Red-eared Slider

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Species group:

Other common names: RES; Red Ear Slider; Common Slider; Pond Slider; Singapore Turtle

Scientific name: Trachemys scripta elegans

The basics:
Despite having been the world’s most commonly-kept turtle for 50+ years, Red-Eared Sliders are not an ideal choice for novice keepers. In fact, unwanted pets have established breeding populations in foreign habitats world-wide, to the detriment of native species. However, assuming that you plan for its upkeep, size, and 40+ year-long lifespan, the hardy Red-Eared Slider makes a wonderfully responsive pet.

The Red-Eared Slider occurs across much of central and southern North America, from West Virginia to eastern New Mexico and south to Florida and central Mexico. Along the Mississippi River drainage, the range extends as far north as Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois. This adaptable species also has the widest introduced range of any reptile, with populations thriving in almost all US states, and over 40 countries as widely-separated as Japan, Australia, Bahrain, Myanmar, and the Netherlands.

Sliders favor quiet, mud-bottomed bodies of water with abundant aquatic vegetation and exposed basking sites, such as swamps, ponds, lakes, sluggish rivers, and marshes. However, they are very adaptable, and have colonized tidal creeks, fast-moving streams, golf course and city park ponds, polluted urban rivers, canals, and numerous other habitats.

Appearance / health:
Red-Eared Sliders bear a trademark red to orange-yellow stripe behind the eye. The rounded carapace may be olive or dark green, or various shades of olive-brown; it is bright green in hatchlings. Older animals, especially males, may darken to near-black with age. The carapace and greenish skin are marked with yellow stripes, and the yellow plastron is blotched with black. Hobbyists have produced numerous color morphs, and natural hybrids occur where the range overlaps that of the Pond, Yellow-Bellied and Cumberland Slider. Females reach 8 inches in length (and a similar width), with a record of 12 inches; males usually top out at 5 inches.

Well-cared-for Red-Eared Sliders are quite hardy, with captive longevities approaching and sometimes exceeding 40 years. Metabolic bone disease is common in animals that are not provided with ample calcium and/or UVB exposure. Females without access to a suitable nesting site may retain their eggs. Sub-optimal temperatures, an inappropriate diet, or poor water quality can lead to fungal/bacterial infections of the shell, skin, and eyes, and other ailments.

Behavior / temperament:
Active and eternally hungry, Red-Ears quickly learn to associate people with food, and will paddle over to beg as soon as someone enters the room. They acclimate well to even quite busy locations, feed readily from the hand, and may even reproduce. Like all turtles, they dislike being handled and will bite when startled; their strong jaws and sharp claws can inflict substantial injuries.

An adult female requires a 55-75 gallon or larger aquarium; a male might make due in a 30 gallon, but more room is preferable. Commercial turtle tubs or wading/koi pools are often better options, especially if multiple turtles are kept. Red-Eared Sliders are best kept in bare-bottomed aquariums, as gravel traps food and waste material, and may be swallowed.

Red-Eared Sliders need a dry surface on which to rest and bask. Commercial turtle docks (for smaller specimens) and “tank toppers” or cork bark flats (wedged between the tank’s sides or affixed with silicone) work well.

Powerful filters are necessary unless the enclosure can be emptied and cleaned several times weekly. Even with filtration, regular partial water changes are essential. Removing your turtles to an easily-cleaned container for feeding will lessen the filter’s workload.

Sliders require a source of UVB radiation. Mercury vapor bulbs broadcast UVB over greater distances than do florescent models, and provide beneficial UVA radiation as well. A water temperature of 75-82 F and basking site of 90 F should be maintained. Large individuals may break typical aquarium heaters, so choose a model designed for use with turtles or protect the heater with PVC pipe.

Red-eared Sliders begin life as carnivores but increasingly consume aquatic plants as they mature. The natural diet includes fish, tadpoles, snails, carrion, insects, frogs, shrimp, and aquatic vegetation.

Pets should be offered a diet comprised largely of whole animals such as minnows, shiners, earthworms, snails, pre-killed pink mice, crayfish and prawn, along with kale, dandelion, collard/mustard greens, and other produce. Super mealworms, roaches, crickets and other insects may be used to add variety to the diet. A high quality commercial turtle chow can comprise up to 50% of the diet. Spinach and various cabbages have been implicated in stone formation, and a steady goldfish diet has been linked to kidney and liver disorders. A cuttlebone should be available to supplement the calcium provided by whole fishes.

Males become sexually mature when approximately 2-4 years old and 4 inches in length; females at age 3-5 and 5 inches in length. Mature males may be distinguished their unusually long front claws, which are vibrated against the female’s face during courtship. Breeding often occurs year-round.

Gravid (egg-bearing) females usually become restless and may refuse food. They should be removed to a large container (i.e. 5x the length and width of the turtle) provisioned with 6-8 inches of slightly moist soil and sand. Gravid females that do not nest should be seen by a veterinarian as egg retention invariably leads to a fatal infection (egg peritonitis). It is important to note that females may develop eggs even if unmated, and that pets may produce 3-5 clutches each year. The 2-30 eggs may be incubated in a mix of 1 part vermiculite to 1 part water (by weight) at 82-85 F for 55-80 days.

Written by Frank Indiviglio


Great pets, beautiful turtles, great starter turtles, hardy animals, Low cost


bigger enclosure, MESSY MESSY animals, long term commitment, children, boring pets, salmonella


tiny colorful hatchlings, calcium levels, artificial heat lamp

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