Trachemys scripta scripta
Trachemys scripta scripta
(Yellow-bellied Slider)
Reptiles-Turtles
Native Transplant
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Trachemys scripta scripta (Thunberg in Schoepff, 1792)

Common name: Yellow-bellied Slider

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: Trachemys scripta scripta (Schoepff, 1792), the Yellow-bellied Slider, has a large yellow blotch behind the eye that is most evident in juveniles and females (Ernst et al., 1994; Conant and Collins, 1998).  Broad vertical bands (when viewed from the side) are often present on the carapace, the yellow plastron (lower shell) typically has round dusky smudges or none at all, and narrow yellow stripes mark the front surface of the forelegs (Ernst et al., 1994; Conant and Collins, 1998).  

Size: carapace length of 125-289 mm

Native Range: The Yellow-bellied Slider's indigenous range covers southeastern Virginia southward through the Coastal Plains of the Carolinas, Georgia, northern Florida and the eastern portion of Alabama (Martof, 1956; Mount, 1975; Stevenson, 1976; Martof et al., 1980; Moler, 1988; Ashton and Ashton, 1991; Gibbons and Semlitsch, 1991; Mitchell, 1994; Palmer and Braswell, 1995; Conant and Collins, 1998; Bartlett and Bartlett, 1999a; King, 2000). 

Other subspecies of T. scripta have been described as occurring in Mexico, Central America, Brazil, Uruguay, northern Argentina, and the Caribbean drainages of Colombia and Venezuela (Smith and Smith, 1973, 1976, 1979, 1993; Pritchard and Trebbau, 1984; Ernst and Barbour, 1989; Campbell, 1998); however, all of these are now given full species rank (Seidel, 2002).   They are not covered in this account.

US auto-generated map Legend USGS Logo
Alaska auto-generated map
Alaska
Hawaii auto-generated map
Hawaii
Caribbean auto-generated map
Puerto Rico &
Virgin Islands
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Guam Saipan
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences: New York: T. s. scripta has been found in at least 4 localities on Long Island (Breisch et al., 2001).

Virginia:  In northern Virginia, nonindigenous T. s. scripta occur in Belle Haven Park, Alexandria, Fairfax County, and T. s. elegans occurs in the Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge, Fairfax County (D'Alessandro and Ernst; 1995; Ernst et al., 1997).  Both 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.  

North Carolina:  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).

Florida It is possible for T. s. scripta, indigenous to northern Florida, to occur in nonindigenous localities in other parts of Florida (Bartlett, 1994).

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).

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).

New Mexico:  A single T. s. scripta, Yellow-bellied Slider, was collected in the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, Socorro County, in 1994 (Stuart, 1995b), and a few additional examples of this subspecies have been observed or captured in the nearby Rio Grande Nature Center State Park and Shady Lakes Water Lily Gardens, Bernalillo County (Stuart, 2000).

Arizona: A few Yellow-bellied Sliders have been found in the Papago Park Ponds, Phoenix (Hulse, 1980).

California:  T. s. scripta were collected from ponds in the Fullerton Arboretum, Orange county (Brennan, 2006).

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). 

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 Nonindigenous Yellow-bellied Sliders are established in Fairfax County, northern Virginia (Ernst et al., 1997).

The status of occasional T. s. scripta found outside of their indigenous range in Florida (Bartlett, 1994) is unknown.  A forthcoming assessment of the status of nonindigenous pond sliders in Florida will be made by Meshaka et al. (2003).

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.

The records provided in this review may greatly underestimate the distribution of T. scripta in these states.

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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Other Resources:
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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, 2017, Trachemys scripta scripta (Thunberg in Schoepff, 1792): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?speciesID=1262, Revision Date: 10/28/2009, Access Date: 8/16/2017

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Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2017]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [8/16/2017].

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