Among the first arrivals at the Environmental Education Center when it opened its doors in September 2015 was a frisky freshwater turtle that has quickly became a favorite of visitors, staff, and volunteers alike. Berta, as she is known to her many admirers, is a red-eared slider—a North American native turtle named for the patch of bright red behind each eye.
In the wild, red-eared sliders are commonly found in freshwater marshes, ponds, and slow-moving waters in Midwestern states. Good underwater swimmers with webbed feet and strong claws, the omnivorous turtles forage for animal protein such as small fish, amphibian larvae, and snails, as well as plant matter in water and on nearby land. They spend the warmer hours of each day out of the water basking on sun-warmed logs or rocks.
Red-eared sliders can live to 60 years or more. Male red-eared sliders grow to about 10 inches in length. Female sliders are a bit larger, reaching about 12 inches in length. The females have shorter tails and shorter front claws than the males.
In northern areas, red-eared sliders may burrow into the mud for winter and go into torpor— but not Berta, who makes her home in a 50-gallon tank filled with water that’s kept above a balmy 75 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Like all turtles, Berta is a reptile and relies on external heat sources for warmth. (That is to say: she’s ectothermic, or what is commonly called cold-blooded). Several hours a day, she can be found basking on a dry rock under a full-spectrum heat lamp. The warmth fires up the turtle’s metabolism, and the bright light is good for her mood as it helps her generate vitamin D3.
Red-eared sliders are known to have a voracious appetite and Berta is no exception. Around feeding time, she energetically paddles up to the glass whenever a potential feeder approaches her tank. At the Ed Center, Berta’s diet comprises plenty of plant matter including leafy greens like lettuce and dandelion, as well as small bits of apples, berries, tomatoes, and carrots, supplemented with modest amounts of protein-rich foods such as crickets or bits of fish.
Red-eared sliders acquired as pets are often abandoned in public parks and wetlands when their owners tire of the demands of turtle care, which becomes more onerous as turtle and tank grow. Since red-eared sliders are not native to New York City habitats, if they were to be released into the park or the wild, they may displace indigenous turtles, and disrupt local populations of aquatic animals and plants. A spacious tank filled with clean, warm water, and a growing population of human friends is much more suitable for both Berta and the park.