This morning I was pleased to see a turtle clamber up the hardware cloth ramp and onto our newly launched turtle basking platform. I hope there will be many more to follow. This first photograph shows some details of the platform’s construction. It is made entirely of artificial materials, so it should not rot. The pole on the right is one of the anchors for the raft. My son Eric thought up the anchoring scheme. The lake varies in water level with weather patterns, so the platform has to be able to float freely. At the same time my lot is heavily wooded, and there are only a few places that would enable me to take photographs from the house. These are wild turtles, so they will slide back into the water if one tries to approach them. So I didn’t want the platform to drift around, if I used a cable to anchor it to the bottom.
The turtle is a Yellow-belled Slider (Trachemys scripta scripta), This species loves to bask, so it is not too surprising that the first visitor to our platform is a Yellow-bellied Slider. Notice how this one has spread its legs and expanded its feet to catch the sun. The webbing between its toes can be clearly seen. Yellow-bellied Sliders are common in our area. Although they are aquatic turtles, one often sees them traveling overland. They sometimes use several ponds as a sort of territory and regularly travel between them. As adults they are mainly vegetarian, but they will eat a variety of foods. They are not able to catch live fish, but they might take a bite out of a dead one as opportunity allows.
The broad yellow band located behind the eye is a characteristic feature of this species. In this individual the characteristic spots and vertical yellow stripes along the edge of the shell can be seen. Both the markings on the shell, and on the head and limbs may disappear in older males, because the dark pigment melanin accumulates in these individuals. These melanistic males look different enough that they were once classified as a different species.
The Yellow-bellied Slider and its close relative the Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) were the main species sold as juveniles in dime stores, as I mentioned in my previous post.