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. Subspecies in the United states include Trachemys scripta elegans, native to the Mississippi river valley, from Illinois, west to Kansas and Oklahoma, and south to the Gulf of Mexico, T. s. scripta, found from Virginia to northern Florida and Alabama, and T. s. troostii, found from eastern Kentucky to Georgia and Alabama (Conant and Collins 1991). (Conant and Collins, 1991; Harding, 1997)
Pond sliders prefer quiet, soft, muddy bottomed waters with suitable basking spots. They are faithful to their home ranges, leaving only to nest or hibernate (Dawson 1998). (Dawson, 1998)
There are three subspecies of pond slider in the United States. Trachemys scripta elegans (red-eared slider) gets its name from the broad reddish or orange stripe behind each eye, though some red-eared sliders do not have this streak. Young hatchlings have a green carapace and skin with yellow green to dark green markings and stripes. Color in adults fades to a muted olive green color. Some older individuals (especially males) become melanistic, appearing almost black with few visible markings. The carapace is oval and flattened with a weak keel. The plastron is yellow with dark markings in the center of each scute. Trachemys scripta scripta (yellow-bellied slider) has a yellow blotch behind each eye which may join the neck stripe, but is usually only evident in juveniles 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. Trachemys scripta troostii (Cumberland turtle) has a narrower orange-yellow stripe behind each eye. It is similar to T. s. elegans, but has fewer and much wider stripes on the legs, neck and head. All the subspecies have webbed feet that aid the turtle in swimming. There is some sexual dimorphism. The male is usually smaller than the female with a much longer, thicker tail. The cloacal opening of the male is beyond the edge of the carapace while the female's opening is usually at or under the rear edge of the carapace. Males have elongated claws that they use in courtship/mating. They range in total length from 12.5 to 28.9 cm. (Conant and Collins, 1991; Dawson, 1998)
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 have a unique courtship dance that they engage in anywhere between the months of March and July. Males will approach a female from the front, stretch out their front feet and vibrate their long claws on the female's head and neck. Some may even bite the female. The female usually continues to swim forward while the male does this and, if receptive, will eventually stop and sink to the bottom. The male will then grip the female's carapace with all four claws and arrange himself on top of her. He will then bend his tail under hers, let go of his front arms, and take an almost vertical position. From this position mating occurs, and lasts about 15 minutes. (Dawson, 1998)
Maturity occurs in males at 3 to 5 years of age, when they are about 4 inches long; females at 5 to 7 years and 6 to 7.5 inches in length (Dawson 1998). Most nesting occurs from May to July. A female may have 1 to 3 clutches in a season, with second clutches laid in July or August. Females will often travel some distance to find a suitable nesting site. Nests are dug in the soil with the female's back feet. Four to 23 eggs are laid in the 2 to 4 inch deep hole and then covered with the displaced soil. It takes 2 to 2.5 months for young to hatch and they do so using their "egg tooth" (caruncle) which disappears soon after hatching. Hatching occurs between July and September. If hatching occurs in the late fall, the young may overwinter in the nest and emerge the following spring. Pond sliders grow quickly at first, reaching about 2 inches within the first year, but growth slows as they get older. (Dawson, 1998; Harding, 1997; Smither, 1998)
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)
Pond sliders enjoy basking 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. Sliders will sleep at night underwater, usually resting on the bottom or floating on the surface, using their inflated throat as a flotation aid. Sliders become inactive at temperatures below 10°C. They will often hibernate underwater or under banks and hollow stumps. Emergence occurs in early March to late April. (Dawson, 1998; Harding, 1997; Smither, 1998)
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 (Wilke 1979). Foods include aquatic insects, snails, tadpoles, crawfish, fish, crustaceans, and mollusks. They also eat plants like arrowhead, water lilies, hyacinths, and duck weed. Feeding occurs under water, usually in the early morning or late afternoon (Smither 1998). (Harding, 1997; Smither, 1998; Wilke, 1979)
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.
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.
The establishment of this species outside its natural range (see comments below) may be harmful to native turtle species, but evidence for this supposed competition is presently lacking or anecdotal.
Wild slider turtles in natural habitats are essentially harmless to human interests. When kept captive under unsanitary or stressful conditions or when fed contaminated foodstuffs, this species can become a carrier of certain strains of Salmonella bacteria capable of causing illness in humans.
Pond sliders, especially red-eared sliders (T. s. elegans), 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 USA. However, many hatchlings are still produced commercially for export to Europe, Mexico, and Japan where they are popular as pets (Smither 1998). [Commercial turtle farms rarely qualify as "closed systems," and farm breeding stock is often augmented by the capture of wild turtles.] 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. However, 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. The biggest threat to sliders is Man. Not only are they exploited for the pet and food trade, but slider eggs are also used as fish bait. Sliders are often killed on roads by automobiles, and are sometimes persecuted by fishermen who mistakenly consider the turtles to be fish eaters. (Harding, 1997; Smither, 1998)
There are many named subspecies of Trachemys scripta. These include: T. s. scripta, T. s. cataspila, T. s. callirostris, T. s. chichiriviche, T. s. elegans, T. s. emolli, T. s. grayi, T. s. grayi, T. s. hartwegi, T. s. hiltoni, T. s. ornata, T. s. taylori, T. s. troostii, T. s. venusta, T. s. nebulosa, T. s. ornata, T. s. yaquia, and T. s. gaigeae (sometimes considered a full species, Trachemys gaigeae) (Ernst and Barbour 1989).
Some species & subspecies have had several names in the past which change as more information is found. The following are a few of these previous names.
1792 Testudo scripta
1831 Emys vittata
1889 Chrysemys scripta
1899 Pseudemys scripta
Present Trachemys scripta
1802 Testudo serrata
1937 Pseudemys scripta scripta
1986 Trachemys scripta scripta
1839 Emys elegans
1844 Emys holbrooki
1855 Emys sanguinolenta
1873 Trachemys lineata
1889 Chrysemys scripta var. elegans
1944 Pseudemys scripta elegans
1986 Trachemys scripta elegans
1836 Emys troosti
1840 Emys cumberlandensis
1889 Chrysemys troostii
1937 Pseudemys scripta troostii
1986 Trachemys scripta troostii
Tanya Dewey (author), Animal Diversity Web.
Trudy Kuhrt (author), Michigan State University, James Harding (editor), Michigan State University.
living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.
living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.
uses sound to communicate
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.
animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature
A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.
mainly lives in water that is not salty.
having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.
the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
seaweed. Algae that are large and photosynthetic.
marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
specialized for swimming
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals
reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.
the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.
having more than one female as a mate at one time
Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).
breeding is confined to a particular season
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.
uses touch to communicate
that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).
movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others
uses sight to communicate
Oct. 1999. "The EMBL Reptile Database" (On-line). Accessed (Date Unknown) at http://www.embl-heidelberg.de/.
Conant, R., J. Collins. 1991. Peterson Field Guides: Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern/Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co..
Dawson, J. 1998. Accessed (Date Unknown) at http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Plains/3550/slider01.html.
Ernst, C., R. Barbour. 1989. Turtles of the World. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Inst. Press.
Harding, J. 1997. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region. Michigan: University of Michigan Press.
Smither, B. 1998. "Gulf Coast Turtle & Tortoise Society" (On-line). Accessed (Date Unknown) at http://www.gctts.org/care_sheets/red_eared_turtle/red.eared.turtle-2.html.
Wilke, H. 1979. Turtles. Munich, West Germany: Grafe & Unzer GmbH.