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Red-eared terrapin

Scientific name:Trachemys scripta elegans

Country: USA, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Brazil, Venezuela

Continent: North America, South America

Diet: Fish, insects and water plants

Food & feeding: Omnivore

Habitats: Freshwater

Conservation status: Near Threatened.

Relatives: Yellow-spotted Amazon River turtle, giant tortoise

Description: This is a sleek turtle, with webbed feet and a red stripe down each side of the head. The carapace (upper shell) is patterned with yellow and green markings. They reach a maximum size of around 25 cm.

Lifestyle: The red-eared terrapin inhabits still or slow flowing water with thick underwater vegetation. Primarily active during the day, it likes to haul out onto land, roots or floating logs to soak up the sun's heat.

Family & friends: It is very gregarious and lives and sunbathes in large groups.

Keeping in touch: The male has very long front claws and the courtship behaviour involves him swimming in front of the female and tickling her chin. The female usually lays eggs once a year, sometimes twice.

Growing up: The clutch averages about 15 eggs but can be anything from 2-22 eggs. She excavates a pit where she lays the eggs at intervals of three to ten minutes. She then covers the pit and leaves them to develop. Hatching occurs after about three months, or less if conditions are warmer.

Conservation news: Hundreds of thousands of baby terrapins were exported from the USA for the pet trade, most of which probably did not survive very long. They either died in transit, in the hands of dealers, or after being sold to naive purchasers. Those which do survive as pets soon become a problem as they outgrow their accommodation, usually resulting in the animals being abandoned to their fate in ponds or rivers or accepted by a zoo or wildlife park where they can be properly looked after. Those that are abandoned can cause problems - as they eat native birds eggs and dragonfly larvae.

A special area has been made in the Zoo's lake where we have been able to take in a limited number of these unwanted pets. They are active during the summer and hibernate naturally in winter. We now have over 40 and do not have room for any more!

Red-eared terrapins like to bask in the sun and moorhen or coot nests by the water are ideal basking platforms. Unfortunately though, turtles clambering onto nests can partially submerge these fragile nests, killing the eggs and chicks.