What Plants Do Painted Turtles Eat?
The painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) is easily identified by the bright red and yellow colors that cover its head, neck and limbs that protrude from the shell. Painted turtles are common residents in ponds, lakes, rivers and other slow-moving waters across the United States. Painted turtles are omnivores. Juveniles are primarily carnivorous, but as the turtles mature they start to feed on more plant matter and rely on a number of aquatic plants for food in the wild.
Duckweed (Lemnaceae family), also known as water lentils, is a fast-growing aquatic plant found around the world. Duckweed is one of the smallest flowering plants on the planet, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden, and reproduces rapidly in a variety of water conditions. Duckweed growth in lakes has been observed from satellites in space (see resource 1). Duckweed is an important food source for many aquatic animals, including painted turtles.
Water lily (Nymphaeaceae family) is a large aquatic plant that thrives in slow-moving waters throughout the range of the painted turtle. Water lilies have an extensive underwater root system, but it is the large floating leaves---lily pads---that painted turtles occasionally feed on. Painted turtles that feed on water lilies play an important role in dispersing lily seeds throughout the ecosystem.
Dense mats of algae that line the shores of slow-moving waters are a favorite hunting ground for painted turtles. Many aquatic invertebrates take shelter or feed on algae growing underwater. Painted turtles often poke their head into algal growth searching for food. If there are no insects within the algae painted turtles will feed on the algae itself. Algae is often the first and last plant to remain green in aquatic environments and is a primary source of food for painted turtles in the absence of other plants and animals.
Water hyacinth (Eichhornia genus) is a free-floating and flowering aquatic plant. Native to South America, water hyacinths have showy lavender flowers and were introduced in the United States as an ornamental pond plant. However, water hyacinth has become an invasive species in many aquatic ecosystems throughout the United States, according to the University of Florida. Painted turtles will readily feed on water hyacinths that are in the vicinity. Unfortunately, the impact from painted turtle foraging activity on water hyacinth populations is negligible due to the rapid growth rate of the plant.