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Eastern Painted Turtle

A typical Eastern Painted Turtle; notice how the scutes line up across the back.
Source: EOL

Eastern Painted Turtle
Chrysemys picta picta

Description: There are four sub-species of Painted Turtle in the United States with slightly different ranges and characteristics. The sub-species living in the Northeast is commonly known as the Eastern Painted Turtle. The Eastern Painted Turtle is small, only 5 to 7 inches long, with a smooth, flat, oval shell. The shell is made of bone, and the green color will vary depending on the substrate in which the turtle lives; the darker the surrounding area is, the darker and nearer to black the shell will be. The carapace, or upper shell, will have slightly yellow stripes around the shell plates, scutes, and the entire carapace is edged in red. In the eastern sub-species the scutes are aligned across the back, where in other sub-species they are misaligned. In the northeast region, the plastron, or under shell, of the Painted Turtle will be pale yellowish, possibly with spots. Although the base skin color is olive green to black, the Eastern Painted Turtle is known for its dramatic red, yellow, and orange stripes on the head, tail, and limbs; the face has only yellow stripes. Female turtles take longer to reach full maturity and are therefore generally larger than males. Males in turn have longer forearms, and longer, thicker claws. The Eastern Painted Turtle is diurnal (active during the day and sleeping at night). As omnivores, they are opportunists, feeding on a variety of plants and animals, many kinds of vegetation, small fish and amphibians, aquatic insects, algae, carrion, and anything else it can find. The Eastern Painted Turtle often spends large amounts of time basking in the sun. Not only is this vital for thermoregulation, helping to maintain a preferred body temperature, but the UV light also helps the turtle avoid skin parasites. Turtles are social animals and many will gather together to bask in the same area, often one on top of another.

Life History: Mating occurs in the spring, and the Eastern Painted Turtle exhibits a complex mating ritual. When a male meets a female he will stroke her face and neck with his claws; if she finds him acceptable she will return the gesture. This may happen several times before the female swims to the bottom of the water to mate. The female can store the sperm for multiple clutches in the same season, with nesting occurring late May through July. When the female is ready to lay her eggs she will dig a nest near the shore. She will lay up to twenty eggs in the nest, cover it back over with soil, then leave. Hatchlings are born around 76 days later, though some may stay in the nest over the winter. It is believed that the sex of the hatchlings is determined by the temperature during development, with warmer temperatures producing females, cooler temperatures producing males. The Eastern Painted Turtle grows quickly until it reaches full maturity, two to four years for males, six to ten years for females. It has a rather long life cycle and can reach up to 40 years old.

Habitat: The Painted Turtle is an endemic species found all across America, from southern Canada down to Louisiana, coast to coast. This sub-species, the Eastern Painted Turtle, is commonly found in all eight states in the Northeast regional node, and is found from Alabama to the east coast, southeast Canada down to Georgia. The Painted Turtle lives in wet habitats such as lakes, ponds, and slow moving streams. In general, it prefers a habitat with a soft, muddy bottom, slow moving currents, aquatic vegetation, and lots of places to bask in the sun. The Eastern Painted Turtle in particular prefers more aquatic habitats and has even been found in brackish waters, travelling vast distances between wetlands in search of food or mates. During the winter it hibernates in the mud at the bottom of river beds or in old animal burrows for five or six months. It can survive for extended periods underwater by absorbing oxygen out of the water directly through the skin on its neck and around its anus.

Status: The Eastern Painted Turtle is common to all states in the Northeast. An emerging concern may be the loss of wetlands, which contain a variety of habitats and resources needed by turtles for basking, feeding, and laying eggs. Changes to wetlands in some areas may make it difficult for the turtles to maintain their habits and lifestyles.


ITIS Report

A Pica Worth a Thousand Words: Portrait of a Painted Turtle

Reptiles of the Region

"Attitude, rather than disposition, is more definitive of serpent behavior. From the moment they emerge into this world until they complete their life cycle, their attitude is: Don't tread on me. I am well prepared to defend myself, but content to pass through life unnoticed. I mean no harm to anything or anyone that our creator has not proved as my bill of fare. I am self-sustaining, and I like it that way. Please pass me by."
~Bill Haast
Living history

Reptiles are the one of the oldest classes of animals in the world; early reptiles were around before evolving into dinosaurs. All mammals and birds on the Earth evolved from early reptilian ancestors. Worldwide there are more species of reptiles than there are of mammals.

There are 58 species of reptiles living in the Northeast region. Of the Reptilia class in the Northeast region, two Orders are present:  Squamata, which are lizards and snakes, and Testudines, which are turtles. The Squamata order is the largest order in the Reptilia class, encompassing more than 90% of the species.

Due to the cooler temperatures in the Northeast region, reptile populations, particularly snakes, are smaller there than populations found in other regions. Because of this some species that are abundant and common in Southeast regions are considered protected in the Northeast. With climate change pushing warmer temperatures further north, new species are moving in and becoming more common in areas they were previously unable to live. These changes are affecting native populations, as endemic species have to compete more fiercely for resources.

Common characteristics

Reptiles have several characteristics that set them apart from other classes of animals. While other animals may share some of these characteristics, it is the combination of characteristics that make reptiles unique.

Reptilian skin is dry and very thin. To protect it reptiles have scales, or scutes, covering their skin. Scales originate from the epidermal layer of the skin; scutes originate from the dermal layer of the skin. For example, lizards are covered in overlapping scales, while a turtle shell is made of fused-together scutes. This protective layer acts as a shield and keeps them watertight so they may live on land. While some reptiles, such as snakes, have found it more efficient to do away with limbs altogether, those with limbs have clawed toes.

Reptiles were the first animals able to live and reproduce on land. The reptiles found in the Northeast are oviparous (they lay eggs). The eggs are amniotic, which means the young hatch as small versions of their parents. An amniotic egg is advantageous in that the young can live on land immediately after birth; they do not need to metamorphose from a larval to an adult stage, as do amphibian hatchlings, for example. Temperature regulation during egg development is very important to determining the sex of the hatchlings. In general, warmer temperatures during incubation will develop into the larger sex of the species (the male).

Reptiles are generally considered to be cold-blooded, but this is a vague and misleading term; reptiles are poikilothermic and ectothermic. As poikilotherms, their internal body temperature varies according to the ambient temperature. As ectotherms, they absorb and release heat directly from their surroundings, using environmental sources to regulate their body temperatures rather than internal sources. This is beneficial for reptiles, making them able to function at a wider range of internal body temperatures.

Reptiles have a low resting metabolism, so while they are inactive or hibernating they require less food and resources to stay alive. This helps them to hibernate during the typically long, cold winter months of the Northeast. Some researchers also suggest that their three-chambered heart may also help them maintain stasis in their states of low activity. With their three-chambered hearts reptiles can mix the un-oxygenated and oxygenated blood in their bodies to help regulate internal temperatures, as well as redirecting oxygenated blood to areas of need.

Misunderstood species

Most species are of little threat to people. Reptiles are generally very shy creatures and will not react unless provoked. While some do possess defensive capabilities and effective predatory skills, most reptiles are little match for humans and many are killed each year due to ignorance and misunderstanding; avoid needlessly provoking or injuring them.

Endangered Species International - Reptiles

Red Bellied Snake

Source: EOL

Red Bellied Snake
Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata

Description: The Red Bellied Snake is easily identified due to its red belly. Its dorsal sides have keeled scales in brown to grey colored patterns, sometimes with stripes, that help them blend into the leaves and debris found on the ground. Its ventral sides are colored with a white chin and throat, then a distinctive red to orange-red underbelly, solid and even in color along its length. The Red Bellied Snake may have three light colored spots around the back of the neck that may connect to form a collar. Although there are many variations in coloring for the dorsal side, with or with stripes, with or without spots, the dramatic ventral coloring remains a fairly constant feature. The Red Bellied Snake is small, with an adult reaching a total body length of only 15 to 40 centimeters. Males may be identified by having a longer tail than do females. The Red Bellied Snake has a small head and narrow neck. It is a solitary creature and mainly nocturnal, especially during the hot summer months, emerging at night to eat snails, slugs, and worms. Snails are the preferred diet as the snake's jaw and teeth have been developed to remove the snails from their shells. The Red Bellied Snake is not venomous and is harmless to humans. It is a common prey species for many other predators in their habitat. To protect itself it has some defensive strategies: when threatened it may bare its teeth, emit a foul odor, or in a worst case scenario, play dead and flip over to reveal its red underbelly in the hope of startling the attacker away.

Life History: The Red Bellied Snake hibernates in the winter, from November to April, and emerges in the spring to mate. Although through most of their lives they are solitary animals, they gather together to hibernate and mate. Mating occurs in early spring or late fall. Red Bellied Snakes do not lay eggs: females give birth in the late summer to from one to twenty-one live young, though the average number is seven or eight. At this point no more parental care is needed. Babies are seven to ten centimeters long at birth and grow quickly, doubling length in one year and reaching full maturity by the second year. Young snakes are often more brightly colored and have greater contrast than older snakes. Although they live to about four years old in captivity, longevity in the wild is unknown.

Habitat: The Red Bellied Snake has a wide range, from Florida and Texas in the South to Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia in the North. Because it covers such a wide area the Red Bellied Snake has been able to successfully adapt to cooler northern temperatures. The Red Bellied Snake can be commonly found in mesic environments such as forests, prairies, marshes, and bogs. It likes to hide under rocks, leaves, and fallen trees, and in old small animal burrows underground. The Red Bellied Snake has been found in large numbers living close to extensive human populations in places such as vacant lots. During the winter it may be found hibernating in abandoned buildings.

Status: The Red Bellied Snake is relatively common in every state in the region. While they prefer forest settings they can be found in backyard gardens, where they are known to feed on the slugs that might otherwise damage the green plants. Because they are small animals they are sensitive to habitat change. Their population numbers are relatively stable but the main threat comes during the migration season, when they must travel across roads to reach their hibernation sites; many die from being struck by cars during this time.


ITIS Report

Animal Diversity Web - Red-bellied Snake - Red Belly Snake

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