Terrapin and turtle information and care sheets

Sliders and Cooters

Author: Neil Bidle

Sliders - Red Ears, Yellow Bellies, and Cumberlands

yellow belly, red ear slider care red belly florida river cooter care

All of the North American slider species require the same basic care, although there are slight differences between the sub-species. Red Eared Sliders tend to be more aggressive, Yellow Bellied Sliders tend to be strong baskers and can suffer more from shell issues without proper UVB lighting and diet, and Cumberlands tend to be more shy. Tropical sliders such as the Belize have very similar care requirements, except for preferring the temperature a few degrees warmer. Cooters also have very similar requirements to NA sliders, with just some small differences in their diet.

Sliders are currently the most commonly available terrapin in the UK although Red Eared Sliders specifically are now banned from import due to many being released over the last twenty years since the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" craze. Males will grow to around 7-9", and females to around 11-13", and given the proper care and diet they will live over 40 years. They become sexually mature after 3-5 years, by which time they should be around 4-56quot;, however due to many people overfeeding, many reach this size in only a couple of years. They cannot be accurately sexed until then, so always bear in mind that you may end up with a 12"+ female! Once they become sexually mature, male sliders have longer, thicker tails than females, and noticeably longer front claws, in the region of 1" or more. This is also true for cooters, which grow between 9-12" for males, and 12-16" for females.

A rough guide of 40L of water (not just tank size) per inch SCL of terrapin is advised, with an additional 20L per inch of terrapin for each additional terrapin, although seperation may still be necessary later in life. The recommended substrate is river rock (large smooth pebbles) or slate chippings, as these is too large to be eaten, and a single layer is fairly easy to keep clean as the gaps between are quite large. Many keepers opt for no substrate as this makes cleaning even easier, but turtles do seem to "enjoy" rooting around in something. Recommended filtration is via an external filter rated for at least twice (prefably three times) the actual amount of water in the tank as internal filters do not have either the flow or the media capacity to handle terrapin mess. A small internal filter can however be added with activated carbon to keep the water extra clean, and also to break the surface tension to prevent build up of an oily film. An air stone would also work well, maintains high oxygen levels in the water which is important, and gives the terrapin(s) bubbles to "play" in. Regular water testing and partial changes are important, as well as spot-cleaning of the tank to remove any large mess. Live plants are also recommended to help maintain water quality, as well as being an always-present food source.

A water temperature of around 25- 27C is needed for hatchlings, dropping to 22- 24C for juvenilles, and adults are fine at 20C which means a heater is usually unnecessary in most houses. A basking area should be provided where they can dry off completely with a good strong source of UVB (at least 5% UVB) such as a ReptiGlo, and a heat source to maintain a basking temp of 30- 35C for 10-14 hours a day. A Mercury Vapour Bulb is an ideal solution for larger tanks as they provide both heat, and a level of UVB lighting close to that of natural sunlight. A floating Turtle Dock makes an ideal first basking area, although something more substantial will be required as they get older and heavier. A good sized peice of corkbark is very effective, but a number of people choose to make their own fixed basking area above or just inside the tank, sometimes incorporating a sandy laying area if they have an adult female. An outdoor pond is fine for juvenile and adult sliders, and is recommended especially when they start getting large as it provides plenty of swimming space, and access to natural sunlight.

A good quality pellet such as Reptomin is a great staple food for young sliders, feeding as much as would fit into their head if it were hollow, once a day, until about 6 months old. At 6 months, slowly reduce the frequency of the feeding, until you are feeding pellets just once or twice a week by a couple of years old. Using a lower protein pellet, such as koi wheatgerm pellets, is better for adults especially, and will contain many useful vitamins and minerals. Always provide plenty of veg in the form of kale, dandelion greens (watch out for chemicals which could come from pesticides), and pretty much any aquatic plants. Duckweed is especially good as it's high in calcium, and seems to be a favourite amongst all terrapins I've come across. Cooters are more herbivorous than sliders, so it is especially important that the lower protein pellets are used, and plenty of greens are offered.

If you can verify the source to ensure they are healthy, then live foods make a great treat for sliders. Feeder guppies are great for some of the better hunters and snails are great for most terrapins, and both of these can be bred quite easily yourself. You can also offer crickets and mealworms, which are wideley available and can be "gut-loaded" with nutrient rich foods to add extra vitamins and minerals to the diet. Live foods should only be given as a treat once every week or 2 instead of a pellet day, same with fresh fish or prawns. Adding cuttlefish bone to the tank for them to nibble on as and when they choose is a great source of calcium.

Whilst handling is an important part of checking health and condition, it is generally not recommended unless necessary as not only is it stressful to the terrapin, but they can carry various bacteria including salmonella. Using proper hygiene routines, like washing your hands after handling and using anti-bacterial soap, minimises the potential risk.

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