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Red Eared Slider Care

By: Dr. Jenni Bass

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The goal of the reptile owner should be to provide a microenvironment: a replication, as close as possible, of the temperature, lighting and humidity conditions in the wild. Turtles have evolved in conditions very different from those usually found in captivity.

A temperature and lighting gradient is crucial. Allowing the animal to choose between temperatures within an appropriate range will permit thermoregulation. If not allowed to control body temperature turtles will be sluggish and unable to digest food. Their immunity will be impaired and they will fail to thrive. Turtles not kept within their preferred optimum temperature zone (POTZ) usually have poor appetites and are more susceptible to disease.

An ambient air temperature of 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (24 to 29 degrees Celsius) is adequate for most red eared sliders, if a basking hot spot is provided. A ceramic heater or infrared bulb at one end of the dry haul-out, left on 24 hours a day, provides secondary, background or constant heat, with a gradient. An incandescent 50 to 150 watt light bulb (left on only during daylight hours) above the basking area provides the turtle with a hot spot. This should reach 90 to 95 F (33 to 35 C).

Ultraviolet light allows normal calcium metabolism. Glass and plastic filter ultraviolet (UV) rays, and so sunshine through a window does not provide an adequate source of UV light. A regular photoperiod, 10 to 12 hours of light in 24 hours, is necessary for the physical and psychological well being of a reptile, and a timer is recommended for this. Lights may be marketed as "full spectrum", but they do not necessarily emit the correct wavelengths of light. Lights suggested include: Dura-test Vita-lite and Vita-lite Plus, Reptisun and Iguana light (Zoomed Laboratories).

While black lights do emit the appropriate UVB rays, they do not emit "natural looking" light, and an additional light to mimic sunlight should be provided. For the turtle to receive maximum benefit from his UV light, it should be fixed 18 to 24 inches from his basking spot. Most lights, although they will continue to emit visible light, eventually cease to produce the UVB component of the spectrum and should be replaced every 6 to 12 months. None of these lights approaches natural sunlight, in terms of UVB output and the psychological importance of proper lighting. An animal may benefit from a combination of lights. As long as UV requirements are met, lights may be added to improve color, appetite and behavior. Black lights should be used cautiously as they are not safe for every species and long term or close exposure can lead to eye damage for reptiles and their keepers.

Sunlight is tremendously beneficial, but only when the animal is within its POTZ. When the temperature outside is warm enough, expose your turtle to natural sunlight, either through a screened window or outside in a secure enclosure. Be aware that reptiles when exposed to natural sunlight often undergo dramatic behavior changes, becoming very active and sometimes aggressive.

Turtles put outside for fresh air and exposure to natural sunlight should have access to water and to shelter adequate to permit them to control body temperature. Two to three hours, several times weekly are beneficial. Unless securely confined and protected, animals must be closely supervised.

Submersible aquarium heaters are necessary to maintain water temperature at 24 to 29 C (75 to 85 F). These can be protected from turtles wishing to destroy them by placing them behind porous plastic sealed across the tank corner (be sure the sealant is safe for use in an aquarium).

Check water and ambient temperatures with a thermometer. Gauging with one's hand is not accurate.

Reproduction

Female red eared sliders are generally larger than males. A mature female can have a carapace length up to 280 mm, while males seldom exceed 200 mm. Females can weigh in excess of 2 kg. Males possess relatively longer front claws and longer tails than females.

Female turtles even without the presence of a male will occasionally lay eggs. Signs that the turtle may lay include digging, a decrease in appetite, and a heightened activity level. Ideally, a nesting area should be available all year, as the turtle is more likely to lay in familiar surroundings than in a box to which she is temporarily removed. The nesting area can be constructed from an appropriately sized plastic container (4 to 5 times larger than the carapace of the female), filled with slightly moist potting soil or peat moss. Many turtles lay their eggs in the water. Should the eggs be fertile, hatching and raising turtles is a challenge, requiring hiding areas and particular attention to nutrition.

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