NAS - Nonindigenous Aquatic Species

Trachemys scripta elegans
(Red-eared Slider)
Reptiles-Turtles
Native Transplant
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Trachemys scripta elegans (Weid-Neuwied, 1838)

Common name: Red-eared Slider

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: Trachemys s. elegans (Wied-Neuwied, 1838), the Red-eared Slider, has a unique, broad red or orange (rarely yellow) stripe behind each eye (Ernst et al, 1994; Conant and Collins, 1998).  Younger individuals have numerous dark, eyelike spots on the yellow plastron (Conant and Collins, 1998).  

 

Trachemys scripta, usually T. s. elegans, is probably the most widely illustrated turtle in the world, appearing in numerous publications (Carr, 1952; Smith, 1961; Ernst and Barbour, 1972, 1989; Mount, 1975; Behler and King, 1979; Pritchard, 1979; Sengoku, 1979; Smith and Smith, 1979; Martof et al., 1980; Caldwell and Collins, 1981; Smith and Brodie, 1982; DeGraaf and Rudis, 1983; Pritchard and Trebbau, 1984; [Mathui], 1985; Stebbins, 1985; Garrett and Barker, 1987; Green and Pauley, 1987; Alderton, 1988; Christiansen and Bailey, 1988; [Sievert] and Sievert, [1988]; Dundee and Rossman, 1989; Harding and Holman, 1990; Ashton and Ashton, 1991; Carmichael and Williams, 1991; Leviton et al., 1992; Collins, 1993; Collins and Collins, 1993; Ernst et al., 1994; Mitchell, 1994; Brown et al., 1995; Palmer and Braswell, 1995; Degenhardt et al., 1996; McKeown, 1996; Harding, 1997; Lamar, 1997; Branch, 1998; Campbell, 1998; Conant and Collins, 1998; Cox et al., 1998; Powell et al., 1998; Bartlett and Bartlett, 1999a, b; Behler, 1999; Phillips et al., 1999; Johnson, 2000; Minton, 2001).

Size: carapace length of 125-289 mm

Native Range: The Red-eared Slider's indigenous range broadly covers the midwestern states and extending as far east as West Virginia and a disjunct (relict) population in southern Ohio, as far west as eastern New Mexico, and as far south as south of the Rio Grande River into northeastern Mexico (Smith, 1961; Webb, 1970; Smith and Smith, 1973, 1976, 1979, 1993; Green and Pauley, 1978; Caldwell and Collins, 1981; Lohoefener and Altig, 1983; Garrett and Barker, 1987; Christiansen and Bailey, 1988; Carpenter and Krupa, 1989; Dundee and Rossman, 1989; Collins and Collins, 1993; Flores-Villela, 1993; Degenhardt et al., 1996; Conant and Collins, 1998; Ballinger and Lynch, 1999; Bartlett and Bartlett, 1999b; Phillips et al., 1999; Auth et al., 2000; Dixon, 2000; Johnson, 2000; Stuart, 2000; Minton, 2001).

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Alaska
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Hawaii
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Puerto Rico &
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Guam Saipan
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences: Of all the subspecies of T. scripta, T. s. elegans is by far the most common race that has been introduced to numerous nonindigenous localities worldwide (Salzberg, 2000).  However, earlier reports of nonindigenous Red-eared Sliders from Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia (Smith and Kohler, 1978) are erroneous; these populations are considered indigenous (Green and Pauley, 1987; Conant and Collins, 1998).

 

Maine:  Trachemys s. elegans is regularly found in Messalonskee Lake, Kennebec County, and Portland, Cumberland County, Maine (Albright, 1999).

New York:  In New York, there are more than 40 nonindigenous occurrences of T. s. elegans, mostly throughout the New York City area, including all of Long Island, but also the southernmost and many east-central counties, with addition records from Buffalo, Erie County, and Rochester, Monroe County (Salzberg, 2000; Breisch et al., 2001; R. Burke, personal communication 1997).  Additionally, the subspecies T. s. scripta has been found in at least 4 localities on Long Island (Breisch et al., 2001).

New Jersey:  In New Jersey, T. s. elegans has been collected from Lake Carnegie, Princeton Township, and the Delaware-Raritan Canal, West Windsor Township, both in Mercer County (Stein et al., 1980).

Massachusetts:  In Massachusetts, T. s. elegans have been collected from the following counties: Barnstable, Essex, Hampden, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, and Suffolk (DeGraaf and Rudis, 1983; Cardoza et al., 1993).

Connecticut:  Trachemys s. elegans has been introduced to several parts (unspecified) of Connecticut (DeGraaf and Rudis, 1983; Klemens, 1993).

Pennsylvania:  A. Hulse (personal communication 1997) has collected T. s. elegans from the Lehigh River and canal system, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, and observed them at this locality and the nearby Allentown and Bethlehem areas for at least two years.

Maryland:  Introduced Red-eared Sliders occur in broad areas of northern and central Maryland, as far south as Prince Georges County (Cooper, 1959; Harris, 1975; Conant and Collins, 1998).  Harris (1975) also found several records labeled as T. s. troostii from Baltimore County, but suggested they could have been mislabeled T. s. elegans.  Alternatively this could have reflected outdated taxonomic nomenclature.  Either reason could explain why T. s. troostii is not mapped as occurring in Maryland by Conant and Collins (1998).

Virginia:  In northern Virginia, nonindigenous T. s. elegans occurs in the Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge, Fairfax County (D'Alessandro and Ernst; 1995; Ernst et al., 1997).  Both T. s. elegans and T. s. scripta subspecies occur together and sometimes intergrade in the adjacent Potomac River (D'Alessandro and Ernst, 1995).  They also occur in Prince William County (Ernst et al., 1997).  Mitchell (1994) has recorded T. s. elegans from Hanover County and other eastern counties where they sometimes intergrade with indigenous Yellow-bellied Sliders.  Another population of Red-eared sliders occurs in Henry County, south-central Virginia (Mitchell, 1994).

North Carolina:  Nonindigenous Red-eared Sliders have been collected from Durham, Mecklenburg, Stokes, and Wake Counties, North Carolina (Martof et al., 1980; Palmer and Braswell, 1995).  Two hatchlings collected in 1988, near Buxton, Hatteras Island, Dare County, could be Red-eared Sliders or T. s. elegans x T. s. scripta intergrades (Palmer and Braswell, 1995).

South Carolina:  In 1995, T. s. elegans were collected from the landlocked arm of the former Seneca River, Pickens County, South Carolina (Platt and Snyder, 1996).

Florida:  Nonindigenous Red-eared Sliders have been found in scattered colonies in peninsular Florida; these include Alachua (High Springs), Collier, Dade, Duval, Hillsborough, Lee, Marion, Nassau, Orange, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Volusia, and Monroe Counties (King and Krakauer, 1966; Wilson and Porras, 1983; Moler, 1988; Ashton and Ashton, 1991; Carmichael and Williams, 1991; Hutchison, 1992; Bartlett, 1994; Dalrymple, 1994; McCann et al., 1996; Ashton cited in McCann et al., 1996; Bartlett and Bartlett, 1999a; Townsend et al., 2002; Florida Museum of Natural History records), including Stock Island (Butterfield et al., 1994) and Key Largo (Duquesnel, 1996) in the Keys.  It is also possible for T. s. scripta, indigenous to northern Florida, to occur in nonindigenous localities in other parts of Florida (Bartlett, 1994).  An update on T. s. elegans in Florida will be published by Meshaka et al. (2003).

Michigan:  Nonindigenous populations of T. s. elegans occur in scattered localities in Michigan, including the following counties:  Ingham, Muskegon, Oceana, Oakland, Wayne (University of Michigan at Dearborn and Henry Ford Estate), and Washtenaw (Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fish Hatchery in Saline) (Edgren, 1943, 1948; Gordon and Fowler, 1961; Harding and Holman, 1990; Harding, 1997; R. Burke, personal communication 1997).

Indiana:  The recently discovered population of T. s. elegans in Marion County, central Indiana, in an area that was extensively surveyed in past research expeditions, could be nonindigenous or just a natural range expansion from indigenous populations in adjacent counties (Minton, 2001).

Wisconsin:  In 1981 a single T. scripta (subspecies not given) was collected from the East River, Green Bay, Brown County, Wisconsin (Cochran et al., 1987).

Nebraska:  In south-central Nebraska, a T. s. elegans (listed under T. s. troostii) was collected from the Little Blue River, Adams County, in 1926 (Hudson, 1942).  Hudson (1942) thought this turtle was could have been an escaped pet but also expressed the possibility that this specimen was the only record of an indigenous population in Nebraska.  Lynch (1985), and Ballinger and Lynch (1999) rejected the Adams County record as an indigenous occurrence and suggested it was a pet release.  In the early to mid-1980s a small group (3-4) of adult T. s. elegans, including one melanistic male, were observed living in Burchard Lake, Pawnee County, southeastern Nebraska, during several visits (Somma, personal observation).  These turtles were no longer seen during several subsequent visits in the 1990s (Somma, personal observation).

Colorado:  In Colorado, individual pond sliders (subspecies not given) have been collected from the counties of Boulder, Denver, Mesa, and Rio Blanco (Livo et al., 1998).

Texas:  While Red-eared Sliders are indigenous in much of Texas, nonindigenous turtles occur in far western Brewster, and Culberson Counties (Dixon, 2000), and F. Solis (personal communication 2001) found T. s. elegans in a canal draining into the Rio Grande River in Esperanza, in the far western county of Hudspeth.

New Mexico:  Trachemys s. elegans in the Rio Grande River, in central New Mexico, are undoubtedly nonindigenous and have been collected in Bernalillo, Doña Ana, Sierra, and Socorro Counties (Degenhardt and Christiansen, 1974; Stuart, 1995a, 2000; Degenhardt et al., 1996).

Arizona:  In Arizona, Red-eared Sliders are found in the Papago Park Ponds, Phoenix, and the Gila River, southwest of Buckeye, both in Maricopa County (Hulse, 1980; Stebbins, 1985; Jones, 1988; M. Demlong, personal communication 1997).  Additionally, a few Yellow-bellied Sliders have been found in the Papago Park Ponds, Phoenix (Hulse, 1980).

California:  In California, T. s. elegans has been introduced to the following counties: Contra Costa (Jewel Lake, Tilden Park, and Walnut Creek), Kern (Prince's Pond and Isabella Reservoir), Lake (Clear Lake), Los Angeles (Long Beach), Marin (Phoenix Lake, Alpine Lake, Lake Lagunitas), San Diego (various localities), San Luis Obispo (Pico Pond), San Francisco (Golden Gate Park, Stow Lake), Santa Barbara (throughout much of the county), Santa Clara (San Jose and Guadeloupe River, Coyote Creek, Vasona Reservoir), Tulare (near Pixley National Wildlife Refuge), Ventura (Lake Sherwood), and Yolo (Davis, including Sacramento-San Joaquin drainage area) (Stebbins, 1972, 1985; Bury and Luckenbach, 1976; D. Holland, personal communication 1997; L. Overtree, personal communication 1997; H. B. Schaffer, personal communication 2000; J. Abel, personal communication 2001; output from California Academy of Sciences 1998).

Oregon:  In Oregon, T. s. elegans has been collected from Burlington Bottoms and Portland, Multnomah County, Klamath River, Klamath County, Rogue River near Medford, Jackson County, Roseburg, Douglas County, Eugene and Fern Ridge Reservoir, Lane County (Brown et al., 1995; D. Holland, personal communication 1997).

Washington:  In Washington, T. s. elegans occurs in Fort Lewis, King (including Seattle), Pierce, and Thurston (Fort Lewis and Olympia) Counties, including the surrounding Puget Sound area (Brown et al., 1995; Dvornich et al., 2001).

Hawaii:  Red-eared Sliders have been introduced to the islands of Kauai and Oahu, Hawaii (McCoid and Kleberg, 1995; McKeown, 1996).

Canada:  Nonindigenous populations of T. s. elegans occur in at least two localities in Ontario, Canada (Harding, 1997).

Mexico:  Stebbins (1985) indicates the presence of nonindigenous T. scripta in Baja California, Mexico, but these simply could be Trachemys nebulosa; a species of slider that is indigenous to that area (Seidel, 2002). 

Caribbean:  In the Caribbean, nonindigenous T. s. elegans occur on Guadeloupe, Lesser Antilles (Schwartz and Thomas, 1975; Schwartz and Henderson, 1985; 1991; Iverson, 1992; Censky and Kaiser, 1999).

U.S. Pacific Possessions:  Nonindigenous T. s. elegans have been found on the U.S. Pacific islands of Guam, and the nearby Northern Mariana Islands (McCoid, 1993; Ernst et al., 1994; McCoid and Kleberg, 1995).

Other Worldwide Occurrences:  Nonindigenous occurrences of the pond slider, mostly T. s. elegans, have been reported worldwide in such diverse places as Trinidad (Murphy, 1997), France (Frank and McCoy, 1995; Salzberg, 2000), Germany (Ernst et al., 1994), the United Kingdom (Beebee and Griffiths, 2000; Beltz, 2002), Israel (King and Burke, 1989; Iverson, 1992), Bahrain (Leviton et al., 1992), South Africa (Lamar, 1997; Branch, 1998; Salzberg, 2000), New Zealand (Hudson and Thornton, 1994; Bruce in Beltz, 1997; Thomas and Hartnell, 2000), Taiwan ([Lue Guangyang et al., 1999]), Japan (Sengoku, 1979; [Mathui], 1985; Ernst et al., 1994; Ota, 1999), Singapore (Lamar, 1997), and numerous parks and temple ponds in other parts of Southeast Asia, including Bangkok, Thailand (Cox et al., 1998).  Salzberg (2000) claims that Red-eared Sliders can now be found on every continent except Antarctica!  The review provided herein may greatly underestimate the number of introductions both in North America and worldwide.

Means of Introduction: Throughout its nonindigenous range T. scripta is introduced primarily through pet releases and escapes; a situation which has continued for several decades since the 1930s, reaching a peak during the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle television cartoon craze of the late 1980s-early 1990s (Ernst et al., 1994; Mitchell, 1994; Brown et al., 1995; Frank and McCoy, 1995; Lamar, 1997; Branch, 1998; Cox et al., 1998; Albright, 1999; Bartlett and Bartlett, 1999a; Ota, 1999; Williams, 1999; Beebee and Griffiths, 2000; Salzberg, 2000; Thomas and Hartnell, 2000; Minton, 2001; Porras, 2002).  Additionally, most species of turtles are subject to intense commercial trade in the Asian food market (Williams, 1999); therefore, the transport and potential release of T. scripta for food and aquaculture in Asia and U.S. Pacific states with proportionally large Asian populations cannot be ruled out.  Stebbins (1985) claims that pond sliders may have been introduced to Baja California, Mexico, for food; but his identity of this species as T. scripta is uncertain.

 

As recently as 2001, a Dutch animal welfare group attempted to ship unwanted pet T. s. elegans to Italy for eventual nonindigenous release into the wild (M. Hoogmoed and J. Perala as communicated to K. Dodd, personal communication 2001).

Status: In nearly all of its nonindigenous localities in Canada, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and perhaps Massachusetts, isolated populations of T. s. elegans are reproducing and thriving (Stein et al., 1980; Manchester, 1982; DeGraaf and Rudis, 1983; Harding and Holman, 1990; Cardoza et al., 1993; Ernst et al., 1994; Mitchell, 1994; D'Alessandro and Ernst, 1995; Palmer and Braswell, 1995; Platt and Snyder, 1996; Harding, 1997; Salzberg, 2000; Breisch et al., 2001; R. Burke, personal communication 1997; A. Hulse, personal communication 1997); although Klemens (1993) questions whether T. s. elegans eggs can hatch at colder latitudes in Connecticut.   Klemens (1993) may be unaware of breeding populations found in Ontario, Canada, and Michigan; therefore; his doubts probably have no basis in fact.  In the state of New York, T. s. elegans seem to be invasive, particularly on Long Island; however, it is unclear if related T. s. scripta, a race that prefers a warmer climate, can reproduce or even survive long at this latitude.  Nonindigenous Yellow-bellied Sliders are established in Fairfax County, northern Virginia (Ernst et al., 1997).

 

The Red-eared Sliders found in Cumberland and Kennebec Counties, Maine, are surviving through the winter months, but it is not known if they are reproducing (Albright, 1999).

In Maryland, Red-eared Sliders are well established and invasive in a broad region throughout much of the northern and central portions of the state (Harris, 1975; Conant and Collins, 1998).

In Florida, most small populations of T. s. elegans are established in limited, small colonies (Moler, 1988; Ashton and Ashton, 1991; Bartlett, 1994; Dalrymple, 1994; Butterfield et al., 1997; Bartlett and Bartlett, 1999a; King, 2000; Townsend et al., 2002), except for those discovered in the Keys where there is yet no evidence of reproductive colonies (Butterfield et al., 1994; Duquesnel, 1996).  A forthcoming assessment of the status of nonindigenous pond sliders in Florida will be made by Meshaka et al. (2003).

There is no evidence for an established population of nonindigenous T. s. elegans in Wisconsin (Cochran et al., 1987).

The current populations of T. s. elegans in Marion County, Indiana, are established and spreading, yet it is not clear if they represent an indigenous migration or nonindigenous introduction (Minton, 2001).

In Nebraska, there do not seem to be any current, established, nonindigenous T. s. elegans, and the only indigenous population occurs in Richardson County in the extreme southeast corner of the state (Ballinger and Lynch, 1999).

All Red-eared Sliders found in Colorado seem to be waifs from pet releases (Livo et al., 1998); therefore, this species is not listed by Hammerson (1999) as being part of Colorado's herpetofauna.

Nonindigenous populations of T. s. elegans in western Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona seem to be established (Hulse, 1980; Stebbins, 1985; Jones, 1988; Stuart, 1995a, 2000; Degenhardt et al., 1996; Howland, 1996; Dixon, 2000; M. Demlong, personal communication 1997), and the populations in the Rio Grande drainage in New Mexico are probably invasive.  The T. s. scripta found in Arizona and the Rio Grande drainage of New Mexico do not yet represent established populations (Hulse, 1980; Stuart, 1995b, 2000; Degenhardt et al., 1996), but future surveys are required to establish this.

In the Pacific states of California, Oregon, and Washington, T. s. elegans is well established in numerous localities, and in California and Washington they are clearly invasive (Brown et al., 1995; Williams, 1999; Dvornich et al., 2001; D. Holland, personal communication 1997; L. Overtree, personal communication 1997; H. B. Schaffer, personal communication 2000; J. Abel, personal communication 2001).  The records provided in this review may greatly underestimate the distribution of T. scripta in these states.

In Hawaii, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, T. s. elegans is established but it is unclear if they are particularly invasive (McCoid, 1993; Ernst et al., 1994; McCoid and Kleberg, 1995; McKeown, 1996).

Red-eared Sliders are well established on Guadeloupe, Lesser Antilles (Schwartz and Henderson, 1985, 1991; Censky and Kaiser, 1999).

In most cases, T. s. elegans seem to be established in its various non-U.S., worldwide localities mentioned above (Ernst et al., 1994; Lamar, 1997; Cox et al., 1998; Salzberg, 2000; Minton, 2001), except perhaps, New Zealand (Thomas and Hartnell, 2000).  However, Beebee and Griffiths (2000) do not believe summers in the United Kingdom are long enough or warm enough for successful incubation of T. s. elegans eggs; an assumption which remains unverified.  In various parts of Southeast Asia, Red-eared Sliders are clearly invasive (Cox et al., 1998).

Impact of Introduction: Despite the vast worldwide occurrence of T. scripta, particularly T. s. elegans, little is known of it impact on indigenous ecosystems.  In some countries, Red-eared Sliders compete with indigenous species for food and basking sites (Frank and McCoy, 1995; Williams, 1999; Salzberg, 2000).  In the U.S. state of Washington, they are a potential threat to Clemmys marmorata, the Pacific pond turtle (Williams, 1999), a declining species endemic to the Pacific states (Brown et al., 1995).  Red-eared Sliders seem to be adaptable to many climates.  This combined with their omnivorous diet and ability to adapt to various habitats, gives them great potential for impacting indigenous habitats should reproducing populations become established.   The spread of T. s. elegans throughout the Pacific states in the U.S. is ominous and requires further monitoring.

 

The spread of Red-eared Sliders in southern U.S. states, where the closely related Yellow-bellied Slider is indigenous, has the potential for T. s. elegans to compete with T. s. scripta.  Additionally, interbreeding between the two races has occurred in various southern states (Ernst et al., 1994; Mitchell, 1994; Palmer and Braswell, 1995; Williams, 1999), which compromises the genetic integrity of indigenous Yellow-bellied Sliders.  In New Mexico, T. s. elegans can cause a similar problem by hybridizing with Trachemys gaigae (Seidel et al., 1999; Stuart, 2000).

The conditions under which T. scripta are "farmed" or "ranched" for the pet trade are often extremely septic (Williams, 1999).  Not only does this create the well-documented threat of salmonellosis in children who receive them as pets (Williams, 1999), but it could negatively impact indigenous wild turtles when released pets spread diseases and parasites into the environment (Stuart, 2000).

Remarks: The most current taxonomic reviews or summaries of pond sliders are by Seidel (1988, 2002), Seidel et al. (1999), and Iverson et al. (2000).  Liner (1994) provides a list of regional vernacular names for T. scripta.  The best summaries or literature reviews of the natural history of T. scripta are by Gibbons and Semlitsch (1991), Ernst et al. (1994), and various studies compiled by Gibbons (1990).  Scientific and standard English names follow Crother (2008).

 

Pond sliders are aquatic, omnivorous generalists, which rarely leave water except to bask (Ernst et al., 1994; Brown et al., 1995; Conant and Collins, 1998; Cox et al., 1998).  Adult turtles tend to be more herbivorous than juveniles, but both will opportunistically eat aquatic invertebrates (especially insects and mollusks), fish, frog eggs and tadpoles, aquatic snakes, and a wide variety of aquatic plants and algae (Ernst et al., 1994; Brown et al., 1995).  Although they prefer quiet waters, T. elegans is highly adaptable and can tolerate anything from brackish waters, to manmade canals, and city park ponds (Ernst et al., 1994; Cox et al., 1998; Salzberg, 2000).  The Red-eared Slider may wander far from water, and rapidly colonize any newly available habitat (Cox et al., 1998; Minton, 2001).  In California, this ability to rapidly colonize available habitat may be aided by an extensive system of manmade canals and irrigation ditches.  Females lay 2-23 eggs per clutch in a cavity dug out of the soil, and as many as five clutches may be oviposited per year (Gibbons, 1990; Ernst et al., 1994).

Pond sliders are commercially raised in incredibly large numbers for the pet trade throughout the southeastern U.S., especially Louisiana (Ernst et al., 1994; Williams, 1999; Salzberg, 2000).  The sale of all turtles under the size of "4 inches" (about 100 mm) or viable eggs was banned in the United States, except for educational or research purposes, by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1975 to prevent the spread of salmonellosis in children (Ernst et al., 1994; Level, 1997; Williams, 1999).  Four inches or less is thought to be the size that a child can easily stuff into his mouth (Williams, 1999).  The extensive use of antibiotics at turtle hatcheries in the U.S. has given rise to more antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella (Ernst et al., 1994).  In many U.S. states T. s. elegans is the subject of specific regulation (Level, 1997).  Nevertheless, undersized juvenile T. scripta are still commonly sold in pet stores in Florida, and as recently as 2002 they were sold by roadside venders at a busy intersection in Gainesville, Florida (Somma, personal observation).  The European Union has banned the import of T. s. elegans because of the negative impact that released pets can have on native European pond turtles (Emys orbicularis species complex) (Williams, 1999).

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Author: Louis A. Somma, Ann Foster, and Pam Fuller

Revision Date: 10/28/2009

Citation Information:
Louis A. Somma, Ann Foster, and Pam Fuller. 2016. Trachemys scripta elegans. USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL.
http://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?speciesID=1261 Revision Date: 10/28/2009


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