The Red-Eared Slider, Trachemys scripta elegans, is the world's most popular pet turtle. Unfortunately, these turtles grow quite large in a surprisingly short amount of time. Depending on the source, new owners who purchase these turtles are often uninformed of the needs of their pet, and because of this many hatchling sliders never make it to healthy adulthood. For hobbyists who are aware of the size, requirements, and longevity of these turtles, red-eared sliders make hardy and responsive pets.
North America is home to painted turtles and map turtles as well as sliders. These other aquatic species are often smaller when full grown, and with a few exceptions can be kept identically to sliders.
West Virginia west to Illinois and SW to New Mexico, the Gulf of Mexico and extreme NE Mexico
Mississippi River Valley
15-25 years. Captive longevity approaches 50 years
Red-eared sliders are extremely active turtles with large appetites that spend their time alternating between swimming and basking. They quickly learn to associate their owners with food, and often become extremely responsive whenever a human enters their line of sight. Sliders acclimate well to captivity, can be fed by hand, and with the proper conditions may even reproduce.
Setting up the Aquarium
Sliders grow rapidly, with females reaching 8-12 inches in length. Males generally top out at 6 inches. A single large adult will require at least a 75 gallon tank, while a smaller male can be kept in a 40 gallon. Larger tanks will give the turtle more freedom of movement, and water quality will not be as difficult to address- this should definitely be taken into consideration when purchasing a tank and filter.
Large plastic tubs, wading pools, and preformed koi ponds are often easier to manage than aquariums. Shelves in preformed ponds can be used as basking areas if the water level low enough. It is recommended that sliders be kept in suitable enclosures indoors, as they have a habit of escaping and wandering from garden ponds even if surrounded by fencing or rock walls. Turtles kept outdoors can also be preyed upon by wild animals like raccoons.
Although mostly aquatic, sliders need a dry surface on which to rest and bask. Turtle docks, ramps, and floating platforms work well for smaller specimens, but large females will need a sturdier basking spot.
Sliders are messy feeders and produce a lot of waste. Powerful filters are necessary unless the enclosure can be emptied and cleaned several times per week. Even with filtration, partial water changes must be performed on a regular basis. Large submersible filters and canister filters work best, but canister filters must be used in tanks with a high water level and securely affixed screen top, as the filter will be strained and may malfunction if used in shallow water. Ponds and large tubs may be used with pressurized pond filters and pumps.
Removing your turtles to an easily-cleaned container for feeding will help keep the water clean. Avoiding gravel and other substrates that trap waste and food will ease cleaning as well and help maintain water quality. If gravel is used, it should be large enough that it cannot be swallowed.
Light and Heat
Sliders require a source of UVB radiation. Fluorescent lighting, such as high-output reptile fluorescent tubes or mercury vapor bulbs (which also produce heat) can be used for indoor enclosures.
Water temperatures of 75-82°F should be maintained. Large sliders can break glass heaters, so be sure to choose a heavy duty model with plastic casing. An incandescent bulb should be used to heat the basking area to 90:°F.
Sliders will eat or harass fishes, newts, and aquatic frogs. Aggression often develops between turtles, so be prepared to house them separately. It is difficult to keep pairs together continuously, as males will try to mate throughout the long breeding season, resulting in stress and injuries such as bite wounds.
Wild sliders begin life as carnivores, but begin consuming aquatic plants as they mature. By adulthood, vegetation forms the bulk of their diet. In captivity, sliders usually favor animal-based foods, but plants such as dandelion, bok choy, kale, mustard greens, romaine, and endive should be offered regularly along with live aquatic plants including Elodea, Anacharis, water sprite, duckweed, and water hyacinth. A fasting period can help to encourage your turtle to try new vegetation.
Commercial turtle food are nutritionally balanced and can comprise 50-75% of the diet. However, natural foods such as small fish, earthworms, shrimp, canned snails, freeze dried krill, crickets, waxworms, and other insects should be offered regularly.
Daily Care and Maintenance
Check for signs of common ailments – swollen eyes, lumps, red skin, fungus, soft shells, pitted areas on shells, and bite marks or other injuries. Check the water temperature and filter, and feed, remove waste, partially change water, and/or service the filter as needed.
Salmonella bacteria, commonly present in reptile and amphibian digestive tracts, can cause severe illnesses in people. Handling an animal will not cause an infection, as the bacteria must be ingested. Salmonella infections are easy to avoid via the use of proper hygiene. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water before and after handling any animal. Please speak with your family doctor or veterinarian for more tips on preventing Salmonella, or please read our care guide Cleaning and Disinfecting Recommendations for additional instructions.
When it comes to your new pet, knowledge is the best way to choose an appropriate addition to your family. Learn as much as you can about your new friend before you bring him home to ensure your pet enjoys a long, healthy life.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our reptile room at 717-299-5691 (option 7) or firstname.lastname@example.org.