How Fast Can Painted Turtles Grow?


If you have a painted turtle, or are considering getting one, you’re probably wondering how fast do painted turtles grow? There are many factors that can affect a painted turtles growth speed, but you can generally expect painted turtles to grow along some guidelines. .

In the first year a painted can grow 2-4 inches on average, then growing about 0.5 to as a 1 inch a year after that. They will reach their full size somewhere between 5 and 8 years old. At maturity male painted turtles range between 5-6 while females will be bigger up to 5-7 inches.

Painted turtles start out their lives being very small, as small as dime. But after a few years they become much larger. While they do get a lot bigger as they age they are still much smaller than other popular pet pond turtles such as the red eared slider. In fact their about half the size as red eared sliders can easily be over 10 inches long or more.

Baby-painted turtles grow up to 5-7 inches long throughout their lifetime
Virginia State Parks staff / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Their relatively small size compared to other turtles can make them a much easier to care for pet. They are probably one of the best pet turtles to have for a beginner turtle keeper. Not to mention they are beautiful with their flashy bright red colors.

Interestingly enough female painted turtles grow faster than males and will eventually outclass them in size on average. They pour more of their bodies energy into growth in the early years so that they can quickly reach sexual maturity and begin laying eggs to start off a new generation of painted turtles.

Males will usually grow to sexual maturity some where between the years of 2 to 5. While the females often mature a bit later somewhere between 4 and 8 years old. The males usually have concave shells and though smaller in total size have much bigger front claws and greater tail length. Females shells are flatter on the bottom with shorter claws and shorter tails. The males longer claws help him in mating and bringing forth more painted turtles.

Counting painted turtle scutes can help determine how old a turtle is
Southern_painted_turtle_carapace.jpg: Suzanne L Collins (CNAH)derivative work: RexxS / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/1.0)

The shell of a painted turtles consists of 13 scutes or what you might think of as bone plates. As the painted turtle grows new bigger plates emerge from underneath leading to shedding of the turtles shell scutes. Each cycle of these adds a ring sorta like the growth rings of a tree trunk. You can sometimes count these rings to give a rough estimate of a turtles age. This can only be an estimate as the new plates don’t come in annually but rather just happen as the turtle grows. So counting the rings is more like counting the turtles growth periods as opposed to their actual age in years.

Their are three primary factors that determine a painted turtles growth rate. These are their diet, environment and their genetics. While a turtle keeper can control their turtles diet and environment, their genetics are out of reach, unless of course you are breeding them.

Best Diet for Painted Turtle’s Growth

Food provides painted turtles with their energy for living as well as their energy for growing. Short change in a painted turtles diet could lead to stunted growth as well a myriad of ill health effects. For this reason it is essential that a turtles keeper provide them with balanced meals containing all the essential vitamins and nutrients.

With painted turtles there are three primary points of nutrition that they need. This would be protein, dark leafy greens and calcium. Not providing all of these things to a young growing turtle could hurt their development. Painted turtles are omnivorous creatures which means they eat both meat and veggies, so you will need to provide them with sources of both.

The growth of all animals including painted turtles depends upon protein. So providing your turtle with good sources of protein should be a priority. You can give them protein as well as other nutrient through high quality turtle pellets which come in several solid brands.

When their young feed them the turtle pellets about every day for an amount that would fit into their head if it was empty. This should give them enough food for good growth and health. Its important to try not to overfeed them as turtles in captivity can develop obesity which can lead to a variety of health problems with their bodies and their shells.

Along with good sources of protein another important thing to give to your painted turtle is some good dark leafy greens. When their young they are much more carnivorous and so will be unlikely to want to eat their vegetables. But as they grow older they will come to love the green stuff a lot more. Establishing the habit of eating vegetables early is important however so even if they don’t completely eat it give to them anyway as something they can nibble on.

Painted turtles thrive on a wide variety of greens are a great addition to their diet to give them nutrients and variety.

Some excellent vegetables to feed your painted turtle are the following:

  • Collard greens
  • Kale
  • spinach
  • peas
  • dandelion greens
  • squash
  • water lettuce
  • red-leaf lettuce

All of these vegetables would make an excellent addition to your turtles diet and growth. Try to avoid giving them any celery or iceberg lettuce as these veggies mainly contain water and lack the nutrients that your painted turtle needs.

While protein and vegetables are a necessity calcium can not be forgotten either. Calcium provides the building blocks for all the bones in your turtles body, as well as the growth and health of their shell. Without enough calcium a turtle can develop metabolic bone disease which would be very awful disease for a turtle to have.

So to help make sure your painted turtle gets enough calcium besides giving them dark leafy greens you will definitely want to supplement it directly as well. There are two main ways you can give your turtle calcium supplements.

Cuttlebone is a great source of calcium for turtles. It can be purchased commercially or you can prepare it yourself with a few steps.

One way is through giving them some cuttlebone. Cuttlebone is a white chalky substance packed full of calcium, you can throw it into your turtles tank and they can nibble on it over time when ever their body is craving some more calcium. Just make sure to hack off the hard backing of the cuttlebone as turtles can potentially choke on it.

Another way to provide your turtle with some extra calcium blocks that you can throw into your turtles water. You should be able to buy them at any pet store and they will disolve into the water over time. As your turtle swims around they will absorbe the calcium through their skin thus strengthening their bones and shell.

Providing your painted turtle with an excellent diet consisting of protein, vegetables and calcium will give the little guy their best shot at growing up to be big strong turtles.

The Effect of Genetics Upon a Painted Turtles Growth

While we can contribute to our painted turtles growth through diet and a good environment, their are some factors of growth that are simply out of our control.

One of these is genetics. No matter how well we feed our painted turtles and great of a tank we give them, their growth will also just be limited by the genetic potential of their species and of course the genetics of their parents. Whether your turtle turns out to be a bit smaller or a bit larger they need love and care all the same.

How Big Will a Fully Grown Painted Turtle Be?

While painted turtles start out very small when their babies. By the time they are fully grown males will clock in at 5 to 6 inches and the females will be somewhere between 5 to 7 inches. Males will reach their sexual maturity in 3 to 5 years while females will reach maturity much later at 6 to 11 years.

Its important to understand how large your painted turtle will be when their fully grown as this will determine the size of tank they will need. Pet turtles need about 10 gallons of tank for every inch of shell length. So this means if you have a baby turtle of 2 inches then a 20 gallon tank should suit them just fine. But if they are lets say 6 inches then your going to need about a 60 gallon tank for them to have enough space to roam.

So while its fine to have a smaller tank when your turtles a baby you may want to consider getting a much larger tank that they can grow into over time. If you have more than one turtle in the same tank then the tank size will of course need to be bigger than if you only had one.

A starting 20 gallon tank should be fine when your painted turtle is a baby and you just got them. But know that when they reach full size at 5-7 inches then your going to need a tank about 50 to 70 gallons.

How to Measure Your Painted Turtle’s Size

Measuring and charting your turtles progress monthly or annually can be a very fun activity and a cool thing to show people later on. To do this you need some kind of calendar or note book where you can chart your turtles progress and you need to know the proper way to measure them.

  • Place your painted turtle gently on their back, they wont like it and you definitely shouldn’t leave them like this for long but for the small amount of time we need to measure them it should be fine.
  • Then take a ruler or some measuring tape and measure from the beginning of their shell(or plastron) near their tail to the end of their shell near their head.
  • The reason we measure from their bottom of their shell is we want the straight length of their shell. So we don’t want to measure the curvature of their shell just its straight length.
  • After doing this gently place your turtle back in its home and jot down their size in your chosen notebook.
  • You can do this monthly or annually and over time you can turn this chart into a helpful tool for yourself and other painted turtle enthusiasts.

Painted Turtles From Egg to Maturity

March to mid-June is painted turtle breeding season. Once a female turtle is pregnant (or gravid, which is the official term) she leaves the water she lives in to make nest on land. The distance from water of the nest will vary but is usually no longer than about half a mile. She digs a hole six inches deep and can lay as many as 11 eggs.

The eggs usually hatch in around 72 days, with their sex determine by whether the weather is cold or warm. If cold the babies will be males and if its warm then they will be females. There are many predators that will attack baby turtles looking for a quick meal, so the babies journey from the nest to nearby water can be a harrowing one.

The young painted turtles will live and eat underwater feeding on smaller prey at first like insects and then as they grow bigger graduating to fish and crayfish. The males will reach sexual maturity somewhere between the ages of 2 and 5 while the females will mature more slowly and reach maturity somewhere between 4 and 8 years old. Then they cycle will begin again.

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