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Creature of the Week: Red-Eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)
You've probably seen a red-eared slider before. In fact, most of the world is probably familiar with the red-eared slider, even if everyone may not know its name. Why? Because the red-eared slider is the most popular pet turtle in the United States. In fact, the red-eared slider is one of most popular pet turtles in the world. This isn't always a good thing, since red-eared sliders can grow quite large, and some people release their unwanted turtles into the wild outside of their native range.
Due to these releases, the red-eared slider's range has become...odd. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the red-eared slider originally lived in the south central United States, but the turtle's popularity as a pet expanded its range into the surrounding states and beyond. It has even established itself on Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Not bad for a sluggish reptile.
Range discrepancies aside, red-eared sliders are beautiful. The distinctive red stripe behind each of their eyes sets them apart from all other North American turtles, so keep that in mind the next time you're out by a pond, lake, or reservoir.
During the warmer months, you'll see red-eared sliders basking on logs or banks of earth on or beside the water. However, if you approach them, they'll quickly slide from their exposed position (hence the "slider" part of the name) and splash into the water, where they are much more at home.
In the water, red-eared sliders are sleek and swift. Not only can they more easily elude predators here, but they can only eat in the water because they lack saliva. What do they eat? Red-eared sliders are omnivores, so they eat both plants and animals. Young sliders are mostly carnivorous and eat 70% animal matter and 30% plant matter. They eat fish, tadpoles, snails, worms, aquatic insects, crickets, carrion (dead animals), and other small creatures. They require this protein-rich diet to grow into strong, healthy adults. Steadily, as they grow, they switch their diet from animals to plants until 90% of their diet consists of plants and 10% consists of animals. During this stage, they mostly feed on aquatic plants like water lilies and duckweed.
Despite their love for the water, female red-eared sliders, like all semi-aquatic and marine turtles, must venture inland to lay their eggs. With predators like foxes, raccoons, and bobcats, it's a dangerous journey, but the risks are worth the reward: baby turtles.
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