Aaron Rhodes, of Balclutha Primary School, asks :-

How can we tell a male turtle from a female turtle?

Ross Moore, an amateur naturalist, who has welcomed red-eared sliders as members of his family for over 30 years, responded.

The distinguishing characteristics of the sexes are seldom visible in younger turtles (under 2 to 5 years old) with a lower shell (plastron) length of less than 10 cm for males and 15 to 19 cm for females. It is easier to determine sex if you are able to compare with others of known sex. Turtle owning friends or the local pet shop may help.

Assuming the turtle we are discussing is the most common red-eared slider, the elegant or red-eared terrapin or Trachemys scripta elegans (some of its many names), these observations may be helpful. Remember though, we are not dealing with absolutes in the fascinating world of reptiles. Age, like sex, is not always easy for the amateur to determine; diet and environment can affect rate of growth so the relationship between age and size can vary considerably in either sex.

Males are smaller than their mates when of similar age. Perhaps the most obvious difference in mature turtles is the shape of the front feet. Both sexes have toes connected by a membrane, giving them a web-footed appearance. The males develop distinctive elongated nails or claws while in females the nails are much shorter.

Males have longer tails than females; the single horizontal opening on the lower side of the tail (a slit called the cloaca) is used for reproduction and the excretion of solid and liquid wastes. In the male, the cloaca is placed beyond (outside) the rim of the upper shell (carapace). Females usually have the opening located before (inside) or just below the rim. The carapace of females is domed, the male's relatively flat.