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Related FAQs: Sliders, Sliders 2, Red Eared Slider Identification, RES Behavior, RES Compatibility, RES Selection, RES Systems, RES Systems 2, RES Feeding, RES Disease, RES Disease/Health 2, RES Disease 3, RES Health 4, RES Health 5, RES Health 6, RES Health 8, RES Health 9, RES Health 10, RES Reproduction, Turtles in General: Turtles, Turtle Identification, Turtle Behavior, Turtle Compatibility, Turtle Selection, Turtle Systems, Turtle Feeding, Turtle Disease, Turtle Disease 2, Shell Rot, Turtle Reproduction, AmphibiansOther Reptiles

Related Articles: Red Ear Slider Care by Gage Harford, Treating Common Illnesses of the Red Ear Slider (& other Emydid Turtles) by Darrel Barton, Shell Rot in Turtles,

The Care and Keeping of the Red Eared Slider

Trachemys scripta elegans 

by Darrel Barton

Note the elongated front claws on this young male.

Many aquarium keepers have been exposed to water turtles at their local pet store and the idea of adding one to our aquarium comes to mind.    Initially it makes sense since turtles occupy the same aquatic environment as many of our freshwater fish and the image of a cute little turtle swimming among the plants and rocks would add color and animation to our display tank.    In reality though, turtles occupy a different niche in the streams and ponds and share very little time or space with the fish that comprise the freshwater aquarium hobby.  They require different heat, light, food and even water levels, so in fact it turns out that their ideal environment is exactly what our fish do NOT need.  We know this, so we resist adding them to our collection. 

Still ... each time we're at the store ... there they are, staring at us from their log, silently bending us to their will until more than a few of us crumble and walk up to the tank to begin picking out our newest acquisition and silently rehearsing the excuse to our wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands or parents as to HOW this makes sense and WHY we had no real choice.   In another article, I will detail how I explained to my parents many years ago that I have no choice but to purchase a pair of Florida Alligators.  

The Red Eared Slider is typical of a large array of water turtles that share enough common characteristics in captivity that they can all be grouped together for purposes of care and keeping.   This family includes Sliders, Cooters, Map & Sawback Turtles and Chicken Turtles.   All these members of the Emydid family (no need to memorize that) split most of their time between swimming and basking.  This means that they need a water area large enough to swim and explore and a land area just large enough to haul out and bask. Given a pond with shoreline and floating logs, some animals will climb the logs and avoid the shore entirely.  Their dietary needs are simple and easy to supply, as are their heat requirements.  This leaves the primary difference between a well-kept turtle and a poorly kept turtle to be the enclosure and the water within. 

Red Eared Sliders are what they call sexually dimorphic (no need to memorize THAT term either), which simply means that there are outside differences between males and females.   Females grow larger than males, but then since an older male can be larger than a younger female that's no easy way to tell.   Males have thicker tails than females, but again that's when you have two turtles of equal age and size to compare.  There are two things to keep in mind:  Turtles like most reptiles, mature with size, not age and when a slider reaches about four inches in length (placing a flat ruler over his shell and measuring the length of the shell from front to back) the males develop longer nails on their front claws.  And I don't mean a little bit longer, I mean a LOT longer.  Long enough for the average person to think they need to be trimmed (they don't).  The other thing to keep in mind is -- that it doesn't matter.   Males get along with other males as well as they get along with females, and sliders of both sexes and pretty much all different sizes, if properly maintained, get along just fine with each other.


Note the elongated front claws on this young male.

Figure 1 


Section 1 -   Indoor Enclosures 

When considering keeping your Slider indoors there are many factors to consider.   Where you plan to keep it and how you plan to view it are important.  In my experience, pets that are kept for viewing tend to be more well kept that ones that are placed 'out of the way.'   Now with that point made, I will advise you from the standpoint of the turtle and for him that's a simple trade off:  Space versus cleanliness.  As a free-swimming water turtle he appreciates as much space and as much water as you can spare, but at the same time the condition of the water in terms of clean and clear are also a major factor.


Size matters, but not always the way you think 

I've raised hatchling turtles from birth (1/2 inch in size) to two years (3 inches) in a 20 gallon aquarium filled to half with an under gravel filter, normal small gravel and a 100 gph power filter.   I rigged the output of the power filter to go down into the tube of the under gravel filter in order to push clean water from the pump/filter UP through the plates and gravel and with this, every month I had to siphon out all the gravel, wash it and replace it.  Large turtles require larger tanks and aside from the how it looks, many keepers have been successful with big plastic rectangular tubs available at any home supply store.


This is a normal 20 gallon aquarium with a matching fluorescent hood.  It has an under gravel filter where the up flow tube is connected to the intake of an external power filter and the return water to a spray bar.    

With a quick change of tubes, the pickup can be from the main tank water and the clean outflow to the under gravel filter, causing clean water to be pushed upward to help cleanse the gravel bed.    

This setup can cost over $350

This is a 30 quart plastic storage container, clamp lamp and an "under counter" light fixture, all from a local home improvement center.    



This setup cost slightly less than $28

Figure 2


What is important to note -- is that BOTH these setups serve the needs of the turtle 

The biological filtration that we depend on in the aquarium hobby is wholly unsuitable for breaking down the waste products of even one turtle, so we must rely either on a highly efficient mechanical filter, regular water vacuuming or the complete break down & scrubbing of the enclosure -- or most likely a combination of all three.   Now this is the first major difference from the aquarium hobby, where bigger and more water are almost always better:  A smaller enclosure that is easier for you to drain, clean and refill will be better for the turtle in the long run than a larger enclosure that is harder to clean and where the quest for water quality becomes a losing battle.  So while wide and deep water is best ... but don't over stretch yourself -- live by the rule "No bigger than I can clean" and your turtle will thank you. 

Turtles seem to appreciate deeper water for swimming and their antics in deep water are more fun for us to watch so you might think that this is once again a trade off between cleanliness and viewing pleasure ...  but there is one additional factor to consider:  The water is where the turtle goes to cool off, so there should be enough water that it's temperature doesn't climb or dip dramatically during the day or night.  Simply put -- the deeper the water, the more likely that water will remain cool during the day and retain some heat at night. 


Everyone Out of the Pool 

Hauling out of the water to dry off and regulate temperature is an important requirement and one that we must provide after some very careful considerations.  The good news is that they don't need very much room as long as it is easy to access.   As stated earlier, many animals won't come on "shore" at all except to lay eggs or migrate to another lake or pond and seem to actually prefer a floating log to actual land.   A turtle isn't particularly agile or fast on land so it makes sense that a log offers the space needed, yet only a single push of a leg and they're in the safety of the water once again.  However, knowing that doesn't necessarily make our job any easier.  Actual wooden logs tend to leech colors and dyes into the water which make our cleaning just that much harder --and-- as an added bonus, they get waterlogged and lose their buoyancy a lot sooner than you can imagine, so indoors, I've found it best to use a "shelf" arrangement where I make a platform, usually of some form of shale or stone or whatever I can rummage from a local building supply store or stone yard and I support that with common bricks.   Bricks supporting a piece of wooden plank such as Pine will work, too.   At times, I've simply arranged rocks and/or bricks to make a "pile."  Turtles are simply not very concerned - as long as it gets them out of the water.   Let cleanliness (ease of disassembly for cleaning) and aesthetics be your guide -- with two additional considerations.  The first is that turtles are AMAZING climbers.  Many a turtle keeper has been astounded to see his turtle sitting on the floor outside it's enclosure with {what seems like} no possible way that it could have climbed out.  The second concern and one equally feared -- is that somehow the turtle can get caught UNDER the basking area somehow and drown.    Please give both of these possibilities serious consideration in your planning.    Pet Stores have recently begun to sell some hang-on "turtle shelves" that consider both these issues.  Even if you don't purchase one, looking at it might give you some hints as to how to proceed. 


Generally, turtles will take advantage of anywhere to haul out and don't mind sharing.   Many times they'll simply climb over and pile on each other until the topple back into the water.

Figure 3 



In the Heat of the Light 

Basking is an important ... um ... activity for a Slider and they can spend a great part of their day doing very little except sprawling out on some bit of dry land or log and arranging themselves in some certain way in order to get warm.   Moving between the heat of the light and the cool of the water is their method of regulating their temperature, so the next order of business is to provide heat.   Unless you live in a northern state and plan to house your turtle in the garage, it is not necessary to heat the water.  Any temperature that you would find comfortable for yourself will allow a water temperature suitable for the turtle.  Beyond that, any heater placed in the Slider's enclosure is just asking for him to break it, so given both those situations, forget heating the water and concentrate on heating his basking area. 

Normally, a regular 60 or 100-watt bulb positioned over his basking area is enough.   Ideally, a basking area can be long enough that part of it is directly under the light and reaches around 95 degrees (F) while another part is not quite so warm (perhaps 85F).   If this isn't possible, around 90F is an acceptable compromise.    A small digital thermometer from Radio Shack or similar store can help you position the lamp, but failing that a rule of thumb is that when you place your hand under the lamp you should immediately feel the warmth ... BUT you should be able to hold your hand there for at least three minutes without feeling uncomfortable.

A simple digital thermometer from a local pet store is usually under $10

Figure 4 


UVA and UVB are both important parts of the light spectrum not readily available in a standard light bulb and the "Reptile Bulbs" sold in pet stores that fit in a screw-in socket rarely generate the heat needed.  The best compromise is an inexpensive 18 inch fluorescent light fixture from a building supply store (you went there for the hooded socket over the basking area, the power strip to plug these things in and the timer you'll use to turn this all off and on -- so just add this and you're done shopping there!) along with a fluorescent reptile bulb available online or at your local pet store.   The most amazing thing about these lights is how fast the beneficial wavelengths fall off as you get further away.   Most bulbs will have documentation and it is not unusual to find that at 12 inches away, you lose 50% of the benefit of the light.  Again, that only tells us not to place the light 24 inches above the basking area.  A foot above is just fine.


UV (ultraviolet) wavelengths are delicate.  The bulb should be close to the basking area but also

-- and this is important --

Any lens or glass between the actual bulb and the basking area defeats the purpose of the bulb

Figure 5  


Let the Sun Shine In  - just a little 

Sunshine is a great thing.  Fresh & natural ... nature's best.  Every turtle can benefit from natural sunshine as it promotes healthy metabolism, vitamin utilization and all sorts of other good things.  The UV rays of natural sunshine are beneficial in every way, but it also adds some risks that we must take into account.  First, as sunlight passes through glass it loses it's health-promoting values since the UV rays are the first part of the spectrum to be filtered out.   At the same time, sunlight coming through glass (window glass, aquarium glass) increases it's HEAT potential by a great amount, making a confined space a perfect place to accidentally over heat or possibly even kill a turtle.   Having water that they can slide into to cool down is good, but remember the sun heats the water too!  Unless you have enough water to guarantee that it will remain cool in the direct sunlight, it's best to provide direct shade for the turtles to move in and out of.  One last thing most people don't know:  Screens, such as window screen and mosquito screens also filter out a small portion of the very UV spectrum that we want them to get.  So in general, direct sunshine offers benefits as well as dangers and these possible problems must be taken into account when setting the turtles outside, even for "just a little bit."  


Krill and Chopped Goldfish -- it's not what's for dinner. 

Food is by far the easiest element to deal with.  This is an area where our fish and our turtles do enjoy the same things -- nature provides both their aquatic environments with the same foods and treats.   I have raised hatchling turtles of just about every genera from Sliders to Snappers all the way to full sized breeding adults on a single staple diet:  

 Koi Pellets!  Simple.  Balanced.  Inexpensive.  Easy to store.   I use the Kay-Tee brand available at every pet & fish store in my area and I store it in Tupperware containers and I feed my turtles all they can eat in five minutes ...  three times a week.   They would gladly eat more.  They'd eat that much every day if I fed them, but all that would do is give me fat turtles with a whole host of health problems that come from being over-fed and under active.   Don't give in to your feelings that they are still hungry so therefore they must be "unhappy" -- that's a human emotion.  They don't have to go to school, or work.  They don't have to pay taxes, buy groceries or take care of their children -- what's to make them unhappy?   Let them be a little hungry -- it's healthy for them (and for us, too!). 

After the basic diet come treats.  I prefer night crawlers (worms).  Wait, that doesn't sound right.  THEY prefer worms!   About once every six weeks, I'll buy a small container of night crawlers from my local pet store and feed one or two.  Again, only what they can eat in about five minutes.   Maybe repeat the same thing next day and then toss the remaining night crawlers into the garden.  The reason I do this is because worms need to be refrigerated to be kept much longer than overnight and not everyone has the ability to do that.  Let me put that another way:  You need a WHOLE LOT of permission before you put worms in the refrigerator.    If you come across snails in your garden they can also make a fine treat, but you have to make sure and know for certain that the snails haven't been exposed to any form of snail pellets or snail bait. 

There are many other things you can try that all have their down sides:  Live goldfish and guppies will work -- except that the turtles won't eat all of them (they're not agile enough to catch most live fish) and you'll end up attached to the fish and then they present problems during cleaning.  Chopped fish and Krill are OK, but they foul the water very quickly and simply are not necessary.   At the bottom line, if you fed Koi Pellets and nothing else your turtles will grow, thrive, and not miss anything else.


The basic recipe: 

o          Tank or enclosure

o          Mechanical filter

o          Basking area

o          Heat lamp

o          UV lamp

o          Timer & Power strip

o          Koi pellets


Just add turtle and you have a fun, interesting and low maintenance pet!   

That's Part 1 - indoor keeping.  

Outdoor keeping, breeding, ailments and the differences with other turtles to follow in Part 2.

RES care   6/28/12
A few months ago my family bought 2 red eared sliders  ( Alex and Rexi ) roughly 2 inches. I have attempted to research on how to care for them but I have gotten conflicting info.
<Unfortunately one of the downsides of the ‘Information Age’ and Internet!>
I have 3 areas of concern: housing, feeding, and health care.  First the housing that they have right now I know isn't ideal for them. I have what I think is either a 5 or 10 gal tank.
<Yes, that is on the small side, especially for 2 turtles. Other than the obvious which is that turtles always appreciate larger surface area enclosures to swim about, the two biggest challenges with a smaller tank is that the water will become junked up more quickly (because there is less of it to dilute their food and waste), and the other is that it will be harder to regulate the water temperature/keep it cool even if you do try to position a heat bulb (which you also need) only above the basking area and away from the water.>
I also have a basking deck,
<Are you using the ‘bridge’ shown in the picture for their basking area? If so, just a few things to keep in mind:  First is that it needs to be large enough so that BOTH turtles can fit on it/bask on it at the same time AND tall enough so they can completely get themselves out of the water to dry off.  The one you have appears to be on the small side for them, but hard to tell from the pic alone.  The other thing to keep in mind with anything you put in the water is to make sure there is no way for it to trap them underneath the water.>
filter, and a UV bulb, which is not what they are living in right now.
<Where are they living now? Are you planning to move them into this new habitat soon?>
I was planning on buying a heater for the water but now I'm not sure if it is necessary.
<No water heater at all – but you DO need a heat bulb over the basking area in addition to the UVB bulb. Turtles need both in order to properly digest their food. The heat bulb can be as simple as a household light bulb.  You want to aim for a temperature in the range of 88-90 degrees above the basking area.>
We keep our house at about 70 degrees and wondering if that would make the water too cold for them?
<That’s perfect. The idea is to have cooler water so they are encouraged to get out of the water to bask each day. In fact, as above your challenge is likely going to be how to keep the water at this temperature when you add the heat bulb above the basking spot. I’d suggest keeping a thermometer in the water at all times so you can monitor it.>
I was also wanting to know if the filter is sufficient for them. It is a whisper internal power filter for 2-10 gallon tanks?
<Not sufficient!  Turtle filters should be AT LEAST 3 times more than what they’re rated for; the more the better as turtles produce significantly more waste than fish.  Get as powerful a mechanical filter as you can afford – and even at that you’ll still need to do a 50% water change at least once a week (and probably more given the smaller size aquarium) so the turtles get a steady stream of fresh water.>
Last thing that I want to know about the housing is tap water ok to use in the tank?
<As long as it’s safe for you to drink, it’s perfectly OK for them too!>
My second area of concern is that the food we are feeding them isn't a good diet and after being on your site think I might be feeding them too often. They are fed twice a day with the ReptoMin sticks. My question is are the sticks providing them with the nutrients they need and how much and how often should I feed them?
<Thank you for researching our site before writing in!  The ReptoMin sticks are fine for their staple, and yes you’re correct, you’re feeding them too often. Should only be ONCE every OTHER day AND only as much as they can eat in 5 minutes or so –even if they’re begging for more!  Overfeeding is the most common mistake people make.>
<To this we also recommend an earthworm or two every few weeks as a healthy treat. If you grab them from your lawn just make sure they haven’t been exposed to any pesticides. >
<On the “off” days from the ReptoMin you could also try offering them some ‘healthy’ greens just for some added fiber and variety. They may or may not accept them yet but no harm in trying so they get used to seeing it! By healthy I mean no iceberg lettuce, but rather things like red or green leaf lettuce, dandelion greens, carrot top greens, etc.>
<I’d also recommend you feed them separately: 1- so that you can better monitor their appetites (loss of appetite is often the first sign that they’re not feeling well), and 2 - to avoid a source of competition that can sometimes lead to general compatibility problems. You might also want to consider feeding them in a separate container and/or net up any leftover food they haven’t eaten after 5 minutes to help keep their tank cleaner longer.>
The last area of concern is that they have begun to get what looks like algae on their shells and one also has a white spot starting to show up on its shell? what should I do about this? I have included some pictures.
<I didn’t see any pictures showing your turtles’ shells but the best way to determine if it’s a fungus is to take a toothpick and see if you can scrape any of it off. If you can and you notice a smell to it, it’s likely fungus. If you suspect that’s what it is, this link tells you what you can do to treat it:
<It’s also important that they both get completely out of the water for a few hours each day to dry off and bask under both a heat and UVB light (as above). This will also help their shells stay in good shape.>
<Rickii, you’re off to a good start; just make those few changes I suggested above. I know you’re probably suffering from information overload, but I’m also going to give you a link to our basic care guide – it goes over everything I said in more detail -
<Though all the information out there can seem overwhelming, just remember that caring for turtles really boils down to just a few simple (but absolutely necessary) things:  a warm and completely dry area with UVB available for them to bask each day, cool clean water and a healthy diet.  Not a lot – but all things that they must have to stay healthy!  Hope this helps. Give the article a read over and please feel free to write us again if you have any more questions or concerns! ~ Sue>

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