This section of The Loop ordinarily features a variety of plants and animals recently encountered in the natural areas, but this month, the focus will be on a single species: the red-eared slider.
Numerous sliders can be found in the pond in Spring Lake Natural Area, where they live alongside introduced goldfish, dragonflies, herons, and myriad other creatures. Between March and July, you might be lucky enough to see some of these sliders engaged in courtship behaviors.
How will you know this is what’s occurring? It’s really pretty easy. A small turtle, the male, will typically be swimming in front of a larger turtle, the female, waving his claws in her face. The equivalent of turtle flirting, this gesture is an attempt to get her attention and signal that he’s interested in mating. If her answer is yes, she’ll sink to the bottom of the pond or river and wait for him there. If she’d prefer to be left alone, she’ll ignore him, swim away, or, if he doesn’t get the message, become combative. In the case of the sliders shown here, the female ignored the male, in effect turning her back on him.
The following information on red-eared sliders comes from the Biodiversity Center at the University of Texas: “Young turtles of both sexes look the same, but as they reach sexual maturity, they will look different. Females are typically larger, with the carapace (the upper portion of a turtle’s shell) reaching up to 12 inches in length. The plastron (bottom shell portion) on females is flat, and for males it is somewhat concave.
“Males have longer tails and longer claws on their front feet, claws which they make use of during mating which happens underwater. Claws allow them to hold on to the female. They also wave them around the female’s head during courtship, the thought being that this moves pheromones in her direction. If the female turtle is not into her suitor, she might get aggressive and send him on his way. However, if she’s into him, she will sink to the bottom of the water for mating.”
Female red-eared sliders reach sexual maturity at between 5 and 7 years of age, while males become mature at between 2 and 3. The normal life span is 20 to 30 years, though some individuals have reached the age of 40.
Because of their popularity in the pet trade in the 20th century, red-eared sliders occur all around the world. They are considered invasive in some places, but are native in Texas.
Written and photographed by Susan Hanson, member of the SMGA board, chair of the Outreach Committee, and editor of The Loop