On those lazy hazy days of summer when you are walking along the dike in Pitt Meadows, that is when you will see the red-eared slider, basking on a log in the middle of a big pond.
These colourful turtles are easily mistaken for the western painted turtle, our only native turtle, which is an endangered species . The sliders are native to the southern United States, so those found here are most likely pets that have been let go and have quickly established themselves in the quiet side waters of the Alouette River.
Like all turtles, the red-eared slider enjoys the heat and can often be seen sitting on floating weed masses or logs. They eat plants and small frogs, keeping their catch in water as they have no saliva and fixed tongues.
During the winter, they burrow down into the mud at the bottom of their pond, staying there until the spring, only occasionally coming up for air.
During late summer, the hatchlings will try to make it down to the water from their nests higher up on the soft bank where the female turtle has laid her eggs. This activity occurs between May to July and can consist of two to 32 eggs in a nest.
Unfortunately, only a handful of the little sliders make it to the pond’s edge as humans, dogs, raccoons and other critters eat them or inadvertently crush them in the nests. This time can be even more devastating for the young western painted turtle, who rely on the wetlands in the lower Fraser Valley.
These areas are rapidly disappearing under roads and development
Despite encroachment, the red eared slider is doing better than the western painted turtle, who needs the undisturbed wetland to survive.
Liz Hancock is a member of the Alouette River Management Society.