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May 2024’s Animal Of The Month – Red-Eared Sliders

By May 30, 2024 No Comments

It’s been a whole decade since we last shone a spotlight on red-eared sliders as our Animal of the Month, but our time with them is coming to an end as May winds down. We hope you enjoyed all of the fun and fascinating facts we posted on “X” (a.k.a. Twitter) and Threads throughout the month. If you missed any of our posts, here is a summary that you can reference any time. Did you know?:

  • Red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) are semi-aquatic freshwater turtles. They are a sub-species of the pond slider (Trachemys scripta).
  • It’s easy to see how red-eared sliders got their common name – they have a bright red stripe behind each of their eyes.
  • As for the red-eared slider’s scientific name, the genus Trachemys is formed from the Ancient Greek words “trachys” (τραχύς), which means “rough” and emys (ἐμύς), which means “turtle.”
  • The red-eared slider’s species name scripta is derived from the word scriptura, which is Latin for “a writing.” The subspecies name elegans is also Latin and means “elegant.”
  • There are some sources who suggest that the “elegant writing” translation could be a nod to the red-eared slider’s red stripes on their heads.
  • Red-eared sliders are originally endemic to the central and south-central part of the United States, stretching from Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico.
  • However, red-eared sliders are highly adaptive and are now found on almost every continent around the world. Antarctica is the only exception.
  • This stems from a combination of the red-eared slider’s popularity as a family pet and human ignorance regarding their needs and/or unwillingness to care for them properly in captivity.
  • The unfortunate result is people releasing captive red-eared sliders into the wild, which is something people should NEVER do.
  • Red-eared sliders are actually one of only two reptile species on the IUCN’s list of the world’s 100 most invasive species. The other reptile species on that list is the brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis).
  • Red-eared sliders in the wild inhabit mostly permanent bodies of freshwater; such as slow-moving rivers, streams, ponds, marshes, reservoirs and lakes.
  • Red-eared sliders prefer habitats that have muddy bottoms, an abundance of aquatic plants and plenty of areas where they can bask in the sun.
  • Red-eared sliders are medium-sized turtles with fully-grown adults measuring about 12-30 cms (5-12 inches) in length. Females are larger than males.
  • Male red-eared sliders typically have longer and thicker tails than their female counterparts. Males also have longer front claws.
  • Red-eared sliders have oblong heads with turned-up snouts. And like other sliders, they have rounded lower jaws, which sets them apart from other turtle species who all have flat jaws.
  • Their skin is brown or olive-coloured. In addition to the bright red stripes they have behind each eye, red-eared sliders have thin yellow stripes on their heads, necks and legs.
  • The top part of the red-eared slider’s shell is called the carapace. It’s brown, black or olive with thin orange-yellow markings and/or stripes, which provide good camouflage in the wild.
  • The outer scutes (bony plates) of the red-eared slider’s carapace have edges that are slightly forked or serrated.
  • The bottom part of the red-eared slider’s shell is called the plastron. It is typically a yellow, orange-yellow or orange-brown colour. Each scute has a dark spot on it.
  • Male red-eared sliders become melanistic with age, meaning as they get older they lose their colouring and turn black.
  • The age at which red-eared sliders reach sexual maturity depends on the climate in which they live.
  • Female red-eared sliders who live in the warmest climates will reach sexual maturity at about 3-4 years of age; males at about 2 years of age.
  • It takes a few more years for red-eared sliders who live in colder locales to reach sexual maturity.
  • Most of us may not think of “jazz hands” as being a romantic display or gesture, but that’s not necessarily the case for red-eared sliders.
  • When a male red-eared slider is courting a female with whom he would like to mate, he will swim up to her and rapidly wave his elongated claws in front of or on her face in a movement that can best be described as “jazz hands.”
  • If she rejects the male red-eared slider, the female may either swim away from him or tuck her head into her shell.
  • If the female red-eared slider is receptive to the male courting her, she will allow him to climb on her back. Mating takes place in the water.
  • Breeding season for red-eared sliders in the wild is usually between April and October. But depending on the weather, it can last until December if the water is warm enough for them to swim.
  • Female red-eared sliders can store a male’s sperm until she decides to fertilize her eggs.
  • A female red-eared slider can also store the sperm of different males if she mates multiple times and can then use the sperm from the different males in a single clutch (eggs laid in one session).
  • Red-eared sliders can lay anywhere between 2-30 eggs in a clutch. The eggs will incubate for about 2 – 3½ months. The babies are on their own from the moment they hatch.
  • May 23rd is World Turtle Day, which is an observance founded by American Tortoise Rescue. It has been celebrated every May 23rd since 2000.
  • The purpose of World Turtle Day is to raise awareness and educate people about the threats facing the world’s turtles and tortoises and their environments.
  • Humans and their actions are the main threats to turtles and tortoises but sometimes turtles – such as the red-eared slider – can pose problems for other turtles.
  • As we posted earlier this month, red-eared sliders are one of the most invasive species in the world (because of human actions) and that has created problems for other turtle species in the wild.
  • Introduced populations of red-eared sliders can threaten indigenous turtle species by spreading disease and parasites and/or outcompeting them for food, basking sites and nesting areas.
  • Red-eared sliders are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day.
  • Red-eared sliders will spend their days eating and basking in the sun on logs and rocks. If there is limited basking space, they will stack themselves on top of each other.
  • At night, red-eared sliders will sleep in the water – either floating on the surface or settling in at the bottom of whichever body of water they call home.
  • Red-eared sliders are omnivorous, meaning they eat both plant and animal matter. In the wild, their diet includes crayfish, small live fish, dead fish and other decaying animals (e.g. frogs) and aquatic vegetation.
  • Juvenile red-eared sliders tend to be more carnivorous, which means they eat more animal matter. But when they mature, their diet shifts to become more herbivorous, meaning they eat more vegetation.
  • Red-eared sliders are opportunistic foragers and voracious eaters, and will eat anything that they think could be food.
  • For example, our clinic treated a captive red-eared slider who developed health problems after eating small pebbles that were in her tank. We have a blog post with more details about this case.
  • Red-eared sliders are a very long-lived species. Their average lifespan in the wild is about 25 years.
  • With proper care in captivity, they can live to an average of 40 years. But there are anecdotal reports of some red-eared sliders living much longer than that.
  • In 2021, a local newspaper in Porterville, California ran a feature piece on a red-eared slider named Magoo who turned 65 that year. It is unclear if Magoo is still alive today in 2024.
  • And in 2016, there was a report of a 78-year-old red-eared slider named Moses going missing from an elderly couple’s home in Maryland. The wife had Moses since she was five-years-old.

Come on over to our blog post from May 14, 2014 to see what we posted about red-eared sliders the first time around!

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