The Red-eared Slider has a characteristic red stripe behind eye, which gives it the name "Red-eared."
The red stripe is not always prominent. Sometimes it is very thin or pale red or pink, and sometimes it is missing.
Red-eared Sliders From Outside California
Adult, Travis County, Texas
Adult, Travis County, Texas
Adult, Miami-Dade County, Florida
Adult, Bastrop County, Texas
Adult, King County, Washington
Adult, Travis County, Texas
Adults, Cameron County, Texas
Captive adult swimming under water, Charlton County, Georgia
Serrated rear edge of carapace of adult, Chambers County, Texas
Adult, Fairfax County, Virginia
Small adult swimming underwater,
Las Vegas, NV
Adult, Harris County, Texas
Comparison of Normal and Melanistic Red-eared Sliders
A useful way to differentiate Western 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."
Introduced melanistic sliders and old sliders whose red "ears" have faded, are often difficult to distinguish from the California native Western 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.
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 longer thicker tail than females have.
Males have a concave plastron, while a female's plastron is flat.
Young turtles are green with yellow streaks and many eye-like spots.
Life History and Behavior
Highly aquatic. Tolerant of fairly dirty and even brackish water.
Basks out of the water on banks, rocks, logs, or other exposed objects, often in large groups, and sometimes stacked one upon another.
Able to survive moderate winters.
Does not hibernate but becomes dormant during the cold of winter when it brumates.
Can remain active throughout the year in warmer parts of the state on sunny winter days.
During cold winters, overwinters at the bottom of a pond or lake, remaining motionless, not eating or defecating, and breathing less frequently.
Can survive for weeks without taking in oxygen.
Turtles Walking on Land Do Not Always Need to be Picked Up and Rescued
Turtles sometimes leave the water to search for food, a better place to live, a mate, or to lay their eggs in the spring - typically from March to June. If you see a turtle walking on the land, it is probably not sick or lost, so the best thing you can do for the turtle is to leave it alone. Some people want to help a turtle they think is in danger by picking it up and bringing it home or to a wildlife rehabilitation center, but most of the time this harms the turtle by removing it from the wild without reason. Sometimes turtles do get lost or stranded in yards or on busy roads or somewhere where they may be in danger. If you find one in such a situation, it's ok to move it out of danger, but it's best to leave it in a safe place as close to where you found it as possible.
Captives can live to be more than 20 years old, and the longevity record is 41 years.
Predators include raccoons, foxes, skunks, and alligators. Large wading birds will also prey on hatchling juveniles. Sometimes as food for humans.
Diet and Feeding
Eats a wide variety, including invertebrates, crustaceans, mollusks, fish, insects, snails, frogs, tadpoles, and aquatic plants. Also eats bread thrown to ducks in park ponds.
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)
Females become sexually mature in 2 - 5 years.
Females can retain viable sperm until needed. Eggs are fertilized when they are laid.
In its native habitat, mating takes place from March to June.
Females use their hind legs to dig a nest in open unshaded areas on land in soil that is not muddy and lay clutches of 2 - 25 eggs between April and July.
Lays up to 5 clutches of eggs per year.
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 2-3 months and sometimes spend the winter in the nest.
Hatchling break open their egg with an egg tooth which falls out shortly after they use it.
Hatchlings take about 3 weeks to absorb their yolk sac and heal the split on the plastron where the sac was attached. After that, they can enter the water.
Lives mostly in calm fresh water areas with abundant aquatic vegetation, such as sluggish rivers, ponds, shallow streams, marshes, lakes, and reservoirs.
They have also been known to tolerate the brackish waters and survive in coastal waterways.
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.
This turtle has been introduced in many areas across the United States and around the world over a long period of time which has helped it to become established outside of its native range. 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.
The range map below shows some of the locations where this turtle has been established in the United States.
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.) Intentional release of sliders and other non-native species of turtles as a part of some Asian religious and cultural ceremonies 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 do appear to be established in more areas than is traditionally illustrated on most range maps for the state.
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)
This is the most commonly kept pet turtle and the most commonly traded 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.
Exported turtles have become established around the world where they have become an invasive species that is more aggressive than native turtle species and outcompetes them.
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.
Samuel M. McGinnis and Robert C. Stebbins. Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles & Amphibians. 4th Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2018.
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.
The following conservation status listings for this animal are taken from the November 2020 California "Special Animals List" and the November 2020 "State and Federally Listed Endangered and Threatened Animals of California" list, both of which are produced by multiple agencies and available here: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Data/CNDDB/Plants-and-Animals. You can check the link to see if there are more recent lists.
If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either list. This most likely indicates that there are no serious conservation concerns for the animal. To find out more about an animal's status you can go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.
This animal is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.