Red-Eared Slider Turtle Care Tips

As with other reptiles, temperature plays a very important role in the well-being and development of the red-eared slider. Learn more about the care they need here.
Red-Eared Slider Turtle Care Tips
Georgelin Espinoza Medina

Written and verified by the biologist Georgelin Espinoza Medina.

Last update: 29 May, 2023

Reptiles are popular as pets and one of them is the red-eared slider turtle. It’s one of the most charming, popular, and commercialized in the world, due to the belief that it isn’t too difficult to look after. It’s also considered an invasive species and is very problematic due to the negative impact it can cause in ecosystems.

This specimen’s scientific name is Trachemys scripta elegans, and it belongs to the Emydidae family. In this article, we’ll tell you all about its care needs in captivity, in case you’d like to adopt one at home. Don’t miss it!

Characteristics of the red-eared slider turtle

Red-eared slider turtle.

These turtles have a size ranging from 10 to 30 centimeters (4 to 12 inches) in length in its shell. Their head is oblong and their feet are semi-palmate, which allows them to swim very well. In addition, they have 5 toes on each limb, with claws on the front ones.

The carapace of this specimen is divided into two parts. An upper or dorsal part, with an oval shape, sharp edges, and variable colorations (from greenish-yellow to darker colors). The lower part, called the plastron, is flat, smooth, and with lighter shades. Its skin is dark green or brownish. It also has spots and lines that give it a very distinct design.

The name red-eared slider turtle derives from the bright red horizontal stripes located on each side of its head, because they don’t have external ears per se.


The red-eared slider turtle can develop in a variety of freshwater aquatic environments, such as lakes, ponds, swamps, and streams – with shallow depths and weak currents, as they like tranquility. In addition, they prefer spaces with vegetation – comfortable resting places for when they come out of the water to sunbathe.


It’s native from the southeastern United States to northeastern Mexico. However, thanks to trade, it’s distributed worldwide. The uncontrolled abandonment of this pet has turned it into an invasive specimen with a great negative impact on the environment, due to its displacement of other species, its veracity, and its capacity to transmit some diseases.


They’re diurnal and are excellent swimmers, which depend on environmental temperature for their thermoregulation, as they’re poikilothermic animals. Therefore, they require external heat sources – either direct sunlight or sun-heated substrates.

They can hibernate during the coldest months, which they do at the bottom of ponds or shallow lakes. In addition, they’re quite long-lived, lasting up to 30 or 40 years.

Sexual dimorphism

This type of turtle shows evident sexual dimorphism, i.e. the sexes are different in some of their characteristics. Females are usually larger. In addition, there are also discrepancies in the size of the claws on their front legs. The males have longer claws than the females.

Sexual maturity is reached at different ages and sizes. On the one hand, we have the males, when their plastron measures about 10 centimeters (4 inches), between 2 and 5 years of age. On the other hand, there are the females are ready for reproduction at a later age (4 and 7 years old), with the ventral part of their shell 15 centimeters (6 inches) long.

Red-eared slider turtle care

To keep your beloved pet healthy and happy, you’ll need to cover its basic needs. Therefore, the following guidelines should be taken into account.

Terrarium for a red-eared slider turtle

One of the most important aspects of any pet is its space. Due to the behavior and lifestyle of this tortoise in the wild, it deserves an aquarium with two divisions. A place to swim and stay hydrated, and another dry place to use when warming up or sunbathing.

It shouldn’t be a small place, and should be in accordance with the size of the turtle, as they’ll grow a lot. When the specimens are less than one year old, they need at least 15 centimeters (6 inches) of water. When they’re adults, they need larger spaces, at least 120 centimeters long, 60 centimeters wide and 45 centimeters high (3 x 2 x 1.5 feet).

There are a variety of models on the market, although you can also make a homemade terrarium, specially designed for our reptile.

Aquarium parameters

Here are some important parameters that a red-eared slider turtle needs in its aquarium:

  • Water temperature: A very relevant indicator for the animal’s well-being, due to its thermoregulation. The water should have an ideal value of 26°C (79ºF), with a range that can go from 24 to 30°C (75º to 86º F) during the day. At night, the temperature usually drops by about 2 degrees, but care must be taken to ensure that it never falls below 20 degrees (60º F).
  • Ambient temperature: this parameter should have a value about 2 degrees above the water temperature. Thus, it should be between 26 and 32°C (79º to 90º F) and shouldn’t fall below 24°C (75º F) to keep the turtle healthy. It’s advisable to check the values with the help of thermometers.
  • Substrate: The aquarium can contain some type of substrate. However, attention must be paid to the size of the substrate, as it must be large enough to ensure the turtle doesn’t eat it. Boulders or coarse stones can be used and gravel should be avoided. With a maximum height of 3 or 4 centimeters (1.2 to 1.6 inches), to maintain air flow.
  • Lighting: Ideally, the turtle should be able to have contact with sunlight, as it likes to come out of the water to regulate its body temperature. However, if these conditions aren’t available, one option is the use of artificial lamps that provide UV radiation, because they need it for vitamin D.
  • Hygiene: The aquarium should be cleaned frequently to prevent diseases. A filter can be used to help with cleaning.

Red-eared slider turtle feeding

These tortoises are omnivorous animals in nature, although it varies based on the stage of development they are in. Generally, specimens under 3 years of age require a high protein diet for their development, so they eat more small animals. Adults, on the other hand, are more inclined to eat vegetables.

The animals included in the menu are varied, from insects, crabs, snails, tadpoles, small fish and amphibians. They can also consume other smaller reptiles.

So, if you acquire a turtle of this type, you’ll need to supply its needs according to its preferences. The ideal thing is to offer whole small freshwater fish (with guts). The amount varies according to the age of the animal. You can start with 1 per day when the reptiles are young, then gradually decrease to 3 or 4 times per week.

Worms can also be an option for animal protein. In addition, plant foods such as edible seaweed, green leafy vegetables or some fruits should be included. However, never offer spinach or citrus, or anything cooked or spicy.


The red-eared slider turtle is oviparous. Mating occurs in the water. After that, the female goes out to prepare the nest and dig the ground and, finally, lays the eggs. The eggs are white, oblong or spherical, with soft and flexible shells, measure from 23 to 44 millimeters long (1 to 1.7 inches) and weigh between 6 and 15 grams (0.2 to 0.5 inches). The incubation period ranges from 2 to 3 months.

Soil moisture is a very important factor for the eggs. In laboratory conditions, substrates such as vermiculite and perlite retain this characteristic very well. Temperature plays a crucial role in determining the sex of reptiles, including these turtles.

Red-eared slider turtle.

Other important aspects

In addition to the care mentioned so far, it’s necessary to take into consideration other relevant details such as the following:

  • Be very attentive to the appearance and coloration of the turtle’s shell. If they show any signs of staining, cracks or any other type of irregularity, then an expert should be consulted immediately. Likewise, make sure that their eyes are always clean.
  • These turtles can go into hibernation if the environmental conditions are suitable for it. If our pet is in this stage, the temperature of the aquarium must be checked very well, the adequate range goes from 2 to 8°C (35 to 46ºF).
  • When feeding, it isn’t advisable to mix specimens of different stages of development. This avoids bites from the bigger ones to the smaller ones.
  • Reptiles are natural reservoirs of bacteria such as Salmonella (a significant public health issue). Therefore, it’s suggested that you handle them carefully and perform the necessary analysis to rule out this pathogen.
  • As with other pets, they should be taken regularly to a veterinary specialist to help prevent diseases.

Looking after a red-eared slider turtle isn’t too complicated. However, it is important to check the temperature and perform regular cleanings to avoid diseases. Many pathologies occur due to ignorance of the basic requirements. When acquiring any pet, it’s our duty to find out all we can for its complete well-being.

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