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Choosing a Yellow-Bellied Slider

By: R.D. and Patti Bartlett

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The yellow-bellied slider is an attractive, hardy and fascinating turtle. They are called sliders because they slide from their basking sites, where they enjoy the sun, to the coolness and safety of the water. These turtles are easy to keep and almost always thrive in captivity.

A relative of the red-eared slider, yellow-bellies have been available in the pet industry for more than 60 years. During the 1990s, however, this turtle became much more readily available. Most yellow-bellies are purchased as hatchlings. They will be perfectly round and slightly larger in diameter than a silver dollar.

Keep in mind that if properly fed and cared for, the baby turtle you are purchasing could grow to a length of 4 or 5 inches in the first year, 5 to 7 inches the second year and larger yet in its third year of life. Preplan your purchase and housing facilities accordingly.

Yellow-bellied sliders are native to the southeastern United States. They can live up to 40 years or more.

Appearance

Yellow-bellied sliders commonly grow to a shell length of 8 to 10 inches, but some reach 11 inches.

Hatchlings are initially bright in color, but they soon dull. The 1 1/4-inch long hatchlings are almost round when viewed from above. The carapace, or upper shell, of a hatchling is green. Each scale bears symmetrically arranged, thin, dark lines, and a broad vertical light bar at the center of each scale. The bottom shell is yellow with a small, irregular, greenish spot on each anterior scale. The head, tail and limbs are primarily green, but a vivid yellow, vertically oriented cheek patch is typical.

Behavior

Yellow-bellied sliders lead great lives. They bask, they eat, they sleep and they get along well with one another. Cared for properly, they seem utterly content. And their every move is governed by a complex and fascinating drive to regulate their body temperatures, moving it up and down 15 to 20 degrees in cycle.

In nature, yellow-bellied sliders haul themselves clear of the water onto smooth banks, rocks, fallen trees overhanging the water or other sun-bathed obstacles. There, they bask in the warming rays of the sun. They do the same in a tank, only you provide the warming rays from a UB-V heat lamp.

When basking, the turtle extends its neck to the fullest, sticks its rear feet straight backwards and separates the toes to expose as much of the inter-digital webbing as possible. Although the forefeet also are extended, the claws often are fully in contact with the basking surface, ready to propel the turtle into the water when necessary.

When suitably warm, the turtle drops into the water to cool and forage. Yellow-bellies are strong and agile swimmers. They feed while submerged and find their food by sight, scent and perhaps, by touch. They can stay underwater for seemingly extended periods and will sleep underwater for 30 to 40 minutes at a time, longer if the water is cool and their metabolism has slowed.

When they are ready, yellow-bellies will return to the surface to bask once again and repeat the cycle numerous times throughout the day.

Housing

Keeping a yellow-bellied slider healthy and happy is relatively easy. They make only a few demands: they need space to swim, clean water, an area to dry and bask, suitable water and air temperatures, proper lighting and a healthy diet.

You can house one, two, or even four baby yellow-bellied sliders in a properly appointed 10- or 15-gallon aquarium. But remember they are going to grow quickly and will soon need more room. One or two adult turtles will need a tank that is 75 gallons or larger.

The water in the tank should be at least deep enough for a turtle to turn over should it land upside down. That requires a depth equal to the length of your turtle's shell. But deeper water of up to 16 to 18 inches is even better. The water should be kept between 72 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Provide a basking area that allows your turtle to climb out of the water onto a perch in a heated section of the tank. Basking haul-outs should be smooth and provide enough surface for the turtles to easily balance, move a little and dry completely.

The daytime temperature at the top of the haul-out should range from 95 F to 102 F. The best source of heat is a UV-B heat lamp that you can buy at the pet shop. Attach the lamp to the tank over the haul-out spot and leave it on through the daylight hours. The lamp should not be turned on at night.

Feeding

Yellow-bellied sliders are good eaters and fascinating to watch as they forage. They are omnivorous, meaning they eat both plant and animal matter, but their dietary preferences change as they grow.

Babies eat lots of insects and will go for parts of dead fish. They will also forage on pond plants. As they grow, yellow-bellies become less interested in animal protein to the point that they will get 95 percent of their nutrition from vegetation.

Pond plants purchased at an aquarium shop are an excellent staple of a yellow-belly's diet. These include anacharis and cabomba. Place the unbundled plants in your tank and let them float free on the surface. You can also place leaves of romaine lettuce, escarole and collards in the tank, but these must be removed and refreshed every day.

You should also give your turtle some animal-based proteins. Pelleted trout chow, catfish chow and koi pellets also are key. Reptomin and scientifically formulated turtle chows are fine. Freshly killed – not thawed frozen fish – minnows, earthworms, crickets, and other insects are appreciated treats.

Vegetation should always be available, but the animal-protein-based dietary items are fed every 2 days, and only in amounts consumed immediately by the turtles. Uneaten animal protein foods quickly can foul your turtle's water.

Your turtle needs a balanced diet to avoid nutritionally based illnesses. Fast growing baby turtles and ovulating females need more calcium than adult males or non-ovulating adult female. Give your baby turtle a vitamin/mineral supplement that contains calcium and vitamin D3 once or twice a week. In the spring and early summer, females should get the same supplement once or twice a week. Otherwise, you should give your turtle the supplement once biweekly.

Handling

Yellow-bellied sliders can be handled, some even become used to it, but many will nip or bite hard. Remember that the shell is a living, growing and feeling part of your turtle, handle this creature gently. And do so sparingly. Remember that, like all reptiles, yellow-bellied sliders are best left to themselves.

Hold the turtle securely with a finger or, if the specimen is large, a hand, on each side of the shell. Keep your fingers away from the turtle's mouth. The neck is long, and they can reach a considerable distance if they want to bite.

Common Diseases and Disorders

Yellow-bellied sliders are generally hardy creatures but they can fall prey to illnesses if they are not cared for properly. It is up to you to try to keep them healthy by providing them with good water and temperature conditions, as well as proper nutrition.

  • Puffy eyelids or closed eyes are often the result of insufficient Vitamin A.

  • Soft shell, or metabolic bone disease (MBD), may be caused by an inability to metabolize calcium or insufficient dietary calcium.

  • Ulcerative shell disease or shell rot develops roughened holes in the shell. It is usually caused by poor water quality. Improved hygiene is mandatory.

  • Respiratory ailments can be caused by rapidly fluctuating or incorrect water temperatures.

  • Dystocia (egg-binding) can be caused by poorly formed eggs, but is most often caused by the females voluntarily retaining the eggs due to incorrect nesting conditions.

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