There are actually three regional subspecies of pond slider in North America. One subspecies is called the red-eared slider. They get their name from the broad reddish or orange stripe behind each eye, though some red-eared sliders do not have this stripe. Young hatchlings have a green carapace (upper part of their shell) and skin with yellow green to dark green markings and stripes. Carapace color in adults fades to a muted olive green color. Some older individuals (especially males) become very dark, appearing almost black with few visible markings. The carapace is oval and flattened with a weak center ridge (keel). The plastron (the underpart of the shell that covers the belly) is yellow with dark markings in the center of each scute (part of the plastron).
The yellow-bellied slider is another kind of pond slider, they have a yellow blotch behind each eye which may join the neck stripe, but is usually only seen in young and females. Yellow vertical bands mark the carapace, with the underside being yellow with smudges. The plastron is also yellow with dark blotches or smudges.
Cumberland turtles are the third kind of pond slider. They have a narrower orange-yellow stripe behind each eye and have fewer and much wider stripes on the legs, neck, and head. All pond slider subspecies have webbed feet that aid in swimming. Males are usually smaller than females, but have a much longer, thicker tail. Males have long claws that they use in courtship and mating. They range in total length from 12.5 to 28.9 cm.
Pond sliders are native to the Nearctic and Neotropical regions. They are found from the southern Great Lakes region east to West Virginia, west to Indiana and Illinois and south throughout most of the southeastern and south-central United States. The range of pond sliders continues through Mexico and Central America to Venezuela in South America.
Pond sliders prefer quiet, muddy bottomed, permanent waters with good places to sit in the sun (places to bask) and plentiful aquatic vegetation. They are usually found only in a single area except when they go onto land to nest or when they burrow into the lake or river bottom to hibernate.
Pond slider eggs that are incubated at temperatures between 22 and 27 degrees Celsius become only males, while eggs that are incubated at warmer temperatures become females. Baby sliders come out of the egg looking like small adults. (Harding, 1997)
Male pond sliders approach females during the mating season, between March and July and perform a courtship dance. They face a female, stretch out their front feet, and vibrate their long claws on the female's head and neck. If receptive the female will sink to the bottom of the pond for mating.
Most nesting occurs from May to July. Females will often travel some distance to find a suitable nesting site. Nests are dug in the soil with the female's back feet. Females lay from 4 to 23 eggs in the 2-4 inch deep hole and then cover the eggs with soil. It takes 2 to 2.5 months for young to hatch. They do so using their "egg tooth" (caruncle), a sharp feature on their nose that helps them cut open the leathery shell of the egg. The caruncle disappears soon after hatching. Hatching occurs between July and September. If hatching occurs in the late fall, the young may stay in the nest all winter and emerge the following spring. Red-eared sliders grow quickly at first, reaching about 2 inches within the first year, but growth slows as they get older.
Males become adults at 3 to 5 years of age, when they are about 4 inches long; females become adults at 5 to 7 years old, when they are 6 to 7.5 inches in length.
Female pond sliders choose safe nesting sites for their eggs. Once they lay the eggs they leave the nest and there is no further parental care. (Harding, 1997)
Like most turtles, pond sliders can live for a long time. They have been known to live for 42 years in the wild, though most don't live past 30 years. Most red-eared sliders probably die when they are hatchlings. From 7 to 10 out of every 10 eggs and hatchlings will die before their first year. (Harding, 1997)
Red-eared sliders enjoy basking (sitting in the sun and warming) on logs, rocks, or stumps near the water. Pond sliders are often observed in large groups mainly because of their aggregation on limited numbers of basking sites. Sometimes you can see sliders stacked on top of each other three high. The name "slider" refers to the quick retreat from their basking site into the water when they feel even the slightest bit threatened. Pond sliders are diurnal, which means they are active during the day. Sliders sleep at night underwater, usually resting on the bottom or floating on the surface, using their inflated throat to help them float. Sliders become inactive at temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius. They will often hibernate underwater or under banks and hollow stumps. They will come out of hibernation in early March to late April.
Pond sliders communicate with touch and vibrations. They also have a good sense of vision.
Young pond sliders tend to be more carnivorous than adults, eating about 70% animal matter and 30% plant matter. Adults eat 90% plant matter and 10% animal matter. Foods include aquatic insects, snails, tadpoles, crawfish and other crustaceans, and fish. They also eat plants like arrowhead, water lilies, hyacinths, and duck weed. Feeding occurs under water, usually in the early morning or late afternoon.
Pond slider eggs and hatchlings are preyed on by raccoons, skunks, opossums, foxes, and other predators. They are relatively safe from most predators once they reach adult size and while they are in the water. Large predatory fish seem to find the hatchlings difficult to handle and do not tend to eat them. Red-eared sliders may attempt to bite and scratch when harassed, but most pull their head and legs into their shells for protection. (Harding, 1997)
Pond sliders help to control populations of the animals that they consume and affect aquatic vegetation as they graze. Young pond sliders are an important food source for large, aquatic predators.
The establishment of red-eared sliders outside their natural range may be harmful to native turtle species.
Red-eared sliders in natural habitats are essentially harmless to human interests. When kept captive under unsanitary or stressful conditions or when fed contaminated foods, they can become a carrier of certain strains of Salmonella bacteria capable of causing illness in humans.
Pond sliders fill an important niche in their wetland habitats, and are appealing to most people. Pond sliders have unfortunately been heavily exploited by humans for both the commercial pet trade and for food purposes.
Red-eared sliders have been heavily collected for the pet trade and are sold by the millions in pet shops across the world. Because of unsanitary conditions and a lack of knowledge on turtle care, few survive for long in captivity. U.S. government regulations now require turtles to be at least 4 inches in length before they can be sold as pets in the United States. However, many hatchlings are still produced commercially for export to Europe, Mexico, and Japan where they are popular as pets. These operations often use wild-caught turtles as well. In recent years, numbers of adult sliders and related turtle species have been trapped for the food trade; many have been exported to Asia. Native slider populations are declining due to habitat destruction and pollution as well as overharvest. Pond slider eggs are used as fish bait and fishermen sometimes persecute them, mistakenly assuming that they eat fish. Another major source of pond slider death is being hit by cars on roads as they migrate between waterways.
Because of the release of unwanted pets, sliders have established populations outside of their native range. They have been found in California, France, South Africa, Bahrain, Japan, South Korea, Guam, and Thailand. These introduced populations may have some effect on native fauna and species, but to date there is little evidence supporting this.
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