December 2019: The Adaptation of a Painted Turtle in Winter

The painted turtle is an aquatic reptile with lovely, painterly markings on the underside edges of the shell and along the neck and head. Like all reptiles, they are ectothermic – meaning they’re unable to create their own body heat and must gain it from the surrounding environment. 

In the wintertime, this species and other turtles like them, has evolved to brumate underwater. They settle along the muddy bottoms of ponds or lakes, and all of their life-giving functions slow down. The heart rate can slow down to an astounding one beat per every five to ten minutes. In that time, the turtle extracts oxygen from the water through its cloaca, or the vent from which she excretes feces and lays eggs. The painted turtle can remain in this near frozen state for up to five months. 

These sort of strange adaptations can be found throughout nature. The world is an exciting place to explore, especially when you consider the evolutionary progress that has allowed species to occupy different niches in nature to support the survival of their species.

Turtle Tip: If you see a turtle crossing the road and you decide to help them cross, place the turtle on the side of the road that they’re facing.  If you bring them back to the side they started on, they’re very likely to just cross the road again, putting themselves in danger an additional time. Often, people think it’s better to place the turtle on the side with a body of water – but if the turtle is moving away from the water, the turtle has a different purpose in mind, and it could be laying eggs!