Red Eared Sliders

Red Eared Sliders

  • Common Group: Aquatic turtles
  • Common Name: Red Eared Sliders
  • Scientific Name: Trachemys scripta elegans
  • Distribution: naturally occurs in Southeast North America, but can be found across the entire continent, and are established as invasive species in Japan, South Korea, Guam, Thailand, Germany, France, and others
  • Size: 5" - 8"

Natural History

Red Eared Sliders are one of the hardiest, most versatile aquatic turtles commonly kept as pets today. These are pretty green turtles with pale stripes on their shells and faces, and bright red stripes starting behind their eyes and covering the length of their head, thus giving them the name "Red-Eared". Various populations in their natural range have different patterns and somewhat different coloration.

Red Eared Sliders are prolific breeders, and are readily available at almost any neighborhood swap meet for a very inexpensive price. Sadly, because the babies are so easy to come by, inadequate research into their care is the norm, and most babies do not survive their first year. However, if cared for properly and provided adequate space, these turtles can be extremely entertaining to watch and develop distinct personalities. Some turtles can become very tame and will eat out of their keeper's hand, although others remain shy.

Recommended Reading

Beginner: Red Eared Sliders Advanced: Keeping and Breeding Freshwater Turtles

Size and Longevity

Red Eared Sliders stay relatively small in the turtle world, with average adult sizes ranging between 5" and 8". The largest slider on record was 11"!

If kept properly, with excellent diet and optimum lighting and caging, red eared sliders can often live to be 15 or 20 years old, with animals living over 25 not uncommon.


While Red Eared Sliders are turtles and not fish, you will be dealing with an aquatic tank very much like you would for fish! A beautiful and properly set up aquarium can be considered a beautiful piece of art to add to any room. However, not all turtle enclosures need to be elaborate aquariums. There are a few essentials for properly setting up aquatic turtles, and that includes a large enough enclosure, excellent filtration, and a basking site.

With these turtles, maintaining water clarity and keeping smell down becomes easier the more water you house the turtle in. With this in mind, aquariums are definitely one method of housing them, but for an adult turtle, an aquarium holding at least 40 gallons or more of water is needed. Larger aquariums can house multiple animals, or really provide your turtle with plenty of space to engage in natural behaviors. If an aquarium isn't an option, there are also sturdy Waterland Tubs that are specially designed for aquatic turtles. Waterland Tubs can be placed outdoors or have lights clamped to them for indoor turtle housing. Waterland tubs come in several sizes, and there is sure to be a size to fit your need!

Heating and Lighting

Turtles of any size housed indoors are going to require both supplemental heat as well as UVB lighting. When provided with a basking site, Red Eared Sliders do not require any water heating, except in exceptional cases, such as water temperatures dropping into the low 60s or cooler. The basking spot should reach temperatures in the mid 90s, providing your turtle with the option to thoroughly warm up before diving back into the water. There are basking bulbs custom made to withstand the splashing often produced by an active, happy turtle, such as the ZooMed Turtle Tuff halogen light or the ExoTerra Swamp Glo basking light. In addition to a basking light, it is highly recommended to provide UVB for your turtle as well. In smaller aquariums, a simple fluorescent tube can be used to provide UVB throughout the cage.

In larger aquariums, use of a mercury vapor bulb can provide both heat and valuable UVB. The ZooMed Powersun and T-Rex Active UV Heat Bulb are both excellent options for providing lots of heat and UVB in one light. Caution should be used with these lights, however, as due to their size they can overheat smaller enclosures.

Substrate and Furnishing

The bottom of your enclosure does not necessarily need much to cover it, however use of pebbles or gravel will hide feces and food debris along the bottom of the tank, as well as provide area for beneficial bacteria to grow. Having some sort of ground cover along the bottom of the tank is essential for cycling your tank to minimize smell and debris in the water. Cycling is a term often used in aquarium keeping, and means simply that a colony of beneficial bacteria grows in your tank and turns the ammonia from feces and uneaten food into nitrates, which you in turn remove with regular water changes. Cycling your turtle tank is important for keeping the water clear and smelling clean!

Actual decor need not be elaborate; if anything, your turtles will appreciate open water to swim through. Placing decorative rocks or floating plants can provide hiding places and cover for your turtles.

All water should be treated with a dechlorinator, and in addition, Eco-Clean can be added to the water to aid in cycling and ensuring that particle waste decomposes quickly.

Water and Filtration

When it comes to filtering your turtle's water, overkill is always best! Because turtles produce so much waste, a high quality and efficient filter is a necessity. The Fluval line of filters are excellent, ranging from the Fluval U1 for small starter tanks all the way up to the top of the line Fluval FX5.

A good rule of thumb with aquatic turtles is to use a filter that is rated to handle at least 5 to 10 gallons of water more than what your tank actually holds. If you have multiple turtles in a tank, an even stronger filter may be needed. Each tank and each situation is different, so try a couple and pick the one that works best for you!


There are many commercially made foods available for turtles to eat, so there are numerous options to offer your slider. Wardley's Turtle Sticks are a staple for most turtle keepers, although ZooMed has recently come out with several options of their own, including gourmet turtle and reptisticks. While most turtle diets are designed to be fed exclusively, you can ensure your turtle gets the widest possible variety and nutrition by feeding them several different pelleted diets.

In addition to pelleted diets, Red Eared Sliders often relish several kinds of canned insects, such as caterpillars, snails, grasshoppers, silkworms, dragonfly larvae, or earthworms. There are also several kinds of canned shrimp that can be offered to your turtle, and they truly relish the treat! If you can't feed off all canned prey items within a week of opening the can, simply freeze the excess and place the frozen chunks in the water when it's feeding time. They'll simply melt in the water and the turtles can eat them at leisure!

Because variety is so important, live prey items should also be included as a part of the diet. Crickets, Mealworms, roaches, and even pinky mice can be offered to your turtles.

When fed a varied enough diet that includes a high quality turtle pellet, supplements are needed minimally, if at all. Recommended supplements include calcium containing D3 and a high quality reptile multivitamin. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for dosage and frequency of supplementation.


Red Eared Sliders are aquatic turtles and should be left to their own devices within their tank. That being said, some turtles learn that their human keepers also bring food, and will cheerfully and constantly beg for food. Some turtles become so tame they will let their owners pet their heads, but this is somewhat uncommon. Consider your turtles to be entertaining and interactive pets, but leave them in their cages. Being held out of water or suspended above ground leaves their legs unsupported, and often stresses them out. The resulting scrambling and scratching to free themselves is unpleasant for both the turtle and the handler, so simply leaving them in their tanks is the best option.