Inferring the natural distribution and native status of organisms is complicated by the role of ancient and modern humans in utilization and translocation. Archaeological data and traditional cultural use provide tools for resolving these issues. Although the painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) has a transcontinental range in the United States, populations in the Desert Southwest are scattered and isolated. This pattern may be related to the fragmentation of a more continuous distribution as a result of climate change after the Pleistocene, or translocation by Native Americans who used turtles for food and ceremonial purposes. Because of these conflicting or potentially confounded possibilities, the distribution and status of C. picta as a native species in the state of Arizona has been questioned in the herpetological literature. We present evidence of a population that once occurred in the vicinity of Winslow, Arizona, far from current remnant populations on the upper Little Colorado River. Members of the Native American Hopi tribe are known to have hunted turtles for ceremonial purposes in this area as far back as AD 1290 and possibly earlier. Remains of C. picta are known from several pueblos in the vicinity including Homol'ovi, Awatovi, and Walpi. Given the great age of records for C. picta in Arizona and the concordance of its fragmented and isolated distribution with other reptiles in the region, we conclude that painted turtles are part of the native fauna of Arizona.
Additional Publication Details
Traditional cultural use as a tool for inferring biogeography and provenance: a case study involving painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) and Hopi Native American culture in Arizona, USA
The American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists