Red-Eared Sliders: Full Profile & Care Guide

Tanja is a qualified postgraduate scientist with a great passion for nature and how different ecosystems interact. Her education included coursework and practical experience to advance in biological sciences, farming, aquarium research and fisheries management. She has experience in constructing ponds, aqua- and hydroponics, productive gardens with a small worm farm and compost heap, and larger scale mariculture facility setups.

Red-eared sliders are a common pet reptile in the United States and are often kept by aquarium hobbyists. They have an active, curious personality, which makes them well suited for those who like reptiles.a

This comprehensive guide on red-eared slider turtles, one of the most popular pet reptiles in America today, includes information that will help you to better care for your new pet red-eared slider(s).

From their biological characteristics to their temperament to their diet, this guide will arm you with all the information you need to make an informed decision about whether or not a red-eared slider turtle makes the right pet for you and your family.


Origination and Habitats of red-eared sliders

Red-eared slider turtles are turtles of the genus Trachemys in the family Emydidae. The German naturalist Johann Gottlob Schneider first described the species in 1792, and over 20 subspecies have been described to date.

  • Native: Red-eared sliders are an American turtle species that is native to the southeastern United States. It can be found in all 50 states as well as parts of Canada, Mexico, Central America, and South America.
  • Origin: They originated from South America and, like many other reptiles, have a wide range of colors and patterns.
  • Classification: Their scientific name is Trachemys scripta elegans, and they are a subspecies of the common slider. The red-eared slider turtle is also called the Florida red-eared slider or Florida diamondback softshell turtle.
  • Habitat: As red-eared sliders are semi-aquatic animals, they can be found primarily in freshwater lakes, ponds, and swamps.

Most preferred living environment

Most people do not know precisely where red-eared sliders live because they are slow-moving water animals that often go under rocks during hot periods and in cold periods when they seek areas where there is more vegetation or soil to rest on.

Red-eared sliders prefer semi-aquatic areas, including a water source and secure dry areas with low vegetation. They feel uncomfortable when surrounded by too many trees, bushes, or tall grass, as these provide them with too much shelter.

Additionally, red-eared sliders also need some shade from sun rays throughout the day so that their eyes can rest properly. On top of this, since most people keep their tanks indoors, you will find that their reptile decorations must be hidden from sunlight to prevent UV damage that can cause a variety of skin disorders.

However, if you want to keep your red-eared slider(s) outdoors, make sure to place them in an area where they can receive both enough sunlight through the day and also some shade at the warmest time of the day.

Follow my blog posts to read more about the specifics on optimal water conditions for red-eared sliders, setting up the proper enclosure and keeping your pet turtle content.

Biological characteristics of red-eared sliders


  • The red-eared slider turtle is a terrestrial, semi-aquatic, freshwater turtle that has the ability to breathe both underwater and on land.
  • It has developed a unique camouflage pattern to help it stay hidden in its aquatic environment. This bright coloration also makes it more difficult for predators to spot whenever they are hiding in the water.
  • The body of a red-eared slider will be deep orange, with lighter areas around their eyes and on their belly, which has small red spots. Their nickname is because this species of turtle’s ears resemble those of an elephant’s trunk, hence their catchphrase: “Ears like elephants.”
  • They have a lifespan of 15 to 25 years on average. However, some have been found to age as old as 30 to 50 years.

Size and body parts:

  • The red-eared slider is medium-sized, with an average length of 3.5 to 4.5 inches and a weight of 0.5 to 1.5 pounds. They can grow up to 12 inches, but some have even been reported to get up to 18 inches big.
  • Red-eared sliders have lovely long nails that grow to the appropriate length for their body size and gender. It does not need to be trimmed, but you can do occasional check-ups to ensure it looks healthy. Note that males do have longer claw lengths on their front feet than female sliders for mating purposes.
  • All turtles do not have teeth. Instead, they have serrated ridges on the upper and lower jaws of their beak. Red-eared sliders use the jagged ridges in their beak to catch and tear food apart. They can also use their powerful jaws to snap and bite when they feel threatened, so use due diligence around specific individuals.
  • Red-eared sliders have a cute, triangular-shaped tail, usually with one or two stripes on either side of the tail. The tail of your slider individual can easily be used to determine the turtle’s gender when they have matured. The male slider has a noticeably thicker tail that sticks out quite a bit from the rear end of its shell, whereas female sliders have thin, short tails that do not stick out as much.
  • The male and female sliders look very similar except for their color patterns; females have more distinct markings on their backs, while males have more light-colored patterns on their heads and throats.

Aquatic and non-aquatic requirements

Red-eared sliders spend most of their time in the water when they are not breeding or eating. They are excellent swimmers, so it is essential to make sure they have access to fresh water all the time because drinking salt water would be harmful to them.

Fresh water sources can include:

  • Brackish waters (least preferred)
  • Dechlorinated tap water or rainwater
  • Lakes
  • Ponds (most preferred)
  • Rivers

They prefer to stay mostly on land during daytime hours but tend to swim in between, which also prevents red-eared sliders’ skin or shell from drying out too much while basking in the sun on land.

They also need warm temperatures, so they do not hibernate during cold weather seasons or when it gets too hot outside during summertime days as well as nights when temperatures drop below 65°F.

Drowning possibilities:


Image credit :

So, can red-eared sliders actually drown being aquatic? YES!

If the water depth is way over 20 inches with no basking or resting area, your red-eared slider will drown. Sliders also get tired after swimming or eating, thus requiring sufficient dry areas to catch their breath and recover. As red-eared sliders are reptiles, they must come up to the surface to take a breath.

Accordingly, red-eared sliders require a water depth of at least 10 to 20 inches and dry patches as basking areas and mud or sand areas.

If you, for instance, own more than one turtle, it is vital to provide each with a separate basking area in the water to avoid fighting and potential drowning. Sliders tend to be less active if housed with other sliders in a large enclosure.

Do not get worried when your red-eared slider friend stays underwater for quite some time, provided all the other parameters in the holding tank are correct. Your pet might be taking a nap underwater for a few minutes.

Healthy diet requirements

Similar to other reptiles, red-eared sliders require a diet rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals. In addition to a diet rich in animal protein, red-eared sliders also need many other things from their diet, including calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins A, D, and E.

Red-eared sliders are omnivores; thus, they eat everything from bugs to plants. Accordingly, they need to be fed a diet that includes vegetables, fruits, and some meaty items. It is crucial for them to get their calcium and other nutrients from foods other than meat because they do not produce them internally, unlike other reptiles.

A balanced diet should comprise the following:

Diet Types


  • Dark leafy greens
60% or more; around 35 to 40% as juveniles
  • A small number of carrots, cucumbers, and lettuces
10% or more
  • Protein-rich meat options like worms, feeder fish, shrimps, crickets, and snails
less than 25%; at least 50% as juveniles
  • Commercial food mix
less than 30%
  • Occasional fruit snacks such as strawberries, apples, and bananas

A detailed article on administering a healthy diet to your red-eared slider(s) can be found in my on a list of foods red-eared sliders can and cannot eat. If you need more information on commercial food options, have a look at this blog post on best commercial turtle feed and food combos for red-eared sliders.

When and how do red-eared sliders mate

Red-eared slider females reach sexual maturity between the ages of four and six years. They are usually anything from 6.5 to 10.5 inches in shell length. Then, all you have to do is wait for mating season. The mating season for sliders varies but generally takes place from late spring to early fall.

The mating process:

Mating occurs when sliders are in the water basking on logs, branches, or shorelines, and fertilization can occur when either sex is mounted by another individual or using environmental contaminants such as weeds, algae, and fungi present in the water where mating occurs.

The temperature can also affect mating behaviors because many red-eared sliders do not reproduce until temperatures exceed 72°F.

The female red-eared slider lays a clutch of eggs from late April to early June, and once the eggs are hatched, the female does not care for them. The eggs take between 60 to 80 days to hatch, and the babies usually leave their mother’s care at seven months old. Males do not help with incubating the eggs or care for hatchlings. Females will not mate while they are guarding their clutch.

Breeding with red-eared sliders:

Red-eared sliders can be bred in a large outdoor pond with various plants, including water lilies. Many red-eared sliders will lay eggs near the surface of the water, and some people have used artificial light to stimulate mating behaviors.

In order to determine sex, either select the male or female turtle to breed together and then wait for it to lay eggs in nesting spots along the edges of the pond. If you notice more females than males, it may mean that you have more females than males, and vice versa if you notice more males than females.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Other slider individuals will eat the fresh eggs if you do not put them in a secure place, or failed to either secure them in time or did not isolate the female slider to lay her eggs.

Turtle babies in the making

Where red-eared sliders lay their eggs:

Adult red-eared sliders typically lay eggs in outdoor water habitats, including slow-moving streams and ponds. The eggs hatch and little turtle babies emerge from their eggs into the water.

Determining the sex of your turtle:

If you want to know how to determine a red-eared slider’s sex, you can usually tell by looking at its shell. Male turtles have red or orange colored scutes on their shells, while females have a yellowish tint to theirs.

Another way to determine their sex is by looking at the cloaca; males’ cloacas are located between the legs, whereas females’ are behind the rear legs.

Further, you can tell male from female red-eared sliders by looking at the size of their heads. A male will have a rounder head and smaller scales around its eyes than a female. One unique aspect of the red-eared sliders is that the males have red markings on their heads and skin, whereas females do not.

Temperature and the sex of red-eared sliders:

The sex of red-eared slider turtles can be determined by measuring the temperature at which the turtle basks. Warmer temperatures, or above 80°F, will produce males. In cooler temperatures below 72°F, females will be produced.

Males and females of the same species are typically attracted to each other’s smell and call. The temperature is a determining factor in producing both sexes at specific intervals as well as mating when they are sexually mature enough and ready to mate.

The lifespan of a red-eared slider:

The red-eared slider can live to be over 60 years old. They hatch from eggs at 26 to 30 days of incubation, and when they are six to 10 inches in shell length, they become sexually mature. However, the average age in captivity is between 20 and 30 years.

Once hatched, a turtle’s growth rate largely depends on its diet and living environment. As hatchlings, red-eared sliders only shed their skin once every 10 weeks or so until they reach adulthood, where they will shed their skin annually (at least once). In the wild, turtles’ growth rates have been recorded at 2 to 6 inches per year, and in captivity, three to seven inches per year, averaging a growth rate of about 2.5 inches per annum.

Nocturnal behavior

  • Do red-eared sliders sleep: Red-eared sliders are exclusively nocturnal animals, meaning they sleep all day and become active during night hours. However, sliders have periods of nocturnal behavior where they come out to hunt for food, typically at night, and then return to hide during the day.
  • Effects of daytime: When a red-eared slider is in its active cycle, they will spend time floating around their tank and stretching out to soak up the sun. During their inactive period, they spend time resting on a log or branch at the bottom of their tank or stretching out on some rocks along the wall of their habitat.

Hibernation in the wild versus in captivity

  • Wild hibernation: Hibernation in the wild is when a turtle decides to go into a deep sleep during the winter. This hibernation can last anywhere from five months to nine months. These little turtles will only hibernate when their environment becomes too cold for them to live outside and feed themselves. In general, red-eared sliders do not hibernate in both the wild and in captivity.
  • Captive hibernation: It is believed that red-eared sliders do not hibernate in captivity. Turtles in captivity will only hibernate if their temperature is below the minimum threshold. However, they still have their periods of dormancy where they rest and do not eat for a few days, even if they do not go into hibernation.

    When red-eared sliders go into a more passive state, due mainly to extreme weather or seasonal changes, it is called brumation. Based on their environmental conditions, they can remain in this state for any time period between eight to 12 weeks.

NOTE: Some considerations go into deciding if your turtle should hibernate. Suppose your animal has had any recent illnesses. In that case, it is more likely that your slider will be incapable of hibernating on its own, which leaves you having to make the decision yourself as an owner whether or not to put your slider through that process.

While there are anecdotal reports of some turtles sleeping for weeks at a time when kept at colder temperatures, these reports do not provide scientific evidence for hibernation in captivity.

To shed or not to shed

Most of the time, when a turtle goes into hibernation, it will do so in its original shell. When the weather warms up, that turtle will come out of hibernation, and its shell will have a layer of hardened skin. The layer of hardened skin is called a shed or a molt, and every single kind of turtle sheds its shell at least once per year.

Regardless of hibernation, turtle shells grow when they are getting ready to shed their old layer, and then the new layer grows underneath it until it has enough room for itself. At that point, the old layer falls off so the new one can grow in its place. Some reptiles do not need to put on an extra amount of weight to facilitate molting because their skin does this for them with each growth spurt.

In captivity specifically, red-eared sliders shed more often than in the wild. In captivity, they shed around the same amount each year (sometimes more, sometimes less); in the wild, they typically shed twice a year.

Keep your turtle’s shedding under control by investing in a filtration system and implementing a regular aquarium cleaning routine. When it comes to diet, protein is crucial. Scrub your turtle’s body gently with a wet cloth every two weeks to ensure the water remains clean for their sensitive skin and to prevent any external parasites from living on them.

The Temperament of a red-eared slider

Many people are unaware of the temperament of red-eared sliders because they live a pretty laid-back life.

  • Aggressive or not: They only get active during mating season and will become aggressive with one another if more than one is present in an enclosure.
  • General temperament: Since this animal is known to spend most of its time basking in the sun, it can be characterized as having a docile temperament that makes it easy to keep them as pets.
  • Biting capabilities: Red-eared sliders are known for their powerful jaws and voracious appetites. It is not unusual for them to bite, especially if they are given food they do not like or handle improperly.

    Red-eared sliders are usually less inclined to bite if handled gently and with patience. If a red-eared slider does bite, it is often because the person has done something unexpected or scary to it rather than anything on purpose.

  • Proper handling: When handling your pet, do not pull on the turtle or scratch its shell because it will get scared and nip or bite down hard with sharp jaws that can hurt you. To make your pet enjoy playing with you, give them plenty of fresh water to swim in and clean tanks without any dangerous objects such as rocks or heat lamps that could burn them.

So, do red-eared sliders make good pets or not?

Red-eared sliders have been bred in captivity for decades and are now available in many pet shops across the country. They are not recommended for beginners due to their high maintenance requirements but can make good pets if handled correctly by experienced owners.

Nevertheless, the red-eared slider is one of several tiny turtles that can be kept in captivity as pets. They are considered popular pets because they are easy to care for and adapt well to captivity. The species can be very friendly and entertaining to keep as pets, but they are also hardy and stubborn, so they might not be for everyone.

Red-eared sliders also do not have many predators, so the risk of the animal being eaten is not high unless you live near an area where humans hunt them for food or collections.

The personality of your red-eared slider turtle has a lot to do with how they are raised, as well as their gender. For example, if you are very easygoing and low maintenance, then there is a good chance that your slider will be too. If you like to take risks and get into mischief often, then it is likely that your red-eared slider will enjoy being part of the antics.

On the other hand, if you are more introverted and solitary but still want to own a red-eared slider turtle (because it seems like everyone else does), then this type of pet might not be for you. This is because red-eared sliders are very social animals who crave companionship and exploration in order to thrive.

Invasive status

Red-eared sliders were way more popular as pets during the 1950s and 1960s. Still, their popularity declined after it became illegal to sell turtles with shells less than 4 inches long due to the growing concern about their impact on native turtle populations in the United States, where they are considered an invasive species.

In the wild versus in captivity:

  • Wild red-eared sliders: People should be aware that releasing red-eared sliders into the wild poses a significant threat to native wildlife. This statement is backed by evidence showing that red-eared sliders have been found in nature with alarming frequency.

    The red-eared slider is native to the central southern region of the United States. This makes it a very invasive animal in terms of its natural geographic distribution. They are popular in the pet trade, and wild populations are known to spread very quickly and compete with native species for food, nesting sites, and other resources.

    Although they are not harmful to humans, these red-eared sliders can cause significant harm to other types of animals. If these populations of animals are severely compromised or endangered, this will have an impact on the human population as well. Because they are classified as both an invasive species and domesticated animals, there is a law against owning them in some states.

  • Captive-bred sliders: Many states in the United States have laws against owning red-eared sliders as pets because they can become invasive and endanger other species.

    For example, when looking for mates, male red-eared sliders will often travel long distances in search of females. This leads to hybridization between different turtle species and the loss of native wildlife. In some cases, they even prey on eggs of indigenous species and overtake habitats, posing a threat to future generations of wildlife.

    Due to this environmental threat, selling them in many parts of the United States is illegal, so it is best not to buy one unless you know exactly what you are getting yourself into.

It is essential to know your state laws before deciding to own a red-eared slider turtle. Researchers warn that the effects these animals may have on the ecological community if their populations are left unchecked could be devastating.

Where and how to buy red-eared sliders

The best place to buy red-eared sliders is from a reputable breeder in your area, but you can also find them for sale at reptile shows and fairs. Ask the breeder how many different people have handled their red-eared sliders and how they were shipped because these are both excellent indicators of how well the animals were cared for.

Reputable breeders will be able to provide you with certificates of inoculations against salmonella and other diseases common in turtles. Be aware that there is an uptick in certain diseases, such as shell rot and eye problems, during certain seasons.

If possible, purchase a female turtle because males are more aggressive and difficult to house together. Turtles cannot see very well, so be careful when handling them. If the turtle has any skin parasites, remove them carefully to prevent further infecting it or damaging its skin by removing too much tissue.

To learn more about the cost of red-eared sliders, reputable buyers, and what to look out for when buying a slider individual, please read the blog posts in the series: “The cost of owning a red-eared slider” and “Knowing about the legal and illegal trade of red-eared sliders.”

Friends or no friends for your red-eared slider

It is crucial to have an environment where your red-eared sliders can live with other animals of their kind. Turtle ponds are the best choice because they provide water for each animal and plenty of room to swim around.

Some turtles like large fish, so a koi pond would also be suitable for these reptiles. Put rocks or logs at the bottom for hiding places, too. Of course, knowing what type of turtle you are dealing with is essential, as some sliders are very aggressive. However, most will do fine in a multi-animal habitat if given enough space and food.

They generally fare well with their own kind and co-habitat nicely with various aquatic plants. Further details on this topic are discussed in the blog post about habitat conditions for red-eared sliders.

What to do if you can no longer care for your red-eared slider turtle(s)

Another characteristic of the red-eared sliders is their propensity for invasive species. They tend to be released by pet owners when they become too big or when it has become clear that the owner can no longer care for them.

It is imperative to know what to do if you can no longer care for your red-eared slider. As with any animal, red-eared sliders need a lot of care, whether living in captivity or in the wild.

If you can no longer care for your red-eared slider turtle, consider one of the following options:

  • Find a permanent home for your turtle with someone who can care for it
  • Find a temporary home where someone will come to your house to take care of it
  • Take your turtle to a shelter
  • Speak to a reputable seller and/or buyer

If none of these are possible, contact local wildlife authorities for advice. Alternatively, visit an animal rescue center or your local veterinarian. Whatever option you choose to go with mentioned above, do not release your turtle back into the wild!

The consequences on ecological communities are detrimental when you inappropriately release your red-eared sliders. Numerous sliders in local ecosystems will often consume more than their fair share of eggs during the breeding season, which has led to a decrease in population size for some amphibian species such as hellbenders and wood frogs, as well as reptile species such as lizards, crocodiles, and black rat snakes that lay eggs on land.

United States laws on red-eared sliders

As of now, it is legal to own a red-eared slider in every state but Georgia. In Georgia, the animal is an invasive species, which means that you need special permission from the department of natural resources to have one as a pet.

All fifty states allow selling them, with few restrictions: for example, you may not sell one under 4 inches. Red-eared sliders can be found for sale on classified sites like Craigslist and Kijiji and at reptile conventions all across the country.

Currently, no laws prohibit releasing them into the wild, so if you no longer want your pet or it has outgrown its tank, nothing stops you from putting it back into a body of water somewhere else. The only restriction is the law against releasing non-native species into public waters. Even then, if you live in certain parts of the US (Arizona, California, Nevada), it is still possible to release your turtle without breaking any laws.

The majority of red-eared sliders sold by retailers come from captive-bred stock. Some dealers also acquire their animals through illegal importation and smuggling operations and collect eggs laid naturally by nesting females.

Do not hesitate to contact your local law enforcement group and organizations like the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation if you are uncertain about the laws for your state.

Read my comprehensive article on “Knowing about the legal and illegal trade of red-eared sliders” by following the link.

Concluding remarks

Red-eared sliders are interesting animals that bring joy to many people’s lives. They are helpful in environmental cleanup and provide animal sanctuary protection for various species. Red-eared sliders also consume certain aquatic plants and algae, keeping the water quality in check.

This can become a problem when they are introduced to new environments as they have no natural predators, leading to invasive populations. However, red-eared sliders are popular in the United States no matter where they come from.

On average, red-eared sliders can live as long as 30 years and be a great addition to any animal-loving family. Due to their invasive status, some states, such as New York, have laws restricting possessing them for personal use or sale in stores. Nevertheless, some people still believe that red-eared sliders make good pets and advocate passing laws against owning them in certain areas.

When you adopt a red-eared slider from a pet store or breeder, always be sure that the turtle is of legal origin with proper permits and import or export documents!

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