Great Plains Natural Science Society


The Prairie Naturalist

Date of this Version


Document Type



The Prairie Naturalist 40(3/4): September/December 2008, pp 65-72


Winterkill occurs when drought conditions expose hibernating turtles to desiccation and lethaly cold temperatures. Winterkill is thought to represent a major source of mortality in northern populations of the painted turtle (Chrysemys picta), but few field observations are available. We herein reported on catastrophic winterkill among western painted turtle (C. pieta bellii) at Limestone Butte Lake (LBL) in western South Dakota during the winter of 2003-2004. Additionally, we used the carcasses of winterkilled turtles (n = 86) to estimate the standing crop biomass of the painted turtle at LBL (0.6 kg/ha). This was the only estimate of biomass available for a painted turtle population in South Dakota and one of only two for the Great Plains; furthermore, it was the lowest estimate from anywhere in North America. We attributed this to several factors, including the painted turtle probably began emigrating from LBL in response to receding water levels before the winterkill event of 2003-2004.