Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) - Wiki
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[Photo] Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans). Date 25 April 2007. Author http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Viewport License: public domain
The Red-eared Turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans) is a semi-aquatic turtle (terrapin) belonging to the family Emydidae. It is a native of the southern United States, but has become common in various areas of the world due to the pet trade. They are very popular pets in the United States, the Netherlands, Canada, and England.
Taxonomy and evolution
Red-eared Turtles are members of the order Testudines, which contains nearly 250 species. In the United States and Canada, members of this genus are usually referred to as turtles; however, in the UK they are split into Turtles (aquatic), Tortoises (land), and Terrapins (semi-aquatic). All turtles may also be referred to as "chelonians". RES were formerly classified as Chrysemys scripta elegans.
Distribution and Habitat
The Red Ear Turtle (RES) geographically originated from the area around the Mississippi River down to the Gulf of Mexico. They 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. They naturally reside 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. 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.
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.
Red Eared Turtles are almost completely aquatic, but leave the water to bask on hot sunny days. These reptiles are deceptively fast and excellent swimmers. They search for prey and will attempt to capture them when the opportunity arises. They are aware of predators and people and will generally shy away from them. In fact, the RES slides frantically off rocks and logs when approached - hence the name.
Red-Eared Turtles hibernate over the winter at the bottom of ponds or shallow lakes. They will tolerate other small animals in their habitat, but will quickly dive underwater when approached by potential predators, making them difficult to catch. They also seem to like other Red-Eared Sliders, they will stack on each other to breed.
The courtship and mating activities usually occur between March and July, and take place underwater. The male swims toward the female and begins to flutter or vibrate his long claws on and around her face and head. The female will continue to swim toward the male and if she is receptive she will sink to the bottom for mating. If the female is not receptive, she might start a fight with the male. The courtship can take up to 45 minutes, but the mating itself usually takes 15 minutes.
Sometimes a male will appear to be courting another male. This is actually a sign of dominance and the males may begin to fight. Juveniles may display the courtship dance, but until the turtles are five years of age they are not mature and unable to mate.
After mating, the female will spend extra time basking in order to keep her eggs warm. She may also have a change of diet, eating only certain foods or not eating as much as she normally would. This is normal and the female should not be offered food throughout pregnancy. The average gestation period is two months, but if the female cannot find a suitable place for laying her eggs it may last longer. A female might lay anywhere from two to twenty eggs. One female can lay multiple clutches of eggs during one mating season. Depending on several factors, the clutches will be spaced two to four weeks apart.
The eggs will hatch 80-85 days after they have been laid. The hatchling will cut open the egg with an "egg tooth" which falls out an hour after hatching and never grows back. If the turtles don't feel secure, they will remain inside their shell after hatching for another day or two. If they are removed from the shell before they are ready, they will return to the shell if possible. When they decide to leave their shells, they will have a small sac hanging from their bellies. This is the remains of the yolk sac and should not be removed. Removing it could be fatal to the hatchling. The sac will fall off by itself, at which point you may notice a split in the turtle's plastron. This will heal on its own as well, and does not need to be treated.
RES as pets
RES are commonly kept as pets. Often sold cheaply and along with small plastic bowls, (dubbed death bowls by RES keepers), they may be acquired by children, but they require precise care. These turtles can live several decades with proper care, so turtle ownership is not a commitment to be taken lightly. It is illegal in every state in the US for a Pet Store to sell turtles under 4 inches long. Although some stores sell these turtles when they are under 4in. Also, as of July 1, 2007 the sale of wild type RES in the state of Florida is illegal. Albino and pastel RES are excluded from these provisions.
Turtles are often associated with bacteria known as salmonella. While there are legitimate concerns, there are risks with any pet. For many keepers, basic hygiene,like washing hands after handling, greatly reduces the instances of any type of infection. The potential health risk is another reason why children should not handle RES or be their primary care givers.
Red Ear Turtles are omnivores who can be fed a variety of foods including plant and animal material. The range of food can include pellets, aquatic plants, vegetables, animal protein, as well as the occasional supplement. Calcium (for shell health) can be supplemented by adding pieces of cuttlebone to the diet. The diet of a RES should consist of a commercially made pellet (25% or less), animal protein (25%) or less, and vegetation (50% or more), of which there are many types and varieties. Younger turtles tend to be more carnivorous (eat more animal protein) than adults do. As they grow larger and older, they become increasingly herbivorous.
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 consume it. Furthermore, feeding a RES in a separate container will create a cleaner tank. Also having about 10 gallons of water per inch of turtle shell and having a filter rated for twice the size of your aquarium will help too. Doing so would create a healthier environment for the RES and would require less cleaning maintenance. Even so, the water must be changed at least every 2 weeks. To keep a healthy RES the water temperature must be about 76°F-82°F. If it is too cold, the turtle will attempt to hibernate (which is impossible in captivity). This will slow down their metabolism prohibiting the consumption of food and motion. To maintain the temperature, use a water heater or lighting that gives off heat over the basking area. Fully submersible heaters are better, but they take up room in the aquarium.
The turtle must be kept in an aquarium or other enclosure in keeping with its size. Tank size is the first critical issue you will have to deal with. The small portable containers often sold along with a baby red-eared turtle are completely inadequate even for the smallest specimen. Water levels should be as high as possible, but not enough for escape. Red-eared Turtles will need housing that mimics their natural environment ??? warm, with water for swimming, and a dry warm area in which to bask.
The amount of water required can be measured by simple calculations. The length of the enclosure should be at least 4xL, (L meaning the length of the carapace), The width should be at least 2xL, and the height should be at least 1.5xL. The general rule of thumb is a minimum of 10 gallons of water per inch of shell, plus 10%-25% land/basking area. Sufficient water is required in the enclosure. However, for younger turtles water level should be shallower until you are sure the turtle can swim well. You can place aquatic plants or other decor in the tank for a hatchling to rest on. Until the turtle is able to swim well, it should be able to stand up and reach the top of the water, for there have been cases of turtles drowning at young ages, though this is unlikely. If the turtle seems like it is drowning when the water level is increased, then it must be taken out immediately. However, even though it may appear that the turtle does not want to swim at first, it can learn quickly.
Water filtration and quality are also major aspects of a well-maintained environment. Since captive RET eat, sleep and produce waste in the limited amount of water they are in, it is critical to have well-cycled and filtered water. Clean water greatly reduces the instances of infection, algae and fungal growth. The presence and build-up of harmful bacteria and waste should be monitored regularly.
A basking area on which the turtle can dry out needs to be provided. A heat lamp is also strongly recommended for indoor turtles. If a heat lamp is used indoors, turtles should have access to it for three to four hours per day. The water should be kept at a constant temperature of 24-27 degrees celsius (76-82F); colder water temperatures can cause the turtle to attempt to hibernate, which is impossible in captivity. Temperatures that are too cool are often called a “death zone” since they are not cold enough for actual hibernation but cold enough to inhibit their metabolism. Water quality with any aquatic turtle can be a serious problem. Turtle feces can accumulate quickly, and the resulting ammonia and bacterial build-up can be seriously detrimental to the animal's health. A good aquarium filter can help alleviate this problem, as can a separate feeding tank, but frequent water replacement will be needed to ensure good health. For adult turtles (often 20-30cm in length) it is generally accepted that a tank volume of at least 500 liters (approximately 132 gallons) is preferred. Another possibility is to keep the turtle in a backyard pond or kiddy pool as long as it is enclosed, from the sides and the top.
Another requirement is that the basking area be equipped with a heat lamp, and UVA and UVB light (it is possible to find bulbs that give off heat, UVA, and UVB). The UVB light mimics the sun and gives the turtle the vitamins it needs to metabolize calcium and maintain shell health.
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