5 Facts About Red Eared Slider Turtles

illustration of red eared slider turtles as pets

Illustration: Nusha Ashjaee. © The Spruce, 2018

Red eared slider turtles can be great pets but you have to know what you are getting into before making this big of a commitment. Those cute little turtle hatchlings you see for sale will grow into large, long-lived, and somewhat messy aquatic turtles. Be prepared for how much space and cleaning they will need.

Here are five facts about red-eared turtles prospective owners need to know. 

  • 01 of 05


    Pet turtle, a red-eared slider, white background
    Michael Duva/The Image Bank/Getty Images

    Those delicate-looking, cute turtle hatchlings will grow into adult-sized red eared sliders up to 12 inches long. While it will take them a few years to get to their full adult size, the size of the tank you give them as a hatchling will not influence their adult size (so don't think that you can control how large they will get). In a few years, your turtle will need a tank that holds around 100 gallons of water (count on 10 gallons per inch of turtle) so that they can comfortably swim and dive. This is a much larger size enclosure than many people think a turtle needs which is why they often get re-homed due to the upkeep of cleaning a tank that is too small for them (and gets dirty far too quickly).

  • 02 of 05


    Red eared slider in a tank
    Stacey Udstuen/EyeEm/Getty Images

    A well-cared-for, captive red eared slider turtle can be expected to live over 20 years, with some even reaching 30, 40, or 50 years old. Unfortunately, this is a lot longer than most hatchlings live due to the inappropriate care they receive. Most people don't expect that they are getting such a long-lived pet when they purchase a tiny water turtle so remember, if you decide to get a turtle you are making a commitment to care for that turtle over its entire lifespan. Releasing an unwanted, store bought, red eared slider turtle into the wild is illegal in most places and can be harmful to the turtle as well as the environment.

  • 03 of 05


    Turtle swimming
    Getty Images/Greg Thomson

    Fortunately, pet stores cannot sell turtles under four inches in length anymore so fewer and fewer are selling red eared sliders at all - but that doesn't mean the practice of housing aquatic turtles in small plastic containers on dry land is dead. No matter what a sales associate tells you, your hatchling turtle will not thrive in a small plastic container. Get an aquarium, even for the smallest of hatchlings. Start with a 10-gallon tank if you must (a minimum of 20 gallons is better) but be aware that your turtle will grow and need a larger tank pretty quickly. In addition, you will need to provide full spectrum UV lighting, a basking heat light, and a dry docking area. Setting up appropriate housing for a red eared slider turtle is not cheap so be prepared to spend a couple of hundred dollars on a proper set-up.

    Some red eared slider turtles can live year round in an ​outdoor pond if you live in a warm climate. If you do not live in a year-round warm climate, your turtle must either live entirely indoors or be brought inside when it gets cold out. But even outdoor ponds need to be large and are not without their own problems. Providing filtration and protecting your turtle from predators, cold spells, and pesticides must all be taken into consideration as well.

  • 04 of 05


    Red-eared slider turtle swimming
    Joe McDonald / Getty Images

    It has been known for years that reptiles such as turtles (as well as many other animals like hedgehogs) can carry Salmonella and other bacteria. This shouldn't necessarily stop you from getting a turtle (unless perhaps you have very small children or immunocompromised family members in your household), but you should be aware of the risks and take proper hygiene measures to prevent infections. Incidentally, the sale of turtles less than four inches long is prohibited in the United States due to the risk of Salmonella infections from children placing small turtles in their mouths.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Water Quality

    Red eared slider turtle in water
    Don Farrall/Getty Images

    Like all turtles, red eared sliders can be be pretty messy since they both eat and produce waste matter in their aquatic home. Plan on having a filter that is rated for 2 to 3 times the amount of water you have in your tank so that you can keep your water clean (this is why it is harder to keep smaller enclosures clean). Canister filters and submersible filters are both used for aquatic turtles. If you don't have a filter, you will need to do weekly partial water changes and testing, something that is time consuming and messy.

    In addition to having proper filtration, feeding red eared slider turtles in a container of water outside their tank can also help keep the water clean. If you allow the water to stay dirty your turtle can develop ear infections, abscesses, shell rot, and other problems.

Red eared slider turtles aren't for everyone, but once you get the proper enclosure set up for them you'll have an enjoyable pet that you can watch for years.