Offer safe passage to yellow-bellied slider turtles
Kathy Kinsey, UF/Leon County Extension
You just never know what will come crawling up in your yard these days. But I am glad I saw this little guy and had the wherewithal to snap a few photos before it left my yard. Which makes me wonder, what comes into my yard when I am not home?
The yellow-bellied slider (Trachemys scripta scripta) is a little turtle that is native to the southeastern United States but is mainly found in Florida to southeastern Virginia. It is the most common turtle seen in this range. They are attracted to bodies of water, which may explain how he came to be in my backyard. I have a pond. Thankfully, he safely left as quickly as he came. Had he been able to get into my pond, he would have never been able to get out.
They are attracted to slow-moving rivers, wetlands, marshes, and ponds that are man-made or natural. The adult males can reach five to nine inches in length while the females are a little bigger, measuring in at eight to 13 inches. Mating occurs in the spring, summer, and autumn and takes place in the water.
Normally the female will lay six to 10 eggs on land. The eggs will then incubate for two to three months. Hatchlings will stay with the nest through the winter months. These little ones are carnivorous – spiders, fish, tadpoles, carrion, and so the list goes. As they age, they will become more dependent on plants and less upon fresh meat.
The slider is diurnal, which means they feed during the morning hours, then they can be found basking in the sun while they rest on a log in their favorite watering hole during the rest of the day. Nighttime will find them sleeping on the bottom or on the surface of the water near a brush pile. The denser the vegetation the better, as it provides a safe place to rest and also offers better foraging than the open water.
So, what’s the difference between a turtle and tortoise?
Turtles live in the water while the tortoise lives on land. But there are other differences as well. Turtles have light-weight shells and do not live as long as a tortoise. The turtle has webbed feet with claws, while the tortoise has feet that are short, but very sturdy, with bent legs. Tortoises get much larger than a turtle.
Turtle hatchlings are on their own, while the tortoise mother cares for her hatchlings for approximately 80 days. Both can be kept as pets, but due to the long-term commitment both require, it is best to leave them in the wild.
Should you decide you would like to keep one of these as a pet, the turtle would make the better pet, as they do not get as large as a tortoise.
A small tank (20 to 40 gallons) will get you started, but remember, as the turtle grows, so must your tank. Make sure you have enough water for your turtle to turn around easily. Water temperature needs to be between 72 to 80F and properly filtered. Direct, unfiltered sunlight is preferred, and lamps should be switched on during daylight hours.
Check with your local pet store for information on raising a turtle. Just keep in mind they live for a long time. Turtles can live up to 40 years in captivity and the tortoise up to 150 years, with the longest living one at 326 years old. But don’t put them in with fish, as they will eat them.
So, if you ever get a chance to see one in your yard, give it safe passage. You can always build a pond with easy access to attract a turtle to your yard. I built a pond and got a bullfrog!