Semi-aquatic turtles liked red-eared sliders grow by molting. The process involves sloughing off scutes—those scale-like plates on the shell—to accommodate body growth by making way for new, larger scutes. Some pet owners think their turtles are sick when they see the process under way, because it can look as if the turtle's skin is peeling off. In most instances this skin shedding is part of normal molting, but any other unusual skin or shell appearance should be examined to make sure something more serious isn't taking place.
Your turtle's skin may look hazy a few days before molting begins—this is old skin starting to disconnect from the body. Unlike other molting reptiles, such as snakes, a red-eared slider's molting skin isn't likely to come off in one single piece. You're more likely to see tissue-thin bits of skin hanging from the turtle and trailing behind him in the water when he swims. Resist the urge to "help" him with his molt by pulling off the skin—your turtle knows what he's doing and will molt as he's supposed to. Also be prepared to clean molted skin out of the tank regularly to avoid clogging your filter.
Helping Your Turtle
Red-eared sliders need both water for swimming and a warm basking area for drying out. This is especially important during the molting process because the right combination of wet and dry space can keep your turtle's shell in good shape. If your turtle is in the water too much and never has a chance to let his shell dry out, he could develop a condition called shell rot. This looks different from typical, healthy molting in that your red-eared slider may have patches on his shell that look eroded. This condition needs veterinary attention.
Problems to Watch For
If your turtle seems to shed constantly, or if you notice cracks in his shell or skin, see a vet. Some types of shell and skin disease can develop due to inadequate nutrition or injury. This can make your red-eared slider prone to infection or even lead to internal problems. Also keep an eye out for incomplete sheds. This usually happens in habitats without enough moisture. You may need professional help to remove the remaining portions of skin without hurting your turtle.
Handling Your Molted Turtle
Your turtle's shell is likely to be a little soft right after a molt, as the new skin will be hardening. Don't handle your turtle any more than you need to during this time, and make sure your tank is extra clean to combat bacteria. As always, clean your hands with an antibacterial agent after handling your turtle or cleaning his tank, to protect yourself against salmonella.
- Animal Planet: Can a Turtle Outgrow Its Shell?
- Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources: Environmental Education for Kids: Shells and Skin
- University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine: How Your Reptile Changes Its Wardrobe
- University of North Carolina: An Overview of Common Semi-Aquatic Turtles