Red-Eared Slider Turtle: A Species Profile

The red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) is a semi-aquatic turtle species and one of the most recognizable types of turtles in the world.

As a staple in the pet trade, these turtles have fascinated people with their distinctive red stripes and intriguing behaviors.

About Red-Eared Slider Turtle

  • Common Name: Red-Eared Slider
  • Scientific Name: Trachemys scripta elegans
  • Family Name: Emydidae
  • Genus Name: Trachemys
  • Native: Southern United States and Northern Mexico
  • Food: Omnivorous diet – young are more carnivorous, eating insects, snails, and fish, while adults are more herbivorous, consuming aquatic plants and algae.
  • UVB Temperature: A basking spot in the enclosure with a temperature between 85-90°F (29-32°C) under a UVB lamp.
  • Water Temperature: Prefer between 75-80°F (24-27°C).
  • Enclosure Requirement or Tank Size: For adults, a minimum of 55-125 gallons, depending on the turtle’s size.
  • Lifespan: 20-30 years (in the wild), up to 40 years or more (in captivity)
  • Baby Size: Hatchlings are about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter.
  • Adult Size: Males average 8-10 inches (20-25 cm) and females average 10-12 inches (25-30 cm).
  • Similar Species: Western painted turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii), Cumberland slider (Trachemys scripta troostii), and yellow-bellied slider (Trachemys scripta scripta)
  • Cost: Depending on the age and size, the cost vary from around $20 to $200 or more.

Physical Characteristics

Red-eared sliders are named for the distinctive red or orange stripe behind the ears on each side of the head.

Their shell, consisting of a carapace on top and a plastron underneath, is covered in hardened sections called scutes.

Males are typically smaller than females, but both are renowned for their yellow stripes decorating the shell and skin.

Shell

The shell of a red-eared slider turtle is an important component of its physical features. The shell consists of a top part, known as the carapace, and a bottom section, referred to as the plastron.

Its texture is rather smooth and the color can vary, usually displaying a pattern of yellow and green. The shell’s edges are slightly turned up, giving it a somewhat streamlined appearance.

Scutes

Both the carapace and plastron are covered in plates called scutes. Scutes are made of keratin, the same substance that makes up human hair and nails. They serve as a form of protection and contribute to the overall structure of the shell.

Skin and Stripes

Red-eared sliders have soft skin that covers their limbs, neck, and head. Their skin is typically green with fine yellow stripes.

The most distinctive feature, the one that gives the species its name, is the small red or orange stripe located behind each eye.

This “ear” can range from a bright red to a dark reddish-brown color.

Size and Sexual Dimorphism

Red-eared slider turtles display sexual dimorphism, meaning males and females exhibit different physical characteristics.

On average, males reach a carapace length of about 8-10 inches, while females tend to be larger, measuring 10-12 inches.

Additionally, males have longer, thicker tails and their claws on the front feet are typically longer than those of females.

Eyes and Beak

Red-eared sliders have sharp eyesight. Their eyes are usually bright and alert, with males having slightly red-tinted irises, and females having more yellowish irises.

The turtle’s mouth forms a sharp, beak-like structure used to tear apart food.

Limbs

Red-eared sliders possess strong, webbed feet, suitable for both swimming in water and maneuvering on land. Each foot has five toes, with small claws at the end of each toe.

In all, the red-eared slider’s physical traits are well-adapted for their semi-aquatic lifestyle, allowing them to thrive in various environments, and contribute to their status as one of the most identifiable turtles in the world.

red-eared slider turtle
Red-Eared Slider Physical Appearance

Habitat and Distribution

Natively found in the southern United States and northern Mexico, red-eared sliders thrive in a wide variety of aquatic habitats.

They’re fond of basking on rocks and logs, soaking up the sun while lounging amidst aquatic plants.

However, due to releases by pet owners, they have spread far and wide, from as far east as West Virginia to as far west as eastern New Mexico.

Today, they’re considered an invasive species due to their impact on native animal species, including other turtles such as the box turtle and the western pond turtle.

Life Cycle and Reproduction

Red-eared sliders reach sexual maturity around 5 years of age, although males may mature slightly earlier than females.

Females leave the water to lay their eggs—typically around 30 per clutch—in carefully chosen locations.

The resulting young turtles, or hatchlings, are small in size but grow rapidly if conditions are favorable.

However, the presence of breeding populations outside of their native range poses a threat to wild turtle populations.

Red-Eared Sliders in Captivity

In captivity, proper care of red-eared sliders is crucial.

They require a large tank, regular water changes, and adequate basking sites to mimic their natural environment. Without these, sliders may remain small in size and suffer health issues.

There’s also a concern that captive turtles, if they escape or are released, could establish new populations in the wild.

Red-Eared Sliders Tank Setup

1. Tank Size: The size of the tank should be proportional to the size of your turtle. For juvenile sliders, a 20-gallon tank might suffice, but an adult red-eared slider will need at least a 55-gallon tank. For a fully-grown female slider, a 125-gallon tank would be even better. The general rule of thumb is 10 gallons of water for every inch of turtle length.

2. Water Depth: The water depth should be at least twice the turtle’s shell length, enabling them to flip themselves over if they find themselves upside down in the water. Keep in mind that red-eared sliders are strong swimmers and will appreciate as much space as you can provide.

3. Basking Area: Red-eared sliders need a dry, warm place within the enclosure where they can climb out and bask under a heat lamp. This can be achieved using floating platforms, large rocks, or logs that are securely placed. The basking area should be large enough for the turtle to fully extend and dry off.

4. Lighting: Turtles require both UVA and UVB light for their health. UVB light aids in Vitamin D3 synthesis, which is crucial for healthy shell development. The basking spot should have a heat lamp to maintain a temperature between 85-90°F (29-32°C).

5. Water Temperature: The water temperature should be kept around 75-80°F (24-27°C). An aquarium heater can be used to maintain a constant, suitable temperature.

6. Filtration: Red-eared sliders are messy eaters, so a strong filter is necessary to keep the water clean. Choose a filter designed for a tank larger than the one you have to ensure it can handle the task.

7. Substrate: While some owners choose to leave the bottom of the tank bare, others prefer to use a substrate. Fine gravel or sand can be used, but beware that your turtle might accidentally ingest it. Large river rocks are another option.

8. Decor: Decorations such as plants (real or artificial) can be added for aesthetic purposes and to provide some cover, but they’re not necessary and can sometimes complicate cleaning.

9. Tank Cover: A cover or lid for your tank is not always necessary, especially if the tank’s walls are high enough to prevent your turtle from climbing out. However, if you’re worried about other pets getting into the tank, a cover may be a good idea.

Remember, the goal is to mimic the turtle’s natural habitat as closely as possible to make them feel secure and promote natural behaviors.

Keep the tank clean and monitor the water and basking temperatures regularly. With the right setup, your red-eared slider can thrive and live a long, healthy life.

Feeding your Red-Eared Slider and Its Diet

Feeding Red-Eared Slider Turtle

1. Juvenile Diet: Young red-eared sliders are primarily carnivorous.

Their diet should consist largely of protein sources such as mealworms, waxworms, small fish (like guppies or goldfish), and commercially prepared turtle pellets.

They should also be given small amounts of fruits and vegetables to help them get accustomed to a more herbivorous diet as they age.

2. Adult Diet: Adult red-eared sliders shift toward an omnivorous diet, with an emphasis on plant-based foods.

About 70-75% of their diet should be made up of leafy greens (like kale, spinach, and collard greens), vegetables (like bell peppers, squash, and zucchini), and fruits (like apples, bananas, and berries).

3. Protein: The remaining 25-30% of an adult slider’s diet should consist of protein sources, such as cooked chicken or turkey, boiled eggs, insects, and commercial turtle pellets.

4. Commercially Prepared Food: Commercially prepared turtle foods can be a good source of necessary vitamins and minerals.

However, they should not make up the entirety of a turtle’s diet and are best used as a supplement to fresh foods.

5. Feeding Schedule: Red-eared sliders should be fed daily when they are young.

As they grow older, their feeding schedule can be reduced to every other day or a few times a week. It’s important to watch for signs of overfeeding, such as rapid weight gain or shell deformities.

6. Supplements: Depending on the variety in their diet, a calcium supplement might be beneficial for your turtle.

This can help prevent metabolic bone disease, a common health issue in pet turtles. Additionally, vitamin supplements can be considered if your turtle’s diet isn’t varied enough to provide all necessary nutrients.

7. Water: Red-eared sliders typically prefer to eat in the water. Be prepared for messes as these turtles can be quite sloppy eaters. A strong filter and regular water changes can help maintain water quality.

Remember, each turtle is unique, so it’s important to observe your pet and adjust its diet accordingly.

If you have any concerns about your turtle’s diet or nutritional health, it’s best to consult with a reptile veterinarian.

Pro and Cons of Red-Eared Sliders as a Pet

Pros:

  1. Fascinating Pets: Red-eared sliders are fascinating animals with their unique behaviors and characteristics. Observing them can be quite entertaining and educational, especially for children.
  2. Long Lifespan: Red-eared sliders have a long lifespan (20-30 years in the wild, and up to 40 years or more in captivity with proper care), which means they can be a companion for a significant part of your life.
  3. Interaction: While they are not pets that enjoy cuddling or handling, red-eared sliders can learn to recognize their owners and may associate you with feeding time, adding a level of interaction.
  4. Adaptability: They are quite adaptable and can live happily in a variety of environments as long as their basic needs (appropriate tank setup, diet, UVB light, etc.) are met.

Cons:

  1. Long-term Commitment: Their long lifespan means a long-term commitment. Potential owners need to understand this before getting a red-eared slider as a pet.
  2. Maintenance and Care: Red-eared sliders require significant care, including a large tank, special lighting, specific diet, and regular cleaning. This can be time-consuming and costly.
  3. Size: Red-eared sliders can grow quite large (up to 12 inches in shell length for females), requiring more space and larger enclosures as they grow.
  4. Health Risks: Like all reptiles, red-eared sliders can potentially carry Salmonella, which can pose a health risk, especially to young children or immunocompromised individuals.
  5. Limited Handling: They are not pets that enjoy being handled frequently. Frequent handling can lead to stress and potential health problems.

Red-Eared Sliders in Trade

The popularity of red-eared sliders in the pet trade is undeniable. They can be found in pet stores across the globe and are even exported from the United States to other countries.

Besides their role as pets, red-eared sliders are sometimes hunted as a species for food, although this practice is not widespread.

Conservation and Legal Status

Given their status as an invasive species and potential threat to native turtles, there are restrictions on the ownership of red-eared sliders.

For instance, in some areas, it is illegal to sell turtles with a shell length less than 4 inches or over 5 years of age. These measures are intended to prevent inexperienced owners from unintentionally releasing turtles into the wild.

Final Words

The story of the red-eared slider is a complex mix of allure, public health concern, and environmental impact.

While these turtles can make fascinating pets, it’s vital to remember the role of responsible ownership and conservation efforts in ensuring their welfare and protecting native species.

As we continue to learn more about these charismatic creatures, let’s also strive to coexist sustainably with them and the wider ecosystem.


FAQ

What is a red-eared slider turtle?

A red-eared slider turtle, also known as a slider turtle or Trachemys scripta elegans, is a type of aquatic turtle commonly kept as a pet. It belongs to the species Trachemys scripta, which also includes other slider turtle species.

What is the habitat of red-eared slider turtles?

Red-eared slider turtles are native to the southern United States and northern Mexico. They prefer aquatic habitats such as ponds, lakes, and streams with plenty of basking sites, rocks and logs, and aquatic plants.

Can red-eared slider turtles be kept as pets?

Yes, red-eared slider turtles are commonly kept as pets. However, they require proper care and a large tank to thrive. They are also an invasive species in many parts of the world and should not be released into the wild.

What are some common health issues for red-eared slider turtles?

Red-eared slider turtles are susceptible to salmonella, a type of bacterial infection that can be transmitted to humans. They may also suffer from shell and skin problems, respiratory infections, and other health issues if not provided with proper care.

How do red-eared slider turtles lay eggs?

Red-eared slider turtles lay their eggs in nests dug in the ground, usually near water. Females can lay up to 30 eggs at a time, which then hatch after an incubation period of around 60 days.

What is the difference between male and female red-eared slider turtles?

Male red-eared slider turtles are typically smaller than females and have longer claws on their front legs. They also reach sexual maturity earlier than females, usually around 2-3 years of age.

Why are red-eared slider turtles an invasive species?

Red-eared slider turtles have been released into many parts of the world where they are not native, such as Europe and Asia, where they can compete with and displace native turtle species. They are listed on the global invasive species database as one of the most damaging invasive species.

What should I feed my red-eared slider turtle?

Red-eared slider turtles are omnivores and should be fed a diet that includes both plant and animal matter. Commercial turtle food, live insects, and a variety of greens and vegetables are all good options.

How can I create a suitable habitat for my red-eared slider turtle?

A suitable habitat for a red-eared slider turtle should include a large aquatic tank with plenty of basking sites, rocks, logs, and aquatic plants. The water should

About David Nitta

I am a lifelong lover of turtles and have dedicated years of research to understand and care about this wonderful creature. I regularly post blogs, mostly from what I read and my own experience, covering everything from turtle care, health, feeding habits, habitat setup, and so much more.