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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Monday - October 17, 2011

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Wildflower Center, Water Gardens, Wildlife Gardens
Title: Hungry turtles trample pond in Houston Texas
Answered by: Leslie Uppinghouse

QUESTION:

I have a very large back yard pond (actually, a former swimming pool) that's home to a bullfrog, four Red-eared slider turtles, and scads of gambusia (little mosquito eating fish). I'd like to add native aquatic plants to improve the water quality, but is there anything that a Red-eared slider won't eat?

ANSWER:

 When taking on this challenge first make sure that the turtles you have in your pond are Red-eared sliders. When sliders are young they are mainly omnivorous, however cooters eat some meat but prefer to eat plants when young. Both will eat plants as they grow older but the cooters are the most voracious. They look a lot alike. If your turtles are indeed sliders then it might be that they don't have enough access to bugs, worms and other invertebrates.

Sliders also do ok with supplementing their diet with alternative greens. A little dish on a rock with some daily greens could wean them out of the habit of eating your plants completely. A variety of foods that Red-eared sliders enjoy in captivity are: Romaine lettuce, fig leaves, turnip or collard greens, green or wax beans, squash, tomato, bananas and blueberries. There are many more foods you can give them but it is worth looking this up on line, to make sure that you don't give them anything harmful. 

Here is a link to the list of the plants we have in our wetland pond here at The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. We have a variety of turtles and other wildlife that live in the pond, and even more visitors frequent it daily. It is not terribly large, so your problem might be that you don't have enough plants in your pond to keep the turtles from causing trouble. They are curious about food and like to play with variety. Our wetland pond has thirty-one varieties of native plants. These plants attract bugs and other amphibians to the area which supplies our sliders with plenty to eat. 

You also need to make sure to have plenty of surface for the sliders to bask and hunt on. Logs work best, rocks work too. So think about the design of the pond and make sure you have areas for them to explore. Turtles are like kids, if they are bored they will sit down and eat until they sleep. Keep them occupied and confuse them with choices and I bet you will see an improvement in their overall health and behavior.

Pond plants in general reproduce rapidly. In theory if you have the ratio right and have more plants than animals, then the plants will be reproducing faster than your turtles can gobble them up. 

Here is a great link from Texas Parks and Wildlife that gives information about all of the turtles you might find in Texas. It has useful information about creating habitats as well as general identification tips. Don't give up, you are lucky to have a pool at your disposal. Don't let the little rascals get the best of you. Improve the variety of plants and beef them up in numbers and you should see your sliders, slide into a habit of basking more and eating less. 

 

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