All About Red Eared Sliders

All About Red Eared SlidersWhile red eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) are native only to the southern US and northern Mexico, they are undoubtedly the most popular aquatic pet turtle species worldwide. Of course, this makes sense when you consider this specie’s virtues. First off, it is strikingly colored, with attractive striping of the head and neck and a bright red “red ear” that gives rise to this species name. Second, while larger than some basking turtles, it’s still relatively manageable in terms of adult size, with males topping out somewhere between 8 and 9 inches (carapace length) and females at around 11 to 12 inches. Third, it’s extremely tolerant of a wide variety of water conditions. Fourth, it is a very good eater, accepting a wide range of fresh and prepared turtle foods. And fifth, it’s a commonly available species here in the US and in many parts of the world.

Tank Setups For Red Eared Sliders

General turtle tank setup instructions apply here. This is a classic basking type turtle; hence, it’s happy if given a generous enclosure with some deep water (they love swimming) and a sturdy, completely dry land area that they can use for hours on end to sun themselves. The typical rule of thumb requiring 10 gallons to each inch of turtle carapace applies here, but may be relaxed somewhat if powerful filtration is used and 50% the tank water is changed weekly. Water temperatures from 68F to 85F are fine, and no specific water types are required. Just make sure to dechlorinate your tap water with an aquarium water conditioner.

Red eared slider coming out to bask.A basking heat lamp or ceramic heater must be used and directed onto a portion of the land area or basking platform. It is best to also use a UV-B light to provide vitamin D3. However, vitamin D3 and calcium can and should also be provided via a high-quality vitamin supplement, like Rep-Cal, which can be dusted onto fresh foods.

Red-eared sliders feed very well, and even smaller turtles will produce copious amounts of waste. As suggested for aquatic turtles generally, this usually demands a very powerful turtle filter, preferably a canister filter that can support high levels of ammonia-reducing bacteria. This is particularly important if keeping mature turtles or numbers of turtles together in the same enclosure. Small internal filters are normally sufficient for only very small hatchlings.

While these turtles can be kept with fish in very large tanks and ponds, it is not advisable under ordinary conditions for a variety of reasons. First, the high amounts of waste produced by aquatic turtles (primarily in the form of ammonia) is highly toxic to fish and can quickly lead to a mass fish die offs. Second, most aquatic turtles will make a meal out of your fish or at least attempt to given half a chance. For small, fast fish this may not be a problem, but for slow and clumsy ornamental types, like fan-tail goldfish or bettas, this could be potentially disastrous. If you want to experiment with fish as tank mates, try small and hardy fish like guppies and small feeder goldfish. Finally, adding fish to your tank is also problematic because it only increases the already significant bio-load placed on your filter, thus requiring more maintenance and greater attention to water quality. Remember that fish are much more sensitive than turtles to waste, pH swings and other aspects of water chemistry, and thus require significantly more work to keep them happy when confined with a turtle.

Feeding Red Eared Sliders

Red eared sliders can become quite tame, especially if food is involved!

Red eared sliders are not picky at all and will accept standard turtle food. However, you should recognize that young hatchlings are relatively carnivorous, favoring insect prey, small fish, earthworms, or other meaty foods. As they mature, they become increasingly omnivorous and will accept much more vegetable matter, like fresh romaine lettuce. Nevertheless, when given a choice, they will still favor fleshy, proteinaceous foods throughout their life. In nature, these protein sources are naturally limited so they cannot be abused, but in captivity you can easily give them too much protein and cause harm, particularly in the from of bone/carapace deformations (e.g., “pyramiding” – a condition that leaves turtles with a bumpy, deformed shell).

Sexing Red-Eared Sliders

Young animals are very difficult to sex, but as they grow their are some difference. The most noticeable of which are the males’ longer front claws and longer, thicker tails. Males also tend to have more vivid coloration, and have a more concave plastron compared to the female, but this can be very subtle. At maturity, one of the best distinctions is size, with females usually reaching a foot in length, compared to the 8-9 inches for an average adult male.  Interestingly, the sex of these turtles is determined by incubation temperature, with warmer temperatures favoring females and cooler temperatures resulting in more males.

Red eared sliders live a long time, and thus require a long term commitment.Lifespan of Red Eared Sliders

As with most aquatic turtles, red eared sliders can live a long time if properly cared for. Specifically, if housed in good conditions, you can expect this species to live for 30 years or more. This obviously requires a substantial commitment for anyone contemplating a purchase. Keep in mind that adult turtles, like dogs, are considerately more difficult to “adopt out” than baby turtles. Whatever you do, do not release any purchased aquatic turtle into the wild. This species has already become nn invasive pest in many parts of the world, as their aggressive nature allows them to out compete many native turtle species for food and resources.

Red Eared Sliders as Pets – The Verdict

Red eared sliders are likely to remain popular for a very long time.With their bright colors, outgoing personalities, and relatively undemanding nature, the red-eared slider is likely to remain the most popular aquatic turtle for the foreseeable future. Just give them a large tank or enclosure, lots of water to play in, a well-heated basking area, and dust their food regularly with a good vitamin D and calcium supplement and you should have a happy pet for many years. As with any turtle, remember to keep them away from young children who are particularly vulnerable to Salmonella contamination, and make sure to follow good hygiene practices (e.g., thoroughly washing hands with soap and water after contact with the turtle or its enclosure).

Turtle photo credits (in order of appearance):

Jim, the photographer under CC BY 2.0

Jessi Swick under CC BY 2.0

Herb Neufeld under CC BY 2.0

woodleywonderworks under CC BY 2.0

Robert Judge under CC BY 2.0

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