On my way to work most afternoons in warm weather, I see turtles lined up on a log in a swampy pond beside the highway. Any idea what kind they are?

November 2007

Yellowbelly slider (Photo by Douglas Hayes)

Yellowbelly slider (Photo by Douglas Hayes)

We’d put our money on yellowbelly sliders (Chrysemys scripta). However, you may be seeing a combination of species common to our area; yellowbelly sliders, cooters, redbelly sliders and chicken turtles. Of the 24 species of turtles native to the Carolinas and Virginia, sliders win hands down for basking.

Sliders are named for their bright yellow undersides. They are abundant in our part of the state, and their “slider” moniker comes from their quick dip into the water upon detection of the slightest movement.

Yellowbellies have no external ears or vocal cords, but their vision is keen. They are sensitive to vibrations on land and in water, and their markings vary, depending on home territory. One distinguishing characteristic for identification is the large, yellow vertical spot behind the eye that links a pair of yellow stripes on each side of the neck.

Male yellowbellies are smaller than females and have longer, decurved front claws. Females leave the water in May and early June to dig shallow nests with claws on their back feet. They lay about 10 eggs and the young hatch in about two months.

Yellowbellies are known for their habit of basking.  (Photo by Paul Walton)

Yellowbellies are known for their habit of basking. (Photo by Paul Walton)

Young yellowbellies have dark upper shells, with light yellow bars running horizontally. Dark, greenish-black spots line the edges of their bright undersides.  Juveniles are more carnivorous than adults, which tend to be omnivorous.

Records indicate some 220 modern species of turtles exist worldwide. Of the 24 species native to the Carolinas and Virginia, all but two species in the Carolinas are chiefly aquatic. Not all turtles live in water. A truly aquatic turtle has well-defined webbing between its toes, especially on the back feet, to aid in swimming.