Yellow-Bellied Sliders

These Aquatic Turtles are Popular Pets

Yellow bellied slider close-up
Close-up of a yellow bellied slider face. Getty Images/Diane Macdonald

Yellow-bellied sliders (Trachemys scripta scripta) are aquatic turtles. This means they spend most of their time in the water but unlike amphibians, they need to be able to get out of the water to dry off and breathe. Yellow-bellied sliders are cousins to the red-eared slider and have almost identical care requirements.

These popular pets are distinguished by their shells, brown or black with yellow stripes. They have yellow lower shells with black spots (hence the name).  

About the Yellow Bellied Slider

Yellow bellied slider close-up. Diane Macdonald/Getty Images

Names: Yellow-bellied sliders (Trachemys scripta scripta)

Size: Adult males can be between 5 and 9 inches long. Females are usually larger, between 8 and 13 inches long. 

Lifespan: In the wild, up to 30 years, in captivity up to 40 years

Yellow-bellied sliders are among the most popular pet turtles because they're relatively easy to care for, especially for owners with previous aquatic turtle experience. They're also very cute, with interesting markings.

Behavior and Temperament of Yellow Bellied Sliders

The slider is a diurnal turtle, meaning it is most active during the day. They tend to eat first thing in the morning, and in the wild will spend most of the rest of the day basking in the sun. Captive yellow-bellied sliders also are most active during the day and need adequate UVA and UVB rays either via exposure to unfiltered sunlight or a special lamp.

Like most turtles, yellow-bellied sliders prefer not to be handled, this can cause undue stress for them. But these curious, amiable reptiles are entertaining pets if cared for properly. They'll never be a cuddly pet like a dog or cat would be, but yellow-bellied sliders tend to have unique personalities that endear them to their owners.

Housing Yellow Bellied Sliders

Aquariums are good for young sliders but as these turtles mature their size makes housing them a bit more challenging. The ideal tank size for an adult slider would be about 75 gallons.

Enterprising owners use all sorts of novel housing ideas to meet the roomy requirements of sliders by using things like pre-formed plastic pond liners to make homes more like indoor ponds.

If you have an outdoor pond, and a securely fenced yard to keep your turtle in and predators out, you might consider putting it outdoors for at least part of the year.

Make sure you provide a basking dock, appropriate lighting for reptiles (both UVB and heat lights) and clean water for your turtle housed indoors. 

Aquatic turtles should be exposed to UVB lighting year-round for about 12 hours per day. Use a special reptile UVB light bulb, and be sure to replace it every six months. If your yellow-bellied slider lives outdoors, it won't need this supplemental UVB lighting; the amount it receives from the sun should be sufficient.

Food and Water

Though yellow-bellied slider tastes tend to change as they mature, shifting to an omnivorous 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, supplemented with a variety of other items. Offer only what your turtle can consume in about 15 minutes and remove uneaten food.

Dark, leafy greens like romaine, dandelion greens, and fresh parsley should be a regular part of your yellow-bellied slider's diet. Chopped apple pieces and freeze-dried shrimp can be offered occasionally.

Most aquatic turtles eat the occasional insect or fish, but avoid giving them fatty fish, and never give them high-protein meats. An aquatic turtle's diet should be mainly plant-based.

Feeding your turtle outside of its home is a bit more work at feeding time, but it will make keeping the tank clean a lot easier in the long run.

Common Health Problems

Understanding normal yellow slider behavior can help you provide optimal care for your turtle.

Sliders should be able to dive into their water. A turtle that is always floating is a sign of a problem such as pneumonia. Shells that are soft, not smooth, or are covered in algae might be infected with shell rot, which is a painful condition caused by a fungus.

Turtles with eyes that are closed or puffy may indicate a respiratory infection or a similar problem. Wheezing and drooling also are signs of respiratory ailments. 

Metabolic bone disease and vitamin deficiencies are also common issues that affect aquatic turtles in captivity due to inappropriate diets and lighting. Make sure your UVB and heat lights are not burned out to help keep your turtle healthy. Metabolic bone disease is particularly painful for turtles and can be life-threatening if not treated properly. 

Turtles will get out of the water to bask under their heat light but eat in the water so if these normal behaviors aren't occurring, your turtle may be ill.

Consult with a veterinarian who has experience with reptiles. All of the above ailments are treatable if caught early. Don't try to give your turtle home remedies without first consulting your vet. 

yellow-bellied sliders as pets
Illustration: The Spruce / Melissa Ling

Choosing Your Yellow Bellied Slider

Before you bring home your yellow-bellied slider, there are a few things to watch for to ensure it's healthy. Check the turtle's eyes for excessive puffiness, discharge, or eyelids that are sealed shut. This could indicate an infection.

If its shell has any soft or rough spots, this is another bad sign: it could indicate shell rot. Test its responsiveness by making sure it pulls its head and legs into its shell, or, tries to swim away when you attempt to pick it up. Most turtles and tortoises don't like being handled.

The best way to get a new yellow-bellied slider as a pet is from a reputable breeder who can speak to its health and history. A captive-bred, not wild-caught slider, is the best option.