a Red Eared Slider enjoying some sun in the grass

Red Eared Slider Turtle

The Red Eared Slider Turtle is one of the most popular pet turtles around. They can have many different colors, are easy to care for and inexpensive to purchase, and it makes a great addition to the 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 tank, because they can get a little aggressive if kept in a small enclosure.

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 easily get 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. But even wild they 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: 8 to 16 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
  • Good 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
  • Suitable for First-Time 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

Red-Eared Sliders have green colored 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 the shell can develop yellow or olive green coloration with dark patches on the scutes. Scutes are 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 have a more uniform coloration.

Red-Eared Slider hatchlings can be up to 1 inch in diameter but adult Sliders can grow up to 12 inches. These turtles have webbed feet and long nails. 

It is possible to identify their sex 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 Slider

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.

a Red Eared Slider coming out of a pond

Captive-bred 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 you to handle them. They tend to be more interactive than other turtle species. They will often swim towards you expecting treats. Some Sliders may become aggressive with each other when being fed. They tend to hide within their shell when they feel threatened. 

a Red Eared Slider on a log in a pond

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. 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. Its 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 enough for an adult Slider.

The dry area can be created using plexiglass glued to a side of the tank. It can also be created using cork bark, driftwood or making a platform with flat rocks that are above the water level. The tank should have something that lets the 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 the Turtle to move in and out of water.

The top of the tank should be tightly secured with a fitting screen to prevent the Sliders from escaping. You can also add living plants inside the tank. Avoid adding artificial plants as 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 this tank.

Best Climate for Red-Eared Slider

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. You can use an incandescent light bulb 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 maintain this temperature. Connecting the heater to a thermostat will help keep the temperature in the range. Red-Eared Sliders are known to be messy eaters so an aquarium filter may need to be added inside the 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, the 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 and not get overheated. Just make sure that your turtle does not escape! 

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 to 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 the tank.

a Red Eared Slider climbing onto a log in a pond

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 the tank daily and make adjustments if needed.

Maintaining water quality is also 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.

a Red Eared Slider looking at something

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 Sliders, it 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

This particular health issue refers to infections in the shell and is common in aquatic turtles like Red-Eared Sliders. Fungi and bacteria are common organisms that can cause shell rot. The disease first appears as discoloration of the shell but can progress to cause softening and crumbling of the shell. You may notice cracks, brittleness or infections on their shells. These symptoms can happen anywhere on the shell and can happen at any age.

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. Affected Sliders should be taken to a vet immediately. 

Salmonella

All turtles are potential carriers of salmonella bacteria. The bacteria are present on their skin and shells but do not seem to harm the turtles. 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 and abdominal pain in humans. 

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections are a common health issue in reptiles, including Red-Eared Sliders. Cold and humid conditions inside the enclosure are generally known to cause respiratory conditions. 

Symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Unusual basking behavior
  • Sneezing
  • Rasping sounds
  • Runny eyes or mouth
  • Swelling of the eyes

Looking after the enclosure conditions is extremely important to prevent your turtle from getting respiratory infections. Red-Eared Sliders showing the above symptoms should be taken to a vet to get the proper treatment.

Intestinal Parasites

Intestinal Parasites like roundworms can cause serious health issues in Red-Eared Sliders. In mild cases, the disease may not show symptoms but in severe cases it can result in weight loss, runny or loose stools, lack of interest in eating and lethargy. 

Parasitic infections have the potential to destroy the digestive tracts of your turtles and must be treated as soon as signs are noticed.

As a preventive measure, it is recommended to always wash your hands after handling the turtles. Pregnant women, young children and older people should not handle turtles. These people are at an increased risk of getting infected because they have weaker immunity.

a Red Eared Slider walking

Grooming and Care

Since these turtles are aquatic they do not need bathing. They will keep themselves clean just by spending time swimming in the water. 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 by the turtle.

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. 

leafy green reptile food

Check their shells for any signs of Shell Rot once every 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, 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 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 the tank. 

Calcium supplementation should be added to their diet. 

Related Questions:

What are Salmonella-free turtles?

Many Pet stores may try to sell you 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 is 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.

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