Reefscape

Red ear Slider

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These turtles can be kept as pets but cause considerable damage to our freshwater ecosystems if they escape.

Description and life history

Red-eared slider turtles (Trachemys scripta elegans) are native to North America. Pet turtles that escape or are released into the wild in Aotearoa New Zealand are considered an invasive species.

These turtles have an olive green to brown shell patterned with yellow spots or stripes. Most individuals have a distinctive red stripe behind their eyes but some may have an all-black head.

They can live for up to 50 years in captivity and grow to the size of a dinner plate (shell length 35 cm).

The ‘slider’ part of their name comes from their tendency to slide into water quickly after basking in the sun on rocks and logs.

Turtle eggs need to be kept at 22–33°C for 55–80 days to hatch into live young. Only male turtles are produced below 28°C. In warmer parts of Aotearoa, turtle eggs can hatch but do not currently produce female young.

As climate change brings increased temperatures, there is a concern that both male and female young will hatch and allow breeding populations to become established in the wild.

Turtles as pets

Turtle housing needs

To live a healthy life, red-eared sliders need a large heated indoor aquarium that holds at least 400 litres of water, along with a high-quality water filter and regulated lighting. This set-up can cost up to $3,000.

If red-eared sliders live in an outdoor pond, it must be secure. These animals are excellent climbers and have a strong desire to seek out new habitat in the spring. They can travel several kilometres overland.

See more information about turtle care and housing:

A pet for 50 years

Turtles are an expensive, demanding pet and require a big commitment, so do plenty of research before you decide to get one. Think about how you would care for it for 50 years – your turtle could outlive you.

Some owners abandon their pets when they realise what adult turtles need. Turtle rescue centres also end up with many adult turtles to try and re-home. Consider adopting an adult turtle from a rescue centre rather than buying a young one.

It is illegal to release turtles into the wild as an offence under the Biosecurity Act and the Animal Welfare Act, and in some regions would breach Regional Pest Management Plans. You could face a fine of $5,000.

What to do if you see a turtle in the wild

There are no native freshwater turtles in New Zealand so any turtle you see in the wild is an escaped exotic species.

*department of conservation


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