Sunday, August 07, 2011

5 things you need to know about raising red ear slider turtles as pets

Introducing the Red Ear Slider. 

A red ear slider, more commonly known to the general public as "the green turtle" or RES is one of the many kinds of semi aquatic turtles that are famous for being easy to handle, and generally friendly. They got their name from the distinct red mark around their ears. Personally I find them better aquatic pets compared to fishes because they display personality. Trust me, they do. Let's get to know them a little more, shall we?

1. Size

These cute little things don't stay little for long. They start off small at 1 inch when they're still hatchlings, but male RES can grow up to 9 inches, and the females RES can grow up to 12 inches. The way to measure their SCL, or straight carapace length is to start from either the top most part of the shell, just above the head, down to the bottom part, or vice versa, using a ruler and disregarding the curvature of the shell, hence why it's called straight carapace length. 

This image is courtesy of

Taking their size to account, you're going to need a big enough tank to house them properly. DO NOT LISTEN TO PET SHOP PEOPLE when they say you just need a small tank (considering that you're planning to keep them in a tank), this is entirely false.  See RES love to swim. A LOT. You need to provide them lots of swimming space if you want your RES to be happy. You can either get a smaller tank while they're still hatchlings, but you will want to upgrade to a bigger tank in maybe 2-3 years time. This is the "more expensive in the long run" option. You could also get them a big tank which can house them even when they've matured full size. The way you calculate the size of your tank is their SCL multiplied by ten gallons.

That would mean a 4 inch RES, your tank would need to be able to carry 40 gallons of water. If you have more than one turtle, for example two 4-inch RESs, you would need an 80 gallon tank. Now you might be thinking that's too much, well that's only the "optimal" environment. You can subtract a couple gallons, just make sure they have lots of space to swim around. Here is a link to an online volume calculator. Their growth rate varies greatly on their sex and how much you feed them, but once they've reached 4 inches in SCL, they're basically sexually mature and you can determine their gender from their size and claws. Males are smaller, and have longer claws, while females are bigger, and have shorter claws. Here are pictures of an adult male RES and an adult female RES.

2. Food

Of course you're going to have to feed them right? This is fairly easy, but could get complicated if you want to perfect their diet. RES start off carnivores, and gradually become omnivores, and then when they've fully matured, they turn vegetarian. Yes, they eat other fish, and they're certainly not picky eaters when it comes to fish. I've lost goldfishes, guppies, swordtails and angelfishes because of my turtles.

 As  hatchlings you should feed them once daily, and the amount should be around the same size as their head, not including their neck. This rule of thumb on feeding size will last even up to it's adult days. You can feed them turtle pellets which would be readily available at your local pet store. Make sure you add variety to their diet, by occasionally letting them eat fruits or vegetables.  

From 1"-4" their staple should be turtle pellets and then treat them once in a while with some mangoes, papaya and other fruits and vegetables. Once they've reached 4", you can start introducing vegetables like lettuce, pechay, aquatic plants, and more. Their meals should also be reduced to once every two days. A very good list of vegetable, live fish and fruits that you can feed your red ear sliders are found here in this link.

Do not overfeed your turtles, THEY ARE THE BIGGEST BEGGARS and will almost always beg for food. Stick with the diet regimen to avoid pyramiding, which are deformations of the turtles' shell as an effect to them being overfed.

3. Water

Since red ear sliders are semi-aquatic turtles, they spend most of their day swimming in water, and probably the rest is spent basking. Make sure they have a lot of room to swim in. Pet shops often give them 2-3 inches of water and then some pieces of wood for them to bask. This is very incorrect. They are very fast swimmers, and can even out-swim most aquarium fish, especially when your RES is hungry. You will want to maximize the space in your tank with water, and just leave about 3-4 inches from the top of your tank so they won't be able to climb out. There's also the matter of temperature. Keep it at 75-80 degrees Farenheit with the help of heaters. If you live in the tropics or the warmer areas of the world, this should just be room temperature. You should also have a strong filter. Turtles are poopers, and they're messy eaters. Make sure you have a filter that can cycle the water in the tank at least 3 times every hour. It's good to have both mechanical and biological filters going on in your tank.

4. Basking

Red ear slider love to swim. They also love to bask. Basking is when your turtle gets out of the water and dries their shell. In your tank setup, you need to types of lights. A heat lamp and a UVB lamp. Heat lamps are fluorescent lamps or bulbs that are sold at your local hardware store, preferably ones that give off heat. You should also setup a basking area for your turtle, it could be those pre-made ones where you just stick them in your tank, or you can make a custom-built basking area. Ideas on basking areas can be found in this forum discussion

The other type of lighting you should have is the UVB Bulb. This is in order for the turtle to receive artificial UVB rays to help promote shell growth and overall health. If you live in places where these UVB lamps are hard to find like the Philippines, you can expose your red ear slider to direct sunlight for 20-30 minutes every day. This option would be much healthier for the turtle compared to artificial sunlight. Just make sure they also have a shade when you expose them to the sun to avoid your turtles from getting dehydrated or cooked. 

5. Salmonella

Turtles are known to carry Salmonella, especially if they become stressed out because of mishandling or trauma. Make it a habit to wash your hands before and after handling your red ear slider. Turtles aren't meant to be cuddled or kissed, but they certainly are fun to play with. A good practice for proper hand washing practices is to sing the happy birthday song in your head while washing.

Well that wraps it up. These are the top 5 things you should know if you plan on having a red ear slider as a pet. If you have any questions you can comment here, or send me an email, or you could also visit for more information.

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