Our most common native turtle, one most Louisiana kids have played with and the one you’ll most likely see basking on a log at Camp Salmen is the Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans). This species is rugged and easy to breed and has been exported in great quantities as pets to Europe, Australia, South Africa, Israel, Asia, the Caribbean and the South Pacific where they have been turned loose by disenchanted and irresponsible pet owners to make itself at home and become an international bully. Yes, our home grown Slidell Slider is someone else’s invasive species, aggressively taking over habitat, displacing the locals and being so brutish about it that it has made the Top 100 List of the World's Worst Invasive Alien Species. (They can’t help it.)
Why is this turtle called a slider, you ask? Well, these traits combine: it’s semi-aquatic, so it likes to be in the water, preferably warm, slow moving water (though its completely capable of knocking around on land), it’s “poikilothermic,” meaning its only as active as the temperature it finds itself in (that’s why it’s always basking on logs to “charge up its batteries”) and it’s as paranoid and jumpy as a rabbit, ready to “slide” off the log and escape into the water at the slightest hint of trouble.
It’s winter, so where are they all now? It would be a mistake to say they are hibernating; the herpetologists (reptile scientists) like to say the turtles “bruminate.” Both of these procedures involve slowing the metabolism but the difference seems to be hibernators are “out like a light” for the duration of winter and bruminators can arise on an occasional warm day and get a sip of water before going back to “sleep.”
Their “red ear” is a patch of color right behind their eyes, making them easy to distinguish from all other turtle species. This fades as the turtle gets older. Their actual ears have no external manifestation at all but are under the skin, making the turtle a little hard of hearing. In fact, the animal’s legendary skittishness comes mainly from its sensitivity to vibration. There is some speculation that Mutant Ninja turtles are of this breed, perhaps due to their green color and aggressive, international behavior. However, extensive research does not reveal this red ear patch, unless it’s consistently hidden under Ninja’s omnipresent eye masks.