The Red eared slider is a freshwater turtle that is native to the Mississippi River Basin in North America. The red stripe behind the eye of this turtle is where it gets its name, as well as the way that it slides off of rocks to evade predators. The rest of the body is dark in color with bright yellow stripes; the carapace, or shell of the turtle, is a green-brown color which usually has a faint map-like pattern - which often fades and darkens with age. Male turtles are smaller than females, and also have long claws on their front legs.
This turtle makes its home in many ponds, lakes, marshes, in slow moving rivers, and canals. This broad selection of habitat is one of the reasons that the red-eared slider is such a successful invasive species in much of its introduced range. These turtles feed on plants and small animals. Fish, crickets, crayfish, snails, tadpoles, worms, aquatic insects, and aquatic vegetation are all on the menu for these generalist predators. This turtle is very common in the pet trade which is how it became introduced in the first place! Irresponsible pet owners, pet stores, as well as some accidental escapees has caused this turtle to be considered one of the world's top 100 most invasive species (The Humane Society).
This turtle, being so common in the pet trade, usually begins living in homes at rather small sizes ranging from 2 inches in shell diameter to 4 inches in shell diameter. As small turtles they are easy and cute to keep, but as they grow they require larger housing which is when problems keeping them as pets arise. Red-eared sliders can grow to be 12 inches in length, and require a 50 gallon tank (or bigger!). This often is too much to ask of some pet owners, and the turtles end up dropped in a pond down the street.
The map above shows the native range of the red-eared slider, and three levels of introduction. HUC 8 Level Record is the only one I will touch on for this post, and it indicates established populations of introduced turtles. The Red-eared slider is present on both the east and west coast of the United States, as well as throughout rivers and tributaries in central and northern regions of the United States. Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, as well as Guam also are experiencing invasion by this freshwater turtle.
Once introduced these turtles are able to impact the native ecosystem and wildlife, however not much is known about the specific impacts they have. What is known, is that they compete with native turtles for basking sites, which are crucial for development of the carapace, eggs, and digestion of food; threaten imperiled species of turtles by competing for food resources; are a source for the spread of samonellosis, and spread diseases and parasites to native wildlife.
When it comes to pet ownership it is always best to do your research and learn about the animal you want to purchase at all stages of life. To own a pet you must commit to giving it the best life, and if you cannot afford or are otherwise incapable of providing that kind of life for your pet it is best to not purchase it. Animals released into the environment can cause all kinds of problems, and so if it ever comes to the point where you can no longer care for your pet there are always other options than releasing it. Local shelters, neighbors, class rooms, and rescue organizations may be willing to take on your animal and give it a happy captive life.
To learn more about red-eared sliders please see the links below:
USGS Red Eared Sliders
Bermuda and Red Eared Sliders
Nature Mapping Red Eared Sliders
VCA Aquatic Problems
About the blog
Ferrets and Friends, LLC has four writers bringing you information on a variety of topics from pets to wildlife, education to conservation, and from new developments in our business to information about our industry. Learn something new each week!