The Red-eared Slider, Trachemys scripta elegans, called the Red-eared Terrapin in the UK, is native to the southern United States, and has become common in the United Kingdom. It is a member of the turtle family. They are almost totally aquatic, but leave the water to bask on hot sunny days almost constantly and slide frantically off the logs when approached – hence the name. Throughout the day they will climb out of the water, bask until dry and warm, then dive back in to wet themselves and cool off, and then climb out to bask again.
This is a medium-sized turtle, ranging in size from less than inch when born, to 12 inches as an adult. They can be recognized by a red stripe down each side of the head. Young turtles have a vibrant shell color and markings. As the turtles age, the shell color tends to darken and the markings fade extensively, including the “red ears”. Males have very long front claws and a long tail. They also have a concave ventral shell as compared to that of females. When full grown, females are significantly larger than males, by 2 to 3 inches.
These turtles hibernate over the winter at the bottom of ponds or shallow lakes where they enter a state of apathy, or dormancy. They will tolerate other animals in their territory, but will quickly dive underwater when approached by a potential predator, making them difficult to catch. Like most turtles, they have a strong bite. They also may carry diseases, such as salmonella bacteria.
During the breeding season, the male will follow the female around and engage the female in a dance face to face, where he flutters his front flippers in or around her face. Assuming she lets him, he then mounts her from behind and holds on with his long claws. When she is ready to lay eggs, she will exit the water and search for a muddy embankment where she digs a hole with her hind feet and lays from 4 to 20 eggs. Hatching time will vary depending on weather conditions, but can range from 2 to 9 months.
Red-eared sliders are omnivores, feeding on vegetation, insects, and small fish. They tend to be more carnivorous when young and tend to become more herbivorous as they age. Red-eared sliders do not produce saliva, therefore they must eat while in the water.