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Western Painted Turtles

Updated on September 2, 2015

Painted Turtles Make Awesome Pets!

If you know how to take care of them, painted turtles make great pets! They don't shed, they don't eat a lot, and they will respond to interaction. They may not snuggle up in bed with you but they do have fun chasing cats and other animals around the house! Painted Turtles have their own personalities and will give you many years of companionship - somewhere around 20 years actually!

My Turtles - Lilly and Shelly

My Painted Turtles
My Painted Turtles

Lilly and Shelly

We call our Painted Turtles Lilly and Shelly but that's misleading. Their real names are LeRoy and Sheldon because they're both boys. Someone had told us that they were girls so they were aptly named Lilly and Shelly. A trip to the vet for Lilly exposed the real truth - they're both boys. It's their long claws that give it away. Their claws are the only way that you can tell which sex they are.

Lilly - Pond Critter

This is Lilly
This is Lilly

A New Pet

A little nature pond is situated near one of the city's grade schools. Kids 16 and under are the only ones allowed to fish there. One day, the kids went to the pond and, lo and behold, they brought home a turtle. It was small, just a few inches across. But I didn't know what to do with a turtle. That's one pet I never had growing up. My mom let me have little fuzzy creatures but if it resembled a reptile, no way!

Lilly's New Home - An Aquarium is the Perfect Place

Painted turtles in their tank
Painted turtles in their tank

Turtle Habitats

Since I never had a turtle and this one made it through the first night, I thought we were doing okay. We set up the aquarium and headed to the pet store where we bought a nice little floating fake rock shelf, some turtle pellets, a filter, and an air pump. We had this nice big aquarium set up now so we put our fish, who was in a little tank, in with the little turtle. WARNING: Turtles eat fish!!!! It was quite devastating because we all really liked our white and gold fish with the big eyes who would come to the side of the tank to see us. Don't put fish in with your turtle unless you mean for it to be food.

A Terrarium is Perfect for a Painted Turtle

Find the perfect tank for your turtle right away and you won't have to move it for a long time. They love swimming but also need a place where they can bask in the sun or a heat lamp.

Turtle Terrarium

Exo Terra Glass Turtle Terrarium
Exo Terra Glass Turtle Terrarium

The terrarium will be perfect for your turtles. It's wide and short. My tank is tall and skinny but it still works. We've been through three tanks already so if you can avoid all that transfer trouble, more power to you.


Turtles Need Special Care - What You Don't Know Can Hurt Them

Lilly is checking out his surroundings
Lilly is checking out his surroundings

What's happening to his shell?

For over a year, Lilly lived in his 15 gallon aquarium perfectly happy. When he was hungry, he would come to the top and stick his head out. He would, and still does, prefer to eat his first few turtle pellets right out of our hands. When we walked by the tank, he would listen intently as we talked to him. He was the perfect little pet but after awhile, his shell started to look a little funny. We didn't realize that something that we didn't know about was causing it.

MBD - Metabolic Bone Disease


Don't Forget the UV Lighting

MBD - Metabolic Bone Disease is a disease that turtles get if they don't get enough UV light or they have a poor diet. This can be fatal to turtles but now that we've figured out the problem, he hasn't gotten any worse, and he still seems very happy. In fact, he's a very happy, confident turtle who loves to chase Patches, our cat, around the house. I will never put him back into the wild because he can't hide in his shell anymore. The disease makes the shell curl up on the edges leaving a lot of the turtle's body exposed. He would be completely defenseless so we're giving him the best captive life that we can.

Basking Platform - Western Painted Turtles are Basking Turtles

Turtles need to bask because if they don't, they can't digest their food. They have to be warm for their digestive system to work so you need to make sure that they can bask in their inside environment or out in the sun when it's warm enough.

Zoo Med Turtle Dock for 40 Gallon Tanks, Large
Zoo Med Turtle Dock for 40 Gallon Tanks, Large

This is a nice big turtle dock where your reptile can hang out and stay warm.


They Did Not! - Not Another Turtle!

Welcome Shelly!
Welcome Shelly!

Another Painted Turtle

I came home from work to find another turtle in the tank. I should have made the kids take it right back to the pond but this turtle seemed so nice too. I really liked the turtles. It soon became obvious that we were going to need a bigger tank. We moved up to a 30 gallon aquarium which is the one we are still using today. Shelly did great for months along with Lilly but then her shell started to do the same thing as Lilly's and I knew I had to figure out what was going on. That's when I learned about the MBD. Her shell is only a little fanned out near the back because we caught it in time to stop the MBD. She is growing and she can hide completely in her shell, tail and all.

Shelly - A Bit Bigger Than Lilly

Shelly the Turtle
Shelly the Turtle

Hand Feeding the Turtles

Shelly was a little bigger than Lilly when we got him. His shell was perfect which really made me think there was something wrong with Lilly. He was quite a bit more nervous at first too, probably because he was a little older than Lilly was when we got him.

However, it only took him a few days to start asking for the turtle pellets from our hands. We would be feeding Lilly that way and we would offer it to him but he would always swim away. After a few days, he stayed and ate the first few that way too.

The Red Eared Sliders

More Disaster for Lilly!

Somebody needed a temporary home for 2 red eared sliders. They forgot to mention that they were huge! They told me that they were the same size as Lilly and Shelly so I said fine, they can stay for a little while. WARNING #2: Don't mix turtles in a too small tank! This was another one of those coming home to more turtles in the tank scenarios, only these turtles were monsters!

Since poor little Lilly was the littlest turtle, they went after him before we realized the damage they had done. We got rid of those other turtles as quickly as we could, finding them a super great home in a middle school classroom where they get lots of attention.

Unfortunately, Lilly didn't escape without battle wounds and now has 2 tails. Yep, turtles will grow back parts that are torn off. Even though his first tail is still there, it was badly damaged. The second tail just grows slowly along with it.

Between the tail and the MBD, Lilly had to take his first trip to the vet. It wasn't fun. The vet said that Lilly seemed like a happy turtle and was a healthy weight but I had to give him shots of antibiotics every day for a week. It was awful. They had to clean up all the battle wounds and I took poor Lilly home bleeding with open sores.

Important Things To Remember About Turtles

There's a few things that I wish I would have known about turtles when Lilly first came into our lives.

  • Turtles eat live fish, turtle pellets, worms, insects, and minnows.
  • Turtles can live 20 years in capacity.
  • You need to buy bulbs that have a UV rating.
  • Turtles love to bask! Make sure they are getting sun or have access to a heat lamp.
  • Two male turtles in an enclosure will fight with each other.
  • Turtles carry salmonella. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling.

Living in Captivity

A lot of animals have longer life spans when they are being cared for in captivity.

Turtles are an exception.

Their life expectancy in captivity is only around 20 years. In the wild, they can live to be in their 30's and even sometimes 40's.

Have You Ever Had a Pet Turtle?

See results

How to Care for Painted Turtles - This video has great information in them

If you would like more information on how to take care of painted turtles, find some videos that are loaded with tips.

Mucky - The Fish


Thriving in the Tank

I know that I said that you shouldn't put fish in with the turtles but the tank was looking a little grungy so I wanted to try putting a pleco in there with them. I got one that wasn't tiny but was maybe two inches long. I was really worried about the little guy but there were a few hiding places in the tank so I was hoping he would be okay and boy was he! That pleco is now about 8" long and is just about bigger than Lilly. Once in a while I even see him pushing Lilly around and now I'm more worried about Lilly than I am about the pleco! He's huge!

Do you like turtles?

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    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 

      4 years ago from New Jersey

      You helped me remember my two turtles Yertle and Myrtle, when I was a little girl. When my family was on a camping trip, and my son was about 5, he reached into a lake and picked up a turtle about as big as a quarter. We brought it home, and it lived for about 10 years. We really loved him!

    • Arachnea profile image

      Tanya Jones 

      5 years ago from Texas USA

      yeh. i'm contemplating a couple as pets. the selling point is they won't be curling up in my bed. ha! great lens.

    • shewins profile image


      6 years ago

      I'm sure you've helped a lot of turtles (and fish) with your article.

    • Michelllle profile image


      6 years ago

      Gosh, wish I knew this stuff when I was a kid with a pet turtle.

    • geosum profile image


      6 years ago

      Enjoyed seeing your turtle. great lens.


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