QUICK FACTS

  • Red-eared sliders are native to the Mississippi Valley area of the USA.
  • Red-eared sliders, especially juveniles, can be difficult to sex. Males have longer foreclaws, a longer tail length, a longer distance from the body to the vent opening and a tail that is thicker at the base. Generally males have a smaller body size and shell length.
  • Average life span: 15-30 years
  • Adult size: 13-35 cm
  • Adult body weight varies
  • Sexual maturity 3-8 years
  • The upper shell is the carapace and the lower is called the plastron. It is live, growing tissue.

HOUSING

  • The bare minimum-sized enclosure for a hatchling red-eared slider should be a 110 litre aquarium (90 x 35 x 35 cm).
  • Hatchlings grow quickly and usually outgrow a 110 litre tank within 2 years so it good to start with a larger tank.
  • An adult turtle will need a tank of around 300 litres in volume. A second turtle would mean an increased tank volume.
  • Remember that once water, rocks etc are in place that the tank will be very heavy. Find a spot out of direct sunlight and make sure the floor, stand/furniture can support the weight.
  • Sit the tank on polystyrene on a level surface.
  • As a general rule, the water depth should be at least 1.5-2 times the turtle’s carapace length with more air space between the surface of the water to the top edge of the tank to prevent escapes.
  • Do not cover the top with glass. Mesh is OK.
  • A dry area out of water (basking area) is needed to allow the turtle to completely dry off. A basking light is placed above this area to help with warmth and drying.
  • Basking areas can consist of either islands, platforms or ramps attached at the water line of the tank or areas built from the bottom of the tank (bricks or stones) and emerging to the surface.
  • Do not use rough or sharp stones as they can damage the shell causing shell infections.
  • Basking areas must be large and sturdy enough to accommodate a larger turtle.

WATER QUALITY

  • Water quality is extremely important. Sliders are big eaters and tend to foul the water quickly with their messy eating habits and frequent defecation.
  • A system needs to be in place for management of water quality.
  • A water filter is essential. Filtration systems should be upgraded to more powerful external canister units as the turtle grows larger.
  • Water needs to be changed frequently. A siphon will assist with removal of wastes from the tank. Change approximately 25-50% of the water weekly. Empty and clean the tank monthly.
  • Consider feeding your turtle out of the main tank in a smaller container/tank.

HEATING

  • The water temperature should be 24-30°C, therefore water heaters are essential. Adults can be kept at the lower end of the range.
  • The overall air temperature should be 24°C.
  • Basking area temperature of 29-32°C.
  • Use multiple thermometers to monitor air, water and basking temperatures.
  • Use a water heater suitable for the tank size and protect it from damage by the turtle by placing it behind something in the tank (eg, piece of rock).
  • Use an incandescent light in a reflector hood placed over the basking area.
  • The light fixture should be placed in such a way that there is no chance of it accidentally falling into the water (using a screen top on the aquarium and placing the fixture over it will prevent this).
  • The basking light should be set on an automatic timer to simulate a natural photoperiod with 10-12 hours daylight in the autumn and winter and 12-14 hours daylight in the spring and summer.

OTHER LIGHTING

  • Turtles need ultraviolet (UV-B) light to help produce vitamin D3, which is essential to help with the formation of a healthy shell and bones.
  • Natural sunlight is the best source of UV-B light but in a glass tank it is not as suitable. Direct sunlight can cause overheating and the glass of the tank will filter out the useful UVB light.
  • Use a reptile UV-B tube light over the tank. Turn on for 8 hours per day and remember, not through a glass lid.
  • Change bulb/tube every 6 months.

FEEDING/NUTRITION

  • Free ranging sliders are omnivorous. Juveniles are more carnivorous and adults more herbivorous.
  • Variety is important. This helps to keep the diet balanced and to minimize fussiness.
  • For adult maintenance:
  • 25% turtle pellets
  • 25% animal protein. Includes small fish, snails, worms, shrimps, tadpoles, fresh liver, oxheart, other lean meat, aquatic insects, bloodworms, flies.
  • 50% green leafy vegetables and other chopped veges or fruit in small amounts. Mix with meat or often won’t be eaten. Includes oxygen weed, peas, carrots, spinach, beans, watercress.
  • Increase protein to 40% for juvenile turtles. Can decrease plant matter accordingly.
  • More mature adults can have 30% pellets and animal protein with 70% plant material.
  • Turtles usually only feed in water.
  • Feed in a separate small tank or container so the main tank stays cleaner. Keep temperature warm enough to help digestion.
  • Feed juveniles once to twice daily. Adults 2-3 times per week.
  • An approximate amount to feed is around the same size as the head. Remove food after 1 hour.
  • Don’t feed frozen food, thaw first.
  • It is advised to mix calcium and vitamin supplements with the food. A commercial reptile calcium supplement is ideal. Cuttlefish can be given too.
  • Avoid: frozen fish, excessive amounts of marine fish (too salty), stale food, cabbage, monarch caterpillars, any foods possibly contaminated by pesticides.

HANDLING

  • Turtles are very powerful with sharp claws and a sharp beak.
  • Hold the sides of the turtle with the thumbs on the carapace and fingers on the plastron with the head facing away from you.
  • Hold close to the front just behind the front legs.
  • Turtles have no teeth but they do have a very sharp beak.
  • Their claws can scratch so take care.
  • Best for children not to handle turtles. The shell can be badly damaged if dropped onto hard floor or other surfaces.
  • Wash hands well after handling as turtles can carry Salmonella.

GENERAL MAINTENANCE AND HEALTH CARE

  • Except in a very young turtle, the shell should not be soft when squeezed gently.
  • Calcium supplementation and a proper UV-B light will help to prevent metabolic bone disease (MBD) which often causes soft shell and other shell abnormalities or deformed bones.
  • Low vitamin A levels in the diet can cause Hypovitaminosis A. Usually causes swollen eyes, depression, nasal discharge and poor appetite or anorexia due to blindness. Liver is a good source of vitamin A. Try to feed a little at least once a week. A few drops of cod liver oil can help too.
  • Skin infections and problems usually arise from lack of drying of the skin. They are usually due to poor basking area conditions or excessive humidity. Make sure tank is not covered with glass.
  • Raspy breathing, bubbling from the nose, lethargy and poor appetite along with unbalanced swimming are signs of pneumonia. This needs vet attention. Move to warm and dry area.
  • Poor water conditions due to insufficient water changes and cleaning can cause ammonia build up. This can cause burning of the eyes.
  • Most health problems are caused by problems with nutrition or husbandry. This guide will help you to avoid many of the potential problems that may occur.
  • A sick turtle can be housed in a home made hospital tank which is made from a smaller plastic container insider a larger container. The smaller container has holes in the bottom and between the two containers is water and a water heater. This helps to maintain some humidity and heat without being immersed in water.
  • See your reptile vet if you notice any health problems.
  • A yearly veterinary health check is highly recommended.