Red-Eared Slider: Species Profile

Characteristics, Housing, Diet, and Other Information

Red-eared slider swimming
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Red-eared sliders can live up to 20 years in captivity, which means they're a serious commitment. If you get one of these quarter-sized babies, it may look easy at first, but as they grow, they will need a giant tank and a lot of constant care. It's more than just a bowl with a little bit of water and a rock. Aquatic turtles, including red eared sliders, will need special lighting, animal- and plant-based foods, and continuous cleaning and maintenance.

Caring for red eared sliders illustration
The Spruce / Katie Kerpel

Take a look at what you need before acquiring a turtle and your new pet slider will be sure to thank you.

  • 01 of 08

    About Red Eared Sliders

    Pet turtle, a red-eared slider, white background

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    Red eared sliders require more work than many people think. They also get much larger and need more room than is often implied by pet stores and other vendors. A large tank, special reptile lighting, and an appropriate diet are just a few things you'll want to make sure you provide to your red eared slider.

  • 02 of 08

    Choosing a Healthy Red Eared Slider

    Red eared slider on white background

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    Before you bring home a red eared slider there are a few things to check out to increase the odds that you are bringing home a healthy turtle. Learn where to get a red eared slider (including possibly rescuing one) and how to tell whether or not your turtle of choice is healthy.

    Look at their eyes, shell, how they swim, and whether or not they seem very active. There are some key indicators to help you determine whether or not a red eared slider is healthy.

  • 03 of 08

    Housing Your Red Eared Slider

    Red eared slider in a pond

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    Small aquariums are good for young turtles but as red eared sliders mature they will require a tank that can hold well over 100 gallons of water. Creative turtle owners use all sorts of novel housing ideas to meet the roomy requirements of their red eared sliders using things like pre-formed plastic pond liners to make homes more like indoor ponds. And, if you have an outdoor pond, and a securely fenced yard to keep your turtle in and predators out, you might consider putting your turtle outdoors for at least part of the year.

    Water quality must be maintained no matter where you house your turtle and both supplemental heat and UVB lighting should be provided. Setting all of this up is the hardest part but once your tank or pond is established the maintenance isn't all that bad.

  • 04 of 08

    Feeding Your Red Eared Slider

    Red eared slider in a tank

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    Though red eared slider's tastes tend to change as they mature, (shifting to a more herbivorous diet as they get older) turtles of all ages should be offered a wide variety of both animal and plant based items. Commercial turtle pellets can make up a good base for the diet but they should be supplemented with a variety of other items.

    There are a few basic things you can do to ensure easy ​cleanup and a healthy turtle. Feeding your turtle outside of their home is a bit more work for you at feeding time but it will make it easier to keep the tank clean and the overall water quality good in the long run (which is best for your turtle to avoid ear infections, shell problems, etc.). Also, avoid overfeeding your turtle to prevent obesity and excessive waste matter.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Red Eared Slider Behavior

    Red eared slider babies

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    Whether it is making sure red eared sliders are free to perform behaviors that are necessary for their well-being (such as basking and swimming) or just trying to figure out what your turtle is doing, understanding normal red eared slider behavior can help you provide optimal care for your turtle. Claw fluttering and not wanting to bask outside of the water are just two behaviors that may mean your turtle is trying to tell you something.

  • 06 of 08

    Red Eared Slider Health

    Red eared slider close-up

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    Improper environmental conditions and diet are among the most common culprits when it comes to health problems in red eared sliders. Diseases such as metabolic bone disease (MBD) and vitamin A deficiency are seen in many kinds of reptiles including red eared sliders.

  • 07 of 08

    Sexing Red Eared Sliders and Reproduction

    Red eared slider with legs pulled into the shell

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    Red eared sliders are not easy to sex until they reach sexual maturity. Adult male turtles will have a long tail and long front claws while adult female turtles will have short front claws and short tails.

    Some people don't find out they have a female until she starts laying eggs (females will lay infertile eggs without a male present). Casual breeding of ​red eared sliders isn't recommended but it is important to provide a nesting area for egg-laying females. Although they will drop them in the water, this is not a red eared slider's preferred way to lay eggs. Some females will retain their eggs rather than dropping them in water if they do not have a nest and will become egg bound (a serious problem).

  • 08 of 08

    Red Eared Sliders and Salmonella

    Red eared slider head close up

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    Every so often, you will hear from the media about the risks of salmonella from pet turtles (and sometimes the warnings sound scary). However, the risks of salmonella from pet turtles is nothing new and can be managed quite easily. Many kinds of pets (including all reptiles, amphibians, hedgehogs, and more) carry salmonella and most people should have little reason to worry about contracting the bacteria. A simple hand washing is all it takes to drastically reduce your risk of getting infected.