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petPET provisions PROVISIONS sign???) or make up Reptile Edition own font July 2010

Red-Eared Sliders: Popular pet store turtles, explained page 2

How to: Set up your own turtle tank page 4


Red-Eared Sliders



Reptile Edition

July 2010


Reptile Edition

July 2010


Many new pet owners buy red-eared sliders without knowing much about them. Here’s our guide to getting to know your Trachemys scripta elegans.



pecies Introduction

The Red Ear Slider is a semiaquatic turtle that naturally resides in areas with a calm, fresh and warm water source. These can be ponds, lakes, marshes, creeks and streams. The area is usually quiet with a basking area, such a large flat rock or a log, which should also receive a good deal of sunlight. It is common for RES to bask together and even on top of each other. There should be abundant aquatic vegetation, which is the main component of an adult slider’s diet. These reptiles are deceptively fast and excellent swimmers. Wild RES will stay close to a water source unless it is in search of a new one or if a female has a need to nest and lay eggs. It is not uncommon for hatchlings and released captives to dangerously stray from these areas.

Native Habitat

The Red Ear Slider geographically originated from the area around the Mississippi River down to the Gulf of Mexico. They will thrive 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. The pet trade has expanded their range around the world, often at the expense of native terrapins. Therefore, it is not difficult to locate RES in some suitable habitat anywhere in the world. The native environment will normally have a few requirements. They include a freshwater source, areas to bask, suitable vegetation and an area to nest. The water source, such as a pond or stream, should be warm, calm and quiet. There should also be logs or rock formations to provide a level basking area but anything above the surface that is stable and dry will usually do. Below the surface, a muddy or soft bottom is preferred. Younger RES will feed on smaller prey like fish, snails and insects and gradually focus on plant material. The native habitat is primarily limited to the area in and around the water body. RES will likely not venture far from an established freshwater environment, although females will need to create a nest on dry land.

Physical Description

Red Ear Sliders are very recognizable. Their signature red (or orange - yellow) stripe starts at the end of their eyes and extends to cover their ear area. Their carapace (top shell) is nicely rounded and smooth and has a black and yellow line pattern. Their plastron (bottom shell) is also smooth and is yellow with a distinct and unique pattern.

Hatchlings start with a very bright green carapace that is slightly pliable (soft) and adults have a dark green carapace. As RES age, the patterns become less visible when the carapace becomes darker and the red ear area likely fades. Their skin has a green and yellow stripe pattern. Females are physically larger than males. However, males have much longer claws/nails as well as a longer and thicker tail. Despite their sharpness and length, it should never be necessary to cut or trim claws. Note: There are various other RES that have different color variations and other patterns. They may be regional variants or a result of cross breeding or selective breeding.

Is my turtle male or female? There are a few ways to tell whether your turtle is male or female. It is usually easier to tell with older turtles. 1. Claws Females have short claws on their front feet, while males have much longer claws. The males use their long claws during courtship by stroking the female’s face or vibrating their claws in front of her.


The shell of Red Ear Slider consists of the carapace or top section and the plastron or bottom section. The carapace is divided into sections or plates called scutes (osteoderms) made of keratin. These are similar to scales and are derived from the RES’s epidermis. The top layers of the scute will also fall off when the RES sheds. The bridge connects the carapace and the plastron. It is a section of bone in between the fore and hind limbs. On the underside of the tail is the cloaca - the only opening to serve intestinal, urinary and reproduction purposes. The cloaca on a female is closer to the shell whereas a male, who has a longer and thicker tail, has it further away. Males have long front claws that are ritually used during courtship or in a territorial confrontation. The claws of captive RES are sharp and can easily scratch skin. All RES have beaks made of a sharp piece of keratin. These beaks can easily cut flesh and vegetation. They do not have teeth to break down food, but their throats are quite flexible to accommodate large portions. Additionally, RES need to be in water to swallow since they do not produce saliva. They may take food that’s on land but will bring it into the water to swallow it.

Gene Provost /

Erica Shekell

A young red-eared slider swims in its tank. Red-eared sliders are about the size of a quarter when they hatch. Males may grow up to 9 inches in length and females made grow up to 12 inches.

Herbert, an 8-year-old male red-eared slider, swims in his tank. Notice his long front claws that differentiate him from a female. Gular Scute Humeral Scute

Sliders found outisde their native ranges are considered invasive species. Many of these populations exist because of runaways or pet turtles that were released by their owners. Never release a captive turtle into the wild.

Pectoral Scute

Measurements, Growth and Age

The straight carapace length (SCL) is used to properly measure a RES. To obtain this measurement, you stretch a line between the front of the shell and the back, ignoring the curvature of the carapace. It is best to use a rigid ruler as opposed to a tape measure. Hatchlings are roughly 1 inch (2.5 cm) in length. After the first year, a hatchling, now referred to as a yearling, should be around 2-3.5” inches long. Male yearlings are sexually mature Continued on page 7.

2. Cloaca The cloaca is an opening in the underside of the tail that is used for interstinal, uninary and reproduction purposes. On females, the cloaca is located closer to the shell, sometimes on the inside of the edge of the carapace (top shell). On males, the cloaca is located beyond the carapace and much further from the shell.

Bridge Abdominal Scute Femoral Scute Brian Seitzman / Rattle Box Photography

Mike Keeling /

Mnlamberson /

A young red-eared slider, left, sleeps underwater. Hatchlings, like the one in the center, use an egg tooth to break out of their eggs. The egg tooth will drop off in a few days or weeks. An adult red-eared slider, right, sits on a log in a lake.

Anal Scute Underside of Carapace

The parts of a plastron (underside).

On the cover: Eye of a pond slider, Trachemys scripta, taken in Six Forks Crossroads, N.C., on June 20, 2009. Photo by e_monk on




Reptile Edition

July 2010

Set Up a Tank

Zippo Zimmermann /

A mud turtle sits on the sandy bottom of its tank. Different strata such as sand, pebbles, rounded river rocks or marbles may be used to cover the bottom of the tank. When choosing which to use in your tank, keep in mind that some turtle species like to burrow in the tank bottom and that some turtles may mistake small rocks for food.

Got a tiny turtle? A giant one? A tropical one? A messy one? Different turtles require different tank set-ups. By


ank Size

Tank size is the first critical issue you will have to deal with. A guideline to determine this size used by many keepers, as a minimum, is 10 gallons of tank per each inch of shell length (refer to SCL for correct shell measurement). Therefore, a single adult RES will require anywhere between a 90 to a 120 gallon tank. Water levels should be as high as possible, but not enough for escape. There are more details about appropriate tanks in their own respective section. Click here to read now. Water filtration and quality are also major aspects of a well-maintained environment. Since captive RES eat, sleep and produce waste in the limited amount of water they are in, Big turtles need it is critical to have well-cycled and filtered water. Clean water big tanks.

greatly reduces the instances of infection, algae and fungal growth. The presence and build-up of harmful bacteria and waste should be monitored regularly. Water filter types, media options and more water quality aspects are explained in their respective sections.

About Lighting

Proper lighting is a critical aspect of RES keeping and is generally misunderstood and overlooked. Normally, natural sunlight provides beneficial elements necessary for healthy turtles. There are three main elements provided by correct lighting: UVA rays, UVB rays and heat. For your turtle, UVA exposure is essential for normal behavior including activity, feeding and mating. UVB rays are crucial for your turtle’s health and development. UVB is necessary for the production of the vitamin D3 that is required for the metabolization of dietary calcium. Heat entices your turtle to bask.

This warmth elevates their metabolism along with their digestive and immune systems. Drying off also helps hardening of the shell, scute shedding as well as minimizing algae growth and waterborne infections. Sliders are diurnal — they are active during the day rather than at night. The length of daylight or “photoperiod” is a guide you should use to determine how long your habitat’s lights should be on. Mimicking your seasonal photoperiod is beneficial and the use of a timer is a huge help for making this easier. Lighting should be on for around 12 hours a day, depending on the time of year. Too little or too much light will disrupt your turtle’s activity and sleep cycles. Make sure all lights are firmly tached and using the correct wattage Turtles are cold-blooded and get their heat from within the limits of their fixtures. Your their environment, so RES should not be able to touch them they need a heat and and they should not become wet. To ensure that maximum UVB is absorbed, it light source.

Red-Eared Slider Turtle Magazine Design by Erica Shekell  

(Click and zoom in to view all 4 pages.) Turtle magazine design/spread made in InDesign as a final project for my JRN 336 "Designing for Pri...