July 5, 2022

The ornamental turtle or painted ornamental turtle (Chrysemys picta) is an aquatic turtle in the terrapin family (Emydidae). The ornamental turtle is related to the much more famous red-eared slider. It owes its name to the striking red and yellow spots and stripes of the legs, head and shield. Three different subspecies are distinguished which differ in both appearance and range. The ornamental tortoise is found in North America, northern to southern Canada, a large part of the United States and south to parts of northern Mexico. The ornamental turtle has the largest range of all turtles found in North America. In the United States, the ornamental turtle is one of the best-known species of turtles. Several US states have designated the species a "federal turtle." The ornamental turtle lives in rivers and lakes with a muddy bottom and many aquatic plants. The animal eats both plants and small animals and is omnivorous. The turtle has a variety of enemies, from birds and crocodiles that prey on the turtles to mammals and arthropods such as ants that rob the turtle's nests and dig up and take the eggs. The tortoise is popular in the exotic animal trade due to its decorative appearance and active behavior. This species is therefore widely kept in captivity as pets. The ornamental tortoise is less common today than it was a few decades ago but is not considered an endangered species.

Naming and Taxonomy

The ornamental turtle owes its name to the drawing of yellow stripes and red spots on the skin and carapace. Such a name is also used in other languages, such as the German Zierschildkröte, which also means ornamental turtle. The French name tortue peinte and the English name painted turtle both mean "painted turtle." The tortoise is also known by other Dutch names, such as red terrapene and American ornamental tortoise. The name painted turtle is also used, this is a translation of the English name.

Scientific naming and synonyms

The ornamental turtle was first scientifically described by Johann Gottlob Schneider in 1783. Originally the name Testudo picta was used, the genus Testudo now belongs to the family tortoises (Testudinidae). Later, the species was assigned to other genera, such as the genus Emys. These obsolete names are also known as synonyms. The scientific genus name Chrysemys literally means 'golden turtle'. It is a compound of Ancient Greek χρυσός (chrusos), 'gold' and ἐμύς (emus), 'turtle'. The species name picta comes from Latin and means 'colored' or 'painted'. For a long time, the ornamental turtle was the only species of the genus Chrysemys. Such a genus that is represented by only one species is also called monotypic. However, since 2014, one of the subspecies has split into a separate species; the southern ornamental turtle (Chrysemys dorsalis). As a result, there are now three different subspecies instead of four when the southern ornamental turtle was not yet considered a separate species. This new status is not yet mentioned in much of the literature. The table below lists the various scientific names used. All names of the species are shown, of the subspecies only the original and later modified names are given for the sake of clarity.


The ornamental turtle has three main variations called subspecies. The subspecies are probably the result of the merging of different species through hybridization. For a long time, a fourth subspecies was recognized, the southern ornamental tortoise. However, this is nowadays considered a separate type of g