Western Pond Turtle
Actinemys marmorata (Northwestern pond turtle) and Actinemys pallida (Southwestern pond turtle)
Natural History Information
Range and Habitat
- Historically found from southern British Columbia to northern Baja California, Western pond turtles once dominated freshwater systems throughout the west coast of North America (Germano and Bury 2001). Marshes, wetland sloughs, lakes and ponds were home to millions of pond turtles and served as an important food source for many species of animals and several Native American communities.
- The Northern Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata, is found primarily along the northern west coast of North America from the Sierra Nevada foothills east of the San Joaquin Valley in California and into areas north through Washington State and Vancouver, Canada
- The Southern Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys pallida, is found along the southern west coast of North America from the San Francisco Bay Area south through the Central Coast Range on the eastern side of the San Joaquin Valley into Southern California and Baja California, Mexico
- Life Cycle Natural History Relevant Information
- Temperature, Humidity, Light Cycles
- Sphagnum moss and vermiculite
- Social Housing/Colony Management
- Other General Housing Requirements or Management information
- Diet in the Wild
- Diet under human care
- Behavioral Relevant Information
- Environmental Enrichment
- Behavioral Enrichment
- Other Enrichment Resources
- Check out the Reptelligence Facebook page and Reptelligence website for enrichment and training inspiration.
- Advancing Herpetological Husbandry July 2018 Quarterly Newsletter- Environmental Enrichment for Reptiles By Charlotte James
- Behaviors Trained
- Reinforcers used & schedule of reinforcement
- Threats and Conservation Status
- AZA SAFE program for Western Pond Turtles
- For more information about AZA SAFE and its commitment to Western pond turtle conservation, please contact SAFEwesternpondturtle@aza.org.
- From the Studbook: With the quickly growing population of pioneers and the eventual growth of cities, an industry boomed, especially in California, harvesting the pond turtle for dinner plates. The climax of harvest was in the late 1800s when tens of thousands of turtles were harvested for commercial use (Bettelheim 2005). Eventually water resource needs, including a burgeoning agricultural industry, led to the draining of essential turtle habitats. The most well-known was the draining of Tulare Lake in central California (Bettelheim 2005). Today, the pond turtles faces numerous challenges, some triggered over a century ago and some new. California’s desperate need for water for its growing human population and agricultural industry is a major cause in the decline of this species throughout the state (Holland, 1991; Holland, 1994; Spinks et al., 2003) and is exasperated by the current ongoing drought. However, other threats may be as hazardous. Urbanization is creating a fragmented population and limits the turtle’s use of existing aquatic habitat. The impact of illegal marijuana cultivation, especially water diversion and associated run-off of chemicals, is a new threat (Bauer et al., in press). The introduction of bullfrogs and largemouth bass continues to increase substantially in pond turtle areas, and are known to particularly predate on hatchling turtles (Holland 1991, Moyle 1973). The release of pet turtles, especially red-eared sliders, may be outcompeting the milder tempered and smaller native species and bring with them a host of potential pathogens. And of course, the potential impact of global climate change is a looming and unknown threat and is of particular risk to turtle species due to their life history and reproductive biology (Thomas et al. 2004).
- From the Studbook: Western pond turtles have declined precipitously or been extirpated entirely in some parts of their range (Holland 1992; Hays et al. 1999), with the result that they are now listed as Endangered in Washington, a Sensitive- Critical Species in Oregon, and as a Species of Special Concern in California. A recent proposal for listing has been submitted to the US Fish and Wildlife Service and is under review as this document is going to press.
- From the Studbook: Most of the Western pond turtles held in zoos are rescues deemed “not releasable” because they were from unknown localities, captured under unknown circumstances, or were held with other turtles and are potential disease risks. These animals are primarily exhibit and education animals with limited captive breeding occurring. Exceptions exist in San Diego, and in past years at Woodland Park Zoo, where adults are collected for selective captive breeding to reestablish populations in extreme risk.
- In general, animals seen at the zoo do not make good pets. Most have specialized dietary, veterinary, housing, and social needs that are difficult or impossible for even dedicated pet owners to meet. Always ensure that your future pet has not been taken from the wild. Captured animals are typically mistreated by profit-motivated traffickers and dealers, resulting in many animal deaths; well-meaning animal lovers may feel like they are rescuing animals by purchasing them but are really perpetuating the cruelty. In addition, many exotic pets are released by their owners when they become too dangerous or demanding, often with devastating effects on local ecosystems. Animals that should never be kept as pets include all bats, primates, and exotic carnivores. Birds, fish, and reptiles have specialized needs, are frequently wild-caught, and damage the local environment if released; guests should be advised to educate themselves and proceed with caution. Domestic dogs and cats are almost always the best option! Many deserving animals are available for adoption at animal shelters.
- AZA SAFE program for Western Pond Turtles
- Interesting Natural History Information
- Besides molecular differentiation, the southern species is morphological identified by lack of or small, sometimes rectangular or round, inguinal plates in the majority of specimens and by an overall lighter coloration of the throat than the northern species.
- Did you know…
- The phylogenetic relationship of the Western pond turtle has recently changed supporting previously recognized subspecies descriptions as unique species based on molecular studies (Spinks et al., 2014). The Center for North American Herpetology refers to the two species as the Northern Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata (Baird and Girard, 1852), and the Southern Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys pallida (Seeliger, 1945).
- Throughout its range, the Southwestern pond turtle is the only native aquatic freshwater turtle.
Handling & Presentation Tips
Public Contact and Interaction Guidelines
- Brandywine Zoo: During cool weather (under 65°F), supplemental heat is provided with a hot water bottle set to one side of the cooler.
- Brandywine Zoo: aquatic turtles travel in a locking-lid type tote that have been amended with extra ventilation holes on the lid (with a wood-burning tool). Some species are transported with 1-2cm of water, while others are transported with the tote lined with very wet (but no standing water) paper towels.
- During cool weather, the tote is transported inside a larger, secondary Coleman style cooler.
- Northwestern & Southwestern Pond Turtles are an SSP species. Contact SSP Program Leader Jessie Bushell, Vice Program Leader Mark Halvorsen. This species is also a SAFE species.
- Check out sample animal policies, handling sheets, and fact sheets on our Example Policies & Guidelines page
- View past issues of Program Animal SAG Newsletters
- Ambassador Animal SAG Newsletter Vol. 2, Issue 3: Temperature and Transport: Welfare Implications for Ambassador Ectotherms
- Choice, Control, and Training in Ectotherms, By Carrie Kish
- Stress Management in Reptiles and Frogs
- Check out the Advancing Herpetological Husbandry Facebook group. They have also published several newsletters (see Reptiles page for links).
Contributors and Citations
- Cover photo: from the Studbook
- AZA SAFE
- Western Pond Turtle Studbook/SSP
Comments from the Rating System
- Woodland Park Zoo: Easy to work with, but husbandry could be an issue.