Kate graduated from Sonoma State University with a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in biology. She currently resides in Sonoma, California.
How to Care for Your Red-Eared Slider
Turtles can make fantastic pets. They are adorable, inquisitive, and extremely entertaining. Those cute little hatchlings quickly grow into adults, however, and most have fairly long lifespans. Turtles require a long-term caregiver and a certain standard of care to ensure that they get the most out of their lives.
It is important to understand how to care for your turtle properly. Here we discuss the care of one particularly popular, amusing, and intriguing breed: the red-eared slider turtle.
Caring for your red-eared slider requires more than just an aquarium, some water, and some mealworms. It's important to take into account the unique diet, tank specifications, lighting requirements, and health issues associated with this breed. This will help ensure that your turtle has a longer, healthier, and happier life.
Red-Eared Slider Care Quick Reference
Commercial turtle food plus occasional supplementation of fresh leafy greens, live food, and occasional fruit. Providing variety is important. Live foods include: Krill, crickets, super worms or meal worms, and red minnows.
Provide at least a 20 gallon tank for baby sliders (under two years of age) and bigger as the turtle grows. Ideally you'll need 10 gallons of tank per inch of the turtles body length. Water should be at least as deep as the turtle is long. Provide a basking area where the turtle can get completely out of the water underneath a reptile heat lamp.
A heating lamp the also provides UVB light and is designed for reptiles is necessary. Direct this light at the turtle's basking area. The basking area should be between 85 and 90 degrees F. This light should be on during daylight hours.
20-40 years on average and 70 years maximum in captivity.
Watch for sudden decreases in activity or appetite. Also watch for shifting tank equipment as this is a common issue with these turtles.
Red-Eared Slider Turtle Basics
Over the last few decades, red-eared sliders have become increasingly popular in the United States. As pets, they have some specific needs that must be met in order to keep them healthy and increase their life expediencies.
Red-eared slider turtles get their name from the red stripes located near their ears. The "slider" portion of their name comes from their ability to quickly slide into the water. They are a very popular breed of turtle due to their smaller size and low-maintenance care requirements.
Taxonomy, Habitat, and Origin
Red-eared sliders belong to an order known as Testudines that includes over 200 species. Red-eared sliders seem to have originated in areas near the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. They're native to areas ranging from Colorado to Virginia and Florida.
Red-eared sliders prefer areas of still, warm water such as slow-moving streams, ponds, swamps, and creeks. They do not hibernate but instead become less active in the wild as the outside temperatures decline during fall and winter months.
Diet and Feeding Requirements
Knowing what and how to correctly feed your red-eared slider is important. The proper diet can help your turtle to live a longer and healthier life. Red-eared sliders tend to thrive off a combination of commercial turtle food and the occasional supplementation of fresh foods.
Fresh Foods That Should Be Added to Your Turtle's Diet:
- Certain kinds of leafy greens (such as red or green leaf lettuce, turnip greens, and dandelion leaves, but avoid cabbage, kale, and spinach)
- Krill or freeze-dried shrimp
- Super worms or mealworms
- Red minnows
- Occasional fruit
Adding fresh food a couple of times a week is generally a good idea. Fresh foods and live foods provide your turtle with additional nutrients that will help them to stay healthy and ward off diseases.
Commercial turtle food pellets should also be provided each day in small amounts. You can adjust the amount that you feed your slider by observing how much food goes uneaten after each feeding. Finding the proper amount of pellets to feed your turtle daily is important because uneaten pellets will corrode the water quality of your turtle's tank fairly quickly.
Aquarium and Tank Setup
The way that you set up your turtle's tank can drastically impact their activity levels and overall quality of life. Red-eared slider turtles are a semi-aquatic species, so they will usually spend an equal amount of their time both in and out of the water.
Your tank will need to be large enough for them to swim and exercise, as well as have plenty of areas where your turtle can bask and dry off. It is a good idea to plan on having a tank of at least 20 gallons for your baby red-eared slider. As the turtle grows, you will need a bigger tank. A good rule of thumb is that you'll need about 10 gallons in tank size per inch of the turtle's body length. Red-eared sliders can grow up to 12 inches in length.
Fill your tank with an adequate amount of water. Turtles should have a water level that is at least twice as deep as they are long. Ideally, the amount of water should also be enough that your turtle can swim about five times its body length in one direction.
- You'll need at least 10 gallons in tank size per inch of the turtle's body length. You can get away with a 20-gallon tank (minimum) for a baby slider. After the turtle is two years old they will likely outgrow this tank.
- Provide a basking area where your turtle can get completely out of the water and dry off. Preferably underneath a heating lamp.
- The water in the tank should be at least as deep as the turtle is long.
- Ideally, the area of water in the tank should be enough so your slider can swim about five times its body length in one direction.
In half of your tank, stacking smooth rocks or sloping gravel can be a great way to provide a basking area. There are also commercially made turtle docks and tank accessories that can be used for basking. Land areas can also be constructed at home out of plastic or wood. Be sure that when you fill your tank, your turtle will be able to access these landings. Also be sure that the land areas you provide allow your turtle to fully dry off if they wish to.
In the wild, red-eared sliders enjoy basking in the sun on logs or along the banks of the creeks, ponds, and streams that they inhabit. In your tank, it is very important that you provide some sort of basking light for your turtle. These lights can be made by either adding a reptile warming bulb (that produces UVB light) to a safe and durable terrarium lamp or else purchased online or in a pet store.
Position the basking lamp above an area where your turtle is able to easily climb out of the water and dry off completely. Basking helps to warm your turtle and prevent certain illnesses and types of algae from growing on their shells.
- A terrarium basking lamp that provides UVB light is necessary.
- Position the basking lamp above an area where the turtle can climb completely out of the water.
- The basking area, when heated by the basking lamp, should be between 85 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. If it is too hot, move the lamp further away.
- The turtle should not be able to touch any light fixtures.
- Any lighting in the aquarium should be on for about the same length of time as there is daylight.
A good basking light can be critical to maintaining your turtle's health and increasing its lifespan.
Lifespan of Red-Eared Slider Turtles
You may be wondering how long your pet red-eared slider is going to live. If you are committing to a slider as a pet, you may be shocked to find out that they have an extremely long life expectancy if the right conditions are in place.
- Many die in the first two years of life if not properly cared for.
- The average lifespan in captivity is 20-40 years.
- The maximum lifespan in captivity is 70 years.
Red-eared sliders who survive their first two years of life generally live longer in captivity than they do in the wild.
Trouble Signs to Watch For
Red-eared sliders tend to remain generally healthy if their care requirements are properly met. Still, they're susceptible to a few illnesses and health conditions.
Sudden decreases in activity or appetite may indicate that you turtle isn't thriving. It is also important to frequently check and make sure that your turtle's tank remains clean and safe. Large rocks may shift and trap your turtle under water, so be sure stones are properly secured.
Also, your filtration system, water heater (if you use one), and basking light can shift or change position, posing a risk to your turtle. Be sure that basking lights can't touch the shell of your turtle or the water of your tank. These turtles are very curious and are known for causing equipment in the tank to shift while inspecting it.
Red-eared slider turtles can make fantastic pets and live for a very long time under the proper care and indoor tank conditions. They can be hilarious to watch and make very low-maintenance pets.
Still, it is important to remember that this breed has some specific diet and tank requirements that must be met in order for it to thrive. Keep that in mind, and you will likely be enjoying the adorable antics of your red-eared slider for years (or even decades) to come.
More Care Tips
- Red-Eared Slider Care Sheet - Reptiles Magazine
Expert care tips for the red-eared slider.
- Red-Eared Slider Care Sheet - Petco
This is a very useful (printable) care sheet for the Red Eared Slider Turtle produced by Petco. You can print out this care sheet and take it with you to the pet store when getting equipment for your slider.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: How can I tell the age of the red eared slider turtle?
Answer: This can be a little difficult to do if you don't know when your turtle was hatched and it is not an exact science. It is worth noting that by the time a red eared slider is legally able to be purchased in a pet store, it is likely about two years of age.
In general, you can estimate a red-eared slider turtle's age by their size and coloring.
Under 6 months of age:
- Shell is less than 4 inches in length.
- Very bright coloring.
- Kelly green colored shell with some yellow markings.
6-12 Months of age:
- Shell is less than 4 inches in length.
- Slightly less intense coloring.
1-2 Years of age:
- Shell is less than 4 inches in length.
- Bright colors have now faded to a darker olive hue.
2-3 Years of age:
- Shell is between 4 to 6 inches in length.
- Claws and tails on males will be extra sharp.
- The turtle's colors will darken.
- The "red ears" on the slider turtle will fade or disappear.
- Shell will turn a brownish or ochre color.
3-4 Years of age:
- Shell is between 6 to 8 inches in length.
- Males claws will be slightly shorter.
- Shell is a brownish or ochre color.
Over 4 years of age:
- Shell is between 8 to 13 inches (or more) in length.
- Males claws will continue to shorten.
- Shell is a brownish or ochre color.
After about the age of four, it is nearly impossible to estimate the age with any accuracy. At this point, the turtle is done developing and goes through much less obvious changes.
Question: I was told that red eared slider turtles can cause salmonella poisoning, is this true?
Answer: Yes, reptiles in general shed salmonella particles in much the same way humans shed skin cells. They can get everywhere!
For this reason, it is important to always wash your hands after handling the red-eared slider turtle as well as any surface they've crawled across with soap and water. You should also wash any clothes that have come in contact with your red-eared slider turtle as well.
Remember that you can also easily be exposed to salmonella by cleaning the turtle's tank or changing its water. It is a good idea to use latex gloves while doing these tasks for an additional layer of protection.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that reptiles are not kept in homes that have children under the age of five. Younger children are especially susceptible to salmonella since they often put their hands in their mouths. Salmonella poisoning is also more serious if in a child under five years of age.
The elderly and others with conditions that cause them to have weakened immune systems should also be kept away from reptiles such as the red-eared slider.
Question: What part of the red-eared turtle's shell will change color the most if your turtle is sick?
Answer: It depends on what your turtle is sick with. However, some things to watch for are pink or white spots on the top or bottom of the shell. This could indicate the start of "shell rot." This can be caused by poor diet, poor lighting conditions in the tank, or a fungal infection.
You can also watch the skin of the turtle as it will often turn slightly grey if something is wrong with the turtle. This usually indicates poor diet.
Also, if a red-eared slider turtle is sick, often its overall color will fade. This will generally be most visible over the top of the shell or on the skin of the turtle. A brightly colored turtle is a healthy turtle!
© 2017 Kate Daily
Jxlly on April 21, 2020:
How do i make homemade food for my terapin if i have quarantine orders?
Sammi W on March 12, 2019:
If I were to have one as a pet, would I have to pay lots in vet bills? Do they need lots of that kind of care?
Kay on November 11, 2018:
How i know what age of my turtle
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on December 19, 2017:
This article contains a lot of useful information. I've never kept a turtle as a pet, though I'd like to do so. Your article would certainly be helpful if I ever get a red eared slider.