RED EARED TERRAPPIN.

Chrysemys scripta elegans

HABITAT: From North America's Northern states to Mexico. Usually in slow moving streams, ponds and lakes

DESCRIPTION: Females up to 12", males smaller, male with longer tail and long front toe nails. Females can lay up to 15 eggs per clutch approx. every 3 weeks during the breeding season, but N.Z. is too cold for the eggs to naturally hatch.

In America they sunbathe on the sides of ponds, as soon as danger nears they slide into the water. Hence their American name of sliders.

 

RED EARED SLIDER TERRAPIN

The RES originates from America where it lives in deep, mud lined ponds with few rocks. A turtle's shell is made up of bone covered with a thin layer of skin, which gives the shell its colour. The outer layer of skin is called a scute, is shed once or twice a year and not as tough as it looks. Scutes are easily scratched by minor trauma or prolonged immersion in warm water. Turtles slide off their basking area at high speed and the bigger the turtle, the harder it hits the water. In captivity they often land in shallow water, hitting a rock or tank bottom which can cause minute cracks in their scute. Water gets into these cracks, leading to infection which is not visible under the scute and gradually spreads throughout the turtle. Its not unusual for it to take several years for the turtle to slowly die from the infection. This Ulcerative Shell Disease is preventable with the correct environment. (Information adapted from Mark Feldmans care sheet on the NZ Herp web site.)

WATER TEMPERATURE

In the wild, the RES lives in deep water where, even in summer, its always cool a foot or two below the surface. Turtles are cold blooded so regulate their temperature from their environment, moving between sunning area and the layers of warm and

cool water. Warm water causes their scutes to swell and soften, like fingernails in a hot bath. When they bask in the sun, their scutes dry and firm back up. If their Water is too warm, they can't bask for long, because they're already hot. So the scutes can't dry out, but continue to swell and soften leading to White Shell Disease. Warm water can also create a build-up of unshed scutes leading to deformity and irritation. A temp between 24 - 26c is needed for a hatchling. After 1yr, slowly reduce temp (during summer only) to 20C. At approx 2 years of age, a healthy turtle won't need a heater in the summer but a temp around 22-24C is recommended over winter. Change temp slowly. If turtle stops eating or is too lethargic, it's too cold, so increase the temperature. Prolonged temperature above 28 can lead to rapid, excessive growth and associated organ damage of the turtle.

LIGHTING and BASKING

Turtles spend half their lives basking in the sun to absorb warmth and UV. The UVB helps the turtle produce Vitamin D which it needs to absorb calcium, develop strong shells and function normally. They need a reptile light AND a heat source such as an ordinary 40 watt bulb 12 hrs daily. The heat source encourages them out of the water to dry their scutes. Use a timer for convenience. Position lights 26 cm to 30 cm away from the turtle and always over the basking area. Often turtles are kept in a warm tank with UV lights sitting on top of a glass lid. The glass filters out nearly all the UV rendering it a waste of time. The UVB rays need to be able to get directly onto the turtle with nothing blocking it. The perspex cover on the light must also be removed as blocks the UVB/A rays. Light bulbs need to be changed every 6 mths. Just because it is glowing, doesnt mean it has the necessary UVB/ UVA coming from it. (Lamp Specialist, 20 Leed St in CHCH has quality bulbs at wholesale prices). The bulb MUST specify "reptile" on it to ensure it has the correct UVB for turtles. An ordinary UV is NOT Ok. If you have a mesh lid over your tank the grid must be larger than 1½ cm to allow the UV through. Sunlight streaming through a window onto your tank is NOT enough, as the UV rays your turtle needs are blocked by the glass.

FILTERS

Large, external filters can seem expensive, but are the best system to keep your tank clean. Always remove all media from the filter such as carbon. Only use some form of bio-balls and coarse sponge as filter media. (Filter wool is fine but will clog quickly). Ammonia removers, carbon etc quickly loose their ability to work effectively and begin to leach toxins back into the turtle tank which can lead to illness over time. Never underestimate how dirty turtles can be. You need to change up to half your tank water weekly and all your water monthly. Internal filters need weekly cleaning with your water change. External; filters should not need cleaning for up to 3 mths or more depending on size of tank, amount of turtles etc. Place a 'pre-filter' sponge over the intake hose to decrease the waste matter going into your filter. eg/ cable-tie a coarse sponge around the inlet filter and remove it for cleaning frequently. This stops loads of bio waste getting inside your filter. (NB/some turtles will eat the sponge so you cant use it for those turtles.) Remember that for every poo, turtles do 5 times the amount in wee, so change some of your water every week so they aren't drinking and swimming in their own urine.

TANK SIZE

Don't be fooled, turtles grow rapidly and a baby needs at least a 3 ft tank and maximum swimming space to stay strong and healthy. Adult males need a 4ft tank minimum, and females a 6 x2x2 ft tank minimum. Don't have a 'lip or edge' on basking area as it causes injury. Ramp needs to be deep into the water so turtle can easily climb out to bask and water level MUST be right up to the basking platform to prevent injury as the turtle dives off. 40 litres of water per 1cm of turtle, plus an extra 15-20% for basking area. The larger the tank, the happier the turtle. Also aquarium stones in tanks are one of the biggest killers of captive turtles. They explore their world by taste and can easily swallow small aquarium stones leading to impaction and death. Any stones in your  tank should be larger then the turtles head so they cant swallow them. Some smooth river rocks a few cm in size can provide interest for your turtle without danger of them swallowing them. Females need access to an outside egg laying area and as they mature it is ideal to adapt them to outdoor living due to their size and the stress they experience while trying to find a suitable egg laying place in a glass tank.

HUMIDITY

Lids on tanks are a disaster as they cause a build up of condensation which can iterally rot the skin off the bone. If you need a protective cover, use a mesh with a gap of 1½ cm to allow UV in and condensation out. Solid Rimu lids look nice, but are endangering the turtles health. Cut neat holes through the lid to allow air exchange and prevent your turtle from suffering. Remember never sit your Reptile light on top of glass.

 

OUTSIDE ENVIRONMENT

A healthy turtle - minimum 15cm shell length - can live outside in a soft environment:

  • That means either a natural clay bottomed pond, or pond-liner over sand or carpet. DO NOT use concrete and avoid any rough rocks.
  • Have water 40-60cm deep for adult females, and ensure there's nothing the turtle can bang into when it slides into the water.
  • Position your pond for maximum sunlight, as turtles need a sunny basking area with access to shade. Artificial grass, logs, garden or lawn make a suitable basking area.
  • Use vermiculite or a mix of clay and loam or fine soil to provide a suitable egg laying place for your female.
  • For hibernation the ideal is to have mud in the bottom of your pond - 46 cm below the frostline (barley straw is also suitable see hibernation section below) - for them to burrow into. Don't attempt hibernation without finding out some information about how to go about it successfully first.

Hibernation of RES turtles in the South Island of New Zealand is a risk and can result in severe illness or death of your turtle.

FENCING

Secure fencing is critical to prevent escapes from a pond. They can squeeze through Small gaps, climb up netting and shrubbery, or dig their way out; particularly a female wanting to lay eggs. I've had turtles scale a 1 metre fence! Use smooth wood or large, natural boulders or plastic netting with an overhang at the top. Whatever you choose, remember other animals, children and burglars can also be an issue for your  turtles outside so think carefully about where you want to position your pond.

HIBERNATION

Red Eared Sliders can be hibernated outside in most parts of New Zealand, but it is still a risk in the the colder areas. Even when doing everything right, you can still have fatalities during hibernation or turtles that are too sick when they come out of hibernation to survive. Last year I knew of 9 RES deaths in the South Island during winter...and those were just the ones I had contact with.

Your turtle must be well aclimatised to pond life for many months BEFORE attempting to hibernate it. Turtle needs to be greater than 15cm shell length and healthy. Stop feeding your turtle by the end of April. Don't be tempted to keep feeding it. Turtle needs to be completely empty of food before hibernating or the food will rot inside and kill it. Pond should be below the frostline. It's suggested water should be a minimum of 40cm deep. Turtle MUST have something in the water to burrow into to keep warm. eg/ a mud lined pond, plants or even add an amount of barley straw to soften so the turtles can burrow into it. (Barley straw only, not other types). If your pond doesn't have much for the turtle to burrow in, try placing a couple of large pot-plant pots full of mud into your pond so they sit well below the surface of the water. This will give your turtle something to burrow in to and help him to remain warm during the winter months.

 

Some turtles will hibernate out of the water buried deeply in the garden or under plants or a compost pile. But most will remain in the water. Ensure your pond is very sheltered and receives plenty of sun when it is available during winter. You may want to add a temporary 'tunnel house' type roof, or cover some of the pond with wood to increase the sheltered areas for the turtle. Keep your filtration going and do a water change on a warm day about the time you stop feeding them. NB/ don't add lots of cold water to your pond as you may cause cold-shock and death. Try and keep the temperature the same as before you started the water change.

During hibernation turtles may still exit the pond to bask on a warm day. DON'T feed them or disturb them in any way. Just let them be. Feeding can begin again once the weather starts to warm up about October. When your turtles are active and appear hungry (not just habitually greedy...) start to feed a little. Don't over feed. If your turtles are basking and not rushing at you for food, they are probably still not needing any. Having aquarium plants, watercress, O2 weed etc in the pond will allow the turtles to start nibbling when they feel like it.

 

DO NOT pick up the turtle and lift it out of the water during hibernation as this can kill them. You may see the turtle moving slowly around the bottom of the pond or resting. The turtles entire body has slowed down dramatically and interferring can lead to problems. HOWEVER, if your turtle appears flat, head and limbs extended and floppy and is unresponsive if gently touched/pushed with a net, then it is in trouble. Turtle must be immediately removed from the water and may require Turtle CPR to revive it. If this is the case, the turtle will not be able to return to hibernation when it has recovered and should be kept in an aquarium inside. Some turtles will not hibernate. They are basking alot, restless, swimming about....these turtles need to be brought inside to an aquarium or they are unlikely to survive winter.

 

FOOD

Feeding is one of the most important functions of a turtle owner!

Think green! RES Turtles need 50% vegies/aquatic plants and 50% protein. Have plants/greens in tank at all times. An all meat/pellet diet leads to shell deformities and organ damage. Apply 'tough love' to get turtle eating greens!

Hatchlings - feed daily. Feed your baby turtle a portion the size of its head every day up until approximately 8 cm straight carapace length.

Adults- feed every 2nd day. Feed a portion the size of its head.

Protein = snails, worms, insects, turtle pellets, fresh or dried fish, feeder fish, whitebait, Hot House Turtle Food (most important!). JBL Agil SticksJBL ClassicJBL Energil (all available from Redwood Aquatics).

Insect Direct Dried / Live Crickets as a treat - not as the only protien in diet, may use weekly

Daily =  O2 (oxy, oxygen) weed, watercress, duckweed, and other Aquatic plants.  Fancy lettuce varieties - NOT iceberg, finely chopped or peeled carrot and carrot tops, Kumara peelings and flesh, dandelion leaves.

DON'T feed cabbage, spinach, rhubarb, beets, celery, broccoli, mince, dog food, cat food, raw chicken, salty fish, meal worms, brussel sprouts, avocado, any fruits as these can be fatal!

(NB: The dietary requirements for the Eastern Long-neck turtles is different to the RES as they require far more live fish, snail, insects etc and dont tend to eat veggies/greens. Australian Freshwater Turtle Care Sheet)