The Red eared slider is a cute little turtle that can make a great pet. They can also live two decades or more in captivity, though, so they are a big commitment.
They also need special care and consideration to keep them healthy, so it’s important to be committed not just to their lifespan, but their care needs to.
To help you get started out in your red eared sliders adventure we’ve got lots of tips and tricks to help you care for them really well:
A Basic Overview Of The Red Eared Slider Turtle
Red eared slider turtles (trachemys scripta elegans) are also known as – red eared terrapins, slider turtles and water slider turtles. They have four main marks that allow you to identify them including;
- A shell made up of different sections called scutes
- The scutes have a yellow outline
- The legs, neck and head have light green/ yellow stripes
- The bottom shell is yellow and has a spot in each scute
- There is a red mark just behind each eye
Generally, the males and females look the same but there are subtle differences. A prime example of this is that males are a little smaller than the females. The males also have longer frontal claws.
When allowed to thrive, red eared slider turtles get to around 5-11 inches and they can live over 40 years in the wild. Red eared sliders in captivity have a shorter lifespan of about 20 years.
Choosing A Red Eared Slider
Red eared sliders are very difficult to care for, and so, they are commonly invasive as pet owners simply abandon them into the wild, believing this to be the best thing for the animal. This is a bad idea for the turtle and the local ecosystem, so please never do this.
If you want to get a red eared slider, the first thing you should do is read guides like this one and really do your homework to check you can care for the animal for its entire life, in the way it needs for it to be healthy.
If you do decide to get one, please try adopting one from a rescue to discourage the breeding and sales of more turtles. Doing this helps out the turtle, who needs a forever home, and it helps you because it tends to be much cheaper than buying from a breeder. Sometimes, they are even available to adopt for free.
If you do want to buy from a breeder, choose a reputable breeder who has a good reputation. You may want to do this to get a ‘morph’, which is a slider bred to look different, such as an albino or pastel slider. Do keep in mind morphs are prone to more health issues and will likely be more expensive to buy.
A good sign that a breeder is not reputable is when they sell turtles under 4 inches, which is actually illegal in the US without a permit. Very large companies should also be avoided as they likely got the turtles from turtle farms or from the wild, which is unethical.
Wherever you get your turtle from, check for the following details so you can tell it is healthy:
- Are the eyes clear and open?
- Is the turtle alert and aware of you?
- Can you see multiple animals to compare?
- Is the shell and body free from wounds and recent damage?
- Are the growth rings on the shell smooth and even?
- Is the body filling the shell well?
- Can the turtle get around well?
- Are the ears in good shape and free from lumps?
- Can the turtle dive easily?
- Is the turtle nice and heavy?
- If you pull one of the turtles legs, does it pull it away with a good level of strength?
- Is the enclosure clean and large?
- Is there heat and lighting?
If the answer is no to any of these questions you may want to skip this seller.
In addition you should check out the sellers policies, veterinarian check certificates, ability to answer questions about eating habits and mating, and their overall reputation in the reptile community. It is so important to do your research before you make any plans to buy or rescue an animal.
The enclosure of the red eared slider does not dictate how large it will grow so keeping a slider in a small tank to keep it at a small size will not work. Instead you should offer minimum enclosure sizes for different turtle sizes, working towards the following requirements:
The minimum requirements for a red eared sliders water amounts are:
- 10 gallons of water per inch of shell length
- Depth of water that is at a minimum the same length as the turtles shell (ideally more)
The water temperature needs depend on the age and life stage of the turtle. Assuming they are thriving and have no other health conditions, a 9-10cm male is considered adult, and the female is about 15-19cm as she reaches adulthood. The general water temperature guidelines for the red eared sliders are:
- 78-82 degrees Fahrenheit for baby turtles under a year old
- 74-76 degrees Fahrenheit for turtles in juvenile stages
- 70-88 degrees Fahrenheit for adult turtles
You can measure the temperature of the turtle’s water using an aquatic thermometer but it should never be left in the enclosure because the turtles may interact with it and hurt themselves.
You can use an aquarium water heater to heat the water in your turtle’s enclosure. It should be completely plastic encased, known to work well for the water amount in your enclosure and it should have safety features that shut it off if it malfunctions. If the enclosure contains vast amounts of water then you might need to install two.
You can use the same timer plugs used for the heat and UVB lamps to put your water heaters on a timer. Unless you have a hatchling in your care, generally echoing the natural cycle of colder water at night and warmer water in the day makes sense for the turtle’s habitat.
Lastly, you will need to filter the water in your turtle tank using an aquarium filter that is approved as safe for this kind of use. In addition to this kind of filtration, a way to empty the tank is essential. This is especially true if you choose to keep the red eared slider in a pond where you may need to empty the pond at some point for maintenance.
- 100 gallons minimum tank size for any age red eared slider but ideally 120-125 which is more common and tends to be more well-priced
- Purchased from a reputable retailer, but ideally custom-made and expertly made
- Alternatively an indoor and outdoor pond which is preferred by the red eared sliders and can be easier to access and maintain by owners (the pond still needs to be 10 gallons of water per inch of turtle shell length)
- Based somewhere the weight of the water will not affect your home’s structure. The ideal location is on the lowest part of your home
Lighting & UVB
It is important to never use coloured lighting in a red eared slider tank, instead, focus on providing a high quality selection of essential UVB and additional lighting.
UVB is essential to the health of your slider. It enables them to fight off infections, feel good and create vitamin D. For this reason, a red eared slider enclosure must have a source of UVB. The bulb has to be between half and three quarters of the length of enclosure above the basking area. This is assuming there is nothing in between the bulb and the basking area.
As red eared sliders like to bask in strong sunlight they should have the strongest levels of sunlight where they bask, and lower amounts elsewhere, so they have different options. You can measure the UV in their tank using a special metre.
In addition to the UVB light you will need to also add either an LED light or full-spectrum fluorescent to replicate daylight light levels in the turtle’s enclosure. This extra light helps to keep your turtle happy and it will boost the growth of any living plants you keep in the tank.
You should keep all these lights on for up to 13 hours a day (11 hours minimum) which is then trimmed over winter to replicate the change in seasons. You can get timers for this to avoid the inconvenience of manual lighting switching on and off.
Red eared sliders are cold blooded and use heat outside of their bodies to aid essential functions. They bask in the heat lamp to do this, which is an essential aspect of their maintenance and health.
The basking temperature of a red eared sliders platform should be:
- 104 degrees Fahrenheit surface
- 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit air
Using a thermometer you can check the temperatures of the area, as well as using an infrared temperature device which can be pointed from the light at the surface, with the heating light placed at the right distance (recommended by the manufacturer). The lamp should also be at the same distance as the UVB light from bulb to platform.
Overall, halogen bulbs tend to do the best job, equipped with a dimmer so you have control over the temperature on the platform.
In addition, a dome shaped lamp fixture and ceramic socket are important parts of the setup as they allow the animal to heat itself fully in a concentrated area.
Remember, red eared sliders like to spend most of their time in water but they still need some time on land to bask so they should have areas they can use for this purpose. The space doesn’t need to be very large, and you can be quite creative with it. Large smooth rocks, driftwood and other items can look really cool in an enclosure whilst enabling the turtle to bask like it would in the wild.
It is important to decorate your turtle tank once you have all the basics right. Decorations that encourage the turtle to climb, smell, explore and generally stimulate them mentally are really important and will go some way to keep your turtle both happy and healthy.
All of the factors above combined set you up for a healthy and happy environment for your slider to live in.
Keeping A Pet Red Eared Slider In Native Environments
Many people who live in areas that red eared sliders are native will house them in outside ponds where the sunlight and heat are all provided by the natural weather system, just like they would be in the wild. This does have to be done cautiously though, and if the area is not where red eared sliders are native light and heat will need to be supplemented.
Mostly, though, many people argue outdoor ponds in the right climate are the best possible option for keeping red eared sliders because they get everything they need from nature, apart from the food you provide.
Housing Red Eared Slider Turtles Together
Red eared sliders are commonly seen in social groups in the wild, but that may not translate to red eared sliders in captivity. One slider on its own will actually live quite happily, so there’s no real need to get more than one. If you do want more remember to:
- Add 20 more gallons of water per additional turtle at least
- Provide more areas for basking
- Pay close attention to feeding so you know that all the turtles are well fed
- House turtles of a similar size together
Brumation is a natural process all reptiles go through and it is recommended for red eared sliders in captivity to replicate natural behaviours. Brumation is where they slow down and cool for a period of time in winter. It is its own separate process and one that requires a lot of reading and information to get right. You can find out more about reptile brumation from Marla the Western Pond Turtle in this Youtube video.
Red eared sliders feeding requirements are different depending on their age. As a general guide you can follow these feeding guidelines:
- One portion of protein as much as your turtle consumes in up to 10 minutes
- One portion of veggies is the same as the turtles shell size
- One portion of pellets is the same as the turtles head size
1 Year Or Less
- Turtle pellets on alternate days
- Veggies everyday
- Protein every day
- Overall diet is half and half veggies and protein
Juveniles And Adults
- Protein once or twice a week
- Veggies every day
- Turtle pellets twice a week or three times maximum
- Overall diet is three quarters veggies one quarter protein
As red eared slider turtles only eat in water to get the food down (they don’t make saliva!) the food has to be sprinkled in their water when it is time for them to eat. You will want to take their uneaten food out with a net to stop the food rotting and contaminating the tank.
When it comes to what you should feed the sliders they eat a huge range of different food types so you can mix and match.
Protein is best given in whole form rather than cut into chunks so the animal benefits from all the different parts of the animal. Some examples of great protein sources for sliders are:
- Dead crayfish
- Shrimp (alive or freeze-dried)
- Captive bred frogs
- Captive bred snails
- Captive bred tadpoles
- Live mollies, guppies or platies
Dead frozen chicks, quail or mice can be given occasionally as a treat.
Overall, feeding the red eared slider turtle wild animals or insects, or processed meat or food or any kind is a bad idea because any additives or chemicals could be harmful to them.
Try to give the sliders plenty of variety when it comes to their veggie intake. Here are some examples of great veggie sources for red eared sliders:
- Collard greens
- Dandelion greens
- Swiss chard
- Turnip greens
- Carrot tops
Fruit like; skinned apples, melon, pears and grapes can be given to your red eared sliders as a treat.
When it comes to turtle pellets it is up to you which pellet to choose as they all have pros and cons. Every turtle owner has their favourite, so it is worth doing some research so you are using a trusted brand. Whichever brand you do choose, don’t go over 25% of your red eared slider turtles diet intake with pellets as they need the protein and fresh veggies as well to thrive.
You’re On The Way To Being A Brilliant Red Eared Slider Owner
With our guide, you’re well on your way to understanding what is involved in caring for these turtly awesome pets.
There is a lot to owning and properly caring for these beautiful, interesting and often-abused animals. The more that you can fully understand what red eared sliders need, the more able you are to help your little shelled friend thrive in your care.
Be sure to check out My Turtle Shop Here for the essentials you need to help you set up.