Red-Eared Slider Turtles

Filed Under: Reptiles, General Care, Turtles

In the 60’s and early 70’s turtles were the most popular reptile species kept by hobbyist. The red-eared slider, a native of the southern United States, was the most popular of all the turtles. Then infections with salmonella effectively shut down the pet trade. Even today the open sale of turtles 4 inches and under remains illegal in the US and Canada. It is believed that turtles 4 inches and under in size are the most likely to spread salmonella. The state of Florida further restricts the breeding of these turtles, allows only single animals as pets, and prohibits pairs unless they are of unusual color variations. Wildlife officials assume the more expensive color variations will be less likely to be released in the environment where they compete with the native flora. Florida officials also include special regulations for sliders housed outside to ensure they do not get loose.

Salmonella is a bacterium commonly seen in food poisoning and is commonly associated with the consumption of under cooked poultry or reptile pets, most commonly associated with turtles. Turtle farms today operate with healthier environments, even dipping turtle eggs in diluted bleach thereby decreasing the incidence of salmonella contamination.

Red-eared sliders naturally reside in areas having calm, fresh warm water resources which include ponds, lakes, marshes, creeks and streams. These turtles are more active during the day. They tend to congregate in basking areas, usually on exposed rocks or logs caught along the shoreline. These turtles are social and will often pile up on one another to get the best basking spot. They are almost entirely aquatic and tend to be shy when approached by people, frantically sliding off their basking spot when approached - hence the name.

Female turtles grow to be 10 to 12 inches in length with the male being smaller, reaching a length of 8 to 10 inches. Males are characteristically darker in color than the females and will have long nails on their front feet that they use in courting the females. Males also have a distinct concave area in the posterior center of the plastron or lower shell area and a much longer tail than that of the female because his penis is located in it. The female has a short, narrow tail with the vent at or before a line through the edge of the upper shell. In the male, the vent is often located well beyond the edge of the shell. Sex is much easier to determine in the adult turtles.

Red-eared sliders are omnivores and will consume a variety of animal and plant materials in the wild. Younger turtles tend to be more carnivorous than are adults which consume more vegetable material. A natural diet includes fish, crawfish, tadpoles, snails, insects, and numerous aquatic plant species. A captive diet for red-eared sliders should match the natural diet as closely as possible with some possible substitutes including feeder fish, pinky mice, earthworms, mealworms, cooked egg with the crumbled shell, and leafy greens. Sources of greens rich in calcium include: alfalfa hay, beet greens, broccoli leaves, and the outer green leaves of cabbage. Mustard, turnip, and collard greens have a medium level of calcium. Dried figs are about the only fruit with a high level of calcium. Calcium may be supplemented by mixing some calcium powder with a small wad of jelly and spreading the jelly on a cricket or mealworm before feeding. Insects dusted with only calcium powder prove to be useless because when the powder hits the water in an enclosure, it washes right off. Commercial aquatic turtle foods are available on the market but sliders will often desire a more familiar diet, especially when they are not captive bred.

Red-eared sliders must be allowed basking time in unfiltered sunlight or appropriate full-spectrum lighting must be provided. A photoperiod of 12 to 14 hours of light and 10 to 12 hours of night works well and may be reduced to 8 hours of daylight in the winter. Ultraviolet light is necessary for the conversion of Vitamin D to its active form. Active vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption and metabolism.

Turtles should be kept at an average temperature of around 75°F. An aquarium submersible heater may be used to keep the water warm and may be set to the perfect temperature, or a heating pad may be placed under a portion of the tank. Red-eared sliders may be housed in 20 to 55-gallon aquariums. The size used will depend on the size of your turtle and the number of turtles you plan on keeping. A baby slider will be l 1⁄2 inches at birth and may reach adult size in just three to four years. Plan on adopting for life. A slider may live to be well over 50 years of age.

Water should be included in a portion of the tank. Filtration may be provided with under gravel filters being the most efficient. Since turtles like it hot and wet, bacteria and fungi love this environment and infections may prove to be a problem. Regardless of the filtration method, the water has to be dumped, the tank scrubbed, and fresh water added on a routine basis. Sliders can be messy and they need the water in their environment not just to look clean, but to be clean in order to prevent problems.


Pet Product News International. “Red-Eared Slider Sales Banned in Florida” September News. 2007. P. 19.

Mader, Douglas. Reptile medicine and Surgery. W.B. Saunders Col 1996. Pp. 385-392.

Patterson, Jordan. “The Guide to Owning a Red-eared Slider.” T.F.H. Publications, Inc. 2003. Pp. 5 - 61.

Kahn, Cynthia Editor. The Merck Veterinary Manual. Ninth Edition. 2005. Merck and Co. Pp. 1591.

“Red-eared Sliders as Pets”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Pp. 1 - 6.

Spiess, Petra “Hardy Herps”. Pet Product News International. August 2007. Pp. 76-80.

Topics: turtles

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