Maybe you’re searching for a family pet that doesn’t come with a side of allergies (like a cat or dog), or maybe you like watching pet turtles move about their habitat. The lifespan of a red-eared slider can be decades long, and this little creature can provide many years of enjoyment for the whole family.
Choosing a turtle as a pet is not as simple as it seems, though. Many red-eared sliders are released into the wild when their owners no longer wish to care for them — and the large numbers of nonnative turtles can damage the local ecosystem.
Could the red-eared slider be the right fit for you? Learn more about this turtle and its care.
What Is a Red-Eared Slider?
A red-eared slider, or Trachemys scripta, is a type of turtle that's commonly sold as a pet around the world. These gentle turtles have the following attributes.
Physical features. The turtles have green and yellow striped bodies, darker green shells, and elongated red spots on their heads behind each eye. Females are larger than males. As male sliders age, they sometimes turn black due to a phenomenon called melanism.
Red-eared sliders start out tiny: Some newborn sliders are less than an inch long. Their adult size is about 10 inches long.
Location. Sliders live on nearly every continent, but they aren't native to all of these areas. Many people release these turtles as pets, and they reproduce in local environments.
Lifestyle. Red-eared sliders are semiaquatic — they live in water and on land. You may notice your slider relaxing on a rock in your terrarium in between swims.
Diet. Sliders are mostly carnivorous (eating small fish, snails, bugs, and tadpoles) as juveniles but become more omnivorous (adding plant matter to their diets) as adults.
Predators. These turtles have predators in the wild, like raccoons, large birds, and snakes, but their thick shells make them difficult for wildlife to eat.
Where Do Red-Eared Slider Turtles Live?
If you plan to keep a red-eared slider as a pet, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the differences between its natural habitat and the one you’re trying to create. Your turtle should have both water and land areas in its tank.
In the wild. A red-eared slider is not too picky about its environment: These hardy turtles are able to live anywhere from New England to Australia to the Middle East. But this species does have a few requirements. It thrives in still waters with mud, lots of plants, and safe areas where it can bask in the sunlight.
As pets. Keeping a slider as a pet is a bit more complicated due to its larger size as an adult. For a juvenile, a 20-gallon terrarium might suffice. As an adult, your slider will need more room. Experts recommend providing 10 gallons of water per turtle per inch of shell. A fully grown red-eared slider might need a 50-gallon home or an outdoor pond to live in.
Remember that your turtle needs a swimming area and a basking area. The basking area is important for helping your turtle maintain its body temperature. A water heater and a water filter are also necessary for keeping the environment clean and comfortable for your pet.
What Are Invasive Species, and How Did the Red-Eared Slider Become One?
An invasive species is a type of fish, reptile, insect, mammal, or plant that was released into the wild in an area where it isn’t normally found in nature. If the living conditions are correct, this species can thrive and reproduce.
An invasive species disrupts the balance of the local ecosystem. Over time, this species might compete with local animals or bugs for resources like food, water, and shelter. There are several recent examples of invasive species, including lionfish, on the east coast of the U.S., kudzu (a fast-growing plant) in the Southern U.S., and water hyacinth in South America. The red-eared slider currently ranks at 93 out of the 100 most invasive species worldwide.
Red-eared sliders are sometimes released into the wild by well-meaning owners who don't understand that the turtle will grow so large in its adulthood. One or two red-eared sliders probably wouldn’t make a difference to the local ecosystem, but when many pet owners release these turtles into the wild, they can multiply quickly. Unfortunately, sliders might spread diseases like salmonella and carry many parasites to the local turtle population.
What Is the Best Red-Eared Slider Diet?
In the wild, red-eared sliders can choose from a wealth of dietary choices, like minnows, tadpoles, and small crustaceans like crayfish. They also snack on aquatic plants and flowers.
In captivity, it’s important to remember that a young slider needs the nutrients it would get from a carnivorous diet. For example, you can feed juvenile sliders earthworms, crickets, mealworms, or other staple insects many pet stores carry for reptiles and amphibians. You can also find pre-made pellets manufactured specifically for growing turtles.
As your slider ages, it will gravitate toward a more omnivorous diet. You can include plant matter they would eat in the wild, like dandelions and duckweed (a common pond plant). Many sliders enjoy eating entire plants, including the stems and seeds. Ask your vet for food recommendations if you're having trouble feeding your slider a balanced diet.
What Is the Red-Eared Slider Lifespan?
Wild sliders usually live for around 20 to 30 years, while sliders kept in captivity can live for over 40 years. Due to the potential decades-long lifespan of red-eared sliders, it’s a good idea to prepare yourself for this responsibility before purchasing one.
Red-eared sliders are cute, interesting, and easy to care for. If you choose to bring a red-eared slider into your home and find that it’s not a good fit for your family, make the responsible choice to re-home the turtle or contact your local animal shelter for help instead of releasing it into a nearby pond.