The Red-Eared Slider is easily the most popular pet turtle in the United States, though it is also popular throughout the world. It is native to the southern united states, but the release of captive turtles by owners have allowed them to become established in other parts of the country, sometimes pushing out local species in the process. For this reason, the conservation status of Red-Eared Sliders is not an issue because there are too few in the wild, but because there are getting to be too many. The potential owner of this turtle must take care to be able to provide proper care for the animal, but if this, for whatever reason, becomes impossible, the last thing you want to do is release it into the wild.
Red-eared sliders are almost entirely aquatic, but leave the water to bask in the sun and lay eggs. These reptiles are deceptively fast and are also decent swimmers. They hunt for prey and will attempt to capture it when the opportunity presents itself. They are aware of predators and people and generally shy away from them. The red-eared slider is known to frantically slide off rocks and logs when approached.
The female red-eared slider grows to be 10–13 in. in length and males 8–10 in.. Male turtles are usually smaller than females but their tail is much longer and thicker. Claws are elongated in males which facilitate courtship and mating. Typically, the cloacal opening of the female is at or under the rear edge of the carapace while the male's opening occurs beyond the edge of the carapace. Older males can sometimes have a melanistic coloration being a dark grayish olive green, with markings being very subdued. The red stripe on the sides of the head may be difficult to see or be absent.
Red-eared sliders brumate over the winter at the bottom of ponds or shallow lakes and they become inactive, generally, in October, when temperatures fall below 10°C (50°F). Individuals usually brumate underwater. They have also been found under banks and hollow stumps and rocks. In warmer winter climates they can become active and come to the surface for basking. When the temperature begins to drop again, however, they will quickly return to a brumation state. Sliders will generally come up for food in early March to as late as the end of April. Red-eared sliders kept captive indoors should not brumate. To prevent attempted brumation in an aquarium, lights should be on for 12–14 hours per day and the water temperature should be maintained between 24–27 °C (75–81°F). Water temperatures must be under 13°C (55°F) in order for aquatic turtles to brumate properly. Controlling temperature changes to simulate natural seasonal fluctuations encourages mating behavior.
Housing for a Red-Eared Slide will need to mimic the turtle's natural environment. This means that it will need to have an area for swimming, and a dry area for rest and basking. The dimensions of the tank are based on the length of the turtle's carapace. It should be four times as long, twice as wide, and 1.5 times as deep as the turtle, with a minimum of six inches. This means that for a four inch turtle, the swimming area will need to be 16 in. long, 8 in. wide, and 6 in. deep. An adult, 12 in. turtle will need an area 48 in. long, 24 in. wide, and 18 in. deep. These are roughly the measurements of a 55 gal. tank.
So to summarize, forget everything I just said and just buy yourself a 55 gal. tank (minimum). It will save you money in the long run, rather than having to buy a new tank at each stage of the turtle's growth.
Red-Eared Sliders can be housed with each other, but need can attack and harass each other if not given enough space. A 55 gal. tank is suitable for one turtle, and another 10 gal. is needed for each additional turtle. In addition, it is very important that all turtles in an enclosure are roughly the same size. Do not put a juvenile in the same tank as an adult.
If possible, provide exposure to direct sunlight, but make sure the enclosure does not become too hot. This risk applies especially to glass or acrylic enclosures, which tend to trap heat. The air temperature inside the enclosure should be about 75°F. The basking area should be about 85-90°F. If direct sunlight is not possible, full spectrum ultraviolet (UVA/UVB) fluorescent lighting should be placed within 18-24 in. from the basking area. This lighting will need to be replaced every six months, even if the bulb has not burned out, because the bulb's capacity to provide UV rays diminishes over time and will not give proper levels, even if the bulb still produces visible light.
Red-eared Sliders need a water temperature of 75-86°F. Remember, they are cold-blooded animals and their metabolism will slow and they will become inactive if the temperature is too cold. This can also have an adverse effect on their digestive systems and result in severe health problems. Water temperature can be maintained through the use of a submersible aquarium heater, which is on a thermostat. In general, estimate that you will need 5 watts per gallon of water.
Juveniles are mainly carnivorous, but while become increasingly omnivorous as they approach adulthood. Juveniles will need to be fed everyday, while adults can be fed every other day. Red-Eared Sliders are messy eaters and many owners find it helpful to move them to a separate tank or tub while feeding. This will cut down on debris and other contaminates in the main tanks water.
Commercial reptile feeders, like ReptoMin, should make up less than 25% of the turtles food. Also, less than 25% of the turtle's food should be animal protein, such as mealworms, waxworms, crickets, or feeder fish. At least 50% of the diet should be vegetation, such as collard greens, mustard greens, dandelions, carrots, squash, green beans, sweet potatoes, apples, melon, berries, bananas, grapes, or tomatoes. Dust all foods at each feeding with a general high ratio calcium-mineral supplement containing Vitamin D-3 such as Rep-Cal or Miner-All.
Water quality is critical to the health of the turtle. Because uneaten food items, urine, and feces can contaminate the water, it becomes a very suitable place for bacteria and other organisms to grow. This is unhealthy for your turtle, and not very aesthetic for you, since the aquarium will smell. The tank will need to be cleaned, and the water removed and replaced on a regular basis. Be sure, when changing the water, to have it at the right temperature before placing your turtle back in the tank. In addition, a dechlorinating agent should be used to treat the water prior to adding it to the tank. The method for changing the water is the same as for any aquarium.
How often the water needs to be changed depends, to a large part, on whether the turtle is fed in the aquarium or moved to a separate feeding tank, and if there is a filtration system in the tank. If moved for feeding, the water will generally need changing weekly. Otherwise, it will have to be changed more frequently.
- Provide plenty of space. A Red-Eared Slider will grow to full size.
- Provide a dry area for rest and basking.
- Make sure the water in the tank stays as clean as possible.
- Provide UV light, direct sunlight if possible.
- Try to stop a turtles growth by keeping it in a small tank.
- Rely solely on commercial reptile food.
- Keep more than one turtle in a tank without adequate space.
- release a Red-Eared Slider into the wild, for any reason.