CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Red-eared Slider - Trachemys scripta elegans

(Wied-Neuwied, 1838)
Click on a picture for a larger view



Red-eared Slider California Range Map
Red: California locations where alien Red-eared Sliders
have been observed and may be established.
Many more locations are sure to exist.


observation link






This is an alien species that has been introduced into California. It is not a native species.

Red-eared Slider Red-eared Slider Red-eared Slider Red-eared Slider
Adult in city park lake,
San Francisco County
Adults, Los Angeles County Adults, Los Angeles County This adult slider is holding its legs out more parallel to the suns rays to warm them up more efficiently.

Red-eared Slider Red-eared Slider Red-eared Slider Red-eared Slider
Adult, Orange County © Jeff Ahrens Juvenile, Orange County © Jeff Ahrens Animal capture and handling authorized under SCP or specific authorization from CDFW.
Red-eared Slider Red-eared Slider Red-eared Slider Red-eared Sliders
Red-eared sliders of all ages
© Jeff Ahrens
Animal capture and handling authorized under SCP or specific authorization from CDFW.
Adult in city park lake,
San Francisco County
Captive adult Adults, Los Angeles County
Pacific Pond Turtle Pacific Pond Turtle Red-eared Slider  
Adult, Sacramento County
© Brandon Huntsberger
Adults, Sacramento County
© Brandon Huntsberger
This slider from Napa County has three large leeches on its shell. Leeches often attach themselves to the fleshy parts of turtles but they can also suck blood from the scutes on the shell.
© Hank Miller
 
Red-eared Slider Red-eared Slider Red-eared Slider  
Characteristic Red stripe behind eye

 
       
Red-eared Sliders From Outside California
Red-eared Slider Red-eared Slider Red-eared Slider Red-eared Slider
Adult, Travis County, Texas Adult, Travis County, Texas Adult, Miami-Dade County, Florida Adult, Bastrop County, Texas
Red-eared Slider Red-eared Slider Red-eared Slider Red-eared Slider
Carapace Plastron Adult, King County, Washington Adult, Travis County, Texas
Red-eared Sliders Red-eared Slider Red-eared Slider Red-eared Slider
Adults, Cameron County, Texas Adult, Tennessee Adult under water, Adult, Charlton County, Georgia

Red-eared Slider Red-eared Slider    
Serrated rear edge of carapace of adult,
Chambers County, Texas
Adult, Fairfax County, Virginia    
     
Comparison of Normal and Melanistic Red-eared Sliders
red-eared slider red-eared slider red-eared slider red-eared slider
Shell of normal adult, dark shell of melanistic adult, & Juvenile
Orange County © Jeff Ahrens.
Animal capture and handling authorized under SCP or specific authorization from CDFW.
The same three turtles seen on the left: normal adult plastron, juvenile, melanistic adult plastron.
© Jeff Ahrens.
Animal capture and handling authorized under SCP or specific authorization from CDFW.
Normal adult, top, Melanistic adult, bottom.
Orange County © Jeff Ahrens.
Animal capture and handling authorized under SCP or specific authorization from CDFW.
Carapace of melanistic adult with dark edging and little color,
Orange County © Jeff Ahrens.
Animal capture and handling authorized under SCP or specific authorization from CDFW.
red-eared slider red-eared slider red-eared slider red-eared slider
Dark head with no red "ear" marking and dark front legs of melanistic adult, Orange County. © Jeff Ahrens.
Animal capture and handling authorized under SCP or specific authorization from CDFW.
Head and front legs of normal adult with yellow markings, Orange County.
© Jeff Ahrens.
Animal capture and handling authorized under SCP or specific authorization from CDFW.
Dark tail of melanistic adult,
Orange County.
© Jeff Ahrens.
Animal capture and handling authorized under SCP or specific authorization from CDFW.
Tail of normal adult with yellow markings,, Orange County.
© Jeff Ahrens.
Animal capture and handling authorized under SCP or specific authorization from CDFW.
  Red-eared Slider Red-eared Slider  
Melanistic sliders and old sliders whose red "ears" have faded, are often difficult to distinguish from the California native Pacific Pond Turtle - Actinemys marmorata, especially at a distance in the field, and even in hand. According to Bob Packard, with the Western Riverside County MSHCP Biological Monitoring Program, they confirm the identification based on the presence of large inguinal and axillary scutes on the sliders, which are absent on the pond turtles, and by an interesting behavioral clue: the majority of sliders tend to be aggressive, biting readily, while pond turtles are far more reluctant to bite.
 
Comparison With Pacific Pond Turtle - Actinemys marmorata   
Red-eared Slider Red-eared Slider Pacific Pond Turtle head and neck Red-eared Slider
Two adult Red-eared Sliders (left) compared with a much smaller adult Pacific Pond Turtle (right).
© Jeff Ahrens.
Animal capture and handling authorized under SCP or specific authorization from CDFW.

Ventral view of four adult Red-eared Sliders, with a much smaller adult Pacific Pond Turtle in the middle.
© Jeff Ahrens.
Animal capture and handling authorized under SCP or specific authorization from CDFW.
The head and neck of the Pacific Pond Turtle is mottled, with no red stripe behind the eye. There is usually a prominent red stripe behind the eye of the Red-eared Slider.
Red-eared Slider    
A useful way to differentiate Pacific Pond Turtles from Red-eared Sliders, according to wildlife biologist Brandon Stidum, "...is to look at the marginal scutes 8-12 (...the scutes above the tail, or back scutes). Sliders have bifid or slightly forked scutes, where Western Pond Turtles do not; theirs are all smooth and do not split (except for traumatic injuries, but it’s usually only one or a few, not all scutes). The forking in the tail gives red-eared sliders the appearance that the tail is serrated or split in appearance.  While looking for the presence and size of inguinal and axillary scutes is the best way to differentiate between the 2 once you have them in hand, a good way to do it from a distance is to look at the back scutes of the turtles."     
     
Identification Confusion with Melanistic Red-eared Sliders and Pacific Pond Turtles
red-eared slider red-eared slider red-eared slider
Melanistic adult Red-eared slider - Trachemys scripta elegans, Riverside County. © Bob Parkard

Introduced melanistic sliders and old sliders whose red "ears" have faded, are often difficult to distinguish from the California native Pacific Pond Turtle, especially at a distance in the field, and even in hand. According to Bob Packard, with the Western Riverside County MSHCP Biological Monitoring Program, his organization confirms the identification of these turtles based on the presence of large inguinal and axillary scutes on the sliders, which are absent on the pond turtles, and by an interesting behavioral clue: the majority of sliders tend to be aggressive, biting readily, while pond turtles are far more reluctant to bite.

You can also use the information illustrated above about differentiating the two species from a distance by observing the rear marginal scutes, or back scutes, (scutes above the tail).

More pictures of melanistic sliders can be seen above.

Red-eared Slider

Melanistic adult Red-eared slider, (without red on the head)
Riverside County. © Bob Parkard
       
Differentiating Red-eared Sliders From Western Painted Turtles    (More Here)
Red-eared Slider Western Painted Turtle  
turtle turtle turtle  
Red stripes occur behind the eyes
(sometimes missing on older individuals)
Yellow stripes occur on the head with no red markings.  
turtle turtle Western Painted Turtle  
The rear edge of the shell is serrated.

The shell is not marked with red.
The rear edge of the shell is smooth, not serrated.

The shell is usually marked with red.
 
       
Habitat
Red-eared Slider Habitat Red-eared Slider Habitat Red-eared Slider Habitat Red-eared Slider Habitat
Habitat, Contra Costa County reservoir Habitat, irrigation canal,
Sacramento County
Habitat, park pond, Contra Costa County Habitat, Los Angeles County
Red-eared Slider Habitat Red-eared Slider Habitat    
Habitat, city park lake,
San Francisco County
Habitat, large lake, Sacramento County    

More Pictures of this turtle and its habitat:
Northwest Herps

Texas Herps


Short Videos
Red-eared Slider Red-eared Slider Red-eared Slider  
Red-eared Sliders basking, swimming, and sliding into a pond in LA County. Red-eared Sliders basking at a small lake in Contra Costa County. A Red-eared Slider swims in a small lake in Contra Costa County then hauls out onto a log.  
     
Description
 
Size
3.5 - 14.5 inches in shell length (8.9 - 36.8 cm). (Stebbins 2003)

Appearance
A medium to large freshwater turtle with a weekly-keeled oval carapace.
Color and Pattern
The skin is green to olive brown with yellow stripes, including many narrow yellow stripes on the limbs.
The carapace is olive, brown, or black with streaks and bars of yellow or eye-like spots. The carapace lacks red coloring.
Sometimes the yellow markings are obscured and the shell appears black.
The rear of the carapace has a jagged, saw-toothed edge.
A prominent broad reddish stripe behind the eye gives this species it's common name. (Occasionally this stripe is missing, especially on large old individuals.)
The unhinged plastron is yellow with dark markings.
Male / Female Differences
Males are smaller and darker than females, getting darker as they age
Males have very long nails on the front feet, and a long thick tail.
Young
Young turtles are green with yellow streaks and many eye-like spots.

Life History and Behavior

Activity
Diurnal.
Highly aquatic.
Basks out of the water on banks, rocks, logs, or other exposed objects, often in large groups, and sometimes stacked one upon another.
Becomes dormant during the cold of winter, but able to remain active throughout the year in the south on sunny winter days.
Seems to be tolerant of fairly dirty water.
Don't Pick up a Turtle Just Because You Find it Walking On Land!
Turtles sometimes leave the water to search for food, more water, or to lay their eggs in the spring - typically March to June.
If you see a turtle walking on the land, it is most likely not sick, so you should leave it alone. Many concerned people who think they are helping a turtle by picking it up and bringing it to a wildlife rehabilitation center are actually harming it by removing it from the wild unnecessarily. Red-eared Sliders are an alien species, so they will most likely be killed instead of released back into the wild.
Longevity
Captives can live to be more than 20 years old, and the longevity record is 41 years.
Diet and Feeding
Eats invertebrates, crustaceans, mollusks, fish, insects, snails, tadpoles, and aquatic plants.
Young are primarily carnivorous, but consume progressively larger amounts of vegetation as they mature.

A Red-eared Slider was observed preying on a Red-winged Blackbird that had fallen into a pond in Oklahoma.
(Herpetological Review 38(2), 2007)
Breeding
Females become sexually mature in 2 - 5 years.
In its native habitat, breeding takes place from March to June.
Females dig a nest in open unshaded areas on land in soil that is not muddy and lay 1 - 3 clutches of 2 - 25 eggs between April and July.
Females may move a considerable distance from the water to find a suitable nest site and can sometimes be seen crossing roads in the breeding season.
Hatchlings emerge in 2.5 months and sometimes spend the winter in the nest.

Geographical Range

Trachemys scripta elegans - Red-eared Slider occurs naturally from New Mexico northeast to Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia, south through Kentucky and Tennessee into Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and into northeast Mexico.

According to the Global Invasive Species Database list accessed 1/15, this turtle has been introduced to and still occurs in the following places around the world:

Asia, Australia, Austria, The Bahamas, Bahrain, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Cambodia, Canada, Cayman Islands, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Europe, Finland, France, French Polynesia, Germany, Gibraltar, Guadeloupe, Guam, Guyana, Hong Kong, Hungary, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Democratic People's Republic of, Korea, Republic of, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Martinique, Micronesia, Federated States of, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Northern Mariana Islands, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Puerto Rico, Reunion, Saint Lucia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, and Viet Nam.

This turtle has also been introduced in many areas across the United States. See the range map below for some locations.

It has been introduced throughout California, especially in populated areas, mostly as a result of the release of pets by negligent owners. This is a good example of the importance of carefully considering the long term care of a pet before acquiring it. Release of sliders and other non-native species of turtles in religious and cultural ceremonies of some Asian religions is another reason for their continued spread.

Most field guide range maps show these sliders to be present in only a few areas in California, mostly around interior Southern California and the Bay Area, but I have seen them in several other areas of the state. Brian Hubbs has documented them from many locations in the state and was kind enough to give me the locations where he has seen them, all of which I have put on my range map. James Buskirk has also given me some locations, and I have found more from survey documents found online.  Red-eared sliders may not be established and breeding at all of the locations shown on my map, but they are certainly established in more areas than is traditionally illustrated on most range maps for the state.

Full Species Range Map
Habitat
Prefers areas with calm water and abundant aquatic vegetation; sluggish rivers, ponds, shallow streams, marshes, lakes, and reservoirs.

Notes on Taxonomy
Three subspecies occur in the United States. Several more occur to the south.

Formerly Chrysemys picta elegans.


Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Trachemys scripta - Pond Slider (Stebbins & McGinnis 2012)
Trachemys scripta elegans - Red-eared Slider (Stebbins 2003)
Pseudemys scripta elegans - Red-eared Slider (Stebbins 1985)
Pseudemys scripta - Pond Slider (Stebbins 1966)
Pseudemys scripta - Pond Terrapin (Stebbins 1954)

The "dime store" turtle.
Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
This is the most commonly kept pet turtle species in the world. Hatchling Red-eared sliders have been popular in the pet trade for many years, but few ever live to adulthood. Those that do are often released by owners who cannot provide a large enough enclosure for them or satisfy their other needs or who did not know that they can live up to 20 years in captivity and get tired of keeping them.
Turtle farms have been established to produce enough turtles to satisfy the demand after wild stocks were depleted from collection, but even today, native stocks of this species are still being depleted by collection for sale around the world, including many for Asian food markets.
Taxonomy
Family Emydidae Box and Water or Pond Turtles Gray, 1825
Genus Trachemys Sliders Agassiz, 1857
Species scripta Pond Slider (Schoepff, 1792)
Subspecies

elegans Red-eared Slider (Wied-Neuwied, 1838)
Original Description
Trachemys scripta - (Schoepf, 1792) - Hist. Testud., Pts. 1-2, p. 16, pl. 3, figs. 4 and 5
Trachemys scripta elegans - (Wied, 1838) - Reise Nort-Amer., Vol. 1, Pt. 4, p. 213

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Trachemys - Greek - trachys - rough, and emys -turtle
scripta
- Latin - written, marked
elegans - Latin - fine or elegant- refers to the red stripe behind eye on each side of head

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Related or Similar California Turtles
A. m. marmorata - Northern Pacific Pond Turtle

A. m. pallida - Southern Pacific Pond Turtle

C. p. bellii - Western Painted Turtle

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M.  Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.

Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.

Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Powell, Robert., Joseph T. Collins, and Errol D. Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. The University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Turtles and Lizards of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.

Carr, Archie. Handbook of Turtles: The Turtles of the United States, Canada, and Baja California. Cornell University Press, 1969.

Ernst, Carl H., Roger W. Barbour, & Jeffrey E. Lovich. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution 1994. (2nd Edition published 2009)


Lemm, Jeffrey. Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of the San Diego Region (California Natural History Guides). University of California Press, 2006.

Conant, Roger, & Joseph T. Collins. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians Eastern and Central North America. Third Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998.

Conservation Status

The following status listings come from the Special Animals List and the Endangered and Threatened Animals List which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.


This animal is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.


Organization
Status Listing
NatureServe Global Ranking
NatureServe State Ranking
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife None
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None
IUCN


 

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