Congratulations on your choice of a red eared slider as a pet turtle. If cared for properly it will give you years if not decades of joy. In fact, and average red eared slider lifespan in captivity is in the twenty year range. That of course requires a little luck and a fair amount of animal husbandry, basically meaning you need to do your part in caring for your new shelled friend.
Taking care of a reptile and an amphibious one at that is certainly a different experience than taking care of a mammal pet like a cat or dog. Luckily, different doesn’t mean difficult.
This guide will help you get started on the right foot.
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Trachemys Scripta Elegans
The scientific or Latin name for red eared sliders is Trachemys scripta elegans. You may also hear them referred to as red eared terrapins, red slider turtles or even simply red eared turtles.
Red-eared sliders are a type of freshwater turtle that are native to the southern United States. They are named for the red patch of skin behind their eyes, which is often visible when they are excited or agitated.
One interesting fact about red-eared sliders is that they have been widely introduced to other parts of the world, and are now considered an invasive species in many areas. This is due to the popularity of these turtles as pets.
Many irresponsible owners who lose interest in their new turtle unfortunately decide to abandon them and release them into the wild. Please don’t do this.
While they can be housed outdoors if you live in the right climate, we’re going to aim this guide at those who plan to keep their pet turtle indoors. That being said, all of the information such as required temperatures and diet suggestions still hold true for outdoor turtles too.
Setting Up a Living Space
As noted previously, this is based on the assumption you will be housing your shelled friend indoors. And, we’ll cover the basics but a little creativity goes a long way. As long as you provide a healthy environment that somewhat mimics its natural habittat it doesn’t really matter how you design it.
Red-eared sliders are native to large swaths of the United States. They love warm water sources and you’ll need to keep that in mind when setting up your tank.
To be honest, this is the most difficult part of keeping one of these turtles as a pet. They need water and lots of it. Plus, as they don’t spend all of their time in water you need plenty of dry space for them to roam around too.
Baby turtles will be fine with a small aquarium setup but as they grow you will need to be able to provide adequate space. A full-grown red-eared slider needs between 90 to 100 gallons of water. That’s about the size of a small children’s wading pool.
You’ll also need to keep all of this water warm and clean. So, make sure you have an appropriately sized water heater as well as a water filtration system.
Like other reptiles, these turtles don’t generate their own heat. They require external heat sources to keep them warm. Since you are going to be your new pet’s caretaker that responsibility falls to you.
And, since they spend their time both in water and basking above water, you have a couple of different situations to deal with.
Maintaining both water an air temperatures is a bit of a pain, but the silver lining is that due to their wide ranging natural habitat, these turtles have reasonably wide comfort ranges.
As long as you keep their water in the 75 to 85 degree (Fahrenheit) range, you should be OK.
Air temperatures are even looser than the water temperatures. That’s because red-eared sliders are used to the highs and lows of many US states from New Mexico to Ohio.
These turtles are generally OK with ranges between the high 60’s and low 80’s not counting the basking spot which can be even warmer. But, this comes with a couple of stipulations.
First, you need to provide a stable basking spot that stays in the 80’s at all times. That allows your pet turtle to warm up whenever it feels the need to do so.
Next, you don’t always want the ambient air temperature to be in the 60’s as that’s more of a nighttime temperature and not something that is suitable at all times.
A large part of helping you maintain proper general air and basking spot temperatures is going to be the supplemental lighting you use.
Chances are you aren’t going to be able to maintain an appropriate basking area temperature without the help of a heating lamp. You can set it up on a timer too so you aren’t running it 24 hours a day.
You should also invest in a UVB light. Red eared sliders require UVB to help them synthesize Vitamin D3. Plus, it can help with heating too.
Substrate can be a little tricky when it comes to these turtles. That’s because the best option is at the same time the least attractive option.
As far as a substrate for the water area, you don’t really need to use anything. It serves no real purpose other than aesthetics. But, many people want to make their pet’s home as attractive as it is functional.
If you must use a substrate in the water consider river rocks or pebbles. Just make sure to get them from a retailer since those will be cleaned of any potentially harmful bacteria and not from the wild.
As for the basking area, you can use slate, tile or even reptile carpet. Just do your best to avoid sand and gravel both in the basking area and in the water as these are easily digested and can lead to impaction, which is often fatal.
A basking area, a dry area to hang out and dry out, plenty of water, and everything needed to maintain a warm and clean living space are absolute requirements. But, they don’t make for a particularly interesting place for your pet turtle to explore.
It’s highly recommended to provide your red eared slider with plenty to extras to enrich an otherwise uninteresting existence. You should not have any trouble finding a variety of tank enhancements like artificial plants and structures at your local pet shop or online.
Feeding & Diet Needs
Providing a suitable living space is just part of the job of a turtle mommy or daddy. And, you really need to have that setup before your bring your new pet home.
You also need to provide a nutritious diet from day one.
Feeding your red eared slider is a little more complicated in terms of supplying the right types of food than it is for more common household pets like cats and dogs. You will need a mix of processed food and live feeders.
Pellets are a commercial turtle food designed to help supply them lots of essential nutrients. They may contain ingredients like wheat flour and fish meal along with vitamins and minerals like calcium and Vitamin E.
While pellets are very useful and help round out your turtle’s diet, they aren’t something you should completely rely. You should only make them about 30-40% of your pet’s overall dietary intake.
Live prey is very important for your turtle. It provides them with fresh and highly bio-available protein. This should make up around a quarter to a third of your red eared slider’s diet.
There are a lot of options as far as live feeders are concerned. Any of these are perfectly acceptable:
- cooked chicken
These are just some of the many live feeders you can offer your pet.
Vegetables & Fruit
Making up the rest of, which is also the most of your pet’s diet should be a variety of vegetation. That includes mostly fruits and vegetables, but you can mix in some aquatic plants too.
For fruit you can mix in some of these. Just remember to remove any seeds of pits:
- blueberries, blackberries and raspberries
- bok choy
- carrot tops
- sweet potatoes
And, for aquatic plants:
- water lettuce
- water lilies
Overall, you want to try and feed your turtle mostly fruits and veggies while working in live feeders for protein and pellets to round out their diet. Hatchlings and juveniles should get more protein than adult turtles as they are still growing.
Young turtles need to eat daily while older turtles can eat every other day.
Regardless of their age you don’t want to overfeed them. Red-eared sliders are not picky eaters and if you offer them food they most likely happily take it.
Try to limit feeding time to around ten minutes give or take a couple of minutes. Take back what they don’t eat.
If you take proper care of your red-eared slider, from having a habitat with plenty of clean water and warmth to a well-rounded diet, you will have a very fun turtle pet for decades. They can live well in to their 30’s in captivity.
When you first bring one home it may be a little shy. But, over time it will grow to learn that you’re there to take care of them and they’ll grow more attached, often coming over to greet you when you enter their living area.
Just remember that all reptiles can carry salmonella, so it’s best to keep the handling of your turtle to a minimum. And, if you do handle them make sure to wash your hands both before and after doing so.