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Red Eared Slider Care
Red Eared Slider Care
Erica Mede, CVT
and edited by Susan Horton, DVM
The Red Eared Slider (also known as RES and Red Ears) is an
extremely prolific and widespread chelonian accounting for 70-85% of
the turtle population in the
! The slider family in general is the most prolific species of
freshwater turtle in the world! Red Ears make wonderful pets
being one of the hardiest chelonians available in the pet trade and
at one point in time was exported in numbers as high as 10 million
annually. Many owners remark that their Red Ear is not only
"tame" but social and even seek human companionship
especially if raised from a young age! Red Ears are well known
for their bright red markings along the side of their necks which
makes them an attractive pet and the availability of albino, pastel,
and leucistic morphs make them a huge seller and a very common pet.
With the latest production of two headed turtles from breeders,
these turtles have settled nicely back in the ranks of popular
Throughout the Mississippi Valley (from
Gulf of Mexico
), these beautiful turtles are seen in the quiet rivers, streams,
ponds, and creeks enjoying the sunshine from a log. In nature,
these chelonians enjoy quiet fresh water with soft muddy bottoms and
abundant aquatic vegetation. Logs jutting up from the water
and rocks make wonderful basking sites. The Red Eared Sliders
in the colder climates hibernate in the winter although this is a
practice not commonly recommended or practiced in the home.
Many new owners are concerned when their pet is found on the bottom
of the aquarium unmoving or floating on the top of the surface.
This does not necessarily indicate that the RES has died! This
species is commonly in these positions while sleeping. If the
turtle is easily roused when in this state it is safe to assume it
In 1975, the
government banned the sale of any chelonian with a carapace (top
shell) less than four inches long in hopes of preventing the spread
of Salmonella and the destruction of native species in the wild.
With the age of easily accessible information via the World Wide
Web, private breeders have been successfully breeding and incubating
Red Eared Sliders and now offer their domestically bred chelonians
online. As to the legalities regarding this practice, that is
for the government to decide. Domestically bred Red Ears are
always recommended over their wild caught counterparts.
These chelonians are medium to large fresh water inhabitants with a
distinct and very prominent red marking along the side of the head
starting behind the eye will generally reach 9-11 inches long.
The carapace (top shell) is oval in shape and the rim near the back
legs (posterior rim) is slightly serrated (ridged). When Red
Ears are hatchlings they exhibit bright green carapaces with bright
yellow markings and plastrons (bottom shell). As juveniles and
adults, the carapace turns to an olive or brown color with yellow
markings and black blotches. Old males may have completely
blackened carapaces but both genders will darken with age. The
plastron of juveniles and adults is yellow with a single dark blotch
on each scute. Aside from the characteristic red marking on
the head, Red Eared Sliders have narrow yellow stripes running down
their limbs. RES also have yellow chin stripes as well.
Sexing and Reproduction
Males are generally smaller than the females at maturity.
Males also exhibit longer front claws which may curve slightly and
longer, thicker tails. The elongated nails of the male are
used to stroke the females face to entice her to mate during the
spring and fall and should not be cut. The male will swim
backwards facing the female and extending out the forearms to stroke
her face. If the gesture is accepted, the two will sink to the
bottom of the aquarium to mate with the male on top. Males
that are much larger than the female must be watched so accidental
drowning does not occur. Red Ears will typically lay 2-25
eggs) between April and July and will hatch 65-75 days later if
Females that are becoming restless and exhibiting nesting behavior
(clawing at the basking spot, frantically searching, going off food,
etc) should be removed from the enclosure and placed in a warm and
dark box such as large plastic storage box with air holes.
Sand or moistened top soil (free of manure and pesticides) should be
provided in the "nest box" to facilitate nest building and
a less stressful egg laying process. The female should be left
overnight in the nest box and removed in the early morning for
feeding (if eating) and swimming. This may need to be repeated
several times before eggs are successfully laid. A female that
feels insecure or does not have an appropriate nesting site will lay
her eggs in the water or the basking site unceremoniously.
It is recommended that all new turtles be quarantined away from the
rest of the household chelonians for at least 60-90 days. In
this time period the owner can access the animals' behavior and
health status. Chicago Exotics strongly urges owners to bring
these animals in during quarantine for a wellness exam and a fecal
evaluation. Quarantine requires food, dishes, accessories, and
cleaning of the chelonian to be done separately (typically after)
from the other chelonians.
The larger the enclosure for juveniles and adults the better!
This species loves to swim, bask, and explore their enclosures.
Many even enjoy items such as ping pong balls floating on the water
surface as a toy! Young turtles can be kept in 20 gallon long
aquariums but will quickly need to be relocated to a 40 gallon
breeder aquarium when they reach the juvenile and sub adult stage.
Most adults can be housed happily in a 100 gallon aquarium.
Some owners opt to create custom enclosures for their pets as well.
Generally speaking, there should be 6 inches of aquarium floor per
every 1 inch of turtle. If the turtle has a carapace length of
9 inches, it will require 54 inches of aquarium floor space.
Other enclosures to consider for multiple turtles include modified
plastic tubs, outdoor ponds, and Koi tubs. With a bit of
creativity, enclosure potential is endless!
With Red Eared Sliders, it is recommended to have a bare bottom
tank, one without substrate. If substrate is desired for
enrichment or aesthetic purposes, large gravel can be used. An
under gravel filter is strongly recommended as well as weekly
agitation and siphoning of debris. An under gravel filter is
not enough filtration to maintain a clean environment and will need
to be supplemented with other filtration devices. Every 2-4
weeks the rocks should be removed from the tank and scrubbed well
with a toothbrush designated for the job and bleach diluted
The water for these turtles is
important! These are fresh water turtles who enjoy swimming so
the chlorine free water depth should be equal to the total length of
the carapace multiplied twice. If the turtle is 9 inches long
then the water needs to be 18 inches deep. Change a third of
the water once a week to keep the water clean.
Typically, the water temperature should be maintained between 72 and
76 degrees Fahrenheit. A thermometer in the water is highly
recommended at the location furthest away from any heat source and
one near the heat source. Water temperature can be maintained
using a submersible water heater or under tank heater on a
thermostat. If a submersible water heater is used, it is
recommended to place a piece of PVC pipe with several holes drilled
into the sides of it over the heater to prevent accidental burns and
biting. A general room of thumb is a 75 watt heater will work
for a 40 gallon tank, a 55 watt heater for a 55 gallon tank, and a
200 watt heater for a 100 gallon aquarium.
Canister filters are recommended by Chicago Exotics for all
chelonians as they offer mechanical and biofiltration.
Canister filters are generally less stressful to aquatics as there
is no mechanical vibration on the tank from the filter body itself.
Fluval, Magnum, and Eheim make excellent filters and there are a few
websites that illustrate how to create your own canister filter.
External filtration helps to remove uneaten food and large waste
particles as well as agitate surfaces and increase water
The basking light should be over a
flat stone such as slate or log. Basking sites should be
between 90 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit and easily accessible to the
chelonian. Metal clamp lamps work well for these sites.
The ambient temperature of the tank can be increased with under tank
heaters and/or the basking lamp also. During the night, under
tank heaters or ceramic heat emitters can be used to increase the
ambient temperature as it will offer no light.
As with most reptiles, Red Eared Sliders do well on a light cycle
that simulates 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness.
A high quality UVB bulb such as a 5.0 ReptiSun bulb is recommended
for adults and a 10.0 ReptiSun bulb is recommended for hatchlings
and young turtles. These bulbs help the body convert vitamin
D3 into calcium and helps
prevent the disfiguring and deadly metabolic bone disease which is
generally caused by a lack of available calcium in the reptiles'
body causing the body to absorb calcium from the bones.
Hatchlings and juveniles are highly carnivorous (prefer meat) and
become omnivorous (eating both vegetation and meat) as adults.
The key to a healthy turtle is variety in their diet! Aquatic
plants such as algae and duck weed are relished by these chelonians
but most owners offer romaine lettuce, cantaloupe, banana, kale,
mango, and strawberries as treats. Water hyacinth, water
lettuce and water cress can easily be cultivated at home with some
diligence and offer enrichment and nutrition. Small fish (not
goldfish), insects (crickets, earthworms, red worms), and snails are
offered for the meat portion of their diet.
Supplementation with commercially produced turtle pellets is
recommended as well. Some people prefer to feed only
commercially produced turtle pellets, in this case, Chicago Exotics
recommends feeding multiple brands of turtle pellets.
In the wild, these chelonians
embark on daily foraging expeditions throughout their habitat even
stealing food from the mouth of other turtles! In captivity,
feeding varies with age and the energy output of the turtle.
Hatchlings are fed two times a day as much as they will eat in 10-15
minutes. Adults are fed once a day and as much as they can
consume in 10-15 minutes. It is recommended to come up with a
standard food amount for adult chelonians to be fed daily to monitor
appetite changes. If the water is becoming fouled too quickly
or the turtle is becoming obese then the food will need to be
decreased. All food should be sprinkled with a multi-vitamin
once a week and calcium supplement daily for hatchlings and three
times a week for adults.
Injuries - Very common in turtles
who are housed together in small enclosures without adequate hiding
spots. Injuries caused by cage mate aggression are usually
located on the legs, head, and tail. Re-evaluation of the
set-up is imperative and permanent separation may be the only
solution. All injuries should be evaluated by a veterinarian.
Shell Rot - Commonly seen as pitting of the shell, sores on the
shell, or damaged/lost scute coverings. This can be a life
threatening as well as disfiguring illness and must be addressed by
a veterinarian. If this is occurring, a re-evaluation of water
quality and filtration is recommended.
Abscess - These swellings seen on one or both sides of the head are
caused by poor water quality commonly. These will not resolve
on their own and must be treated by a veterinarian.
MBD - Metabolic bone disease is a major cause of deformity and death
in hatchlings. This is generally seen in turtles without
access to UVB lighting, insufficient calcium supplementation, and
those fed solely turtle pellets or dog/cat food. This disease
IS treatable by a veterinarian! If the turtle is exhibiting a
soft shell, limb deformities, or shell deformities, call for
veterinary help as soon as possible.
Sources and Recommended Readings
Turtles of the World Carl H. Ernst and Roger W. Barbour
Turtles of the United States and Canada Carl H. Ernst, Jeffery E.
Lovich, Roger W. Barbour
Keeping and Breeding Freshwater Turtles Russ Gurley
The General Care and Maintenance of Red Eared Sliders and Other
Popular Freshwater Turtles P. de Vosjoli
Life History and Ecology of the Slider Turtle J. W. Gibbons
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