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

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The main differences between male and female painted turtles are the size and shape of their shell. While the male is usually larger than the female, with a longer and narrower shell, the female has a wider, flatter shell that allows her to carry more eggs. 

When it comes to painted turtles, size is an indicator of sex. Adult female painted turtles tend to be significantly larger than their female counterparts.

Determining the gender of a young turtle can be trickier.

So why is it important to know your turtle’s gender?

It helps you understand the unique and specialized needs of each sex. Knowing your turtle’s gender also makes breeding management much easier if that is something you are interested in doing.

Whether you’re raising a small pet or trying to breed champion specimens, knowing your turtle’s gender is crucial for ensuring their health and well-being as they grow older.

Male vs. Female Painted Turtle

Male painted turtles are smaller than females. They are also identifiable by their longer tails, low cloaca position, and convex plastron shape.

Understanding your painted turtle’s gender can help you provide optimal care, including giving them the proper diet and housing requirements based on their sex.

For example, males require more access to water for mating purposes, whereas females need a larger and deeper habitat with plenty of space to dig burrows and lay eggs.

TraitMale Painted TurtleFemale Painted Turtle
Shell length7–8 inches8–10 inches
Plastron shapeConvexFlat
Tail shape & sizeLong, thickShort, thin
Cloaca positioningNear tail tipNear tail base
Relative claw lengthLongerShorter
BehaviorAggressive and territorialRelaxed and sociable

Female Painted Turtle

Female painted turtles are larger than males. They have shorter tails, high cloaca position, and flat or concave plastron shape.[1]

Females need a large and deep habitat with plenty of space to dig burrows and lay eggs. They also require a diet higher in calcium to help support egg production.

Male Painted Turtle

Male painted turtles are smaller than females. They can have longer tails, low cloaca position, and convex plastron shape.[2]

Males may require more access to water for mating purposes. They also benefit from a diet higher in protein to help support sperm production.

Differences Between Male and Female Painted Turtles

The main difference between a male painted turtle and a female is that the male is smaller than the female with a convexly curved plastron. He also has a long tail with a lower cloaca, longer claws, and different reproductive behaviors.

Size

Male and Female Painted Turtles difference in size
Image Source

The average size of a female painted turtle is 8-10 inches, while the average size of a male is 7-8 inches.

The two genders grow at the same rate, but the female matures later between 6-7 years, compared to 4-5 for males.

These sizes differ across the three subspecies of the painted turtle: 

As mentioned before, the female painted turtle is usually much larger than the male. This is because she needs to be able to lay her eggs and dig her burrows, which requires more space and energy.

Shape

Western Painted Turtle Anatomy and Appearance
Image Source

The shape of the plastron (bottom shell) differs between genders. The male has a convex (curved inwards) plastron, while the female is flat.

This curved shape facilitates the male in mounting the female during copulation.

Diet in Breeding Season

The two genders have different nutritional requirements during reproduction. Females need higher amounts of calcium to support egg production. Supplement this in captivity with vitamin powders or cuttlebone.

Males have higher protein requirements when producing quality sperm.

Health

The gender-specific organs of painted turtles put them at risk of unique health risks. For example, females are at risk of becoming egg-bound, while males risk developing kidney stones.

Reproductive Behavior

Painted Turtles Reproductive Behavior

Another difference is their reproductive behavior when they reach sexual maturity and show their secondary sexual characteristics.

Identify mating pairs by their behavior. Males chase and nudge females in an attempt to mate. If she is receptive, she allows him to mount her, and they remain coupled for some time.[3]

Females look for nesting sites and display digging behavior.

Similarities Between Male and Female Painted Turtles

Male and female painted turtles are similar overall. They have the same general behavior, habitat, diet, and coloration.

General Behavior

Painted turtles are generally shy and reclusive creatures. They often bask on logs or rocks in groups in the wild. When frightened or disturbed, they quickly retreat into the water.

They are timid around humans but can become used to regular handling and may even eat from your hand.

Habitat

painted turtle activity

Painted turtles are aquatic creatures that prefer slow-moving or stagnant water with plenty of vegetation. They need a basking area where they can dry off and warm up.

They often inhabit ponds, lakes, marshes, and swamps in the wild. In captivity, they can be kept in aquaria or backyard ponds.[4]

General Diet

Outside of the breeding season, the two genders eat much the same diet. Painted turtles are omnivorous and eat a variety of plant and animal matter. 

In the wild, their diet consists of

  • aquatic plants
  • insects
  • crustaceans
  • fish
  • carrion.

In captivity, they can be fed a diet of 

  • pellets
  • vegetables
  • live food.

Coloration

The coloration of painted turtles is the same for males and females. They have a smooth, oval-shaped carapace with red and yellow patterns. Black markings break these up to create an intricate mosaic of colors.

7 Ways to Tell the Gender of a Painted Turtle

Determining the gender of a painted turtle is not always straightforward, especially when they are young. 

Seven key observations can help to tell the gender:

  • Size
  • Shape
  • Tail Length
  • Cloaca Positioning
  • Claw Length
  • Behavior
  • Incubation Temperature

Related: Male vs. Female Red-Eared Slider

Size

Western Painted Turtles Size and Growth Rate
Image Source

Male and female painted turtles grow to different sizes. The male is usually much smaller than the female, with an adult size of seven to eight inches. The female can reach up to ten inches in length.

Measure an adult turtle to determine its gender.

Related: Pet Turtles That Stay Small Forever

Shape

Inspect the plastron (bottom shell) of your painted turtle gently. Do not turn your turtle upside down. Instead, slip your fingers under their body to touch them softly.

The male has a concave (curved inwards) plastron, while the female is flat.

Tail Length

Painted Turtles Tail Length
Image Source

When examining the tail length of a painted turtle, exercise care and caution. The area is sensitive, and mishandling can cause discomfort or aggression.

It’s best to view the tail, not touching it. Males have a long, thick tail which is noticeable compared to the female’s short, thin one.

Cloaca Positioning

When observing the tail, look for the cloaca. The male’s cloaca is positioned near the tip of its tail, while the female cloaca is higher on the tail, closer to the shell.

Claw Length

Painted Turtles Claw Length
Image Source

The males have longer claws than the females, which assists them in mounting during copulation. Comparing claw length is easier when you have two painted turtles of different genders.

Behavior

Aside from the physical differences, behavior can help owners determine their turtle’s gender.

Males may be more territorial and aggressive towards other turtles. They also perform courtship dances to any nearby females, which involve a display of fluttering their claws.

Females are more accepting of other turtles and may dig inside the enclosure to prepare a nest. If your turtle lays eggs, it’s a sure sign it is a female.

Incubation Temperature

Painted turtles have temperature-dependent sex determination. This means young turtles don’t develop their gender based on genetics. Instead, the temperature of incubation determines the sex of the hatchlings.[5]

If you hatch painted turtles yourself, you may be able to get insight into their gender based on your temperature recordings.

GenderIncubation temperature
Females86–89.6°F
Males71–78.8
Mix of genders79–85°F

Final Thoughts

There are several ways to determine the gender of a painted turtle. The most accurate is to wait until they are fully grown and measure their size. Methods such as inspecting the shape of their plastron or cloaca positioning can give you a good indication of gender, especially in younger turtles.

Keep an eye on your turtles ‘ behavior and note the differences between males and females. Other clues, such as claw length and incubation temperature, can help you determine their gender. 

With careful observation and attention to detail, you can easily identify the gender of your painted turtle.

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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