The Red-Eared Slider is one of the most popular pet turtles around.
Their small size, unique patterns, and docile personality make them a great choice. It is almost impossible to find a turtle as interesting and affordable. Red-Ears are also some of the most active and interesting turtles. They can be a great addition to any home willing to put in the effort.
However, anyone considering a slider must know they need a significant amount of care. This is a pet that will last for decades and grows much larger than their tiny quarter-sized baby weight.
Does this turtle seem like a fun and interesting pet?
Keep reading to learn the ins and outs of their care to decide if it is the right turtle for you…
Table of Contents
- About Red-Eared Sliders
- How To Take Care Of A Red-Eared Slider Turtle
- Red-Eared Slider Turtle Facts
- Buying Guide
- Normal Behavior
About Red-Eared Sliders
Red-Eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) are a subspecies of the Common Slider (Trachemys scripta) which is one of three North American Pond Sliders. Some other subspecies of the pond slider include the yellow-bellied slider and the Cumberland.
The most attractive feature of this turtle is its appearance. These Sliders are known for their distinct red stripes behind each ear. They range in color from dark green to brown, with yellowish ribbons all over their green bodies and along the edge of their dark olive-green shell.
This turtle is perfect for beginners because they are cheap, easy to breed, and small in size.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Species
If this was not enough, in 2018, Leonardo from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was officially confirmed to be a Red-Eared Slider. This increased their popularity among children.
Unfortunately, their popularity with inexperienced keepers has caused many to be released in the wild.
They are the most popular turtle in the world in the pet trade. Between 1989 and 1997 52 million were exported from the United States. That’s just exported out of the US!
A Turtle Is Not Just For Christmas
Many red-eared sliders have since been released outside of their native range, either as abandoned pets or as part of rituals.
As a result, the Red-Eared Slider has become one of the most invasive species and can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Breeding populations have been discovered in a variety of new US states, European countries, Asia, Australia, the Middle East, and Central America.
Its presence in non-native areas causes significant problems for wild turtle populations, as they can easily outcompete native turtles and other native species for resources. Because of this, in areas such as Oregon, you need a permit to keep one.
According to the Global Invasive Species Database, they pose an extreme risk, not just to native turtle species, but to other native wildlife and even humans.
So it’s important that you should understand the care any Slider needs before adopting one.
Like most aquatic turtles, they need an aquarium with plenty of space, décor, and perches. Heat and UVB are also essential, so fixtures and thermostats are needed to create a suitable habitat. It can be difficult for first time keepers to set up and maintain a proper tank for these turtles.
These small, beautiful and active turtles can be very rewarding. However, consistent care is important to maintaining their health.
Are Red-Eared Sliders Good Pets?
Red-Eared Sliders can be fun and interesting pets to watch. They need lots of space and are generally better pets for more experienced turtle enthusiasts. However, if a beginner owner can provide adequate space, they can also keep one. With the right setup and proper care, they make a great pet!
- Very active during the day and simple diet.
- Friendly and curious personality with a lifespan of 30 years.
- Small, cute size of fewer than 12 inches in length.
- Rules and restrictions vary by state.
- Need a large tank with special heating and lights.
- Tank needs a filtration system and frequent water changes.
How To Take Care Of A Red-Eared Slider Turtle
Red-Eared Sliders need lots of space and many live for well over 20 years. First-time turtle owners should do their research before acquiring this species. This turtle is better suited for individuals with more experience in handling and rearing turtles but properly informed beginners can enjoy them.
In general, you will need to provide specialized heating, UVB lights, décor, clean water, proper nutrition, and both swimming and basking areas. This means that setting up and maintaining the enclosure is not only expensive but can also be time-consuming for the average person.
The intensity of the work required can vary depending on the overall setup of your enclosure. However, with effort and patience, most people can learn to properly care for these popular pets.
Red-Eared Slider Habitat
Yellow-Bellied Slider In An Aquarium.
Semi-Aquatic or Aquatic Turtles
Semi-aquatic reptiles live partly in water and partly on land. Aquatic reptiles live totally in water, with the exception of coming ashore to lay eggs.
Sliders are semi-aquatic turtles from fresh and brackish water ecosystems. They spend the majority of their time either in the water foraging or basking on rocks and logs.
They prefer shallow, muddy water pools with logs for basking. In the wild, these turtles inhabit freshwater areas with still or slowly flowing water. Many live in ponds, lakes, streams, creeks, or swamps. If the water dries up, they will even travel in search of more water.
It is important to mimic this as closely as possible when you set up their tank. They need water to swim in, logs and perches to bask on and a UVB bulb to provide artificial sunlight. It is also important to choose the best décor and substrates to promote natural behaviors and prevent boredom.
Tank Size, Heating, Lighting, and Setup
Red-Eared Slider turtles are most commonly kept in glass or acrylic aquariums, although they can also be housed in stock tanks or outdoor ponds. If you use a metal stock tank, you will need a pond liner to prevent chemical leakage into the water.
These turtles require lots of space to live and swim.
An average-sized adult needs at least a 55-gallon tank. For every slider added, you should add at least 10 more gallons. One turtle should have at least two square feet of surface area. For each additional slider, you should add another square foot of surface area. If you have an especially large female, you should double these space requirements and use a 100-gallon aquarium.
A good rule of thumb is that the tank should be 5x the length of your turtle, 3x as wide and at least 2x as tall.
Heating and lighting, are equally as important to the health of your slider.
As they are cold-blooded reptiles, indoor sliders need basking sites. They will need a UVB lamp over the basking spot.
Indoor sliders will need a UVB lamp over their basking spot. To avoid health complications, your turtle needs access to a tube-style, full-spectrum 10.0 UVB bulb. It is important to make sure that the logs and perches are placed within the high effectivity distance of the bulb. This light should be on 12 to 14 hours per day.
For the basking spot, you should use a material that your turtle can easily climb onto without scratching itself, such as cork or a smooth rock. Your basking spot should be at the water level.
You should set the basking spot temperature at 85 to 95℉. The ambient temperature towards the cool side should be between 75 to 80℉.
If the ambient room temperature is at or above 75℉, a UVB lamp over the basking spot is sufficient for heating. If not you can use a ceramic heat emitter or infrared heat bulb with a wattage that is appropriate for your tank.
Generally, the water temperature should be between 74 and 78℉
If the temperature is below 74℉, you will need a submersible water heater. You should use a thermometer to monitor the temperature of the water and not rely on your heater’s settings.
Substrate at the bottom of the tank is not necessary, but it can make your aquarium look nicer. However, it will make cleaning more difficult, so many keepers choose to avoid substrate in turtle tanks.
If you would like to include a substrate, the best option is river pebbles. Just make sure that they are not small enough to be swallowed, as this can harm your slider.
With décor, less is more. You want your turtle to have plenty of room to exercise freely. Aquatic plants can be used, but your turtle might eat them or uproot them. Large rocks or driftwood pieces can be used to create a dynamic swimming environment. If you use large river rocks, make sure that they are smooth and won’t injure your slider. You can secure rocks into your enclosure with a nontoxic aquarium sealant.
Finally, remember to install a filter capable of cleaning the aquarium. Between food waste and fecal matter, these tanks can become dirty quickly and lead to health issues.
Purchasing an aquarium, UVB light and fixture, heat lamp and fixture, thermometers and thermostats, water heater, décor, and a high-quality filtration system will cost $400 to $700. This may seem expensive, but these items are essential to your turtle’s health.
How Long Do Red-Eared Sliders Live?
Red-Eared Sliders are capable of living for decades. In the wild, red sliders can live from 20 to 50 years. Pet turtles typically don’t live as long, but you can expect your turtle to live between 20 to 30 years with good care.
It is quite common for Sliders to get sick because of husbandry-related issues like shell rot, skin ulcers, respiratory problems, conjunctivitis and metabolic bone disease. Many reptile veterinarians treat Red-Eared Sliders with illnesses that could easily have been prevented with proper care.
Shell rot and skin ulcers are typically caused by poor enclosure maintenance or a lack of heat.
Without regular water changes and cleaning, these turtles are at an increased risk of developing smelly, rotting sores on their shells and skin. Shell rot is a bacterial or fungal infection, which often shows as a light-colored spot on the shell. This infection can spread to other parts of your turtle’s body, so it is very important to get it treated as soon as possible.
To help maintain clean water, use a filter capable of cleaning tanks five times the size of the one you are using to account for the increased fecal and food waste in an aquatic turtle tank. Partial water changes with water testing are also essential, but time-consuming.
Like most other pet reptiles, Red-Ears require Ultraviolet B (UVB) lighting along with their calcium supplements to grow and develop properly. If they are kept outdoors, they will receive UVB rays from the sun, but if they are kept indoors, you will need to implement a UVB lamp.
Without UVB lighting they will develop deformities, soft bones, and soft shells.
Finally, if a Red-Eared Slider is not able to bask and reach a proper body temperature, they can have digestion issues and lose their appetite. Some turtles may swim lopsidedly, as congestion distorts the turtle’s balance.
These health issues are all simple to prevent with proper husbandry and diet.
What To Feed A Red-Eared Slider
Red-Eared Sliders are omnivores with a wide variety of food preferences.
In the wild these little turtles spend most of their time eating aquatic vegetation, invertebrates, tadpoles, and fish. Sliders have a sharp, ridged beak to help them tear up vegetation and use their highly developed vision to find prey.
Juvenile turtles eat a mostly carnivorous diet, but adults eat plant matter and aquatic vegetation. This can easily be recreated in captivity if you adjust your turtle’s diet as it ages.
Aim to feed your young turtles a diet of 70% protein five days a week. To ensure a proper diet, make sure to also offer greens for them to graze on. Adults should be fed a diet of 20% protein by only feeding prey twice a week. Greens should be offered every day.
Some good foods include:
However, you should not feed your slider the following:
- Raw or processed meats
If you want to feed fish, then avoid fatty species like goldfish and always feed them fresh, captive-bred fish. Frozen fish can sometimes build up toxic levels of enzymes, and any wild prey can carry parasites.
Be cautious with fruits and only use them as treats since they can cause diarrhea in reptiles.
You should supplement their diet with a multivitamin to ensure your turtle is getting a well-rounded diet. A multivitamin with calcium and vitamin D3 can be added to meals twice a week. You can also offer high-quality nutritional pellets, but this should not exceed 25% of their diet.
Red-Eared Slider Turtle Facts
|Common Name (s)||Red slider turtle, red-eared slider, red-eared terrapin|
|Scientific Name||Trachemys scripta elegans|
|Native Range||South-central United States|
|Adult Size||8 to 13 inches|
|Lifespan||20 to 30 years|
|Price||$20 to $50|
|Similar Species||Yellow-Bellied Slider, Eastern Box Turtle, and Three-Toed Box Turtle|
Red-Eared Sliders are invasive in most parts of the world. It is important to research your local wildlife laws to determine if you can legally purchase one in your state. Their invasive nature also makes finding a reputable breeder difficult.
You can get a Slider from pet stores, breeders, large-scale dealers, or rescue organizations. Generally, breeders will be the most knowledgeable of their turtles’ histories. If someone is trying to sell you hatchlings less than four inches long, you should not purchase from them. The sale of turtles less than four inches is illegal in the U.S.
If you are struggling to find a breeder, consider adopting a Red-Eared Slider from a rescue or facility that collects invasives.
When choosing your turtle, look for signs that they are healthy. The Slider should be active and have quick reflexes when approached or prodded. If you pull at one of their legs (gently), you should receive a strong response. If they are approached, they should slide into the water.
The shell should be smooth, hard, and not have any dark or light spots. The shell should also not have any scratches or other damage.
Make sure the eyes aren’t cloudy at all and examine the shell and skin for any sores or growths. If the turtle is active, healthy, and clean, then bring it home!
Sliders are beautifully patterned pond turtles. Unlike any other pond turtle species, Red-Eared Sliders have a defining maroon-red stripe behind each ear. This feature separates them from all other species and makes them very easy to spot.
Red-Eared Sliders have olive green-brown carapaces, or “top shells”, that are divided into plate-like sections called “scutes.” As they age, the shell may turn darker, becoming almost black. The scutes along the edge of the shell are outlined in a bright yellow. The plastron, or “bottom shell”, is a bright yellow with a single dark, round blotch on each belly scute. Their shells are also more dome-shaped than other flat-shelled turtles.
Their legs, head, and tail are a dark green color with yellow stripes.
Some turtles can come in pastel and albino morphs, although these colorings are not usually seen in the wild.
The pastel variety has similar markings to the Red-Eared Slider but is paler in color. The albino variety can appear almost entirely yellowish-white, except for the red stripes behind the eyes.
Hatchling Red-Eared Sliders are absolutely adorable. They are barely larger than a quarter, which makes it even more incredible to learn that the average adult is 5 to 12 inches across the shell.
When they first emerge from their eggs, hatchlings are extremely small, at about one inch in length. Females will grow to be around 10 to 12 inches in length, and males tend to be on the smaller end of the spectrum, most never reaching more than eight inches long.
Females reach sexual maturity at between 6 to 8 inches in carapace length and 5 to 7 years in age. Male red-eared sliders reach sexual maturity at between 3 to 4 inches in length and 3 to 5 years in age.
Males and females are also easily distinguished by appearance. Males have a longer, thinner tail and much longer fingernails on the front legs. Females have much shorter nails for nest digging.
Adult Red-Eared Sliders can be sexed primarily by the difference in size between the full-grown male and female. Hatchlings are not easily sexed.
Red-Eared Sliders are active turtles that spend most of their time swimming, foraging, and basking. They are normally found basking in groups and communicate with one another through touch and vibration.
When basking, these turtles lookout for predators and can dive into the water at a moment’s notice. If they happen to be on land, they can pull in their arms and legs to protect themselves too.
Wild Sliders are aggressive and competitive, especially when feeding. They compete both within their own species and with other turtle species. If two turtles attempt to eat the same food, they will use gaping gestures, bite and push. Open-mouth or gaping gestures, especially if they are aimed at other turtles, are a sign of aggression. However, pet turtles tend to be more passive.
As a pet, they will spend much of the daytime basking on a perch directly beneath the basking heat source. If you notice that your turtle is avoiding the heat, that could be a sign of issues.
Aside from basking, they will also dive into the water to explore frequently. Healthy Sliders tend to be alert, curious, and inquisitive.
Handling A Red-Eared Slider
Red-Eared Sliders can be handled safely, but many are intolerant of frequent handling.
If they feel threatened they may retreat into their shells and bite at you. If your turtle reacts in this way, it is best to reduce handling. However, some Sliders may feel comfortable being handled.
When picking up your turtle, place your hand behind them and grip the top and bottom of their shell directly in line with the tail. Hold them as you would a hamburger. If your Slider is still scratching you, place them back in the enclosure and try handling again after your turtle has calmed down.
Before and after handling you should consider your own health.
Red-Eared Sliders are known to be carriers of salmonella, so hand-washing before and after holding is necessary to prevent spreading disease.
Keepers love these turtles for their high activity levels and beautiful yellow, green and red colors. Their delicate redhead markings make them very cute pets.
These hardy turtles adapt very well to life as pets, and with good care, your turtle could live to be 20 to 30 years old.
As they are very common pets, they can easily be bought. But, you should do your homework to make sure you are purchasing from a reputable source and following your local laws.
Before purchasing, also consider the effort it takes to keep them healthy over their lifespan. The widespread popularity of these turtles has led to them being released into the wild, putting pressure on ecosystems around the world.
If the Red-Eared Slider has caught your attention, don’t forget to let us know in the comments below!
Your article is really great! Lots of informations. Thank you so much 🙂
Very informative. But nothing said about eggs. Just found ours laid 3 eggs in her tank. Wont eat.we have since made nest box and put her there at night. Big surprise.
Red eared slider females will lay unfertilised eggs every year at least ours did until she climbed a wall and escaped. Apparently they mate after hibernation.
We had to one given to us by our neighbor moving and since I am so nurturing as she knows with all pets and creatures Kelly is mine. I’m so clean so Kelly’s large tank is cleaned twice a day and she has supreme food with krill and gets lettuce as well. She loves to swim and she stares at us trying to communicate. My grandsons love watching her and she has a tank like a Hilton Hotel. Beautiful decorations. We have our two kitchen lights on her all day long. She’s very happy. Great information! Thank you!
This helped a lot! I’m considering getting a red eared slider and this provided some really good information. It helped a lot, since I was concerned I would not have the necessary time and supplies for a turtle. I have plenty of food left and a tank, from my pet frog, who recently died. This has cleared up a lot and was really helpful.
I have two red eared turtles with me. 4 months back we had purchased. That time they were like a coin. Now they have grown up little in size almost 11 inches. If suppose i dont want to keep them, then where should i give? Im more worried about their personal health. My mom doesnt want me to keep them. She is telling release them in their world where other red eared turtles are. Please help me. They are my love. I dont want to risk their lives
This matter ultimately depends on where you live. If you live in what is their natural range (Southern US mostly, but check distribution range maps for a more detailed look), you could potentially release them, hoping their life in captivity won’t be an issue. However, if you live outside their range, I would highly advise not to release them, since they have already received the invasive species status in Australia and India and should probably be listed as invasive in Europe too. This means that their presence threatens the ecosystem in which they are released, and this is unacceptable.
I had one mysteriously show up in my pond this summer in Michigan, can it winter out there or not?
Yes it definitely can. That is the type of habitat they prefer for going into brumation.
Ours had also laid three eggs but had died 3 days later the eggs also died
This is a wonderfully informative article. I have a comment, then a question or two. Had to chuckle when you said sliders live to 30. My boy, a yellow bellied slider, was purchased as a baby in 1967, is now 55 and going strong. This, despite living in a low income household with no money for many of the requirements you mentioned. He’s funny, stubborn and quite the character. It’s just the 2 of us now and while money is still an issue, I’m trying to “up” his accommodations as best I can. But somehow these “upgrades” seem to have lessened his condition, not improved it. I used to use an Aqua Tech 5-15 HOB filter, which only started to cloud up after 10+ days (no dechlorinator, calcium blocks, etc). Upgraded to a whisper i40 HOB and even with Tetra Aqua Safe in the water, it is cloudy within 15 minutes. Just don’t get it. Any ideas?
Next question: Can you tell me what kind of natural rocks to use for basking purposes? He has one rock (I have no idea what kind it is), about 5x9x2, retrieved from the Delaware Water Gap in 1967, which he uses when basking outside of his tote/tank (he lets me know when he wants to go free range around our 2nd floor for a few days), but I’d like to put some kind of rock inside his tote for when he’s in the mood while inside his tank. Can you suggest any particular types of rock I should seek? In the alternative, would it be safe to use a common red brick or gray paver underneath the rock we already have to prop it up above water level? Also, how do you clean and disinfect them before placing in his tank? Many thanks. God bless, please stay safe and well.
Glad you found the article informative!
You have one senior Slider right there… We mentioned 40 years because that is generally the average lifespan, but they are known to live even longer in captivity. Your case is a perfect example.
As to your questions: you can choose pretty much any granite, basalt, sandstone or slab rock, simply choose one that is not too sharp. After having chosen it, you do need to treat it if you want to make sure there’s not harmful pathogens or chemicals on it. I would suggest, in this order, to rinse it well in warm water, scrabbing it with a metal brush, rinsing again, sterilizing it (the simplest method is by boiling it), scrubbing and rinsing it again. Some go as far as testing its pH with a strong acid (or vinegar), but this is more necessary for rocks which sit in the water of an acquatic animal. Regarding your new and improved filters clouding so fast, it seems odd! Check whether the filter is water-tight around the connections and whether it is the right size, but unfortunately I suggest simply using what seems to work best for your acquarium, whether it is a supposed upgrade or downgrade. Some cheaper products might be better manufactured than more sophisticated ones that have a minor defect.
HOW CAN YOU TELL WHETHER OR NOT THEY HAVE salmonella. I am getting two turtles found in a suburban community and wonder if they are safe to bring home, as I have 2 small grandchildren here. Also if put in a 35 G. porch pond with my 2-4 in. koi/goldfish will they eat them. Any information will help. Thank you
I think you can’t circumvent the need for a vet to test for Salmonella. And even there, one negative test won’t mean that your turtle is 100% without Salmonella.
However, the risk of getting an infection are often quite low, and you can reduce them even more with some very easy behaviors such as keeping an alcohol-based sanitizer near the tank to be used after contact, and in general, washing your hands after interacting with your pet.
Regarding your fish, yes, it is entirely possible that he ends up being preyed on. If you keep your turtle well fed and provide plenty of hiding spots for your fish, they might manage to coexist peacefully but it is a risk you’ve got to be willing to take.