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Living Sanibel: They sold sliders along the seashore

By Staff | Dec 24, 2014

Originally found only west of the state of Mississippi, this small, colorful turtle early on became the most popular species for the turtle pet trade. In 1958, after several were released into the freshwater canals of Miami, the red-eared slider established a breeding population in Dade County. Over time, with the help of more and more releases from pet owners who grew tired of caring for them, this species has successfully moved into nearby counties, including Collier and Lee.

A sighting of this turtle in the wild is still extremely rare, though that will probably change over time. The red-eared slider is easily identified by the distinctive red marking located directly behind its eye. This slider is an omnivore, feeding on crayfish, carrion, tadpoles, snails, crickets, and wax worms, as well as aquatic vegetation.

Although the red-eared slider does not yet appear to have a major impact on the environment, it is displacing native turtles in other regions. Though not considered invasive, this is an introduced species we should keep an eye on.

Yellow-bellied Slider

Originally found only in northern Florida from Levy County across the Panhandle, the yellow-bellied slider has been extending its range southward over the past 50 years. It can now be found in all six southwest Florida counties.

Since the ban on sales of the red-eared slider went into effect in fall 2008, people have begun farming the yellow-bellied slider in huge numbers, and the spread of this turtle through the pet trade will likely follow the same pattern as the red-eared slider.

The indigenous yellow-bellied slider is believed to be interbreeding with the introduced red-eared slider, which has led to concern for the future of the yellow-bellied slider and motivated Florida to ban sales of the red-eared slider.

The yellow-bellied slider is a small turtle, rarely exceeding a foot in length in the wild. It is easy to distinguish from the cooter in that it has much more yellow on its face and carapace. Although it starts its life as an omnivore, by the time it reaches maturity almost 95 percent of its diet is derived from aquatic vegetation.

The yellow-bellied, like all turtles, is a common prey for the alligator. Eggs and hatchlings are preyed upon by a variety of species, including herons, otters, other turtles, snakes, fire ants, and raccoons.

This is an excerpt from Living Sanibel – A Nature Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.