Photo credit: © Rosmarie Alenius/Flickr
(Trachemys scripta elegans)
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Species at a Glance
The red-eared slider gets its name from the red oblong stripes behind each eye. This medium-sized aquatic turtle has been listed as one of the “100 World’s Worst Invaders” because of its ability to outcompete native turtles for food, resources, and habitat. Its popularity in the pet trade has helped account for its numerous introductions worldwide.
A distinctive, broad, reddish-orange stripe runs from behind each eye to the left and right flanks of the head. The shell is dark green with yellowish vertical stripes on each scute. The skin is olive to brown with vertical yellow stripes or spots. Females typically reach 25-33 cm (10-13 in) in length, whereas males are considerably smaller, reaching 18-23 cm (7-9 in) with a long thick tail and elongated claws on the front feet. The plastron has dark smudges on each of its pale yellow scutes. Older males often melanize, which results in a loss of pattern and color.
The red-eared slider is most often confused with the yellow-bellied slider (Trachemys scripta scripta), which has a yellow vertical stripe behind each eye instead of red. It is also confused with the red-bellied cooter (Pseudemys rubriventris), which can be distinguished by a distinctive orange to reddish color on the underside of the shell and cusps on the upper mandible.
The red-eared slider is a hardy freshwater turtle that flourishes in many kinds of habitats and is frequently seen basking on rocks, logs, masses of vegetation, and banks. It prefers quiet waters such as ponds and wetlands, but will also inhabit slow-moving waterways, brackish waters, or even fairly polluted waters and can survive the cold of winter by hibernating in the silty, muddy bottoms of lakes and rivers.
Despite a 1975 ban by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on the sale of red-eared sliders less than four inches in carapace length, small hatchlings are still available for Internet or mail order. When they grow into large adults, pet owners often release them into the natural environment where they can establish reproducing populations.
The native range of the red-eared slider includes the Mississippi River Valley from Illinois south to Louisiana, west to eastern Texas, and east into western Alabama where they begin to naturally integrate with yellow-bellied sliders. With the help of humans, this turtle has been introduced into numerous countries around the world and can be found in most Mid-Atlantic states.
Note: Distribution data for this species may have changed since the publication of the Mid-Atlantic Field Guide to Aquatic Invasive Species (2016), the source of information for this description.
This aggressive omnivore feeds on fish, plants, insects, amphibians, and other aquatic organisms and their eggs, directly competing with many native aquatic and terrestrial turtles for food, basking areas, and nesting sites. Its ability to survive and reproduce in polluted waters makes it prone to contracting and spreading diseases. In the southeastern Coastal Plain of the United States, hybridization with the native yellow-bellied slider and the “genetic swamping” of the native gene pool is considered a serious conservation concern.
Information for this species profile comes from the Mid-Atlantic Field Guide to Aquatic Invasive Species (2016).