*** Update, Since this article was first written, the red eared slider has now been classed as an invasive species of turtle in the EU, and some important regulations have been introduced which will effect owners of these turtles or anyone trying to breed, sell or rehome them. Please read this following article on the new EU Regulations on invasive species.
The red-eared slider (also sometimes known as the red-eared terrapin) is one of the most popular pet turtles in the world, and is a semi-aquatic turtle that is native to the Southern USA and the north of Mexico. They are one of the easier turtle species to care for, but have also caused some problems in the wild when introduced to non-native areas, as they are a very invasive species that can play havoc with the local ecosystem of areas that they do not naturally live in.
If you are considering getting a pet turtle or terrapin, the red-eared slider is a good choice, and it is also worth considering adopting an adult turtle that needs rehoming, as turtles of all types are relatively long lived when correctly cared for.
In this article, we will introduce you to the basics of choosing a healthy red-eared slider as a pet, and how to care for them.
In order to start off your life with a turtle in the best way possible, it is important to start off with a fit, healthy specimen so that you do not end up buying into a whole load of problems before you even get going!
Look for a turtle that is alert, bright, and responds to stimulus, and that is active within its normal temperature parameters. When you pick up a turtle, it will likely draw its legs and head back into its shell instinctively, identifying that it is alert and active. Check that the nose and mouth are clean and clear, that the shell is undamaged, and that the turtle generally appears healthy and not injured or sick.
For a young specimen, an aquarium tank is perfectly sufficient, but as red-eared sliders grow rather large when adult, you will likely need to change up their tank for something larger as they grow! A tank of 100 gallons minimum is necessary for a fully-grown adult, which means a large tank that is well thought out to provide for all of your turtle’s needs.
The tank should provide access to both water and land, and a nice warm area where your turtle can bask out of the water, as well as sufficient heat, light and filtration.
Turtles are very susceptible to illness if the water they are kept in is not scrupulously clean, and so superior filtration and regular water changes are essential to maintain health. The water of the tank can be heated with an aquarium water heater, and the temperature should be constantly monitored and kept stable.
Turtles also need the provision of UVB lighting, in order to permit them to properly turn calcium from their diets into useful components to grow healthy bones and a hard, healthy shell. Normal tank and aquarium lighting does not allow for the provision of UVB light, and so you will need to invest in a dedicated UVB light fitment in order to enable this.
One interesting thing about the red-eared slider is that their taste in food will tend to change as they mature and age, becoming ever more herbivorous as they get older. Regardless of the age of your turtle, you should offer them a good variety of different food items, including both plant and animal matter. Ready-made turtle food pellets are perfect to provide for most of the nutritional needs of your turtle, but this diet should also be supplemented with plenty of fresh greens and other food, keeping an eye on providing for your turtle’s need for calcium within their diet.
When young and juvenile, red-eared sliders need to be fed daily, but when mature, feeding every other day is totally fine. Some larger or older adults are only fed every three days or so, but it is wise to try feeding every other day first, and see if your turtle chooses to eat this regularly or not before you limit their food.
It is of course vital to ensure that you can provide as natural a lifestyle for your red-eared sliders as possible, and provide for their need to bask, swim, spend time on land, and eat naturally. In the wild, turtles of all sorts tend to eat in the water, and some red-eared sliders will refuse to eat on land, but if you can convince your turtle to do this, this will make keeping the water quality good and clean much easier for you.
Providing an unsuitable living environment, poor quality or inadequately filtered water or not feeding the right foods can cause ill health in your turtles, which will often first manifest themselves with behavioural changes, so keep an eye on your turtles and get to know what is normal for them, in order to identify signs of potential trouble.