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Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys picta elegans)

United States

These beautiful turtles are commonly sold as pets but they grow large enough to require large tanks, small pools or ponds to be kept properly. Because of this requirement and the tedious task of performing water changes and cleaning out filters, many people eventually decide to no longer keep these turtles when they grow too large and have released unwanted pets in the wild. As a consequence red-eared sliders have been introduced in many areas of the world and become a pest species that threatens native species. Releasing unwanted pets is illegal. Think carefully about the requirements of a species before purchasing any water turtle. That being said, properly kept red-eared sliders can make beautiful and entertaining displays. Consider buying one of the more expensive morphs such as albinos and pastels. These are always in high demand and you will not have trouble selling them should you one day decide to no longer keep your turtles.

Size

Up to 11 inches for females.

Sexing

Adult males grow smaller, have long front claws and longer thicker tails compared to females.

Longevity

18-40 years.

Housing and Care

Enclosures

Babies can be started in a ten gallon tank but will eventually require a twenty gallon long tank as they reach 4 inches (the legal size for sale in the pet trade) and eventually a 48 inch or larger tank or pool when adult. I recommend glass tanks with screen tops that allow one to rest a reflector type fixture on top without the risk of it falling in the water. A screen top will also help keep out children and pets. An alternative to using glass tanks are plastic tubs or pools. They are lightweight, will not break like glass, and can easily be plumbed so as to have a drain and valve that will make water replacement easy.

For juveniles, water depth should be one and half to three times the length of the turtle. By the time they reach four inches, they are such good swimmers that they will manage with any depth provided as long is it is at least four inches to allow swimming.

Landscaping

All turtle setups should have an accessible land area to allow them to rest on and bask. There are many commercial products on the market designed specifically for this purpose. You can also use rock, non-floating aquarium wood, and cork bark sections to create land access areas for your turtle(s). Plastic aquarium plants can provide additional resting areas for juveniles but should be used sparingly. Except in ponds where larger plants can be introduced, most live plants will be eaten or crushed when added to smaller enclosures.

Heat and light

Most people will use a clamp on light with reflector type fixture placed over a basking site as the primary heat source for these turtles. The temperature of the site at the area closets to the bulb should reach 90°F. In cool areas, additional heat is provided by a submersible aquarium heater placed in the water area set at 78°F.

Water and Feeding

Water Filtration & Changes

The greatest chore of owners of freshwater turtles is performing water changes. Adopting procedures to reduce the frequency of this task will make keeping turtles much more enjoyable. A primary source of water pollution is uneaten food. If you feed your turtles items that are easily swallowed whole then few crumbs and uneaten food will fall to the floor of tank. Adding a canister type filter is recommended and will help maintain a high water quality. A turkey baster can be used to remove any waste at the bottom of the tank when noticed. To change water use a self starting aquarium siphon hose. Never start a siphon hose using your mouth

Feeding

The most common cause of death of baby water turtles is metabolic bone disease caused by calcium deficiency and/or lack of vitamin D3. The pelleted turtle diets now offered in the pet trade are formulated to prevent these deficiencies. If you can not readily find these diets, pelleted cichlid diets sold in aquarium stores will work well as a substitute. Select a pellet size that can be swallowed whole by a turtle. This will minimize the amount of uneaten food that can quickly pollute the water. Additional foods to consider are calcium/D3 dusted crickets of the right size and live small feeder fish. As red- eared sliders grow they will eat increasing amounts of plant matter, Provide greens, such as romaine lettuce, mustard greens, shredded zucchini and carrots. Feed hatchlings very other day and turtles 4 inches and larger 2-3 times a week.