Trachemys scripta (ssp) - Info & care

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Specification Description
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Suborder: Cryptodira
Family: Emydidae
Subfamily: Emydinae
Scientific name: Trachemys scripta
Dutch name: Sierschildpadden
English name: Sliders

Trachemys scripta

It is a well-known phenomenon, a local pet store with an aquarium full of small beautifully coloured turtles, mainly of the genus Trachemys, but also Pseudemys and Graptemys species. The impulse factor for these cute, small and often cheap animals is very high. Depending on the supplier's knowledge and sales rank it soon happened that the new owner came home with his first turtle, whilst he often did not really know what the care requirements were of his new addition. Species of these genera are undoubtedly beautiful animals and one can enjoy housing these turtles a lot, provided that a number of requirements are met and one realizes what is needed to house these turtles in good health.

The absolute most sold and kept species are the Trachemys scripta subspecies (and intergrades), the yellowbelly slider (Trachemys scripta scripta, Wied-Neuwied, 1839) the redeared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans, Wied-Neuwied, 1839) and the cumberland slider also called yelloweared slider (Trachemys scripta troostii, Holbrook, 1836).


Sales restriction:  The importation of Trachemys scripta elegans were already strictly prohibited in Europe in 1998 (mainly because of salmonella bacteria) but the Trachemys scripta scripta and Trachemys scripta troostii soon followed this species to meet the demand for small turtles. As from August 2017, it is forbidden in the European Union to sell or trade all subspecies of Trachemys scripta. These are included in the EU Invasive Species Union List, all species listed on this list may no longer be traded, bred or imported. Anyone in possession of this species may still house or donate the animals to another person or shelter authorized to keep these turtles.

The ban on the sale of this species is the result of the many specimens that have been established throughout Europe, mainly in the Mediterranean, but also in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, many urban lakes and ponds have a number of turtles residing in them. In these countries, the animals do not multiply, but in the Mediterranean and in many countries outside the EU these turtles have settled and are reproducing. In some areas, they displace native species, so the EU has decided to ban Trachemys scripta trade. Of course, these turtles did not just come into these areas by accident, many have been released by owners who are where not expecting the requirements and care of the turtles or they escaped from poorly constructed outdoor enclosures.


General appearance:  All young Trachemys scripta look very similar, but there are some differences between the three subspecies. Almost all young specimens have a green shell. On each shield of the carapax they have a pattern of dark and lighter lines that differ per species or subspecies. The plastron has a clear yellow coloration, with the Trachemys scripta scripta there is no to little pattern on the plastron, with the other two subspecies a dark pattern is evident on the plastron. On the head they have a light to yellow coloured pattern, Trachemys scripta elegans can be distinguished from the other two subspecies by the red spot/line behind the eye. Adult specimens often lose the clear green coloration and get a (dark) brown, grey or almost black shell. The contrasting drawing on the carapax is also significantly less visible. The body is generally dark in colour, on the legs and in the neck a clear pattern of light to yellow longitudinal stripes is present. The animals have a good eyesight. The legs are strong and there is webbing between them to help with swimming in the current of the streams they live. On the land this species can move well.

One of the points that new uninformed owners are unaware of is the size that these turtles can achieve. Trachemys hatch at a size of about 3/4cm. In the first year this little turtle can grow 5 to 10cm. Male Trachemys scripta scripta and Trachemys scripta troostii achieve a shell length of 13-22cm and female specimens get 20-34cm. T. s. elegans gets the largest of the three subspecies with 15-25cm for the males and 30 to 40cm for the females. Males are easily distinguished by their long nails on the front feet, narrower shield and significantly wider and longer tail. These characteristics, however, are only clear after a few years, with young specimens it's almost impossible to see which gender it is.


Natural range and habitat:  Trachemys scripta elegans has the largest distribution range of the three subspecies. This species occurs in the south / southeastern part of central U.S and spreads to the south and even occurs in Mexico. This species can be found in Mississippi, Colorado, Florida and Virginia. T. s. scripta inhabits the regions to the east of the T. s. elegans, in the North of Florida to the southeast of Virginia. Intergrades with the T. s. elegans are not uncommon in the overlapping distribution areas. Originally, the T. s. troostii is found in the Cumberland River Valley in Kentucky and Tennessee, but can also be found in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Illinois.

Due to its high adaptability, these species occur in many different waters. Their preference seems rivers, streams and lakes with moderate flow. But they are also found in ponds, pools, marshes and similar areas. In areas where the turtles experience a winter rest or hibernation they dig in the bottom of the water in a thick mud layer until the spring arrives. They are active hunters and feed on all kinds of small aquatic animals. For a large part of their time they are found laying on sandbanks and stems that protrude from the water to bask in the sun. Especially on wet evenings, it's not uncommon for them to walk up on land looking for other waters and food. In case of disturbance, they immediately flee into the water.


Care:  There are a number of important points to accommodate these turtles in good health, space, filtration and UV light. Many of these requirements you cannot meet in the standard plastic aquariums.

Measurements: Trachemys scripta gets big and they are quite active swimmers, so the aquarium in which they are housed should be very spacious. For a adult couple, a water section is required of at least 150x60x50cm. They are good swimmers so the deeper the better as long as there are points where the animals can easily climb to the surface or on the dry land. If there is no chance of eggs, for example because your housing 2 females or an immature couple, then a floating shallow land portion is sufficient. This land area should provide sufficient space and possibilities for the turtles to fully dry and sunbathe. Egg laying females must have a sandbox at their disposal of at least 25cm deep.

Heating:  A basking heatlamp must be placed above the dry area so that the turtles can sunbathe, under this lamp temperatures may rise to 32C. Also provide space for the turtles to climb on the dry area without having to sit directly under the heat lamp so that they can thermoregulate. Illuminated 12 hours a day with a UVB fluorescent tube for the UV requirements and mimic a day/night cycle. If there is a good hotspot additional water heating is often not necessary. The water and air temperature must be on average 22-25C, at night they may fall a few degrees.

Decoration:  As a substrate you can choose for big, round pebbles or fine soft sand. Fine, sharp gravel can be ingested during feeding and may cause perforations or blockage of the stomach / intestines. The turtles like to dig in the soft sand looking for food, but this can be difficult to maintain. Larger round pebbles can be difficult to ingest but dirt can get through the many open spaces in the substrate and will easily build up and cause harmful bacterial growth. Use a soil vacuum cleaner regularly to filter waste from the gravel. Many hobbyists opt for a bare bottom in the indoor aquarium so there is no chance of ingestion of the substrate and it is easy to clean. Unfortunately, the turtles do not have the opportunity to dig through the bottom looking for food like worms as they would naturally do. Provide some shelters and roots to easily reach the surface and land area but keep the overall decoration scarce. This will allow enough space for the turtles to swim around.

Filtration:  Clean water is very important if we want to keep our turtles in good health and because our turtles spend most of their life in the water, good water quality is very important. Trachemys are real polluters and a good filtration is of great importance. Preferably filter with an external filter or biological filter with some overcapacity. Small internal filters may be used in tanks with young animals but soon more and bigger filtration is needed. Preferably use a so-called 'pre-filter', this prefilter can be placed in front of the intake of the external filter. With this prefilter you can prevent debris such as faeces and food residues getting directly into the external filter. This reduces the effort the external filter needs to do significantly and keeps maintenance of the mechanical filtration lower, giving more space and possibility for biological filtration. This prefilter can consist of a plastic perforated container filled with cotton wool. This holder allows you to easily take it off to rinse clean. In spite of a good filtration, a regular water change is recommended, replace 10-20% of the water weekly. You can also do a total water replacement once a month but this takes more time litter and water quality fluctuates considerably more. Use water preparers such as the Easylife Filter Medium to bind and neutralize harmful substances from your tap water.

Fishes: Trachemys are real predators and fish are listed on the menu. Thus, the idea of ​​adding that little turtle in your community aquarium is not the best choice, also the circumstances often do not match the needs of these turtles. Combining with fish is therefore very difficult, only if the fish are very big and fast, or just very small, they make a chance and such big fish are just an additional load on your aquarium.

Outside: Healthy Trachemys can be kept in an outdoor pond in most countries. It is absolutely necessary that there is no chance of escape. Do not underestimate the power of these animals and their ability to climb, a fence is an ideal point to climb over. The animals can overwinter in such a pond, provided that it is partly free from ice formation and is very deep with a good mud layer to hide in between. Provide enough opportunities for the animals to sunbathe as well as seek out the shadow.


Diet:  During the purchase of the turtle people often get home with a jar of dried gammarus shrimp, although some vitamins are sometimes added this is not a complete diet for your Trachemys and therefore may only be used as an extra supplement. Trachemys need a wide and varied diet containing protein, vitamins and calcium. There are many complete pellet foods for various life stages of your turtles. These often cover the nutrients needed. In addition you can feed the turtles with (pieces) of freshwater fish, (pieces) of worm, bloodworms, snails, crickets, mealworms, shrimp, mussel, tubifex and other insects. Sometimes chicken or beef heart is fed supplemented with a calcium or vitamin supplement including D3.

As the turtles grow older, they also want to take some green food. Experiment to find out which green food your turtle like’s to eat. Lots of greenery such as diverse aquatic plants, endive, pieces of carrot and tomato. Only feed a small amount of seasonal fruit such as strawberry.

Many Trachemys are too fat, this is mainly due to an one-sided diet and not being able to properly metabolise because there is no possibility of basking. A varied diet and a good sunbathing area is therefore very important. It sometimes seems that your turtle is always hungry, in an aquarium they are able to look through the glass and they learn very quickly who cares for them. As a result, they start swimming against the glass as soon as you come to sight. If you constantly admit to this you will soon be feeding too much. Young animals can be fed daily with a portion slightly bigger than their head. If the animals are a year old you feed on average five times a week, subadult and adult specimens are preferably fed every other day.

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