Red-Eared Slider Turtles

Red-Eared Slider Turtles are native to North America, and are one of the smallest freshwater turtle species. They are very hardy animals, and can be found in a wide variety of habitats. They are omnivores, eating both plants and meat. 

Red-Eared Slider Turtles are very slow moving, and will take several years to mature. They are not particularly aggressive, and will usually avoid confrontation. However, they may bite if provoked. 

The Red-Eared Slider Turtle is one of the most popular pet turtles around. They can be many different colors, are easy to care for and inexpensive to purchase, and it makes a great addition to your family. They are relatively small, making them a good choice for families with smaller children. As with most turtles, they are best kept in a large enclosure, because they can get a little aggressive if kept in a small enclosure. 

Red-Eared Slider Turtles are one of the best pets ever, and one of the most fun! They’re cute, cuddly, and easy to find at pet stores, and they have a low maintenance life-style. Sliders are very social animals, they often seek out the company of other turtles and have little trouble getting along with other pets. 

Maybe you’ve seen videos of them online? They’re a little shy of human contact if they’re wild like the ones in most videos. Even wild Sliders will still come up and take food out of your hand if you are calm and patient enough. They really enjoy eating finger sized fish or little bits of melon like watermelon. If you have enough space for these little guys then they could be a great addition to your family.

Red-Eared Slider Turtle Information

  • Average Length: 12 inches
  • Average Weight: 2 pounds
  • Skin Appearance: Soft and a shell with scutes
  • Skin Colors: Green color with yellow stripes and red markings
  • Grooming Needs: Low
  • Shedding: Once every few months
  • Sensitive to Touch: No
  • Biting Tendency: No
  • Tolerance to Heat and Cold: No
  • Good Pet: They allow people to hand them, so yes!
  • Safe with Children: Not with children below 5
  • Good with Other Pets: No
  • Suitable to live in an Apartment: Yes
  • Good for Less Experienced Pet Owners: No
  • Weight Gain: Normal
  • Health Concerns: Respiratory infections, Shell Rot, Salmonella and Intestinal Parasites
  • Allergies: None
  • Average Life Span: 15 to 20 years

Physical Appearance of Red-Eared Slider Turtles

Red-Eared Sliders have green skin with yellow stripes. They have a red patch behind their ears which is what gives the turtle their name. Some Sliders may not have this red coloration and a few turtles may also have red patches on their head.

The shell of young Red-Eared Sliders is green with subtle markings of yellow-green to dark green. As the Sliders grow their shell can develop yellow or olive green coloration with dark patches on the scutes. Scutes are the bony plates found on the shells of turtles. The colored patches on some turtles may disappear as they get older. With the colored patches gone their shells will have a more uniform coloration.

Red-Eared Slider Turtle hatchlings can be up to 1 inch in diameter but adult Red-Eared Sliders can grow up to about a foot long. These turtles have webbed feet and long nails.

It’s possible to tell what sex they are just by looking at them. The males are smaller than females and males also have longer tails and larger front claws.

Temperament of Red-Eared Sliders

Red-Eared Sliders are active and friendly turtles. They are semi-aquatic turtles that will spend most of their time in the water or basking in the sun.

Captive-bred Red-Eared Sliders tend to be more open to human contact than wild-caught sliders. Some Red-Eared Sliders may spend the first few days hiding within their shells but they will soon adapt to their new homes.

Red-Eared Sliders are calm and will allow their family to handle them. They tend to be more interactive than other turtle species. They will often swim towards you expecting treats or food. Some Sliders may become aggressive with each other when being fed. They tend to hide within their shell when they feel threatened.

Red-Eared Sliders may get aggressive with other sliders kept in their tank, especially if the other turtles are smaller than them. This is why we recommend that they be kept alone, or in a very large space.

Their Compatibility with Children

Red-Eared Sliders can make excellent pets for families with children. Sliders enjoy being handled but children should be taught how to handle them correctly. Teach children to lift the Sliders by supporting the Slider’s bottom. Children should be slow and gentle while handling the Sliders. Sudden movements can frighten the turtles. An adult should always supervise children while handling the Sliders so that children do not accidentally drop the turtles.

Teach your children to wash their hands after handling the turtles. This is because turtles can be carriers of infectious bacteria like Salmonella which can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. Washing their hands should prevent your children from contracting bacterial and fungal diseases from the Sliders. Because of the risk of salmonella, children should never have the turtles close to their face or kiss them.

Living Space for Red-Eared Slider

Setting up an enclosure for a Red-Eared Slider can be tricky and expensive. They need a large enclosure with a dry-warm area to bask and an area with water for swimming. It’s important to replicate their natural living conditions as much as possible.

A glass or acrylic tank can be used to keep Red-Eared Sliders. Turtles can grow fast so getting a large tank at the beginning itself will prevent you from the need of getting a larger tank in the future. A 55-gallon tank should be the absolutely smallest size habitat for an adult Slider. A good rule of thumb is 1 foot of space for every inch long your turtle is.

Because of the space these turtles need, many people will create a custom habitat for them. It’s important to give them all the things they need on land, and still give them enough space to swim in their habitat. The tank should have something that lets your turtle comfortably move in and out of the water to bask in the dry area. A substrate like gravel can be used to create a slope. A ramp can be placed to allow your Turtle to move in and out of water.

The top of the tank should be tightly secured with a fitting screen to stop your Red-Eared Sliders from escaping. Living plants inside the tank but avoid adding artificial plants because your Slider may try to eat them.

A much more popular idea is to dig out space in your yard and build them a pond. By doing this you can set up everything from depth of water, to a basking platform and a little place for them to rest in. It does take a little more work to set up, but your turtle will be much happier with a natural environment than trying to fit them in an aquarium. Given what a 55 gallon aquarium sells for, it can likely be done for close to the same price as buying an expensive aquarium.

Best Climate for Red-Eared Sliders

The temperature of both the water and the dry area of the enclosure have to be maintained. The temperature of the elevated basking area should be between 85 to 90 °F. An incandescent light bulb or heat lamp can be used to create enough heat for their basking area.

The temperature inside the water should be kept between 75 and 86°F. You can use a submersible aquarium heater to heat the water. Connecting the heater to a thermostat will help keep the temperature warm enough without getting too warm. Red-Eared Sliders are known to be messy eaters so an aquarium filter may need to be added inside their tank. An aquarium filter will help keep the water nice and clean.

A normal day and night cycle should be maintained using lighting equipment. Whenever possible, your turtles should be given access to direct sunlight. If you don’t keep them outdoors you can place your turtle in a small tub outside for a few hours to let them bask under sunlight. It is important that half of the tub be shaded so they can move out of the sun and not get overheated.

If this is not possible for you, add a full-spectrum UV lighting bulb to your tank. Exposing turtles to UV rays is important because it helps them manufacture Vitamin D-3. The UV bulbs should be replaced after 6 months because they lose their efficiency over time.

All the heat bulbs and lighting equipment should be placed in a way so that your Slider cannot touch them. Secure the equipment tightly to prevent it from falling inside their tank.

The Attention a Red-Eared Slider Needs

The attention needs of Red-Eared Sliders are mostly limited to maintaining the climate conditions inside their enclosure. Several thermometers will be needed to measure the temperature inside the water and in the basking area. Fluctuations in temperature can cause stress and diseases in your Red-Eared Sliders. Check the temperature in their tank daily and make adjustments if needed.

Maintaining water quality is very important. Uneaten food or fecal matter can cause poor water quality which can lead to the growth of bacteria. Performing frequent water changes and measuring the level of dissolved compounds regularly will help keep the water clean. Around 20-25% of the water should be changed every other week.

Avoid starting a siphon with your mouth because of the potential for bacterial contamination. We have an article on how to clean an aquarium which covers how to use a siphon to clean a tank safely. Clean the entire tank, including filters, decorations and living plants every 3 months.

Red-Eared Sliders generally do not need a lot of handling. You can handle them a few times a week. While handling them, check to see if the turtle is getting stressed. They will go inside their shell or bite if they feel stressed. Avoid handling them if they try to get inside their shell when you are trying to handle them. Always wash your hands after handling your Sliders. Washing your hands should prevent you from contracting Salmonella from them.

Red-Eared Sliders can live up to 20 years, making them a long-term commitment. If that is too much for you, maybe a shorter lived pet would be a better choice for your family?.

Health Issues

When getting a Red-Eared Slider make sure they do not have any cracks in their shell. They should be able to swim straight and their eyes should be clear. These features are the signs of a healthy Slider. Annual examination of the fecal matter from a vet is important to identify signs of disease in your turtle.

Common health issues in Red-Eared Sliders include:

Shell Rot

Shell rot is a common problem that can occur in many species of turtles and tortoises. It’s caused by bacteria, fungi, or other microorganisms that live on the shell and feed on the keratin proteins found in the scutes (the scales of a turtle’s shell). This causes damage to the shell and can lead to infection if left untreated. Shell rot is associated with soft, discolored, or flaking patches on their shell.

The disease will cause small holes or look like something has been chewing on their shell. Soft spots on their shell or bloody discharge are very common. In serious cases the scutes may entirely fall off which will expose the bones and nerves that were protected by the shell.

Poor living conditions are what generally cause the bacterial growth and lead to Shell Rot. The disease can take a long time to heal. Antibiotics and regular cleanings are usually the recommended treatments. The best way to prevent this disease is to keep their enclosure clean and maintain the temperature inside their enclosure.

Metabolic Bone Disease

MBD is the most common disease found in pet reptiles. The disease is caused by your reptile not having enough vitamin D to properly absorb calcium. Being exposed to UV lighting helps them create vitamin D that they can use to absorb calcium.

 Symptoms include:

  • Lower jaw swelling 
  • Limb swelling
  • Facial bone softening
  • Appetite loss 
  • Seizures
  • Lethargy

An X-ray can help identify the extent of the disease. Sometimes MBD will lead to fractures, thin bone tissue or thickened bone shafts. The disease is more common in reptiles less than 2 years old.

If left untreated the disease can also lead to death. Consult your vet immediately if you find any of the above mentioned symptoms in your reptile.

Treatments can range from injecting your reptile with mineral supplements to medication and dietary modifications. To keep your reptiles from having MBD, they should be fed a diet rich in calcium (or calcium supplements) and have daily exposure to UV lighting.

Salmonella

All reptiles are potential carriers of salmonella bacteria. The bacteria is present on their skin and shells (for turtles) but doesn’t seem to harm them. A major concern is that the disease can be transmitted to humans. Salmonella can cause serious and life-threatening conditions in humans. 

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain in humans

As a preventive measure, we always recommend washing your hands after handling any reptiles. Pregnant women, young children and older people shouldn’t handle reptiles. These people are at an increased risk of getting infected because they have a weaker immune system.

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections are a common health issue in reptiles. Poor enclosure conditions like excessive cold or too much, or not enough humidity as well as stress can lead to respiratory infections or pneumonia. 

Symptoms include:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Bubbles in mouth
  • Labored breathing
  • Lethargy

Take your reptile to your vet if they have any of the above symptoms. Antibiotics are commonly used to treat the illness. If the infection is severe, they may need to be hospitalized.

Respiratory symptoms can become serious if not attended to in the initial stages. Maintaining the right temperature gradient and humidity levels inside their living enclosures can prevent your reptile from getting respiratory diseases.

As a preventive measure, we always recommend washing your hands after handling any reptiles.

Intestinal Parasites

Reptiles can become infected with internal parasites in a variety of ways. They can be passed from one reptile to another through contact, or they can be ingested from contaminated food or water. It’s important to keep your reptile’s environment clean and free of parasites to prevent them from getting infected.

Symptoms of Reptile Internal Parasites

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Lethargy

Roundworms are the most common type of internal parasite found in reptiles. They are usually found in their intestines and can cause diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, and anemia. Tapeworms are also common in reptiles and can cause similar symptoms. Flukes are flatworms that attach to the reptile’s organs and feed off of their blood. Protozoans are single-celled organisms that can cause digestive issues such as diarrhea and vomiting.

Mites

Mites are tiny black insects that are parasites. They feed off the blood of your reptile, and they can be quite the pain in the butt to get rid of once you have them. Most times they will be caught and sold to a family already having mites, or they’ll get them from another pet.

Symptoms of mites on your reptile:

  • Long soaks in their water
  • Rubbing on objects in their enclosure
  • Tiny black specs on your reptile or objects in their enclosure
  • Tiny black specs on you from handling your reptile

We recommend contacting your vet to find out what treatment they recommend for killing mites. Keep in mind that mites don’t tend to stay in one place, and any other snakes or reptiles kept in the same room could be infested with mites as well. Distance between pets is key, just as washing up between handling pets is key to not spreading mites from pet to pet.

Ticks

Ticks are blood sucking parasites that are just as bad for your lizard as they are for people. They can pass on quite a number of terrible diseases to your reptile. Depending on what the ticks carry, or if left untreated, they can cause your reptile to die.

Symptoms of ticks on reptiles:

  • Rubbing on objects in their enclosure
  • Long soaks
  • Weight loss
  • Red spots or deformities on their skin

Usually with the above symptoms, especially red spots on their skin people will suspect either ticks or mites. Ticks are a lot easier to see than mites are and with a close inspection of your reptile you should be able to spot them pretty easily.

The treatment is fairly straightforward and can be done at home, or you can have your vet do it. Once you find a tick attached to your lizard, rub it with rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball, then use tweezers to pull the tick off. Using alcohol first should help the tick release their grip and make them easier to pull off. If you are at all worried about diseases your reptile might have gotten from the ticks you can have your vet take a look and they may prescribe medication based on what they find.

Pyramiding

Pyramiding is a health issue similar to MBD. As the name suggests pyramiding results in piling up of scutes. The bone behind the scute also becomes deformed. A high protein diet and problems that result in MBD are generally what contributes to pyramiding. Sulcata Tortoises are vegetarians and do not need meat or any additional protein beyond whatever is in a grassy or leafy diet. Early signs of pyramiding include thick growth rings or depression in their scutes.

Shell rot is a serious problem in turtles. Poor water conditions, cuts from fights with other tank inhabitants or tank decorations can cause the disease. Improper feeding can cause shell rot because of malnutrition. Keeping them away from water, exposing them to heat and feeding them a high-protein diet can help treat the condition.

It’s important to know that pyramiding cannot be treated. Treatment is only able to stop the further growth of pyramiding. It’s fortunate for your tortoise that pyramiding is just an aesthetic issue and doesn’t seem to affect their normal life. Following the preventive measures for MBD will reduce the chances of your Tortoises getting this disease.

If you suspect your Red-Eared Slider of having shell rot or pyramiding they should be taken to your vet immediately.

Grooming and Care

Because Red-Eared Sliders are aquatic they don’t need bathing. They will keep themselves clean just by spending time swimming in their water. Red-Eared Sliders do shed their scutes once in a while and maintaining the ideal temperature conditions is important to help them shed. Remove the scutes once it has been shed.

Their nails do not need trimming. As aquatic animals it is important for them to have long nails. Sometimes the nails may get too long which may seem to prevent them from moving. In this case, consult your vet to find out if their nails should be trimmed.

You’ll want to check their shells for any signs of Shell Rot once a week. If their eyes are swelling or they are having difficulty in breathing, they may need a trip to your vet. Keep the basking area clean by removing fecal matter or uneaten food from there. Remember to wash your hands any time you interact with them, or after cleaning the tank.

Feeding A Red-Eared Slider

Red-Eared Sliders are omnivores and should be fed a mixture of meat and vegetables. Young Sliders will eat mostly meats and proteins. As they age they should be fed more plants until their diet is about 60% plants, 40% protein.

You can feed them commercially available turtle foods like pellets and trout chow. They can also be fed earthworms, feeder fish, earthworms, crickets or dried shrimp.

For vegetables you can feed them leafy veggies like collard greens, mustard greens, and dandelion greens. These should be fed in combination with finely chopped vegetables like green beans, squash, broccoli and carrots. Fruits like apples, melons, berries and cantaloupe can be fed occasionally to them.

Adults should be fed every 2 to 3 days while young Red-Eared Sliders should be fed every day. If you can, they should be fed inside a separate feeding area from their living area because they can be messy eaters. Feeding them in a separate area will help keep their living enclosure cleaner longer. Uneaten food should be removed daily from their tank.

Calcium supplementation should be added to their diet to reduce the risk of MBD.

Related Questions:

What are Salmonella-free Turtles?

Many pet stores try to sell what they call Salmonella-free turtles. The concept behind this is that the Salmonella bacteria is said to be removed from turtle eggs. This results in Salmonella-free turtles but the truth is that this process is not effective. Several studies have shown that even so-called “Salmonella-free” turtles can still be carriers of the Salmonella bacteria. Avoid falling for this marketing gimmick of Salmonella-free turtles. It’s just another way to charge more for something they can’t deliver. Always follow all the precautions while handling your Red-Eared Sliders.

Are Turtles Less Than 4 Inches Banned in the US?

It’s illegal to sell turtles in the US with a shell size of less than 4 inches. Like most reptiles, Red-Eared Slider turtles can be potential carriers of the harmful Salmonella bacteria. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enforced this ban to prevent young children from getting infected with salmonella. They think that young children have higher chances of handling turtles smaller than 4 inches.

However, there is an exception to allow the sale of turtles less than 4 inches for educational and scientific purposes. Some sellers exploit this exception to sell smaller turtles to pet owners. As a responsible citizen and for your family’s safety, avoid buying a turtle that has a shell size smaller than 4 inches.

Due to the concern around Salmonella, some states have prohibited the keeping of turtles as pets. Before getting a turtle as a pet, check your local state laws to find out if you are allowed to own them.