claws for hunting at all. Instead of slashing their prey, they use their lips like mandibles to bite. Their bite doesn’t do too much damage, so most of the time their prey is bite-sized and small.

Their claws are meant for climbing, keeping balance on uneven ground, and mating. Around May and July, female Painted Turtles lay dozens of eggs into ditches near a large body of water. The hatchlings hatch and have to make it to the water.

These freshwater creatures need a habitat with enough water and vegetation. Because of this, they live in marshes, ponds, some lakes, and creeks, and can stay underwater for more than a day.

They are able to go without water for one or two weeks if it is necessary for their survival, and can only last that long if the weather doesn’t get to them. As cold-blooded reptiles, they don’t generate their own body heat and have to rely on the temperature of their environment to survive. Since the weather can be very harsh at times, they have a high-temperature tolerance.

Turtles aren’t the best at attacking or hiding so they need some way of protecting themselves. This includes the Painted Turtle and its bright colors. Like all turtles, Painted turtles have hard shells to protect themselves. The shell is linked to their bone structures and is not removable. It is made of bone and the turtle’s spine is underneath it. Painted Turtles tuck their head and limbs into their shell thanks to their bone structure.

The average turtle shell can take more punishment than most animals can but the thing is, the shell is a living organ. When it does get damaged, the tissue can be seen and attacked by infections or other animals. If too much damage is done to the shell, it can result in serious organ damage and death.

The shell also has a major downfall that can keep them in very dangerous positions. Painted turtles, like other turtles, aren’t that fast. Because of their bulky shell and unbendable spine, if in a dangerous situation, all they can really do is go into their shells and hope they’ll be fine.

Some animals are capable of taking advantage of their slow speed. Predators like raccoons, skunks, foxes, herons, larger birds, snakes, and big fish easily take advantage of Painted Turtles’ young. Adult Painted Turtles are less likely to be eaten but are still attacked by foxes and raccoons. The turtles may lose a limb as a result. If caught out of the water, these creatures will be fast enough to do serious damage to this turtle.

Painted Turtles are beautiful creatures that can be found as a reward for exploration. If you spot one in Tacony Creek, please share a photo on social media and tag us! @TTFWatershed #TTFWatershed #TaconyCreekPark 

Web sources: Biology Dictionary, Animal Diversity.org, Wildadirondacks.org, Badman’s Tropical Fish, TurtleHolic, CT.gov

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