Back to Nature (Published on - June 28, 2007)
Red-eared slider enjoys garden visit
Photo by Karen Mitchell Tremmel
A dinosaur enjoys a quiet moment in the garden.
A dinosaur visited our garden today. He hid under the begonia leaves while enjoying the cool, damp ground near the water garden. He was a crusty old fellow with a bit of an attitude, but considering he’s from a family that has been on this earth for more than 60 million years, we gave him his place of honor without disturbance.

I assumed since the lake is at least a couple of hundred feet away and only accessible over a concrete wall that this old fellow was a land turtle/tortoise. We laid out the photos and compared them to our Florida guide books, but this turtle was nowhere to be found. After several e-mails and a couple of phone calls to our local, most informative, Pinellas County Extension office, we were surprised that our visitor was a red-eared slider turtle.

The red-eared slider is a beautiful small green, fresh water turtle with reddish stripes behind their eyes, commonly sold in pet stores. Our visitor was very dark with little color and his markings were well worn. He was probably once a pet that someone grew tired of then was released into the wild to fend for himself.

Turtle Pet Trade sites recommend: Turtles are not good pets for young children. They can bite and in some cases can cause salmonella poisoning. Turtles are meant as pets for responsible adults. Red-eared sliders are found throughout the United States east of the Rockies, but are not native to Florida.

Turtles, like parrots live a long time. If you’re considering a turtle as a pet take into account: A well cared for turtle may have an average life expectancy of about 30 years, for example the red-eared slider. Before you purchase a turtle ask yourself if you have the resources and time to care for this animal long term. If you are still considering purchasing a turtle here’s some advice from Shell Shock on the reality of keeping turtles as pets.

• If not taken care of properly, turtles stink!

• Turtles have a habit of eating their own stool. This behavior seems disgusting, but is quite natural for turtles.

• Turtles shed skin ... and lots of it. They also shed scales off their shells. This loose skin and scales has a habit of clogging up your filter, be prepared to clean your filter at least once a week, maybe even twice, depending on water quality.

• Turtles are messy eaters. If you feed them live food be prepared for the occasional body part floating around.

• They bite and it hurts. Larger turtles can break skin. Remember to be careful when handling your turtles and be especially careful if someone unfamiliar with turtles is caring or handling them.

The red-eared slider is a semi-aquatic turtle (terrapin) that naturally resides in areas with a calm, fresh and warm water source; ponds, lakes, marshes, creeks and streams. Turtles being reptiles have a relatively waterproof skin composed of scales, which retains most of their body moisture. Because of these characteristics, reptiles have been able to survive in harsh conditions for millions of years. They are present day dinosaurs.

Red-eared sliders are avid swimmers, feeding only in water, and are religious baskers. All of the sliders are omnivores, eating both animal protein and vegetable/plant matter. They are deceptively fast and excellent swimmers.

Wild red-eared slider females stay close to water sources unless she is in search of a new source or has a need to nest and lay eggs. When the males are between 2 and 4 years old they are sexually mature. Females reach maturity later, between 5 and 7 years, and will then be over 5-inches in length; in captivity, females may reach maturity at about 3 1/2 years. Their natural habitat is usually quiet with a basking area, such as a large flat rock or a log, receiving a good deal of sunlight.

Turtles are elusive creatures that most of us know little about and yet they have a way of capturing our imaginations. They are creatures of folly in children’s books and the symbol of persistence in the corporate world. Turtles are the oldest living group of reptiles, dating back to the time of the earliest dinosaurs. Turtles represent the relics of our past, the barometers of our future, the principles of our present, and respect ... back to nature.

Karen can be reached at

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