10 Facts about Red Eared Sliders

Turkey, posing for the camera
  1. Red Eared Sliders are not starter pets.

It’s so tempting to get a little baby turtle when you see it in a pet shop or for sale at the side of the road. What is not apparent is that these tiny turtles will soon require tons of care and hundreds of dollars worth of hardware to ensure a happy and healthy life into adulthood.

While owning a turtle is an incredible experience, it’s not for beginners or children.

2. Whenever a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie or show is released, turtle sales go up.

It’s an interesting phenomenon and it’s been well-documented throughout the years. Turtle-mania has been instrumental in the demand of Red Eared Sliders across the globe. Since they’re easy to breed, pet stores and private sellers have had little trouble filling the demand for baby turtles but the issues come later in the turtle’s life when they’re larger and no longer wanted.

For more information on TMNT turtle-mania and the pet trade, take a look at this great article called How Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles devastated the world’s turtle population on inverse.com [Opens in a new window]

3. Red Eared Sliders are semi-aquatic

Red Eared Sliders can be on land for a certain amount of time, but they need access to water to survive. They require water to swallow their food and do their business. It’s not unusual for people to have free-roaming turtles in their homes. Turkey is one of these turtles who adores exploring outside of her tank; it’s been an adventure for both of us. It’s not recommended to leave them unsupervised while they’re free-roaming since turtles are natural troublemakers.

While Turkey is free-roaming in the house, we have a small pool of water for her to climb into if she chooses, a basking station set up, and all exits blocked off. Reminder: pick up the cat food!

4. They experience brumation

Part of the reason why Red Eared Sliders are so invasive is they can survive in extreme conditions including our long and harsh Canadian winters. They choose a pond and hibernate (brumate) under the ice for the duration of the season. Don’t worry, they can breathe – they diffuse oxygen and expel carbon dioxide while under the ice. This is a process called cloacal respiration, affectionately known as butt breathing.

Gordie enjoying a gaming session

5. They eat all kinds of foods

Turtles can survive on all kinds of flora and fauna in the wild. There are specific foods that are recommended to ensure a happy and healthy turtle; this includes turtle pellets that have vitamins and minerals that are needed for their continued health.

They can eat almost everything that you can eat with the exception of ‘nightshade’ vegetables (tomatos, peppers, etc). They also love bugs, worms, and small fish. Foods that are higher in sugar should be limited and fruits are given as treat. Fatty foods like feeder fish should be equated to fast food and given sparingly.

Baby turtles start out as carnivores since the protein gives them the foundation needed to grow. As they age, their diet will become omnivorous with the largest portion of their diet being fresh vegetables. The older they get, the larger percentage of vegetables in their diet will be.

6. RES are Ectotherms and love to bask in the sun

Red Eared Sliders rely on external sources to regulate their body temperature categorizing them as ectotherms. Proper lighting and heat is essential to a turtle’s overall health. Being without these things can lead to problems like metabolic bone disease and respiratory diseases.

7. RES lay their eggs on land

During each annual nesting season (May to mid-July), you may see an increase of turtle traffic across local roads and waterways. These turtles are primarily females looking to lay their eggs somewhere safe.

There are initiatives and turtle crossings to help these lovely reptiles make it safely to their destinations, but we still see so many injuries and losses every year. Join your local rescue in promoting turtle crossings by sharing their informational posts or writing your own.

8. Females are larger than males and have larger back claws

The most commonly asked question for new turtle owners is the gender of their pet. Since baby turtles start the same size, it may take a few years to sex your turtle since female turtles grow to gargantuan size compared to the males.

Eventually, you’ll be able to notice either the front or the back claws developing. Males have exceptionally long nails for their iconic mating ritual while the females will have long talons on their back feet to help dig their nests.

Herc at 2019 Adoption event

9. RES are Opportunistic eaters

The constant begging for food has been the most difficult thing to get used to after many years as a furry-pet owner. Red Eared Sliders always seem to be hungry even if they’ve just eaten. It used to break my heart until I found out that this species will eat until they throw up or explode.

Having a food schedule is the easiest way to combat the guilt of your turtle’s begging dances everytime you walk by the tank. Some people like to buy medicine organizers to pre-portion their turtle’s pellets so as not to over-feed them.

10. RES can start as bright greens and green-blues while young and will darken as they age

My turtle’s name is Turquoise because of her shell colour when she was a baby. She also had a sibling named Emerald, again because of the shell colour. These days, Turkey’s shell colour is a rich mahogany with deep chocolate markings. Her plastron is a beautiful yellow with a beautiful black pattern on it. The older the turtle, the darker their markings will be. This can be used to determine the approximate age of a turtle within a decade.

I met Turkey when she was already in her 20’s. I can’t imagine her being a tiny baby – all I see is a fierce and majestic force of nature.

Please enjoy this turtle butt. Thanks

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