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Painted turtle habitat requirements include soft and muddy bottoms, basking sites, and aquatic vegetation (Sexton, 1959). Painted turtles prefer slow-moving shallow water such as ponds, marshes, ditches, prairie sloughs, spring runs, canals, and occasionally brackish tidal marshes (Conant and Collins, 1991). They frequent areas with floating surface vegetation for feeding and for cover (Sexton, 1959). These areas tend to be warmer than more open water, which is important in the early fall as temperatures begin to drop (Sexton, 1959). For winter hibernation or dormancy, painted turtles seek deeper water (Sexton, 1959). If outlying marsh areas are dry during the summer, the turtles may return to the more permanent bodies of water sooner (McAuliffe, 1978). Painted turtles sometimes inhabit stagnant and polluted water (Smith, 1956).
Painted turtles are omnivorous. Depending on habitat and on age, painted turtles may consume predominantly vegetation or predominantly animal matter. Marchand (1942, cited in Mahmoud and Klicka, 1979) found in one population that juveniles consumed approximately 85 percent animal matter and 15 percent plant matter, whereas the adults were primarily herbivorous, consuming 88 percent plant matter and 12 percent insects and amphipods.
Painted turtles are diurnal and usually spend their nights sleeping submerged (Ernst, 1971c). During the day, they forage in the late morning and late afternoon and bask during the rest of the day (Ernst, 1971c). Active feeding does not occur until water temperatures approach 20 degrees C, and these turtles are most active around 20.7 to 22.4 degrees C (Ernst, 1972; Ernst and Barbour, 1972; Hutchinson, 1979). Basking is most frequent in the spring, summer, and fall, but occasionally painted turtles bask during warm spells in the winter (Ernst and Barbour, 1972).
Most painted turtles become dormant during the colder months but will become active during warm periods in the winter (Ernst and Barbour, 1972).