The yellow-bellied slider is a very common turtle found in the eastern United States.
This species is often found basking alongside ponds and lakes. They are easy to spot because of their black and yellow colors, webbed feet and smooth shell.
These turtles make active and entertaining pets. Their unique lifestyle makes them fascinating to watch! But, they need an owner with enough space for a large tank and some prior experience.
Has the yellow-bellied slider captured your heart?
Read on for our species guide which includes their care, habitat setup, diet, size and lifespan.
|Yellow-bellied slider, yellow belly turtle
|Trachemys scripta scripta
|Southeastern United States
|5 – 12 inches; 1.5 – 7 pounds
|Brown and black with bright yellow stripes and a yellow plastron (belly)
|Aquatic plants, invertebrates and fish
|Basking spot: 85-95°F; Water: 74-78°F
The yellow-bellied slider (Trachemys scripta scripta) is a large, semi-aquatic turtle closely related to map turtles, chicken turtles and terrapins.
They are a subspecies of pond slider, along with the common red-eared slider.
These turtles were given the name ‘slider’ because of their tendency to quickly scoot or slide into the water when startled. They are rarely found far from water and are often seen basking on the shore, on fallen trees or rock piles. Most of the time you will find one near ponds, wetlands, estuaries, lakes and marshes.
They were also named for the bottom of their shells (plastron) which are bright yellow.
The rest of their body is vibrantly colored with intricate, black and yellow patterns.
Yellow-bellied sliders are native to the southeastern US and can be found in Georgia, North and South Carolina, and parts of Florida and Virginia. They are most common in South Carolina and are one of the most abundant turtle species in that state.
They are adaptable to many habitats and thrive wherever there is suitable food, water, space, and warm temperatures.
It is also possible for them to tolerate cooler temperatures by brumating over the winter months.
Unfortunately, this adaptability has led them to become invasive in several western states.
Some have been spotted in California, Arizona and New Mexico, but these sightings are of pet turtles released into the wild outside of their normal range.
People first became interested in keeping the yellow-bellied slider as a pet during the 1950s.
In the following decades, millions of turtles were sold at pet stores and even dollar stores!
While the red-eared slider is more common as a pet, yellow-bellied sliders are quickly growing in popularity.
According to Oregon State University, the sudden boom in sales was partly driven by the success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comic books in the 1980s and 1990s.
These turtles quickly became well-loved for their energetic personalities and bright colors.
Unfortunately, this ‘craze’ caused outbreaks of salmonella and lead to a ban on the sale of turtles under 4 inches long.
Though tiny turtles are tempting to buy, potential owners should know that this species can grow to nearly one foot long and weigh up to 7 pounds.
As adults they will need a very large enclosure with a high-temperature basking spot, spacious swimming area and land.
Yellow-bellied slider turtles are brightly colored with intricate, black and yellow patterns.
The top of their shells are typically dark greenish-brown and darken with age.
Young turtles have shells that are ornamented with zigzagging orange lines, while the shells of older males can fade to a nearly solid black.
The bottom of their shells (plastron) is a bright yellow.
This yellow belly is what gives the species its name.
They have black skin that is lined with yellow stripes, usually along the neck, head and front legs.
One of the best ways to differentiate this turtle from their close relative the red-eared slider is by the horizontal yellow stripe behind their eyes.
Unlike terrestrial turtles, their shells are flattened and smooth for streamlined underwater movement. They also have webbed feet and sharp claws for climbing onto slippery surfaces.
Most yellow-bellied sliders are sold as juveniles around four inches in size.
Potential owners should be aware that turtles under 4 inches long are illegal to sell in the US.
Small turtles are especially cute, and some people buy them without realizing their adult size. Despite their tiny hatchling size, these are large reptiles that can grow to lengths over 6 inches!
They hatch when they are between 0.9 and 1.4 inches long.
In fact, they are so small that they can fit on a quarter.
Both males and females hatch at the same size, but females will grow much larger.
Males grow to a total length of 5-8 inches, with an average length of 7 inches and a weight of 1.5 pounds.
On the other hand, an adult female can grow up to 12 inches long and weigh 7 pounds.
It can take a male 2-5 years and a female 5-8 years to reach their full grown size. They grow fastest during their first 2 years of life.
Yellow-Bellied Slider Tank
These turtles are best kept by owners with aquarium experience and by those who are prepared to set up, cycle and maintain a large indoor tank.
The trickiest part of keeping this turtle is maintaining the tank. They tend to be messy and can quickly ruin the water quality.
A yellow-bellied slider tank should be at least 100 gallons in size and have both a land and water section.
Young turtles under 4 inches should be housed in a 30-gallon glass aquarium filled halfway with clean, dechlorinated water.
However, most keepers will not own one until they reach over 4 inches in size.
It is best to house adults in at least a 100-gallon (72”x18”x19”) aquarium, though a larger tank is always a good choice.
A glass tank or hard plastic pond liner both work well.
Their tank needs to have 16 inches of water, heated to 74-78°F using an aquarium heater. The heater should be securely fastened to the side of the tank, close to the filter’s output.
Temperature and Lighting
This species needs a basking spot positioned over dry land that reaches 95°F.
The best setups have a basking bulb directly over a flat rock and log to reach a surface temperature of around 95°F. The basking spot should be on a dry surface, above the water.
Turtles need warm surfaces to help them digest food and maintain energy.
Make sure the basking bulb is out of reach of your pet.
The opposite end of their tank should be cooler, around 72-76°F.
Along with a heat source, install a 5% (5.0) UVB fluorescent bulb over the basking area.
Turtles need both UVB and UVA light to properly metabolize calcium.
Humidity is not a concern for aquatic turtles, since they spend most of their lives in the water. Just make sure there is at least one area in the tank that stays dry and is large enough for them to comfortably bask on.
Turtles that are not given a chance to dry off can develop skin and shell infections.
They need access to land in order to rest, bask, breed and lay eggs.
In the wild these reptiles spend most of their time basking out of the water during the spring and fall.
The best substrate for a yellow-bellied slider tank is no substrate at all!
Keeping the bottom bare makes it easier to clean and eliminates the risk that they might accidentally swallow substrate and develop an impaction.
If you want a substrate for planting aquatic vegetation, then we recommend fine sand.
The best yellow-bellied slider tank setup needs land as well as water.
You can use wooden logs, flat rocks, or pet turtle docks to create a dry area for basking.
Whatever you use, make sure it is easily accessible and is secured to keep it from flipping or moving around.
For décor use clay flowerpots, cinderblocks and hollow half logs to create hiding spaces.
If you want to include live plants, make sure they are nontoxic for reptiles. Water lettuce, java ferns, anubias, and Amazon swords are all excellent, safe choices.
Along with décor, the enclosure should include an aquarium pump, canister filter (with a 200 gallons-per-hour filtration rate) and heater to clean and circulate the water.
- 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.
- Water Cycle: 25% weekly water change.
Most experienced hobbyists agree that pet yellow-bellied sliders should not be housed together.
In the wild, they are often found basking and swimming together, which has led some people to think that they should be kept in groups as pets.
However, males are territorial and are only seen together in the wild because there is lots of space.
Multiple pet turtles cannot be given enough space in an indoor tank to avoid fighting and competition.
Yellow-Bellied Slider Care
This turtle is an opportunistic omnivore that eats whatever food it can find.
In the wild they often eat:
- Small fish
- Water lettuce
Though they aren’t picky about what they eat, yellow-bellied slider diets change as they mature into adults.
Hatchling and juveniles are mostly carnivorous. They hunt and eat small fish, aquatic invertebrates, and insects that fall into the water.
Juveniles need high amounts of protein in their diet to fuel their rapid growth.
It is not common for them to snack on plants and you should only introduce fruits and vegetables to their diet as they grow older.
The diet of adults is almost the opposite of young turtles.
Adults need a diet high in plants and vegetation, not protein.
Young individuals (under 2 years old) should be fed twice each day. Feed them as many gut-loaded crickets, mealworms, and dubia roaches as they can eat in 10 minutes. The exact number of insects will vary between days and individuals, so it’s better to feed based on time than amount.
Supplement their diet every other day with two teaspoons’ worth of leafy greens like kale, collards, or carrot tops.
Try to balance a juvenile’s diet so that 2/3 of its food are high in protein.
Adults should be fed every other day, not daily.
Their diet should consist mostly of commercial aquatic turtle pellets and vegetables.
Feed your turtle a 5:2:3 ratio of plants to protein (insects) to pellets. Try to feed closer to 50 to 60% plant matter.
Food should be dusted with a multivitamin supplement powder once a week.
Adults can be fed crickets, earthworms or mealworms once or twice a week.
With the right care and setup, yellow-bellied sliders have been known to live for up to 40 years! They are beautiful pets that will provide decades of companionship.
Even in the wild, like their relatives the tortoises, turtles can survive for decades.
In their native habitat they have very few natural predators and are protected by their tough shells.
However, because they rely mostly on their shell for protection, they have weaker immune systems than other animals.
The most common turtles illnesses are:
- Shell rot
Mycoplasmosis is a bacterial infection that affects their respiratory system.
Infected pets will wheeze, cough, and have bubbly discharge around their nose and mouth. Mycoplasmosis is extremely contagious and spreads from one reptile to another through body fluids.
Shell rot commonly occurs in turtles kept in dirty conditions.
It is a generic term used for several types of bacterial and fungal infections. These infections first appear as red, white, or gray patches on the top or bottom of the shell, often around scrapes or scratches.
Shell rot is easy to cure if caught early, but can be dangerous if left untreated.
Most yellow-bellied sliders that are cared for properly do not develop health problems.
Cleanliness is key with this species. You should make sure their tank remains free from waste or uneaten food daily.
For regular checkups it is best to find an exotic veterinarian to care for your turtle.
A healthy, happy turtle will be bright, active, and alert, with a firm, smooth shell.
It is common to find yellow-bellied sliders basking in groups on logs, stumps and lakeshores. Though they tend to cluster together to bask, each male has his own home range that he will defend.
Generally they spend more time basking in the cooler months, especially in the late spring, summer, and early fall.
During the hottest days, they stay cool by swimming and hiding in the shade.
Over the winter, those in more northern states (like parts of North Carolina) go into a period of dormancy called brumation.
Pet species are normally very active and do not need to brumate.
Throughout the day, these reptiles alternate between basking, swimming and exploring. You will never see one in the same place for long!
The warmer the tank temperatures, the more time they will spend in the water. The opposite is also true;, those in cooler conditions will spend more time basking under their heat lamp.
A happy yellow-bellied slider will be active and interested in their surroundings.
Sluggishness could be an indicator of illness or low tank temperatures.
Surprisingly, yellow-bellied sliders are very good at sleeping underwater.
Most prefer to sleep on the bottom of their tank, but some may hold on to debris in the water to sleep at the surface.
Sleeping turtles can go for around 40 minutes without needing to come to the surface for a breath.
They take several naps during the night, periodically waking up to breathe.
To be able to sleep underwater their metabolism slows down considerably while they are asleep. This lets them stay underwater for longer than they can while awake.
Yellow-bellied slider turtles do not like to be held.
Because they are an aquatic reptile, they associate being lifted out of the water with being captured by a predator.
Handling is a stressful experience for them.
Hobbyists looking for a herp that enjoys being handled should consider White’s tree frogs, Ackie monitors, or blue-tongued skinks.
These turtles are fascinating and entertaining, even without handling!
If you ever need to move your turtle out of its tank, hold it firmly with both hands. Use your fingers to support the bottom side of the shell while keeping your thumbs on top, in the same way you would hold a hamburger.
Make sure to wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling as turtles are a common source of salmonella.
Are Yellow-Bellied Sliders Good Pets?
Owners who put in the time, preparation and effort to setup and maintain a yellow-bellied slider tank will be rewarded with a personable and unique pet reptile that can live for several decades.
These turtles provide hours of entertainment with their interesting behaviors and underwater lifestyle.
Yellow-bellied sliders are excellent swimmers and well-adapted for life in the water.
Their webbed feet and flattened, streamlined shells make them strong, capable swimmers in both flowing and still water.
Most kept as pets will be skittish, but some learn to recognize their owners and will approach them in search of food and treats.
Those who have kept reptiles before should have little problem keeping up with their dietary and husbandry demands.
|Very active species that loves to swim, dive and explore.
|Need frequent tank cleaning and water changes.
|Long lifespan with few to no health issues caused by old age.
|Must be fed lots of fresh vegetables and live insects.
|Friendly and inquisitive personalities.
|Not good for handling and are frequent carriers of salmonella.
|Brightly patterned and affordable to buy.
|Require a large 100-gallon tank with plenty of deep water.
Yellow-bellied sliders can be found for sale at pet stores, reptile expos and from private breeders.
They usually cost between $15 and $50 for a baby and $75 to $100 for an adult.
These turtles make great pets for reptile owners who want to expand beyond traditional, land-dwelling species. They are energetic, bold, and brightly colored with striking black and yellow markings.
In a clean tank with a nutritious diet, they can stay healthy and active for their entire lives, living for nearly half a century!
Let us know what you love about these turtles in the comments.