Red-Eared Slider Hatchling Care 101

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 slider hatchlings are some of the cutest creatures you will ever see. These turtles have red markings around their eyes that make them look like little cartoon characters. The sliders also have a sweet, almost innocent disposition that makes it tempting to keep them as pets from the moment you see them first.

Before you even consider adopting one of these adorable-looking hatchlings, you should know that red-eared sliders are primarily aquatic turtles and need a large tank with plenty of water to thrive.

Though they remain cute throughout their lifetime, red-eared slider hatchlings do not stay that small. In fact, they can grow up to a whopping 12-inch-sized slider. Some red-eared sliders have been reported to grow to lengths of 18 inches, which is something you will have to be prepared for when you purchase the initial four-inched hatchling(s).

Below, the blog post will explain everything you need to know about red-eared slider hatchlings, from housing requirements to ideal food and much more.

What You Need to Know About Red-Eared Slider Hatchlings

Red-eared sliders are one of the most commonly kept turtle species. They are especially popular as pets for children.

No matter how badly you or your children want to raise some red-eared slider hatchlings, you must be aware that turtle hatchlings are not allowed to be legally sold if they have not reached four inches in length or more. Hatchlings also have different requirements than adult red-eared sliders.

Although the caring needs of adult and baby red-eared sliders are mostly the same, hatchlings require some additional needs to be met to stay healthy, growing, and happy. Some of these needs include certain vitamin supplements, a diet consisting mainly of animal protein, more space to swim and frequent water changes, and feeding.

Slider hatchlings are more susceptible to illnesses than their adult counterparts because their immune systems are still developing. Hence, regular and thorough cleaning and checking up on your animal is essential to the overall care and health of your red-eared slider hatchling(s).

You have a new baby turtle. Now what?

Firstly, you will need to set up an enclosure of the appropriate size, either indoors or outdoors, considering that your baby turtle will not stay a tiny baby forever.

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Next, your new pet friend needs a complete health check-up by a reputable exotic veterinarian or a local veterinarian that works with reptiles. This is especially necessary if you purchased the red-eared slider from a pet store or turtle trader online.

There are certain things you can look out for before purchasing just any hatchling:

  • No open wounds or deformities should be present
  • Paperwork and credibility can speak for itself
  • Take note of the cleanliness of their holding tank or pond during your purchase
  • The slider hatchling should be a bright green color
  • Their eyes are usually quite large, shiny, and protrude boldly
  • They should be responsive when you approach them
  • They should have a distinct red line that starts behind their ears, stretching all the way down the body

Please also consider reading the blog post on “Knowing about the legal and illegal trade of red-eared sliders,” especially when purchasing or adopting red-eared slider hatchlings.

Housing Red-Eared Slider Hatchlings

Baby red-eared slider turtles need plenty of space to swim and grow. A 20-gallon aquarium can house a single hatchling, whereas a 40-gallon aquarium can fit up to three hatchling sliders. The water needs to be filtered, and it is best to keep it slightly acidic (at a level of pH 6 to 7), using a water conditioner with each water replacement.

You can also refer to my blog post on “Everything to know about the water conditions for red-eared sliders,” which focuses on a comprehensive list of requirements to always have optimal water conditions for your red-eared slider(s).

Hatchlings need plenty of swimming space, so the aquarium should be at least 18 inches long and have a lid. If your aquarium does not come with a lid, you will need to purchase a separate aquarium cover.

An aquarium with a sandy substrate is ideal for red-eared sliders. Alternatively, you can use aquarium gravel that is about half an inch in size. Avoid using crushed coral and small pebbles, which are too fine or small and could get caught in your turtle’s mouth.

If you are raising your red-eared slider indoors, you will need to provide an artificial source of UVB light. Turtles need UVB light to get the nutrients they need from food.

Further information on heaters, basking areas, décor, and other housing elements can be read in detail in the blog post titled “The optimal habitat conditions for red-eared sliders.”

A summarized list of supplies you will require for optimal housing conditions:

  • Basking area
  • Heater with a thermometer (outdoor enclosures mostly require this in winter only)
  • Heating lamp (only for indoor enclosures, unless winters are cold and there is less sunlight available outside)
  • Minimal decorations
  • Substrate
  • UVB light (only for indoor enclosures)
  • Water filter

Feeding Red-Eared Slider Hatchlings

Baby red-eared slider turtles are omnivorous and should be fed a balanced diet that includes plant and animal matter.

[See my blog posts on “A comprehensive list of foods red-eared sliders can and cannot eat,” “A healthy diet for your red-eared sliders,” and “Best commercial turtle feed and food combos for red-eared sliders” to learn everything about red-eared sliders’ food requirements.]

Aquatic turtle food should provide all the nutrients your red-eared slider needs as a hatchling. You can supplement your red-eared slider’s diet with blanched vegetables, such as kale, spinach, or sweet potato. Fruit such as strawberries or blueberries are also suitable and can be given as treats.

Red-eared slider hatchlings need a meat-based diet as they are still growing. They can be fed predominantly dark leafy greens as they progress into juveniles and young adults. The hatchlings thoroughly enjoy the following animal protein:

  • Crickets and Dubia roaches
  • Dried shrimp or krill
  • Earthworms or mealworms
  • Feeder fish or guppies
  • Good commercial turtle food mix

The feeding frequency is one of the biggest differences between caring for a hatchling and an adult red-eared slider. Hatchling sliders need to be fed every day when they are still growing.

Hence, if you have bred your hatchlings, you will need to feed them daily. Whereas if you have bought a hatchling, which should be between 3.5 and 4.5 inches when purchased, you only need to feed them every second to third day.

Hatchling turtles will ALWAYS gape for food, creating the idea that they are hungry. However, you will overfeed your hatchling(s) if you administer more than a leveled tablespoon of food per turtle once daily.

Also, do not get worried if they do not want to eat vegetables and plants in the beginning. This is normal and will change as they get more familiar with different food sources and need to eat more of a plant-based diet.

Care and Behavior of Red-Eared Slider Hatchlings

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Baby red-eared sliders are relatively low-maintenance, but you should still check on them regularly. The overall care hatchling red-eared sliders require is the same as that of the adult counterparts. Hence, a detailed blog post on caring for your red-eared slider can be read in this article: “A quick care guide for red-eared sliders as pets.”

Further, your red-eared slider will appreciate having a hide box to retreat to. You can use a coffee can, plastic flower pot, or any other container as a turtle hide. You can install an artificial cave or add washed driftwood to your enclosure.

Additionally, remember the following tips to provide optimal care for your hatchling slider:

  • Only handle your red-eared slider hatchling(s) when necessary
  • Use a pinching style with your fingers to pick up the hatchling, and do not squeeze
  • Limit the handling time with the hatchling(s)
  • Always be aware of their behavior and their snappiness, which can lead to nasty little bites

With proper cleaning, handling, and monitoring of your red-eared slider hatchling(s) and their holding environment, you can be assured of having a healthy, thriving turtle pet(s) for at least 15 years. Make a point of going for annual veterinarian check-ups as well to avoid unnecessary health complications from developing and keep your pet slider happy.

When Things Go Wrong

  • Poor nutrition and improper heating can cause your red-eared slider hatchling to become sick. If you notice that your baby turtle is shedding excessively, is lethargic, or has a swollen belly, it could be suffering from a vitamin A deficiency.
  • Another common problem among red-eared sliders is shell rot, which can be caused by poor water quality. A detailed blog post on the “Common health problems in red-eared sliders: indigestion, shell rot, infections, and other ailments” can be found in the article series.
  • Parasites, such as worms, could also attack your red-eared slider hatchling.
  • If your baby red-eared slider is growing too fast, it may have an overactive thyroid. If your baby turtle seems healthy but grows too big for its shell, you will need to raise it in water.
  • If your red-eared slider is shedding too much or has a swollen belly, it may have an internal parasite or bacterial infection.

Be aware that even after you have done everything you had to and taken all the proper steps and preparation, there is always the chance of a red-eared slider individual not making it. Some animals have either gone through too much stress before ending up with you or are simply not cut out to be kept in captivity.

There is also the chance that the turtle was born with underlying health conditions that could not be picked up. Whatever the reason, do not be discouraged and remember to safely and legally dispose of deceased animals. Then you can try again or adopt another individual with a hopefully full life expectancy.

Concluding Remarks

All in all, red-eared sliders are one of the best starter turtles for young turtle keepers. They are generally friendly, easy to care for, and do not grow very large but definitely larger than a fresh one-inched hatchling.

These turtles are also incredibly cute – especially when they are hatchlings!

Keep in mind that red-eared sliders are aquatic turtles, so you will need to keep them in a large aquarium where they can swim freely. You will need to provide UVB light for an indoor enclosure and a balanced diet that includes both plant and animal matter.

Finally, going for annual veterinarian check-ups will ensure a long, prosperous life for your red-eared slider companion. It is that easy.

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