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Midland Painted Turtle (C. p. marginata)

One of the most popular pet turtles is the Midland painted turtle. These reptiles have a fascinating natural history and are beautiful animals. 

In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the interesting facts about these creatures, their classification, evolution, and appearance. 

We’ll also explore their habitat and discuss how to care for them if you’re considering getting one as a pet.

Scientific Classification

SpeciesC. marginata


Common NameMidland Painted Turtle
Social BehaviorSolitary, but congregate in basking and feeding zones
Activity PatternDiurnal
Biggest ThreatHuman influence: pet trade, habitat loss, pollution
PredatorsHumans, small mammals, large fish, fishing birds
DistributionMid-United States
HabitatPonds, marshes, lakes
Lifespan20–40 years

Physical Characteristics

Length4–10 inches
ColorOlive, green, black, red, yellow, orange
Skin typeShell and scales

3 Interesting Midland Painted Turtle Facts

Midland painted turtles are only of three subspecies of painted turtle; like the others, they are a popular pet and native to North America. 

The species is unique, with various interesting facts:

  • They are the most difficult painted turtle subspecies to identify.
  • They don’t care for their young.
  • They don’t have any teeth.

Identifying a Midland Painted Turtle

Identifying a Midland Painted Turtle
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It can be challenging to identify a Midland Painted Turtle. They are around the same size as the western painted turtles, but their plastron is closer in color to the eastern subspecies.

The best way to distinguish them is by their plastron. Midland Painted Turtles have a tan plastron with dark shadows near the middle, while the eastern subspecies simply have a straight tan plastron.[1]

If you are still unsure, you can also look at the patterns on the turtle’s shell. Midland painted turtles have less defined patterns than their eastern counterparts.

Related: The Painted Turtle Species: Habitat, Appearance & More

Precocial Young

Midland Painted Turtle Precocial Young
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One interesting fact about Midland Painted Turtles is that they are precocial, meaning that their young are born fully independent. 

The mother turtle does not stick around to protect her eggs or help her young when they hatch. The baby turtles are on their own from the moment they are born.

Their young have to fend for themselves immediately, so they need to be born in an area with plenty of food and shelter. 

Toothless Hunters

Like other turtle species, the midland painted turtle has no teeth. Instead, they have a beak with sharp edges that they use to tear apart their food.[2]

They also have a hard ridge in their mouths to grind up their food. This helps them digest their meals better.

Midland Painted Turtle Classification and Evolution 

The midland painted turtle is one of three subspecies of the painted turtle. The scientific name for the midland painted turtle is Chrysemys picta marginata.

This subspecies of the painted turtle evolved separately in their geographic isolation across North America. Each subspecies population is named after the area they reside in: 

A separate species to the painted turtle, the southern painted turtle, also exists in the south.

Historically, glaciers separated the subspecies, and when they retreated (11,000 years ago), all subspecies moved northwards, and the borders between populations interbreed to create hybrids.[3]

This area where subspecies meet is called an intergrade. The midland painted turtle mixes extensively with the eastern painted turtle in the northeast. Scientists call this population a “hybrid swarm.”

In the southern edge of the midlands range, the border between these two subspecies is more distinct as mountains create a physical barrier between populations.

Midland Painted Turtle Classification and Evolution

Midland Painted Turtle Anatomy and Appearance

Midland painted turtles have a dark green or black shell with red, yellow, and orange markings. The bottom of their shell is yellow or cream-colored with dark shadows in the middle.

Their necks, legs, and tails are brightly colored. Male midland painted turtles usually have brighter colors than females.  

Midland Painted Turtle Size

The midland painted turtle is a medium-sized turtle with an average shell length of around 10 inches. The largest recorded midland painted turtle had a shell length of 16.5 inches. 

Midland Painted Turtle Anatomy and Appearance
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Midland Painted Turtle Habitat and Distribution

Midland painted turtles are found in the central United States. Their range extends from southern Michigan to northeastern Oklahoma and from eastern North Dakota to northern Georgia.The Midland painted turtle prefers slow-moving rivers, ponds, and lakes with soft bottoms and plenty of aquatic plants. 


Midland painted turtles like quiet waters with lots of vegetative covers. These turtles like to bask in the sun on logs or rocks, but they also spend a lot of time in the water, so they need a habitat that has both. 

They’re especially fond of coves and sheltered areas with dense vegetation because those places offer both food and safety from predators. 


You can find midland painted turtles in several states in the US:

  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • Ohio
  • Wisconsin
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • West Virginia
  • Kentucky
  • Tennessee
Midland Painted Turtle Habitat and Distribution
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Midland Painted Turtle Diet

Midland painted turtles are omnivorous, meaning they eat both plants and animals including insects, worms, snails, crayfish, tadpoles, algae, moss, and more. Their diet changes as they grow from hatchlings to adults. 

Hatchlings and young turtles mostly eat insects and other invertebrates. They start to eat more plants and less meat as they get older. By the time they’re adults, their diet consists mostly of plants. [4]

Midland painted turtles eat just about anything they can catch: 

  • Insects
  • Worms
  • Snails
  • Crayfish
  • Fish 
  • Tadpoles
  • Frogs 
  • Plants
  • Leaves
  • Fruits 
  • Seeds
  • Flowers 
  • Algae 
  • Moss

Midland Painted Turtle Reproduction and Lifecycle

Male midland painted turtles reach sexual maturity at around 5–6 years of age. Females take a bit longer to mature, usually around 7–8 years old. She lays an average clutch size of  5–9 eggs per nest. 

Related: Male vs. Female Painted Turtle: How To Tell The Difference

Midland Painted Turtle Mating Dance and Breeding Season

Mating season for midland painted turtles usually takes place from May to June. During this time, the males compete for the attention of the females by engaging in a ritual mating dance. 

The dance involves the male turtle circling the female and tapping her shell with his front claws. If she is receptive, she allows him to mount her, and they mate. 

Midland Painted Turtle Mating Dance and Breeding Season
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Midland Painted Turtle Nesting

Nesting season for midland painted turtles usually starts in late May and continues through early July. The female turtle digs a nest in the ground, usually on a sandy beach near the water’s edge. 

She lays her eggs in the nest and covers them with sand before heading back into the water. The eggs incubate for around 60–70 days before hatching. [5]

Midland Painted Turtle Care

Midland painted turtles can be kept as pets, but they require great care to stay healthy. They need a large tank with clean water, a balanced diet, and specialized lighting and temperature control.

Tank Setup

The tank setup for a midland painted turtle should include a 60 gallons tank. If you have more than one turtle, you need a larger tank. The water should be deep enough for the turtle to swim and dive but not so deep that he can’t touch the bottom. 

As a rule of thumb, offer 10-gallons per inch of shell. The larger the tank, the better

The water should be filtered and kept clean. A turtle’s tank is like a mini-ecosystem and the filtration system helps to keep it clean. 

You should also do weekly water changes of 30–50%. This helps to remove any waste or debris that has accumulated in the tank. 

Lighting and Temperature

Lighting and Temperature
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Midland painted turtles are cold-blooded, so they rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature. They need a basking spot to warm up in the sun or under a heat lamp. 

The basking spot should be around 85–95°F. The water temperature should be around 75–85°F.

You need to provide a UVB light to help the turtle absorb calcium. 

Diet and Feeding

A healthy diet for a midland painted turtle includes a variety of foods: 

  • Turtle pellets.
  • Fresh vegetables.
  • Live insects.
  • Frozen/live fish.

It’s important to offer a variety of foods to ensure your turtle gets the nutrients he needs. Feeding him a diet of only pellets or vegetables can lead to health problems. 

Turtle pellets should make up the bulk of his diet, around 50–60%. The rest of his diet should be fresh vegetables and live insects. 

Related: What Do Painted Turtles Eat?

Final Thoughts

The midland painted turtle is a beautiful and unique pet that can provide you with years of enjoyment. They are relatively easy to care for, but they require some special care to stay healthy. 

If you are prepared to provide a large tank, clean water, and a balanced diet, the midland painted turtle may be the perfect pet.

About Sophie Herlihy (Zoologist)

Sophie Herlihy, a trained zoologist, is a lover of true misfit animals. With a specialty in insects, birds, and rodents, she helps the Misfit Animals craft factual and valuable informational pieces on various animals.

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