Every spring for several years, right about this time, a painted turtle wanders through the yard. The turtle is likely a female searching for a spot to lay her eggs. She comes from our farm pond, home to a healthy population of turtles. The painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) is the most common turtle in North America and the picta picta subspecies is the Eastern painted turtle. They are named for the bright colors along the edges of the carapace (upper shell,) the plastron (lower shell,) and the neck and legs. Painted turtles are really quite pretty. Fancy for creatures that inhabit muddy ponds and slow moving streams, eating aquatic plants and animals.
We often spot the turtles when we walk by the pond, they like to bask on the banks. At the first sign of encroachers, they slip quietly into the water and watch with just their eyes above the surface. Once, in early winter, we were skating and the ice had frozen clear as glass. We watched a turtle walking along the bottom of the pond. Probably getting ready to dig down into the mud to hibernate for the winter.
The female turtles lay eggs this time of year, and can travel long distances from their home to find a good nest spot. These turtles sometimes cross roads in search of nesting areas and are at risk of being flattened. I have helped several turtles across the road over the years. The species lay up to eleven eggs at once, but nests average five to six eggs. The eggs incubate for about two-and-a-half months. Temperatures determine the sexes of the babies with cooler temperatures favoring males and warmer for females. Sometimes a turtle will have two clutches of eggs in a year. The later babies winter over in the nest, emerging in the spring.
It is hard to tell if this turtle is the same one that has visited in other years. I like to imagine she is. I set her down near a sandy spot and went away for a few minutes. When I returned, she had disappeared. Painted turtles can move fast when they want to. I hope she finds an adequate place to nest and that she didn’t try to cross our busy road. Something must be going right for these turtles because the pond is full of them.