Red Eared Slider Turtle As a Pet: A Complete Beginner’s Guide

The red-eared slider turtle, native from Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico, is commonly confused with the western-painted turtle due to similarities in the size and color of the shell. To distinguish a red-eared slider turtle from a painted west turtle, look for evidence of a higher vaulted shell that is weakly removed.

Features to quickly distinguish the red-eared slider turtle include yellow marginal scutes, a yellow plastron covered with dark marks and stained with a red ear mark found immediately behind the eye. It should be noted, however, that this earmarking is not always evident in older turtles.


The red-eared slider turtle is a strong and semi-aquatic turtle that gets its name from the wide reddish strip behind its eyes. The lower part of the chin is rounded with a V-shaped notch in the front of the jaw and is not flanked by cusps. Their feet are webbed and they are strong swimmers and impressive divers.

Its body is dark olive green and has thin yellow bars and stripes on the shell, or the top of its shell, as well as its face and legs. As the red-eared slider turtles mature, the green coloration of the top cover is covered with black pigmentation, so it almost looks black without visible markings. This is especially true for males as the turtle’s age.

The top shell or carapace of the red-eared slider turtle has an oval shape, it is smooth to the sensation and flattened with a weak keel. The lower part of the red-eared sliding shell, or the plastron, is predominantly yellow and has a dark mark in the center of each of its shields. It has webbed feet to help maneuver through the water when swimming.


red eared slider turtle

The average length of a red-eared slider turtle is 5 to 8 inches with a rare record of 11.8 inches. The female has a much thicker tail and is visibly longer than its male counterpart.

The cloacal entry of a male red-eared slider is beyond the edge of the carapace whilst the opening for the female is at the back or below the rear edge of the carapace. The claws of the males, longer and more curved, are used in mating and courtship.


In its natural habitat of nature, the red-eared slider turtle will usually be seen on logs, rocks and other surfaces as it basks. They do it because, like most reptiles, these turtles are cold-blooded and rely heavily on external sources for heat and warmth.

Red-eared slider turtles seem to share similarities with the painted turtle due to the bright markings of both turtle species. the top to the shell, or carapace, of this turtle, is a higher dome compared to the western painted turtle.

The three main things that a red-eared slider turtle needs to thrive would be a temperate environment, a proper and balanced diet and clean water in the tank. Proper care of the red-eared turtle, as with other turtles, is much more complicated than most people assume.


Belonging to the Emydidae family, the red-eared slider turtle is also known by its scientific name Chrysemys scripta elegans. In the United States, the normal range of occurrence for this type of turtle is from Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico and from the east coast to west Texas.

Presumably, due to people releasing pets, these turtles have also been seen and found in other regions of the United States. This turtle likes to spend time in or around small bodies of water that move slowly, as well as in ponds and marshes, which provide many areas for basking and a lot of food. However, the red-eared slider turtle has also been seen around lakes and rivers.

The red-eared slider occupies and is located in the Mississippi Valley from Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico. All occurrences of the red-eared slider, as well as other pond sliders such as the Cumberland slider and the yellow-bellied slider, are attributed to the intentional release of pets or accidental escape from captivity.

The red-eared slider has been particularly successful in establishing itself in the east, north and south of its original range in the United States. It is located in four states east of its natural range, which include the states of California, Arizona, Hawaii, and Oregon. It is also in a state south of its native range in Florida. The eight northern states of its natural range are West Virginia, Ohio, New Jersey, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Maryland.

South Korea, Guam, Japan, Thailand, France, Germany, Israel, South Africa, and Australia are other countries where red-eared sliders were introduced and spread throughout the world in other parts of Europe and Asia.

Species and Subspecies Of The Red-ear Slider Turtle

Of the 13 to 19  pond slider subspecies, three are native to the US. these three pond slider subspecies native to the US are the yellow-bellied slider (Trachemys scripta scripta); the Cumberland slider (Trachemys scripta troostii) and the red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans).

The range from southeastern Virginia to northern Florida is where the yellow-bellied slider calls home. Found in the upper parts of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, from southeastern Kentucky and Virginia to northeast Alabama, is the Cumberland slider. And finally, occupying the Mississippi Valley from Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico is the red-eared slider turtle.

Currently, the red-eared slider turtle has several color changes and is available in the specialized reptile trade because fans have shown great interest in selective breeding due to aesthetic appeal. The albino red-eared slider, when in the juvenile stage, is light lemon yellow with prominent orange-red patches on the sides of the head. As these albinos mature, the yellow color fades into a creamy yellow hue.

Other morphs or color changes that were seen in the red-eared slider are marketed in the category of red-eared turtles “pastel”. This term, “pastel,” is used for a variety of varied colors of red-eared sliders in different degrees of reduced black (hypomelanosis), reduced yellow (hypoxanthine), pattern digression and varying degrees of yellow and red pigmentation.

Defects, expression of recessive genes and asymmetries in many pastel sliders suggest inadequate temperatures or incubation. Reduced size of one or both eyes, unusual enlargement of one or both eyes, and the asymmetry of the shell pattern are some examples.

Environmental Problems

Red-eared slider turtles were once the most searched item in the pet trade with an estimated 5-10 million turtles exported worldwide. This fact is why the sliders are called “dime-store turtles.”

Unfortunately, due to impure conditions and lack of knowledge about the care and maintenance of turtles by pet store owners, very few of these types survived in captivity at the time.

Due to this decline in the past, turtle farms were soon established in the southeastern part of the United States, mainly in Mississippi and Louisiana, to avoid a decrease in the number of red-eared slider turtles in wild populations. More than 150 turtle farms were in operation by 1960. Since then, more than 9,000 adult turtles were caught from the wild every year because existing farms were not self-sufficient.

This practice seriously depleted the natural population of the species in some areas. It was also these same farms responsible for capturing adult sliders with the intention of exporting food to Asian countries.

red eared slider turtleThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of turtles with a 4-inch shell length in the United States and Canada in 1975. Because these turtles were found to be carriers and transmitters of salmonellosis disease caused by Salmonella. This is a serious disease that affects the digestive tract and has infected several thousand children and was also the cause of the increase in deaths that are attributed to the way children handle turtles and proper after handling sanitation.

Using various techniques and methods to limit the incidence of the spread of deadly Salmonella, the turtle trade industry has not slowed down in the export of large numbers of hatchlings and adults to other countries. Frequent use of gentamicin, an antibiotic, has resulted in the development of many antibiotic-resistant strains. Due to the continuous export of pond sliders, a vital route for the worldwide spread of human salmonellosis was identified.

Red Eared Slider Turtle As a Pet

Raising and caring for a red-eared slider successfully will require more than a rock at the bottom of a container with water. Red-eared sliders, like most aquatic turtles, will require more in terms of habitat, proper diet and lighting to live a healthy life.

In this section, you will learn some important points to keep in mind before leaving in search of a red-eared slider turtle. Contrary to popular belief, red-eared sliders require more work and effort from a turtle fan/caregiver. They tend to grow larger than the owners and sellers of pet stores imply, therefore, they will need more space later as they grow. A large tank to accommodate its growth, special lighting for reptiles and a proper diet for amphibians are just some of the things you will need to provide the red-eared slider turtle.

To increase your chances of bringing a healthy red-eared slider turtle home, you should investigate some things. Examine the shell, eyes, and activity of the turtle, as well as the way they swim. Witnessing the turtle in its current environment and seeing these turtle features and living conditions will give you an idea of ​​the turtle’s health and well-being.

When a red-eared slider is young, a small aquarium will be enough for the moment until it grows. As the turtle slider matures, it will require a more spacious tank that can hold more than 50-100 gallons of water.

Turtle owners have learned to be creative and have used all kinds of housing ideas to provide ample space for their red-eared slider; using preformed pods to give the turtle habitat a pond appearance; adjusting the turtle tank with turtle-friendly vegetation it can snack and making sure the lighting, temperature and water quality are under control and lead to the needs of the turtle.

Other owners, who choose to keep their turtle outside in more “natural” conditions, double up on securing the safety of ponds outdoors red-eared turtles live in fencing the area of ​​the pond – keeping turtles in and potential predators out. You will want to network with experienced owners and fans to determine how to configure a pond outdoors for your turtle.

No matter where the turtle is housed, the quality of drinking water is to be maintained. Another requirement habitat should not overlook the provisions of UVB lighting UVA and additional heating.

Creating all this can be a challenge in the beginning but once established, clearing the turtle aquarium can be kept to a minimum if proper maintenance.

Do You Need A License?

Selling turtles are less than 4 inches long has been illegal in the United States since 1975, and which are susceptible to harboring Salmonella on their skin. This law is still in force and should be kept in mind.

While red slippers ears of any size can potentially carry the deadly Salmonella bacteria, the smallest baby turtles, are the ones that are generally chosen to buy on a whim and are given to young children as pets. Refrain from giving red-eared turtles to young children who would handle these adorable turtles without thinking and naively with little or no consideration for proper sanitation after handling.

People caught selling turtles that violate the 4-inch rule could be fined up to $1000. However, if the turtles in question cross state lines with a value greater than $350, the crime becomes a serious crime under the Lacey Law. Violations of the Lacey Act can add up to a whopping $ 250,000.00 in fines or a 5-year sentence behind bars. First-time offenders receive a pardon and will generally receive a fine of approximately $2000.00.

It is not legal to have a red-eared slider turtle in the state of Massachusetts; instead, the owner of an existing pet slider turtle will be protected and an amateur can leave the turtle for the rest of his life under the condition that the owner keep a clear and focused photograph of its belly with the date-stamp (plastron) as documentation. An existing red-eared slider does not need to have a permit in MA, but the state currently prohibits them as pets due to the invasive occurrence.

Obtaining permits and licenses for the red-eared slider turtle depends on the state or country of its occupancy. However, remember that it is illegal to release a red-eared slider turtle to the wild in many US states. The distribution and sale of red-eared turtles are restricted in many states unless the 4-inch turtle length rule is met.

How Many Turtles Should You Keep?

Before getting into a situation that can surprise or worsen you later, you’ll want to know how feasible it is to have more than one of these comic-looking turtles.

Keep in mind that these tiny, little green cuties will grow to become very large and messy aquatic animals, which will require a lot of attention and time. Not only will you have to consider the size at which it can grow, a whopping 12 inches in some cases. But you will also have to take into account the available space you have at home that may later be swamped with tanks and aquariums if you are not attentive.

A well-kept red-eared slider in captivity can be expected to live for more than 20 years. There have been some who have registered to live up to 50 years and more.(seriously!)

Keep in mind that it is illegal to release a red-eared slider back to nature and if an individual was caught, he will be fined. Therefore, if you feel overwhelmed by a nest of red-eared slider hatchlings, you will have to do the right thing by researching and looking for ways to disperse them correctly.

Do Red Eared Slider Turtles Get Along With Other Pets?

The red-eared slider turtle is a friendly and temperament reptile capable of sharing the space with its kind and some other species of turtles, given that they are provided with enough space to comfortably house them.

Many hobbyists aim to integrate many of their reptile pets into habitat and, although this is possible and often achieved by zoo professionals, tanks housing mixed species of turtles or reptiles can be very difficult to keep clean, it is quite expensive and will take a long time.

Red-eared sliders, although friendly to most other turtles, can become aggressive when their territory is threatened. It can show its innate voracity and attack the smaller animals with which it is housed if the mixture is not carefully investigated and backed op by facts. It is better to do your homework now and determine which species would get along with your red-eared slider turtle.

If you are prepared to house multiple species in a tank, you must follow a strategy designed to help you in your efforts to integrate them. First, you will need to provide a lot of extra space with many hiding places and visible barriers.

Next, you will also have to make sure that all residents are fed separately to ensure that one feeds more than the rest. It will also be smart to break the habitat with different hiding nooks with barriers so that the submissive one of the lot can escape in front of the dominant animal if a new pet is introduced to the already established pets.

How Much Does It Cost To Keep A Red-eared Slider Turtle?

Turtle prices vary depending on their type. The red-eared slider turtle is a relatively affordable pet, hence its great popularity. The advantage of getting a red-eared slider turtle is that it can be easily obtained for just $20 at a pet store, while some specific types can be purchased from reptile breeders for a higher price.

red eared slider turtleNo matter what type of turtle you have in mind, you will have to consider the availability of space in your home, since these turtles can become quite large as they mature. You can choose to search online to take out any red-eared turtle in your area that is being given for adoption. There are also non-profit and rescue organizations to visit and consider before making a purchase and choosing to rescue one.

In contrast to the affordable price of a turtle, maintaining one and as well as housing it can set back a hobbyist an average of $800-$1000 at the onset. Expect to pay around $150-$250 for an aquarium/terrarium of adequate size for the turtle to live in with a tank of approximately four feet long and no less which can contain 50-100 gallons of water.

You should also take into account and consider equipment such as UVA and UVB lighting, thermometers, a filtration system, a platform for basking and a ramp that enters and leaves the water for your semi-aquatic area. All these additional accessories can set a hobbyist back around $400.

Consider the expense of water treatments to eliminate chemicals such as chlorine, since turtles pretty much “go” where they eat and water should be cleaned regularly to avoid the incidence of parasites, infections, and rot.

You will also want to take into account the annual electricity costs of keeping a clean, warm, bright and conditioned aquarium according to the needs of the turtle.

A red-eared slider will need minimal medical attention, but it is strongly recommended that a new red-eared slider be taken to the veterinarian to make sure he is in good health before taking it home. If a caregiver notices a change in its appetite, out of the ordinary, when the females are loaded with eggs and have little or no appetite, the turtle should be taken to the veterinarian immediately for a quick check-up.

Turtles should be treated like an expensive purebred puppy and a potential caregiver/hobbyist should be aware of the responsibilities of caring for one and should be ready to assume this position with a total commitment.

Pros And Cons Of Keeping A Red-eared Slider Turtle

As with other pets, cold-blooded or warm red-eyed sliders also have their advantages and disadvantages. Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of acquiring one will not only allow you to ask yourself important questions about the preparation and financial capabilities to care for and increase one or more, but it will also reveal information that you must know in order to measure and evaluate your patience, means, time and desire to share space and home with one, two or more of these relaxing turtles.


  • Red-eared slider turtles have a long life expectancy
  • They are silent “sun worshipers” who love sunbathing
  • They are funny creatures that apparently beg for food to their caretaker


  • The red-eared slider cannot be sold in most states and carries large fines if released into the wild haphazardly
  • It costs a lot of money to establish, equip and maintain its habitat
  • The time to maintain their habitat will be frequent and scheduled
  • It is known to be a carrier of Salmonella bacteria
  • Originally from the southern United States and northern Mexico, the red-eared slider turtle has proven established in many other parts of the world due to the export, escape, and release of pets.

In fact, it has become an invasive species in many places and has competed with the native species of the lands it has reached. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the red-eared slider turtle among the 100 most invasive species.