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Look out: Oregon Turtles are on the move!
Oregon Coast Notes - News

Western Pond TurtleOregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists advise Oregonians to be on the lookout for turtles on roads and in parks, yards and campgrounds this summer.

“It’s not uncommon to see female turtles on land at this time of year as they leave the water to lay their eggs,” said Susan Barnes, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Northwest Region Conservation Biologist. “If you see one, the best thing to do is let it continue on its path. Don’t try and return it to the water.”

* Basking is CRUCIAL to the survival of turtles. Turtles must thermoregulate to digest food and develop eggs. If they are continually disturbed in a particular area, they will leave and try to find a place with less disturbance. It is important for boaters, including kayakers and canoers, to keep a distance of (at least) 100 feet from basking turtles.

Barnes, a member of the Native Turtles of Oregon organization, works to conserve Oregon’s turtles all year. “Our native turtles are in decline, so anything we can do to help makes a difference.”

She suggests the public can help by reporting turtle sightings on the Native Turtles of Oregon website.

“This helps us identify the location of our native turtles as well as invasive turtles that we may try and remove,” said Barnes.

Oregon has only two native turtles: the western painted and the western pond. They are both protected by law; it is illegal to take them from the wild and to keep them as pets.

Western Pond Turtle - actinemys marmorata


Description: Lack of bright coloration on shell bottom, usually a creamy yellow with some dark blotches. Top shell ranges in color from dark brown to olive. Head and legs are dark brown to olive.Can grow up to 10 inches long

Ecology: Habitat includes streams, large rivers and slow-moving water. Not fully aquatic: may spend part of the year in upland forests. Prefer living in areas with large rocks and boulders, and use them to bask in the sun. Basking in the sun is an important behavior and is crucial for thermal regulation, digestion and other life requirements. Can survive drought by digging into the mud in dried up riverbeds. Diet consists of insects, larvae of caddis flies, dragonflies and nymphs. Breed from mid to late spring

Current distribution: In the U.S.: Populations extend down the West Coast, from Southern British Columbia to Northern California. In Oregon: Found mainly west of Cascades in the Rogue, Umpqua, Willamette, lower Columbia and in coastal drainages from the Siuslaw River south

Fun fact: This turtle, which can live more than 30 years in the wild, may overwinter on dry land.

Western Painted Turtle - Chrysemys picta


Description: Bottom shell is red with unique black pattern. Top shell varies from olive to brown and is slightly flattened and smooth. Head and legs are dark green with yellow lines. Length ranges from 4 to 10 inches. Webbed feet for swimming. Yellow lines of approximately equal width on necks that continue on to the head. Do NOT have a red spot on the side of their face. If you see a red spot, you are seeing a non-native red-eared slider

Ecology: Spend most of their time in shallow, slow-moving water of streams, lakes and rivers; preferably with a soft, muddy bottom with vegetation and submerged logs. Eat insects, crayfish, mollusks, worms and plants. Basking on logs in the sun is an important behavior and is crucial for thermal regulation, digestion and other life requirements. Can slow their heartbeat when underwater to conserve oxygen. Over winter spend time deep in the bottom of ponds. In late spring to mid-summer, mating occurs. Lay one to two clutches of eggs a year. 10 weeks of incubation. Turtle hatchlings are about the size of a quarter. Males reach maturity in 2 to 5 years; females in 4 to 8 years. Live 20 years or more.

Current distribution: The western subspecies ranges from Montana to Oregon. In Oregon, their range includes the lower Willamette Valley and Lower Columbia River. One of the few remaining populations in the lower Willamette Valley can be seen at the Smith and Bybee Lakes Natural Area in North Portland

Fun fact: While hatchlings are only about the size of a quarter, individuals can live 20 years or more.

Both Oregon Turtles are Endangered

Both the western painted and western pond turtle are listed on the state sensitive species list and highlighted in the Oregon Conservation Strategy as species in need of help. Population declines are due to habitat loss, degradation of nesting areas by invasive plants, illegal collecting, disease and competition from non-native turtles.

For more information

To see photos of Oregon’s native and non-native turtles and print an identification flyer, visit the ODFW website.

For more information on The Oregon Conservation Strategy, visit the ODFW website.

See a video of Oregon’s native turtles.

Non-native turtles include red-eared sliders and snapping turtles. It is illegal in the state to buy, sell, possess or release non-native turtles. Red-eared sliders are relatively easy to identify. They have red "ears" (markings) on the side of their heads. If you've just realized you are in possession of a non-native turtle, contact your local ODFW office. (503) 947-6000 | Toll Free: (800) 720-ODFW | TTY: (503) 947-6339 | E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it