Also known as: “Red Eared Terrapins”, “Yellow Bellied Terrapins”, "Cumberland Slider", "Pond turtles", "Pond Terrapins"
Suitability as an exotic pet: A hardy, forgiving species of freshwater turtle. Highly active, a good species for display.
With adults growing to the size of dinner plates, they demand a large amount of space, and soon outgrow most home aquariums. Having a lifespan of 40+ years, they are a long term commitment.
Native habitat: North America
Adult Size: 10-13 inches
Enclosure size: 80+ gallons
Water Temperature: 24-29°C
Basking Temperature: 32°C
The Pond Slider (Trachemys scripta) is the most commonly kept species of freshwater turtle. They are native to North America and some parts of Mexico, and inhabit ponds, lakes and river systems. Pond Sliders can be divided into three subspecies, all of which are widely available in the exotic pet trade, and require similar care; the Red Eared Slider or Red Eared Terrapin (Trachemys scripta elegans), the Yellow Bellied Slider or Yellow Belly Terrapin (Trachemys scripta scripta) and the Cumberland Slider (Trachemys scripta troostii).
Sliders have a history of exploitation in the exotic pet trade. They are remarkably hardy animals, which has enabled pet stores to sell "setups" consisting of nothing more than plastic trays for water, and dried shrimp for food, to customers who are not aware of their proper requirements in captivity. Sliders kept in this way often survive for several weeks or months before inevitably succumbing to illness or dietary deficiancy. Even in cases where adequate housing and diets are provided, their natural lifespan, sometimes in excess of 40 years, and their large adult size, has resulted in many being dumped by owners who have lost interest, allowing them to become invasive species all over the world.
Pond Sliders spend a lot of their time between two activities; basking and swimming. Infact, the "slider" part of their name comes from their hasty transition between the two.
Basking is a behaviour seen throughout the reptile world. Reptiles are, on the whole, "cold-blooded", meaning that they cannot maintain their body temperature the way mammals and birds do, and rely on the heat of the sun to warm up during the day. This is vital for their normal body function, including their immune and digestive systems. Pond Sliders have a method of basking which is characteristic of freshwater turtles, by climbing out of the water onto protruding logs, rocks and shoreline, and spreading out their limbs in a "superman" pose to catch as much sun as possible. Groups of basking turtles can often be seen piling on top of each other in nature, to try and get the best place in the sun.
Basking however, poses a problem for Pond Sliders. Being heavily aquatic, their feet and limbs are evolved for swimming in the water, rather than walking on land, and so basking is when they are most vulnerable to predators. Trachemys minimise this risk by staying as close to the water as possible, and sliding into the water at the first sign of danger!
There are multiple methods of providing both swimming space, and a basking platform to Pond Sliders in captivity. The most popular perhaps, is the use of an aquarium, with a protruding ledge, rock or log, which a spotlight can be suspended over to mimic the warming rays of the sun.
Being one of the larger species of freshwater turtle kept as exotic pets, sliders require a large volume of water. This is not only to provide a good amount of swimming space, but also to dilute the waste which the turtles produce. The recommended amount of water for a Pond Slider is 10 US Gallons (40 litres) of water for ever inch of turtle, so ponds may be required for larger specimens.
The water should be kept between 24-29°C (75-84°F), which can be achieved using a submersible aquarium heater available for tropical fish. An aquarium filter should also be used to help keep the water clean and provide a water current. It is recommended to choose a filter which is rated for a tank twice as big as your turtle aquarium, as Pond Sliders are very messy animals and produce a lot of waste.
Basking areas can be provided using a whole range of methods, but it must be an area where the turtle can climb completely out of the water and dry off (to prevent respiratory and fungal infections). Easy, natural looking basking areas can be made from corkbark or driftwood. Rocks can be used, but Pond Sliders are strong animals and will dislodge rock piles, and can be trapped underwater by falling rocks. Commercially available basking areas can be used, which can be attached to the glass of an aquarium by suction cups, although many are not strong enough to support the weight of an adult Pond Slider.
Above the basking area, a household spotlight can be suspended to warm the basking area to 32°C (90°F). It is important that the basking area is warmer than the water temperature, otherwise the turtle may not bask. Many keepers recommend the use of a specialist reptile light, which emits 5% or more UVB. In the wild, many reptiles use UVB (ultraviolet-B) in sunlight to create their own VitaminD3, which they need to absorb calcium. Young Pond Sliders in particular will benefit from the addition of a UVB lamp, although it is possible to just use the household spotlight and provide VitaminD3 in the diet.
Pond Sliders are omnivores, meaning that they require both animal and plant matter in their diet. Youngsters tend to eat more animal protein, such as water invertebrates, fish and molluscs, and gradually eat more vegetation as they age. In captivity, the use of a commercially developed pellet, such as Reptomin, is recommended, to ensure that the turtle receives adequate vitamins and minerals. This should then be supplemented with other types of food for variety and enrichment. "Turtle pudding" can be made to incorporate everything they require in the diet into easy-to-feed gelatine cubes.
For animal protein, frozen bloodworm, shrimp and krill are similar to natural diet and easily obtained from aquatic shops. Earthworms, crickets, locusts, water snails and fish can be offered. Avoid anything freeze dried, such as tubifex, crickets or river shrimp, as the freeze-drying essentially leaves the "husk" of the prey animal, with very little nutritional value. Avoid feeder fish and seafood known to cause thiaminase poisoning.
Plant matter such as duckweed, elodea, anarcharis, romaine lettuce, shredded carrot and dandelion leaves should be offered, which larger specimens will readily graze upon.
Cuttlefish bone (with hard backing removed) can be floated in the tank as a source of calcium.
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