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Red-Eared Slider

Natural History

Most scientists recognize six species of slider turtles, but red-eared sliders are the most popular. They are distinguished by a thin, red stripe behind each eye and a large black spot on each section of their underbelly. They are found in most of Alabama, west to Texas and New Mexico, and north up into the Mississippi River basin.
Male red-eared sliders generally do not grow quite as large as females, but both sexes grow to a maximum of approximately 11 inches. They are mostly herbivorous, feeding on a wide variety of plant life.


Red-eared sliders are generally most active during the daytime, so they should be fed during this time. Many turtle owners stick to an every-other-day feeding schedule. Captive-bred turtles generally exist happily on commercial aquatic turtle foods. Some owners prefer to feed live foods or to supplement a packaged-food diet with some additional choices. Probably the most common live food offered is crickets. Crickets are fairly inexpensive, easy to keep without too much trouble, and an excellent meal choice for turtles. Other owners feed their turtles earthworms, mealworms, and raw fish.
In the wild, turtles are mainly herbivorous. In captivity, red-eared sliders will appreciate a few pieces of vegetable matter, in addition to their regular diet. These can include carrots, lettuce, cabbage, beets, cucumbers, and many other vegetable varieties.
How often you feed your turtle, what you feed him, and how much he gets at each feeding should depend, at least in part, on how old he is. In the wild, young turtle specimens will eat a variety of plants, insects, snails, and crayfish several times a day, while older turtles rarely eat anything other than soft, aquatic vegetation and tend to eat much less often. Observe your turtle carefully to make sure you feed him as much food as he requires to stay healthy but not enough to make him sick or overweight.


Standard glass aquariums are the easiest, most sensible form of housing to use for your red-eared slider. They are fairly easy to keep clean, and they provide ample room for what is sure to be your turtle's favorite tank feature: water. Most red-eared sliders will do well in a 20-, 30-, or 55-gallon aquarium, depending on how many turtles you plan to keep in the tank and what size they are.
Although most red-eared sliders will not be able to escape from their tank, it's a good idea to keep a top on it, just in case. Also, if the tank is kept in a drafty area, a top will help to block any breezes. Turtles should be kept warm at all times, with the average tank temperature staying at about 75°F. Since red-eared sliders spend most of their time in the water, this is possibly the area that should receive the most attention, but all areas of the tank should be warmed. Another part of this is to make sure that the top of the tank allows direct rays of light to reach the turtle.
Lighting is a very important aspect of a turtle tank. Captive turtles are dependent on full-spectrum lighting, which is a type of artificial lighting that replicates the energy given off by the sun. When turtles spend time basking, vitamins are formed in their body, which promote proper bone growth. To make sure you're providing your turtle with enough of the necessary lighting, it is a good idea to purchase a fluorescent light that is specially designed to be used with reptiles.
Your red-eared slider's home should be cleaned regularly. It is a good idea to establish a schedule to avoid missed cleaning sessions. Keeping a dirty tank is asking for trouble, for both you and your turtle.

Health Care

Red-eared sliders are susceptible to certain diseases and conditions throughout their lifetimes. Some are more common than others, and every owner should be familiar with these ailments.


An intestinal infection, salmonellosis affects most animals, including turtles. They generally contract it from infected food sources or from contact with other infected turtles. It is passed on to humans via bacteria in unclean surroundings, such as dirty water and feces, or by direct contact with an infected turtle.
Salmonellosis can usually be avoided by taking proper precautions. Your red-eared slider's water must be changed frequently, whether is appears to be dirty or not. It is also very important to keep the tank clean, sticking to a regular cleaning schedule, if at all possible. In addition, be vigilant about scrubbing your hands and arms after touching your turtle.

Soft Shell

This condition is encountered by many captive turtles and can be a very serious problem. It is caused by a calcium deficiency along with a lack of vitamin D3 and sunlight. Its obvious symptom is a softness and flexibility of the edges of the turtle's shell. It is more difficult to diagnose in young turtles because their shells tend to be soft already, but there may also be some discoloration of the shell, turning it a bleached white color.
To avoid soft shell or to cure it in its early stages, make sure your turtle is getting the amount of full-spectrum lighting he needs. In addition, alter his diet to include more calcium. You can also purchase calcium powder to mix in with your red-eared slider's food once a week.


There are certain precautions that should be taken when handling a red-eared slider. As a general rule, you should try to only handle your turtle when absolutely necessary, such as when taking him to the vet or moving him to a new enclosure. While some red-eared slider don't seem to mind being picked up and handled, it is generally safer for your pet to be kept in his cage. You should always wash your hands before and after any kind of physical contact with your turtle. Reptiles, including red-eared sliders, have been associated with the transmission of certain diseases, so make it a habit to thoroughly clean your hands.

Getting Started

Having all of the supplies you need to keep your red-eared slider comfortable and healthy is one of the most important aspects of being a turtle owner. The following is a list of some suggested items:

Cage (must be water-tight and have space for both a water area and a land area)
Heat Source (basking light and possibly a water heater)
Lighting (UVB light)
Food (commercial turtle food; crickets; vegetable matter)
Calcium supplement

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