Photo Credit: Marisa Lee
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Trachemys scripta
DESCRIPTION: Pond sliders are medium-sized turtles that range from 4.9 to 11.4 inches in length. Males are smaller than the female and have a longer, thicker tail. Three subspecies exist and all have webbed feet, with the males having elongated claws on the forelimbs. The young have a green carapace (shell) and skin with yellow-green to dark green markings and stripes. The color usually fades with age, with the adult males becoming almost melanistic, appearing almost black with few visible markings. The carapace is oval with a weak keel and the plastron is yellow with dark blotches or markings. The head, neck, and legs are green with patterns of thin yellow lines. The red-eared slider gets its name from the broad reddish or orange stripe behind each eye, although some are missing this streak. The yellow-bellied slider generally has a yellow blotch behind each eye, which may join the neck stripe, but is usually only evident in juveniles and females. The Cumberland slider has a narrower orange-yellow stripe behind each eye. It is similar to the red-eared slider but has fewer and much wider stripes on the legs, neck and head.
DISTRIBUTION: The native range of this widespread species is found from the southern Great Lakes region east to West Virginia, west to Indiana and Illinois and throughout the southeastern and south-central United States. Their range also extends south through Mexico and Central America to Venezuela in South America. However, due to their popularity in the pet trade, pond sliders may be found throughout the United States.
HABITAT: Pond sliders prefer ponds, swamps, or slow-flowing portions of rivers and estuaries. Quiet, soft, muddy-bottomed waters with suitable basking spots are ideal for pond sliders.
FEEDING HABITS: Pond sliders are omnivores. Young pond sliders are more carnivorous, eating about 70% animal matter and 30 % plant matter. Adult pond sliders diet consists of about 90% plant matter and 10% animal matter. Foods include aquatic insects, snails, slugs, tadpoles, crawfish, small fish, shrimp, worms, grubs, and sometimes carrion. They also eat plants such as algae, duckweed, arrowhead, water lilies, and hyacinths. Feeding usually occurs in the early morning or late afternoon.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Breeding season often ranges from March to June but may extend throughout July in warmer climates. Nesting occurs from May through July and may also be extended in warmer climates. A female may lay one to three clutches of eggs in a season. The females excavate two to four inch nests in sand, clay or soil. Female pond sliders lay anywhere from 2 to 24 eggs in a nest. Pond slider eggs that are incubated at temperatures between 72 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit are usually male, however at 86 degrees Fahrenheit and above, the hatchlings are all female. Hatching usually occurs between July and September after 60 to 80 days of incubation. However, if hatching occurs in the late fall; the young may remain in the nest and emerge the following spring. Young pond sliders grow quickly, reaching about two inches in length during their first year. Males reach maturity in three to five years, while the females reach maturity in five to seven years. Like most turtles, pond sliders can live for a long time. The life expectancy of pond sliders can be up to 42 years in the wild, though most don’t live past 30 years. Skunks, raccoons, opossums, large fish and other predators take a toll on hatchlings and young pond sliders. Adults, however, are relatively safe from most predators while in the water.
The red-eared slider is the original “dime-store” turtle from the 1960’s and 1970’s, and is still sold by the millions in pet stores around the world today. Because pond sliders are much better suited to a large pond setting than an indoor aquarium and can be difficult to care for properly in captivity, government regulations require them to be at least 4 inches in length before they can be sold as pets in the United States. Unfortunately, when the novelty wears off and they are no longer wanted, they are often dumped illegally into the nearest body of water. Native populations of pond sliders are declining due to habitat destruction and over harvest. However due to the release of unwanted pets, they have established populations throughout the United States as well as other countries.
Conant, R., J. Collins. 1991. Peterson Field Guides: Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern/Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
Dewey, T. and T. Kuhrt. 2002. “Trachemys scripta” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed July 11, 2007 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Trachemys_scripta.html.
AUTHOR: Kevin Pugh, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, September 2007