June 2012 - Red-Eared Sliders (Terrapins)

Red-eared slider - taken by Lin, UEA May 2012

I see the 2 resident 'sliders' in the lake at the UEA at this time of year whenever the sun is shining. There is nothing more enticing to these reptiles than basking on a semi-submerged log in the warmth of the sun, ready to 'slide' into the water at the first sign of danger. It is due to this habit of 'sliding' that they got their name of 'sliders' in the first place. These terrapins are not native to Britain, although they are fairly commonly found; the red-ears are only native to the southern United States. However, they have become established in various places in the world, including Britain, due to the release of unwanted pets. I don't know how long these terrapins have lived in the lake at the UEA. I have seen them over the last 3 years, but there have been reports from the local anglers of them being there for over 10 years. They have survived bad and mild winters, and still seem pretty healthy. Currently red-eared sliders are not thought to reproduce in Britain due to the cooler climate, although who knows as climate change is brought into the equation. Eggs are laid in a nest in the soil surrounding their habitat but the eggs need warmth to develop. 

Red-eared sliders are omnivorous, hence their adaptability; they eat aquatic plants, fish, invertebrates and carrion. They semi-hibernate (brumate) in winter in the extreme cold at the bottom of shallow lakes or under surrounding banks, but may wake up if temperatures rise to above 10 degrees centigrade to bask in a wintry sun.


Red-eared sliders - taken by Lin, UEA May 2012

Red-eared sliders are not pets for the faint-hearted which explains why so many are discarded. They need a lot of care to keep their environment clean and may give extremely nasty bites as a result of that care. Bites are serious and should be seen by medical staff ASAP as they may result in nasty infections. In addition, the animals may live for 30 to 40 years, depending on the level of care, and by this time may have grown to be between 8 to 13 inches (20 to 33cm) in size. Males are smaller than the females.

There seems a general confusion into the definitions of turtle and terrapin, and I have to confess, I had to look up the definitions myself. In the UK: turtles are totally aquatic, terrapins are semi aquatic: In the United States all are referred to as turtles.

 

lingibson@bawburghvillage.co.uk

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