The Puerto Rican Slider (Trachemys stejnegeri stejnegeri) is the only native turtle species that lives in ponds, lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and streams in Puerto Rico. Very little is known about the natural history and habits of this species. It measures about 18 to 27 centimeters (7 to 11 inches) long, not including its head and tail. Its body is short and wide. It is enclosed in a dorsal shell that consists of an external bony cover and an internal cover made of skeletal elements.
Its color is mostly brown or dark olive green. It has no marks on top of the head, but it has a reddish-brown stripe behind the eye and yellow stripes. The Puerto Rican Slider has no teeth. Its jaws have a bony, cutting margin. Females are slightly larger than males. During mating season, the male chases the female in the water, stands in front of her and faces her. Then slowly, the female sinks and the male climbs on top of her from behind. During coupling, the male grabs the female`s shell with the claws of its four legs and folds his tail under hers.
It is assumed that the female lays the eggs in excavations near the shore. The reproductive season starts in April and ends in July. The Puerto Rican Slider feeds on both plant and animal materials. In captivity, it feeds on snails, pieces of fish, liver, dog food, lettuce, or any other tender leaves.
There are known populations of Puerto Rican Sliders in Laguna Tortuguero (Vega Baja), in the Wildlife Shelter in Humacao, Caño Tiburones, irrigation canals in the Guánica area, natural and man-made ponds in Isabela, and Piñones Forest (Loíza).
These populations are not as numerous as they once were. The main reasons appear to be loss of habitat and hunting by humans. Hunting for consumption occurs year round because of the delicious flavor of the meat.
Unfortunately, many fishermen take advantage of the reproductive season to hunt them because females come out of the water to lay eggs. The reduction of their habitat, threat of fishermen, lack of research on the species, and their relative scarcity are the main causes that threaten the species.
Ley 70 (Wildlife Act) considers these acts illegal and subject to punishment: possessing, carrying, transporting, catching, disturbing, or destroying nests, eggs, offspring, or the natural environment of wildlife species.
Autor: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: November 17, 2009.