Red-Eared Slider 101: Care, Diet, Tank Setup & Size

If you want an active, unusual, and friendly pet reptile, then a red-eared slider may be perfect for you.

Red-eared sliders are one of the most popular pet turtles. They are loved for their hardiness, active behavior, and iconic appearance.

These large turtles are native to the ponds and wetlands of the Midwestern United States. They have since spread around the world through the pet trade.

Hobbyists love them for their high energy, outgoing personalities, and undeniable charm.

Keep reading for everything you need to know about keeping pet sliders.

SIMILAR: Yellow-Bellied Slider: Everything You Need To Know

Species Overview
Common Name Red-eared slider; red-eared terrapin
Scientific Name Trachemys scripta elegans
Family Emydidae
Range Lower Midwestern United States
Size 5 – 11 inches; 4 – 6.5 pounds
Color Black and green with yellow stripes and a red “ear” marking
Lifespan 40+ years
Husbandry Intermediate
Diet Small crustaceans, invertebrates, fish, aquatic plants and fruit
Tank Size 100-gallons
Temperature Basking spot: 85-95°F; Water: 74-78°F
Price $20-$500

Red-Eared Sliders

Red-Eared Slider

Red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) are a subspecies of pond slider native to the Midwestern United States.

Their natural range spans from Texas and Louisiana to southern Missouri and Kentucky.

They are an adaptable, hardy species that have adapted to survive winters in the northern parts of their range. During the coldest months of the year they go into a dormant state, called brumation.

Like their close relative the yellow-bellied slider, these semi-aquatic turtles live in swamps, marshes, wetlands, rivers, ponds and lakes.

It is common to find them basking in groups along the shoreline and on fallen logs.

When startled, they quickly slide from their basking spot into the water. This behavior is what gives them the common name ‘slider!’

The other part of their name, ‘red-eared,’ comes from a patch of red skin just behind their eyes.

Red-eared sliders are popular pets and one of the most widely kept turtle species in the world.

They are friendly, personable, cute and can live for 40 years or more. They also breed easily in captivity, so are common and cheap to buy.

With care, effort, and experience, they make an excellent pet.

However, caring for one is a significant investment in time and money.

The largest red-eared sliders can grow to be nearly 12 inches long and weigh up to 6 pounds.

To accommodate their size and activity levels, a single adult needs at least a 100-gallon tank. They need space for both swimming and a land area for basking.

A pet slider will spend most of their time in the water, occasionally coming on land to bask. Though they aren’t a good species to handle (because they can carry salmonella), sliders are entertaining to watch and can even learn to recognize their owners.

Appearance

Trachemys scripta elegans

With a cute, smiling face and bright colors, the red-eared slider is an adorable turtle that stands out.

Young sliders are green with a black and yellow spiral pattern on the top of their shells. The bottom of their shell is yellow with circular black patches.

Their skin is dark greenish gray with yellow stripes that become wider on their heads and necks.

Behind each eye is a long, teardrop-shaped red mark that gives this turtle its iconic look and name.

As hatchlings grow, the green color on their shells and skin darkens. The older a turtle is, the darker it will be. Very old males can turn almost completely black.

Their shells are flattened and smooth, which cuts down on drag while swimming. They have webbed toes for swimming and long claws for digging nests and climbing onto logs, rocks and muddy banks.

Males have noticeably longer front claws that they use to impress females.

Size

Red-eared sliders are a fairly large species, much larger than other popular pets like Painted Turtles.

Most adults measure between 5 to 11 inches.

The average size for an adult female slider is 9 to 11 inches, while the smaller males only grow between 5 and 8 inches.

An average male weighs 3 to 4 pounds, whereas a female’s weight may be 5 to 6 pounds.

Their growth is influenced by many factors, but some of the most important factors are gender, temperature, diet, and tank setup.

Hatchlings (0 – 1 year) hatch at around 1 inch long and weigh just over 2 ounces. They are fast growers and can double in size at the end of their first year.

Juveniles (1 – 5 years) will be 3 inches long by the age of 2.

Female sliders start to become larger than males at around 5 years of age.

RELATED: How Big Do Red-Eared Sliders Get?

Are They Good Pets?

Keeping a pet red-eared slider is a rewarding experience. It is also a chance to learn about a unique and fascinating species of turtle. However, to keep one successfully, they require a significant commitment of time, money and effort.

Sliders are known for quickly dirtying their water with feces and food scraps.

It is especially important to maintain a regular cleaning schedule with water changes every week to prevent a buildup of harmful nitrogen and ammonia.

Overall, this species is a great pet for a dedicated, responsible owner.

Hobbyists love them for their undeniable charm, outgoing personalities and high energy. These reptiles are almost constantly on the move, unlike many other turtle and tortoise species.

As a bonus, some owners claim that their turtle can learn to recognize them and will seek them out for treats and attention.

Thanks to their popularity, there is a lot of information and advice about caring for one.

Pros Cons
Active, energetic and outgoing personalities. Adult sliders can reach 11 inches long and need a 100-gallon aquatic tank.
Entertaining to watch as they explore their tank. Can be dirty; their tank must be cleaned regularly.
Long-lived and hardy with few health problems. Require a varied diet of fresh vegetables and invertebrates.
Cheap to buy and easy to find healthy specimenses. Illegal to own in Oregon, Maine, Connecticut, Florida, and several other U.S. states.

Where Can I Buy Red-Eared Slider Turtles?

Sliders are very popular pets and it is not hard to find red-eared sliders for sale.

The best places to find sliders for sale are:

Some chain pet stores sell turtles, but it is better to buy from specialty reptile and aquatics stores. These stores usually sell older juveniles or young adult turtles.

A red-eared slider usually costs between $20 and $100.

Reptile expos are a good place to find the best sliders, especially those with unusual color morphs.

Buying from an expo lets you check the slider in person and talk with the breeder directly. They are often more expensive than pet stores, but you will end up with a healthier pet.

Online stores are easy and convenient, but use caution when buying online.

Not all online vendors are reputable breeders, and there is no way to see the turtle you are buying to check if it is healthy. If you want to buy a turtle online, do your research to make sure they are a reputable and knowledgeable breeder.

Choosing A Healthy Slider

Healthy sliders are active, curious and always ready to eat.

When choosing a slider to take home, pick one with bright, clear eyes, a smooth shell, and active movements.

They should have a big appetite and have no trouble finding, biting and swallowing food.

If practical, ask to watch them eat. This may only be possible if you are buying a turtle from a pet store or in-person breeder. Often, sliders at reptile expos may be too stressed to eat.

Avoid any that are sluggish, have cloudy eyes, or have noticeably discolored patches of skin or shell.

Are They Illegal?

Red-eared sliders are illegal to own in:

  • Oregon
  • Maine
  • Connecticut
  • Florida

Releases of pet sliders have led to this turtle becoming a harmful, invasive species in many states.

As a result, several states have banned the sale of these sliders in an attempt to stop their spread.

It is also illegal to sell any turtle specimen under 4 inches long in the US.

This law was put in place because tiny slider turtles can easily spread salmonella to young children. In fact, a salmonella outbreak in 2022 was linked to the sale of baby sliders from an online store.

Only buy a juvenile or adult red-eared slider that is over 4 inches in size.

Care Sheet

Red-Eared Slider Care

Red-eared sliders are an intermediate species, mainly because of their large size and setup needs.

A roomy tank, good cleaning routine, ambient temperature gradient, and a healthy diet are the most important parts of their care.

Each of these care factors must be met consistently for them to thrive and be healthy.

This turtle does best when kept by someone with previous reptile keeping experience, especially other turtles or tortoises.

Experience with fish keeping is also helpful because of the aquatic part of their care, including water cycles.

Keepers should have a good knowledge of ammonia and nitrogen levels in aquariums.

Top Care Tips:

  • Use a strong aquarium canister filter with a 200 gallons-per-hour filtration rate. The filtration rate should be twice the volume of your tank.
  • Rotate their diet each week to prevent boredom and provide good nutrition.
  • Set up a new tank 2 weeks before bringing home a slider. This gives you time to troubleshoot and fine-tune temperatures, lighting, and water chemistry like pH and nitrites.

Red-Eared Slider Tank

Fully grown adults should be kept in a 100-gallon glass aquarium.

You can also keep them in a plastic pond liner, or outdoor pond (in warmer climates).

Part of the appeal of this species is that they can be housed indoors, outdoors, or a combination of both.

Many sliders enjoy being kept outside during the summer, as long as they are protected from foxes, hawks, and other predators. Keeping your slider outside allows them to have more room.

Outdoor turtles should have access to a pond or pool measuring 3’ wide, 4’ long and 3’ deep. The pond should include a ramp to allow for easy access to get in and out of the water.

Setup

  • Tank: 100-gallon glass aquarium.
  • Substrate: Bare bottom.
  • Décor: Hollow half-logs, cinderblocks, or clay flowerpots.
  • Plants: Hornwort, elodea, water lettuce, and duckweed.
  • Lighting: 75-watt UVB bulb.
  • Temperature: Basking spot of 95°F; ambient temperature of 75-80°F.
  • Filtration: Canister filter with a 200 gallons-per-hour filtration rate.

In their tank red-eared sliders should have both land and water.

The land needs to be easily accessible and large enough for your turtle to stretch out while basking. Wooden logs, turtle docks, or large rocks all work well.

The water part needs to be at least twice as deep as your turtle is long.

For an average female measuring 10 inches long, the tank will need to have at least 20 inches of water.

In the tank provide plenty of hiding spots using hollow half-logs, cinderblocks, or clay flowerpots.

Live plants are a great addition because they help clean the water, regulate humidity, and provide a healthy snack. Good plants for red-eared slider tanks include: hornwort, elodea, water lettuce and duckweed.

Basking Spot

Use a UVB and heat basking bulb, positioned over the basking platform, to heat it to between 85 and 95°F.

The basking bulb will create a warm area where they can get direct heat.

Never place the bulb within reach of your slider.

Make sure the basking platform is dry and twice the size of your turtle.

The tank should be heated by a 10% or higher UVB bulb set on a 12-hour timer.

Temperature

The tank should have a warm end and a cool end. The warm end includes the basking spot and should have an air temperature of low to mid 80°Fs. The other side of the enclosure can be 72 to 76°F.

Red-eared slider water temp should be between 74-78°F.

Humidity

Sliders don’t need a specific humidity because they spend most of their time in the water.

As long as they have access to water, humidity is not an issue for indoor or outdoor sliders.

Substrate

Most owners do not use substrate.

A bare-bottomed aquarium is much easier to clean and is safer.

Fine sand is an option for planted tanks. Avoid using gravel or river stones, which are harder to keep clean and create a swallowing hazard.

Water Changes

A 30-40% water change every 2 weeks seems to work best.

You can use tap water, but make sure to dechlorinate the water and leave it standing in a bucket for 24 hours to warm to room temperature.

Do not add cold tap water straight to the tank. Tap water in the US is normally between 44-50°F, which is much colder than ideal red-eared slider water temperatures.

The difference in temperatures can cause a rapid change in water temperature, which can shock your turtle.

During the water change you should also vacuum the bottom of the tank to remove waste and food scraps.

Red-Eared Slider Diet

These turtles are not picky about what foods they eat.

They are omnivores who will opportunistically eat aquatic plants, small animals and fruit.

In captivity, a red-eared slider diet should closely mimic that of their wild relatives.

Nutrition is important to prevent health problems. A healthy diet will also help them with scute shedding and promote a healthy shell, skeleton and immune system.

The key to feeding them is the daily rotation of food and pellets.

This rotation will improve food, mineral and vitamin variety.

Hatchling Diet

Hatchlings need to eat more frequently than adults and eat more high-protein foods like fish and invertebrates.

Juvenile sliders should be fed mostly pellets (ZooMed), steamed fish and small invertebrates like crickets and mealworms.

Food should be cut up and served cold.

They can also eat some leafy greens, but make sure they are getting a 3:1 ratio of insects to plants.

Juveniles should be fed one meal every day in the morning.

Give them as much food as they can eat in 10 minutes. After the 10-minute mark, remove any uneaten food from the tank.

Most will eat around 10 pellets each day, but this depends on the size of your turtle and the pellets.

A good rule of thumb is to start by feeding an amount of pellets equal to the size of their head. You can then adjust the amount of food to their appetite. Don’t be alarmed if your turtle eats more or less.

Adult Diet

Their diet changes as they go from juveniles to adults.

Adult sliders need a more balanced diet with 25% protein and 75% plants. Too much protein in adults can cause shell pyramiding.

You can supplement their fresh food with turtle pellets twice a week.

Adults should be fed an amount of food about the same size as their head every other day.

For a larger individual, a meal might be 2 tablespoons of squash and 3 medium-sized crickets.

You can float large pieces of cuttlebone in the tank as a healthy source of calcium.

Red-Eared Slider Food List
Best Foods Foods to Avoid
  • Squash
  • Carrot tops
  • Collards
  • Kale
  • Bok choy
  • Dandelions
  • Duckweed
  • Elodea
  • Water lettuce
  • Hornwort
  • Crickets
  • Dubia cockroaches
  • Earthworms
  • Shrimp
  • Daphnia
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Citrus
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Spinach
  • Chard
  • Cabbage
  • Avocado
  • Wild insects
  • Wild minnows
  • Raw chicken

How Long Can They Go Without Food?

Baby red-eared sliders are growing quickly and need a lot of food to survive.

They are sensitive to hunger and cannot survive for more than a few days without eating.

Adults have slower metabolisms and can survive without food longer than juveniles.

A healthy adult during brumation will go 3 months without food. However, pet turtles should never go this long without eating. Fasting is stressful and can cause secondary health problems like vitamin deficiencies.

Pet sliders living in a controlled environment do not need to brumate like those in the wild.

Health Problems

Red-eared sliders are a hardy species that rarely suffer from health issues when they have good care.

The average lifespan of a red-eared slider is 30 years.

However, some individuals can live for 40 years or more with the right husbandry.

Diet, temperature, tank size, and cleanliness all influence how long one will live.

Turtles can have some health problems if their tank isn’t setup correctly or they are fed an incorrect diet, including:

  • Metabolic bone disease
  • Hypovitaminosis A
  • Respiratory infections

Metabolic bone disease is caused by a calcium and/or vitamin D deficiency.

Normally this disease arises either from an improper diet or from not using UV lighting. Symptoms include a deformed, softened, or irregular shell, curved limbs and difficulty walking.

Turtles that are consistently fed too much protein or a low-quality commercial pellet diet can develop a vitamin A deficiency.

Hypovitaminosis A symptoms include lethargy, ear abscesses, swollen eyelids and discharge from the eyes.

Sliders commonly develop respiratory infections when their environment is too cold or not cleaned regularly. Infected turtles often wheeze, have excess mucus around their eyes, nose, and mouth, and breathe with their mouths open.

Behavior

Slider Turtle

It is common to see red-eared sliders piled on top of one another in the wild.

Though this behavior seems social, they are actually a solitary species that prefer to live on their own.

Males establish territories and will defend the best basking spots against other males.

Females are more tolerant, but will still compete for food and basking spots.

It is not recommended to keep more than one red-eared slider turtle in the same tank. While they can live together, there is always the chance that the dominant one will bite or otherwise bully its tankmate.

Successfully keeping two fully-grown sliders requires a tank of at least 150 gallons with plenty of hiding spaces.

In their tank, sliders will swim, dive, and explore their surroundings for most of the day.

The amount of time spent basking depends on the temperature in their tank. The cooler the air temperature is, the more time you will see your slider in its basking spot.

Summary

Red-eared sliders have beautiful yellow patterns, distinctive red markings and friendly-looking faces.

These traits have made them one of the most popular pet turtles.

They are a great pet for experienced owners with plenty of time, energy and dedication.

If fed a varied diet and given a spacious tank, they thrive as pets and are fascinating to watch.

Sliders can grow up to 11 inches and live for 40 years, making them a long-term commitment.

Are you ready to take on a red-eared slider? Let us know in the comment section below.

About Nigel Robert

Nigel Robert Nigel is the managing editor at More Reptiles. He is a lifelong reptile lover, biologist and wildlife consultant who brings a decade of experience working in reptile conservation and consultancy. He joined our team in 2020 and when he’s not reviewing reptile care sheets, he’s out looking for reptiles in the wild!

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