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Red-eared slider

The Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) is a semi-aquatic turtle (terrapin) belonging to the family Emydidae. It is a native of the southern United States, but has become common in various areas of the world due to the pet trade. They are very popular pets in the United States, the Netherlands, Canada, and England.

Distribution and Habitat

The Red-eared Slider is native to the area around the Mississippi River down to the Gulf of Mexico. It thrives in warmer climates, particularly the Southeast quadrant of the United States. Such an area would be east of and below Colorado to Virginia down to Florida, naturally residing in areas with calm, fresh, warm water. This includes ponds, lakes, marshes, creeks, and streams. It prefers quiet areas with a basking area, such a large flat rock or a floating log, in full sunlight. It is common for RES to bask together and even on top of each other. There is also abundant vegetation, which is the main component of an adult slider's diet. Wild individuals will stay close to a water source unless they are in search of a new one. A female Red-eared Slider will also leave the water to lay eggs.

The pet trade has expanded its range around the world, often at the expense of native terrapins. Therefore, it is not difficult to locate Red-eared Sliders in some suitable habitat anywhere in the world.

Pet Red-eared Sliders should not be released into a wild habitat. These pets could carry organisms that the wild populations are not immune to and the pet may not have the proper immune system that is required to live in a wild habitat. Disease could easily be spread by this practice. Pet turtles fed commercial diets also may not recognize natural foods and may associate humans with food which could endanger the turtle. Pet owners should contact a rescue organization if they no longer want their turtle.

Behavior

The female Red-eared Slider grows to be 25-30 cm (10-12 in) in length and males 20-25 cm (8-10 in). They are almost entirely aquatic, but do leave the water to bask in the sun and lay eggs. These reptiles are deceptively fast and are also excellent swimmers. They hunt for prey and will attempt to capture it when the opportunity presents itself. They are very aware of predators and people and generally shy away from them. In fact, the RES frantically slides off rocks and logs when approached - hence the name.

Contrary to popular misconception, Red-eared Sliders do not produce saliva, but--like most aquatic turtles--they have fixed tongues. This is the reason they must eat their food in water.

Diet

Red-eared Sliders are omnivores and eat a variety of animal and plant materials in the wild including, but not limited to fish, crayfish, carrion, tadpoles, snails, crickets, wax worms, aquatic insects and numerous aquatic plant species. The captive diet for pet RES should closely match the natural diet and can also include other foods such as feeder fish, dead, thawed fuzzy mice, earthworms,small snakes , cooked egg with the crumbled shell included, hermit crab food, and leafy greens. Commercial turtle foods should be used sparingly due to insufficient scientific research and vitamin and mineral imbalances. Calcium (for shell health) can be supplemented by adding pieces of cuttlebone to the diet. Younger turtles tend to be more carnivorous (eat more animal protein) than adults do. As they grow larger and older, they become increasingly herbivorous. Live foods are particularly enjoyed and add to the quality of life of captive turtles. Providing a wide variety of foods is the key to success with captive RES.

Hibernation

The term for hibernation in reptiles is brumation. Brumation can occur in varying degrees. RES brumate over the winter at the bottom of ponds or shallow lakes. They become inactive, generally, in October, when temperatures fall below 50°F (10°C). Individuals usually brumate underwater. They have also been found under banks and hollow stumps and rocks. Their brumation does not go uninterrupted. In warmer winter climates they can become active and come to the surface for basking. When the temperature begins to drop again, however, they will quickly return to a brumation state. Sliders will generally come up for food in early March to as late as the end of April. Red Eared Sliders do not usually hibernate in captivity if their water temperature is kept high enough.

Reproduction

Courtship and mating activities for Red-eared Sliders usually occur between March and July, and take place underwater. The male swims toward the female and flutters or vibrates the back side of his long claws on and around her face and head. The female will swim toward the male and, if she is receptive, will sink to the bottom for mating. If the female is not receptive, she may become aggressive towards the male. The courtship can take up to forty-five minutes, but the mating itself usually takes only ten to fifteen minutes.

Sometimes a male will appear to be courting another male. This is actually a sign of dominance and the males may begin to fight. Juveniles may display the courtship dance, but until the turtles are five years of age they are not mature and unable to mate.

After mating, the female will spend extra time basking in order to keep her eggs warm. She may also have a change of diet, eating only certain foods or not eating as much as she normally would. Ovulation begins in May and egg-laying occurs in May through early July. A female might lay from two to thirty eggs, with larger females have the largest clutches. One female can lay up to five clutches in the same year and clutches are usually spaced twelve to thirty-six days apart.

Eggs will hatch sixty to ninety days after they have been laid. Late season hatchlings may spend the winter in the nest and emerge when the weather warms in the spring. New hatchlings will cut open their egg with an egg tooth, which falls out about an hour after hatching. This tooth never grows back. Hatchlings may stay inside their eggshells after hatching for the first day or two. When a hatchling decides to leave the shell, it will have a small sac protruding from its bottom plastron. Just prior to hatching the egg contains 50% Turtle and 50% egg sac. The yolk sac is vital and provides nourishment while visible and several days after it has been absorbed into the turtle's belly. Damage or motion enough to allow air into the turtle's body results in death. This is the main reason for marking the top of Turtle eggs if their relocation for any reason is required. An egg that has been rotated upside down will eventually terminate the embryo growth by the sac smothering the embryo. If it manages to reach term, the turtle will try to flip over with the yolk sac which will no doubt allow air into the body cavity and death follows as noted. The other killer is water into the body cavity before the sac is absorbed completely and the opening has almost completely healed. I find 21 days from egg opening until water entry. The sac will never fall off by itself, it must be absorbed. The split may be noticeable in the hatchling's plastron on turtles found in the field indicating the age of the turtle to be about 3 weeks old. As noted the split must heal on its own before allowing the turtle to swim. This does not preclude the need for moisture throughout the first 3 weeks of life out of the egg. I place my Hatchlings on moist paper towels. As a matter of fact the eggs are on these towels from the day they are laid (I dig them up an hour after laying)and covered with toweling until they hatch and can swim. The Turtle can also suck the water it needs from the toweling. Red Ear Slider eggs matriculate in South Florida in 91 days while in New York City the egg takes 102 days. Turtles relocated exhibited this effect with constancy.

The Turtle egg is fertilized as it is being laid and buried in the sand. The time between mating and egg laying can be days or weeks. This concept also supports the fact that a Turtle mating can provide for viable eggs two seasons in a row.

As pets

The Red-eared Slider is commonly kept as a pet and often sold cheaply. As with other turtles, tortoises and box turtles, it can be difficult to care for and can live up to forty years.

Red-eared sliders can be quite aggressive. If being kept as a pet, it is not recommended to keep it with another turtle, especially one that is smaller as it may injure or even kill its tankmate.

Turtles carry salmonella bacteria benignly in their digestive system. Humans can become sick if they do not thoroughly wash their hands after handling turtles or any equipment used with them.

United States federal regulations on commercial distribution

A 1975 FDA regulation bans the sale (for general commercial and public use) of turtle eggs and turtles with a carapace length of less than . This regulation comes under the Public Health Service Act and is enforced by the FDA in cooperation with State and local health jurisdictions. The ban has been effect in the U.S. since 1975 because of the public health impact of turtle-associated salmonellosis. Turtles and turtle eggs found to be offered for sale in violation of this provision are subject to destruction in accordance with FDA procedures. A fine of up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment for up to one year is the penalty for those who refuse to comply with a valid final demand for destruction of such turtles or their eggs.

Many stores and flea markets still sell small turtles due to an exception in the FDA regulation which allows turtles under to be sold "for bona fide scientific, educational, or exhibitional purposes, other than use as pets."

There is no established federal law banning the possession of small turtles or their eggs. The above FDA regulation applies only to the commercial or public distribution as above. In other words, it is illegal to sell small turtles (as pets), but they are legal (on the federal level) to own. The regulation was designed to protect humans from Salmonella outbreaks due to the mass distribution of young turtles as pets. There is no part of the provision expressly for the purposes of protecting turtles from humans, except to ensure that their destruction is "in a humane manner."

State Law

Some states have other laws and regulations regarding possession of RES because they can be an invasive species where they are not native and have been introduced through the pet trade. In Florida it is illegal to sell any wild type RES, as of July 1 2007. However, unusual color varieties such as albino and pastel RES, which are derived from captive breeding, are still allowed for sale.

Ideal conditions in captivity

  • High water quality.
  • UVB light. "Full spectrum" and reptile UVB fluorescent lights are not equal substitutes for direct unfiltered sunlight. Even UVB heat lamps or mercury vapor lights are not proven to be equal substitutes for direct unfiltered sunlight. However, these two latter bulbs produce higher levels of UVB. UVB from sunlight and artificial UVB light is filtered out if glass or plastic is between the bulb and the basking area.
  • Hibernation or brumation is not possible indoors at room temperature. Twelve hours of light per day prevents hibernation.
  • Mature female turtles can lay infertile eggs without mating and may continue this for an entire first season even with mature males in residence.
  • Dystocia (egg binding) is potentially fatal and is the inability to lay eggs due to tank confinement with insufficient or undesirable land areas, shell deformities or nutritional imbalances.
  • Groups of turtles should have sex ratios of at least 2 females per male to avoid mating pressure and injuries from over mating.
  • Red Eared Sliders should be kept in large tanks. A 10-20 gallon tank is needed for small Red Eared Sliders, and much larger for adult turtles. They can also be kept in outdoor ponds or other larger enclosures,such as a 40 or even better a 60- 75 gallon.

Environment

RES's enjoy large areas where they are free to swim. These turtles also require a basking area, where they can leave the water and enjoy the light you provide for them. UVB heat lamps are usually the best option and most common among those taking proper care of their turtles. However, UVB heat lamps have not been proven to have the same quality as direct, unfiltered UV rays from the sun. Therefore, it is recommended that on days with more sun you take your turtles out with you to enjoy it, even if this is only possible in the Spring/Summer. Note: Although not nearly ideal, RESs have been known to remain healthy even with a regular light bulb or halogen light as their source of basking heat

For the basking area, the best choice is an actual dirt or sand area, if this is at all possible. This is especially suggested if you have different sex turtles. The real land area will allow for an impregnated female to lay her eggs, or at least attempt to. Since these turtles like to climb, flat rocks also make good basking areas as well as provide areas for entertainment.

Plant life, either fake or real also increases RES quality of life, mimicking their natural environment. The real plants can also serve as a source of food.

Turtles highly enjoy fresh, clean and clear water. A good filter can help accomplish this. Also, once every two weeks about 25% of the water should be removed and replaced with new water, and the filter cleaned. It is also strongly recommended that if you have a large enough tank, as well as the proper pH and water temperature, to keep fast freshwater fish. In a large enough tank with areas for fish to hide, it is very unlikely that they will be eaten. Meanwhile, the majority of freshwater fish will feed on the leftovers of what you feed your turtles, as well as the turtle's feces, both which allow for a much cleaner environment for both the turtles and the fish.

Name

Red Eared Sliders get their name from the distinctive red mark around their ear. The Slider part of their name comes form their ability to slide off rocks and logs and into the water very quickly.

See also

References

  • Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied: Verzeichnis der Reptilien welche auf einer Reise im nördlichen America beobachtet wurden. Nova Acta Acad. CLC Nat. Cur. 32, I, 8, Dresden 1865 (With 7 illustrations by Karl Bodmer. Also: Frommann, Jena.)
  • Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied: Maximilian Prince of Wied’s Travels in the Interior of North America, during the years 1832 – 1834. Achermann & Comp., London 1843-1844 (Translation by H. Evans Lloyd).

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