• The Turtle

    The Turtle

    Everything you need to know to raise and Red-Eared Slider

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The Red-Eared Slider
What comes to mind when you think of a pet? A dog? A cat? A canary or hamster, perhaps? But have you ever considered keeping a turtle as a pet? These lovable water dwellers are as cute as a button (especially when they're only a few days old!), and it's a delight to watch them paddling frantically to the surface of their feeding tanks, when you throw in a morsel of food.

The Red-Eared Slider is the most common turtle species that people keep as pets, and you'll find one easily at any good pet store. These aquatic types are also called terrapins. The top of the shell of this turtle is smooth and gently curved, and varies in colour from olive green to black, with smudgy yellow stripes and bars. It gets its name from the red patch right behind its eye.

A name for your turtle

You could call your turtle Jeremy Green, or Red Rudolph, or even name it after one of the Ninja Turtles - Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael or Donatello! Be warned though, that unlike a chimp, a turtle cannot be taught any ninja moves!

Some interesting names for boy turtles:

  • Green Goblin
  • Emerald Elf
  • Webster (since terrapins have webbed feet)
  • Paddle McGee
  • Mr. T
  • Mr. Waterson
  • Tom Thumb

Some interesting names for girl turtles:

  • Tina Terrapin
  • Misty or Miss T
  • Greenie
  • Shelly
  • Thumbelina
  • Miss Goody Four-shoes
  • Esmeralda or Emmy
  • Myrtle the Turtle

Before you buy

All of God's creatures deserve to be treated well, and turtles are no exception. Before you get your mum, dad or favourite uncle to buy you one, you have to understand that a pet is a responsibility, just as doing your homework or helping with household chores are responsibilities. This doesn't mean that it's no fun, though! A pet that's looked after well will provide you with hours of fun and entertainment, and you ought to know how to take care of your new pet before you actually go out and buy it.

One of the smartest things to do (let's keep it our little secret) is to buy a book on taking care of terrapins, and you'll find this at most bookstores. Ask your dad, mum or older brother or sister to explain words and terms you do not understand - and become the family's turtle expert in the bargain! Read up on the important stuff before you head for the store, and ask the storekeeper to explain whatever you'd like to know about your soon-to-be pet.

Choosing your pet

Always buy pets from reputable pet stores that keep their aquariums clean and their turtles healthy. The turtle you choose should have bright, clear eyes, and should resist vigorously when you pick him or her up, paddling hard in the air as if trying to get away. When you touch the head or legs, they should 'retract' back into the shell. Avoid the ones that have dry, cracked skin or soft shells. The water the turtles are in should be clean and not cloudy, and look for signs of flaking on their necks.

You can usually tell the difference between a male and a female turtle by the length of their tails and the size of the back of their shells. Males have a longer tail while females are generally bigger in size.

Some people think it's the right thing to do to buy a sick turtle and nurse it back to good health, but unless you know exactly what you are doing, the little animal would probably be better off staying at the pet store, where the personnel have been trained to look after sick animals.

The great news is you can probably buy your pet with the allowance you've saved up. That way, you won't take your new friend for granted, and will give it all the attention it deserves. You can get a red-eared slider for as little as 8 dollars (just ask dad to convert this amount into your local currency).

Care and feeding

Just as you wouldn't like to live in a garage, a turtle would feel very out-of-place in a shoebox. Red-eared sliders should be kept in an aquarium that is two-thirds filled with water, with one third left over for basking. Turtles do not have gills, and need to come up for air every once in a while. Basking space is a must, in the form of a piece of driftwood or stony elevation, so that the turtle can take regular breathers, and to keep shell diseases at bay. It is never a good idea to keep your pet fully submerged at all times. Use a 'full spectrum UV light source' in your aquarium, and an aquarium heater to keep the water temperature at between 77 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Turtles become sluggish and stop eating in low temperatures. An aquarium filter is required to prevent health problems, but you might have to net out droppings to keep the turtles healthy. Clean the aquarium at least once a month.

The book you buy will tell you what to feed you pet, and you can, from time to time, treat him or her to small fish, leafy green vegetation, and fruit. If possible, move your pet to a small feeding tank to prevent the food from polluting the main aquarium. A gentle rinse in warm water before returning it to its aquarium is a good habit.

If your turtle gets sick, and stays ill even after you have tried all of the book's suggestions, take it to a veterinarian who specialises in reptiles and amphibians.

What you must never forget! Cute as they are, turtles carry Salmonella bacteria. These nasty germs can make you quite ill, so be sure to wash your hands properly every time you handle your turtle.

Turtle Trivia

  • Turtles are reptiles, and not amphibians, like most people tend to believe.
  • Some turtles can live up to a year without food (don't let that be an excuse to forget about feeding your pet!).
  • A snake-neck turtle's neck is as long as its body.
  • A turtle can live for more than 30 years, so be prepared to make a long-term commitment!
  • A group of turtles is called a 'bale'.
  • Turtles and tortoises are the oldest forms of reptiles alive today and have changed very little in their 200 million year history.
  • Some turtles can breathe underwater through their bottoms, especially during hibernation.
© 2004 - 2020 Leonard Rego