What Do Red-Eared Sliders Eat? Food, Diet & Schedule

What Do Red-Eared Sliders Eat

Red-eared sliders can be tricky to feed, especially for beginners. It is not uncommon for them to grow bored and stop eating if they are fed the same thing every day.

Pet sliders need a varied diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, leafy greens and insects. In the wild they happily eat leaves, insects, small animals, nuts, berries and grass. They also need a specific ratio of meat to plants, but this ratio changes as they grow from a hatchling to an adult.

Balancing their diet, while preventing boredom and keeping track of growth is hard. Keep reading to learn what red-eared sliders eat, their diet and how to feed them. We also share safe food lists and common feeding mistakes.

What Do Red-Eared Sliders Eat?

Red-Eared Slider Eating a Flower

Red-eared sliders are known as opportunistic omnivores. This means that they will eat just about anything they can find, from meat and insects to plants and fruits. When they aren’t basking, they spend their time searching for food in lakes, ponds and wetlands.

In the wild, red-eared sliders eat:

  • Invertebrates (worms and crayfish)
  • Aquatic plants (water lettuce, eelgrass, frogbit and grass)
  • Fruits that fall into the water
  • Carrion (flesh of dead animals)
  • Amphibians
  • Fish

Some of the animals they eat include crayfish, earthworms, leeches, minnows and grasshoppers.

Juveniles usually eat slow invertebrates that are easy to catch or sick and injured fish and amphibians that can’t swim fast enough. Adults eat mostly a plant-based diet and dig up plants to eat.

Unlike many predatory species of reptiles like pythons, they are not ambush hunters. Instead, these aquatic turtles actively look for plants and animals by diving underwater and patrolling the shoreline.

Their varied diet is partly what has let them become so successful in the wild. Red-eared sliders are considered a harmful invasive species in many parts of the world because they compete with other turtle species for food.

In places where they have been introduced as invasive species, they are easily able to outcompete other types of turtles that are fussier eaters.

For example, red-eared sliders are harming the population of native western pond turtles in California by pushing them out of the best feeding and basking spots.

There is no difference between what male and female red-eared sliders eat, unless the female is carrying eggs. Gravid females need extra protein and calcium to help them stay healthy while their eggs develop.

Interestingly, adult red-eared slider’s diets are different from hatchlings.

Wild species follow their instincts and naturally change what and how much food they eat as they grow. In captivity, it is up to the keeper to give their pet turtle the right foods in the right amounts.

As a turtle keeper, it is also important that you feed a varied diet of vegetables, pellets, plants and insects. This will help to keep your red-eared slider happy and prevent hunger strikes from boredom. Wild species have a wide selection of things to eat, while pets are limited to what foods are given to them.

Baby

Baby red-eared sliders grow very quickly and need to eat lots of protein to support their high growth rate and to help build bones and muscle. Close to 80% of their diet consists of meat and other proteins. The other 20% is made up of plants.

Young sliders are voracious eaters that actively hunt worms, snails, leeches, grasshoppers and any other small animals they can catch.

Babies and juveniles will eat more frequently than adults. Hatchlings spend most of their time searching for small invertebrates and will eat as much as they can find.

Both juveniles and adults will eat several times each day in order to survive. They burn more energy than pets and so need to eat more.

Adult

Adults do not need as much protein as younger hatchlings because they are growing at a slower rate. This change in diet occurs gradually as a slider matures from a juvenile to an adult, sometime over their second or third year.

They eat mostly a plant-based diet. About 75% of an red-eared slider diet is made up of leaves, grass, tubers, nuts, seeds and stems. Some of their favorite foods include hornwort and water lettuce.

Wild red-eared sliders are limited in their diet by the plants and animals that live around them. In their native range across the south-central United States, they eat aquatic plants like water lettuce, water ferns, hornwort and duckweed.

Adults will also eat berries, nuts and leaves that fall into the water from overhanging trees and bushes. Some will also swim along the shoreline of ponds and lakes to eat grass.

Food in the wild is scarcer than food in captivity, so they are constantly on the lookout for food.

Red-Eared Slider Diet

Red-eared sliders need a healthy, varied diet to grow and develop properly. Fresh greens, vegetables and live insects should make up most of their diet. Fruits can be fed as an occasional treat.

Commercial turtle pellets should only be fed as a complementary food and should not be the main diet.

Red-eared sliders should also be fed vitamin supplements to stay healthy.

We recommend dusting your red-eared slider’s food with a calcium and multivitamin supplement every other feeding. Some owners also float a cuttlebone in the tank. Cuttlebones are a great source of calcium and it gives them something interesting to interact with as it floats away!

Gravid females should always have access to a cuttlebone. Calcium is vital to the proper development of eggs!

In captivity, there are many different proteins, fruits, and vegetables that are healthy and safe for red-eared sliders to eat. See below for our feeding charts and food suggestions for babies and adults.

Baby Feeding Schedule

Juvenile red-eared sliders should be fed in the mid-morning. This lets them spend the rest of the day basking and digesting their food. Very young hatchlings can be fed twice a day, mid-morning and afternoon.

Day Diet
Monday 4-5 small crickets
Small pinch of pellet turtle food
2 tablespoons of carrot tops
Tuesday 3-4 medium aquatic snails
2 tablespoons of kale
Wednesday 1 tablespoon of bloodworms (dusted with calcium)
Small pinch of turtle pellets
1/3 of a bell pepper
Thursday 4-5 small crickets
2-3 blueberries
2 earthworms
Friday Small bunch of mustard greens
Pinch of turtle pellets
3-4 small mealworms (dusted with calcium)
Saturday 3 green beans
1 feeder minnow
3-4 crickets
Sunday 2 tablespoons of shredded collard greens
4-5 small crickets
1 tablespoon of bloodworms

All vegetables (aside from leafy greens) and fruits should be washed and cut into very small bite-sized pieces. These pieces should be small enough to fit in their mouth. Leafy greens don’t need to be diced as they are easy to tear into pieces.

You can drop veggies and insects directly into the water for them to chase and eat.

When feeding a baby red-eared slider it can be better to transfer them to a small tupperware container filled with water from their tank to just above their shell. They can have a hard time finding food in a large tank.

Red-eared sliders should be allowed to eat as much food as they want in 15 minutes. If there is still plenty of food left over after 15 minutes, reduce the amount of food offered the following day. If they finish within 15 minutes, try adding more next time.

The first two years of a red-eared slider’s life are the most important for growth and nutrition. They need to eat a lot of high-protein foods to keep up with their growth. Newly hatched sliders can double in size over their first 12 months!

Most of their protein should come in the form of small live crickets (¼- to ½-inch long), mealworms, bloodworms, and earthworms. Make sure all feeder insects are purchased from a pet store and not caught outside.

Your baby turtle’s diet should be between 70 and 80% protein and 20 to 30% plant based.

The plant portion of a red-eared slider diet is smaller than the protein portion, but is still important.

Leafy greens like mustard greens and carrot tops are very nutritious and should be offered alongside fresh vegetables like carrots and squash.

A small portion of fruit (about the size of a teaspoon) can be fed once a week as a treat. Blueberries and strawberries are a favorite.

Adult Feeding Schedule

Red-eared sliders are most active during the day and should be fed in the morning. Adults should be given a single large meal every 2 days. Chop food into small chunks and remove anything that isn’t eaten after 20 minutes.

Day Diet
Tuesday 2 feeder minnows
Large bunch of dandelion greens (dusted with calcium powder)
5 slices of squash
Thursday Pelleted turtle food (follow feeding instructions on the container)
1 whole strawberry
½ chopped bell pepper
Saturday ¼ cup Swiss chard
5-6 large crickets (dusted with calcium powder)
Small bunch of parsley
Monday 1 whole carrot (including top)
4-5 green beans
Pelleted turtle food

Once your red-eared slider reaches two you should start changing their diet to reduce the amount of protein they eat. Every few months gradually add more plants and reduce the protein. When you turtle reaches four, it should be eating a diet with 25-30% protein and 70-75% plants.

The best greens for red-eared sliders are mustard greens, dandelion greens and kale. Squash, carrots, bell peppers, zucchini and green beans are also safe.

Adults should also have access to aquatic plants. Elodea, water lettuce, and duckweed are great choices that easily grow in an aquarium.

For protein adults can eat feeder minnows, crickets, earthworms, hornworms and aquatic snails.

Protein should come in the form of live invertebrates or feeder fish. Crickets are a great staple food, along with aquatic snails and earthworms. You can also feed the occasional feeder minnow, though limit these to every other week.

The final piece of a red-eared slider’s diet is fruit. These reptiles love snacking on ripe berries, melon, apples and banana. Fruits are high in many important nutrients like fiber and vitamin C. However, they are also high in sugar. Red-eared sliders that eat too much fruit can develop diarrhea.

Use fruits as a weekly treat. Adults can have up to a tablespoon’s worth of fruit once a week.

To make things easier we find it is best to choose three different foods from each category (fruits, protein, vegetables and greens) and rotate these throughout the week. Red-eared sliders are able to eat a wide variety of foods and will grow bored if fed the same thing every day.

Adults can be fed by floating food items directly in the aquarium, though this means more maintenance and cleaning.

Red-eared sliders can bite and swallow while completely submerged! They prefer to feed in the water and may even ignore food set on land.

Best Foods

Greens

  • Carrot tops
  • Dandelion greens
  • Collard greens
  • Turnip greens
  • Kale

Aquatic Plants

  • Fairy moss
  • Water ferns
  • Duckweed
  • Hornwort
  • Anubias
  • Amazon sword
  • Java moss
  • Water lettuce

Vegetables

  • Carrots
  • Cucumber
  • Squash
  • Green beans
  • Zucchini
  • Bell peppers

Protein

  • Crickets
  • Mealworms
  • Freshwater shrimp
  • Daphnia
  • Earthworms
  • Minnows
  • Aquatic snails
  • Bloodworms

Fruits

  • Strawberries
  • Bananas
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Papaya
  • Mango
  • Melon
  • Apples

Bored red-eared sliders can refuse to eat for extended periods (usually a week or so). “Hunger strikes” are common in other pet reptiles like ball pythons and bearded dragons that are not being fed a variety of foods.

Feeding red-eared sliders a variety of foods not only prevents hunger strikes but is also good enrichment.

Different foods are a great way to ensure your turtle is getting all its necessary vitamins, minerals and micronutrients. Reptiles fed a diverse diet are healthier, happier, and able to live a lifestyle closer to their wild siblings.

Never feed any insects from the wild!

Wild-caught prey often carry parasites or diseases. Insects should be shop bought and fed a nutritious diet at least 48 hours before feeding time. This process, known as ‘gut loading,’ boosts the nutritional value of the insects.

Can Red-Eared Sliders Eat

Strawberries
Strawberries are an excellent treat that are high in fiber, vitamin C and potassium. Floating a whole strawberry in the tank for a few hours once a week is a great way to feed them.

Tomatoes
Green tomatoes, tomato leaves and stems should not be fed. Ripe tomatoes are safe to feed, but are high in sugar so should be only fed as a weekly treat.

Carrots
Carrots are one of the best vegetables and we’ve found that most red-eared sliders love them! You can feed shredded carrots 2-3 times each week.

Spinach
Spinach is not a healthy food for turtles. These leafy greens are high in oxalic acid, which can block the absorption of calcium.

Watermelon
Watermelon is another great treat, though it is very high in water and low in most other nutrients. You can give both the fruit and the rind once every two weeks.

Bananas
Bananas are a perfect sweet treat and should be fed once or twice a week. Put 2-3 ripe banana slices in a dish and remove any uneaten bits after a day. Bananas are rich in potassium, manganese and vitamin B6.

Apples
Apples are one of the healthiest fruits and contain high amounts of antioxidants and polyphenols, which help fight inflammation. Half of an apple slice can be fed to an adult 1-2 times each week.

Grapes
Though they aren’t toxic, grapes are very high in sugar and should not be fed. Grapes have a 1:2 ratio of calcium to phosphorus, which is the opposite calcium/phosphorus ratio of what these pets need to stay healthy.

Blueberries
Blueberries are rich in fiber and make a good treat. They are lower in sugar than many other fruits, so are a healthier choice for a snack. In the wild, they eat fruits that fall into the water, so chasing a floating blueberry is a natural behavior for them.

Cucumber
Cucumbers are safe to feed, but they are mostly water! Skip the cucumber for a healthier vegetable option like bell peppers or squash.

Broccoli
Broccoli, cabbage and brussels sprouts are high in oxalic acid so we recommend skipping them altogether.

Avocado
While safe for humans, avocados are not safe for red-eared sliders. The skin, fruit and pits of avocados contain a compound called persin which is toxic to many reptiles.

Feeding Mistakes

Feeding A Slider Turtle

Any keeper must put effort and attention into what they are feeding a red-eared slider.

Red-eared sliders that are fed a bad diet are much more likely to develop nutrition-related health problems like hypovitaminosis A or metabolic bone disease. Below are some of the most common feeding mistakes you should try to avoid:

  1. Overfeeding protein to adults
  2. Underfeeding protein to juveniles
  3. Feeding only commercial turtle pellet
  4. Feeding too many fruits
  5. Feeding the wrong foods

Only 25-35% of an adult red-eared slider’s diet needs to come from protein. Unlike adults, make sure that 70% of the food you give a hatchling is high in protein. Protein and good nutrition in their early life is key.

A high-quality turtle pellet should only make up around 10% of an adult’s diet. Even the best commercial turtle pellets lack the essential nutrients found in fresh foods.

Fruits are a great treat, but most are too high in sugar. Eating too many fruits can cause stomach problems which is why they should only be fed once a week.

These aquatic turtles are skilled at eating underwater and need a variety of foods to be healthy and happy. However, there are some foods that are not safe for them to eat:

  • Avocado
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Bok choy
  • Spinach
  • Dairy
  • Raw chicken, beef, or other meat
  • Wild prey

Final Thoughts

Feeding red-eared sliders is a challenge that all new keepers have to face. This species is known for their fierce appetite, underwater hunting and willingness to eat almost anything.

As pets these turtles need a wide variety of foods to get all the vitamins and nutrients they need. This will help to keep your pet happy and prevent hunger strikes from boredom.

Hatchlings should be fed diet of 80% protein and 20% plants in the mid-morning every day. They need high protein at this stage because they are growing and developing at a rapid rate.

Adults should eat a diet made up of 75% fresh vegetables, leafy greens and aquatic plants. Adults should be given a single large meal every 2 days. Some of their favorite foods include hornwort and water lettuce.

Have questions about what your slider should be eating? Let us know in the comments.

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! Nigel is dedicated to herpetology and conserving wildlife which is why he is a member of the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, Zoological Association of America, iNaturalist and the Nature Conservancy.

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