and Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys [Chrysemys] scripta; T. s. elegans,)
are found throughout the United States east of the Rockies. They are the
sliders is the one most often sold in pet stores here in the U.S. and
abroad. These fresh water turtles spend much of their time in the warm
waters of their native habitat. While they are strong underwater swimmers,
these sliders spend much of the warmer hours of the day hauled out on
logs or rocks (or, when very small, on marsh weeds and other aquatic plants)
basking in the sun. All of the sliders are omnivores, eating both animal
protein and vegetable/plant matter. Younger turtles need up to 40% of
their food from protein sources; adult turtles feed more heavily on vegetation.
In the wild they begin by eating tiny fish and amphibian larva, water
snails and a variety of plants growing in the water and on land.
illegal in the U.S. for pet stores to sell any turtle that is less than
four inches (10.6 cm) in length (this is problematic for those few turtle
species whose full adult size is 4" or less!). The ones sold legally
must be at least four inches long from the neck end of the carapace (top
shell) to the tail end of the carapace. If male, it will be somewhere
between 2-4 years old and already sexually mature. Wild females reach
maturity later, between 5-7 years, and will then be over 5 inches (12.7
cm) in length; in captivity, females may reach maturity at about 3 1/2
years. You will be able to tell male from females: males are smaller than
females in overall body size but have longer tails.
all wild-caught reptiles, the animals found in pet stores have been under
stress for some time. As a result, they are most likely suffering from
protozoan and bacterial infections, including Salmonella which is easily
transmitted to young children. Additionally, they are usually emaciated
and dehydrated due to long periods of time without food or water or being
held in areas too cold to stimulate the appetite; many of these turtles
will not eat when they are stressed or frightened, and cannot eat when
they are too cold. As soon as you can after you take your turtle home,
scoop up a fresh fecal sample and take it and your turtle to a reptile
veterinarian. While the feces is being tested, the vet will check out
your turtle for signs of nutritional deficiencies, topical bacterial or
fungal infections, beak overgrowth, respiratory and eye infections - all
very common in wild-caught animals (and in captive turtles who have not
been provided with the proper environment or diet). Make sure your turtle
is given all the medication prescribed by the vet. If you have trouble
administering it yourself, take your turtle back to the vet to have it
done. If maintained at the proper temperatures, fed a healthy varied diet
and kept in a stress-free active environment, your turtle may outlive
you: some individuals have lived more than 100 years.
the Proper Habitat
need both a warm, dry area and a large pool of warm water. In the wild,
they chose water that warms up quickly in the sun each day. You will need
to provide a warm enclosure with both heated water and a warm place for
your turtle to climb out and dry off. The water must be kept clean; rotting
bits of food mixed with feces will combine to make an unhealthful habitat
and a sick turtle. Turtles are messy eaters and defecate in their water,
so cleaning will be an almost daily routine.
For the smallest turtles, start with at least a 30-50 gallon (113-189
liter) glass aquarium (see Water before you rush out and buy that
30 gallon aquarium you saw on sale!) . If you are not interested in actually
being able to watch your turtle swimming around under water, you can use
a suitably large opaque plastic container such as a large plastic storage
box bottom, concrete mixing bin or deep kitty litter pan. You can use
clean aquarium rock and gravel to build a slope up from the wet end (the
pool) to the dry end (the land). You can silicone together pieces of Plexiglas
to make a moveable platform onto which your turtle can crawl onto to rest.
Floating or anchored cork rafts or logs are another alternative. Rough
rocks must not be used as they can scratch turtle shells which allows
bacterial and fungal infections to get started and penetrate into the
one of the biggest mistakes aquatic turtle keepers make is not providing
a body of water that deep, long and wide enough for their turtle. The
minimum size required for a 4" turtle will not work for a 6"
or 8" (15 or 20 cm) aquatic turtle, and certainly not for a full
grown one. Since turtles will grow relatively quickly when they are
cared for properly, you should start off with an enclosure size big
enough for your turtle to comfortably grow into for at least 1-2 years.
That will give you some time to think out, plan, and build the turtle's
next, much larger, enclosure.
Think two turtles
are better than one? Assuming they are compatible, it can be
nice for your turtles to have one another for company. But two turtles
require an even larger enclosure than a single turtle. So, unless you
are prepared to keep and service giant enclosures for turtles who can
easily reach the size of dinner plates, rethink getting two...or even
must be at least 1.5 to 2 times your turtle's total length (called carapace
length, or CL) in depth, with several extra inches of air space between
the surface of the water to the top edge of the tank to prevent escapes.
The tank length needs to be at least 4-5 times the CL, and the front-to-back
width should be at least 2-3 times the CL. So, for a turtle who is 4"
CL, your enclosure water area must be at minimum 6-8 inches (15-20 cm)
deep, 16-20 inches (40-51 cm) in length, and 8-12 inches (20-31 cm) in
width. As you can see, if you are going to have a land area at one end
as well as sufficient water area, you need something much larger than
a 10-20 gallon (38-76 liter) tank. See Reptile
Housing: Size, Dimension, and Lifestyle for the dimensions of standard
aquaria and other enclosures.
Keep in mind that if
your turtle is not yet full grown (hint: if he is not yet as large as
a dinner plate, he is not full grown), you not only need to provide room
in the tank (water and land) for him the size he is now, you need to provide
additional room to allow for future growth.
filtering systems are necessary to keep the water fairly fresh between
your weekly changes. If you have a powerful filter system and you feed
your turtle in another tank, you may be able to get away with replacing
25-50% of the water each week for two or three weeks, emptying and cleaning
out the tank thoroughly every third or fourth week. Remember to replace
the water with warm water. Talk to your aquarium shop about the following
types of filters that are suitable for Red-Eared Sliders: canister, undergravel,
sponge, and power filters. You will also need some type of automated siphon
for the partial changes of water between the overall heavy-duty changes
temperature must be maintained between 75-86 degrees F (23.8-30 C). If
you buy a submersible pre-calibrated heater, test it first and make sure
the water is the proper temperature before you put your turtle in the
water. Too cold and it won't eat; too hot and you'll cook it. Buy good
quality an aquarium thermometer and monitor the temperature regularly.
If the room the turtle is being kept in is always over 75 F (23.8
C), then you will only need to heat up a basking area, rather than heating
up the room, too. Using an incandescent light or spot light, allow the
area closest to the light to reach 85-88 F (29.4-31 C).
there is absolutely no way for the light to fall into the water or for
the turtle to come into direct contact with the light bulb. Be aware that
the light will heat up the water to a certain degree so be sure to monitor
the water temperature.
and any sick turtle, should be kept warmer (water temperatures between
82-85 F) than the average healthy adult. Sustained low temperatures (between
65-72 F [18.3-22.2 C]) will cause turtles to stop feeding and respiratory
infections may result.
If the room is not
warm enough to provide the turtle with the proper air temperature gradient,
you will need to supplement the heat, providing another source of heat
which may be used day and night in addition to the basking light. One
alternative is to use a ceramic heat elements (CHE). CHEs screw into regular
incandescent sockets and come in a variety of watts, and last a very long
time. Safety warning: you must install CHEs into porcelain
light sockets. These devices throw enough heat upwards to melt plastic
Don't guess at the water or air temperatures. Reptile species have very
specific temperature ranges during the day and during the night. If
your guess is off, that will make the difference between a reptile that
thrives, and one who merely survives - or dies. Use thermometers.
On sunny days when the outside temperatures are warm, feel free to
put your turtle outside for a while for some sunshine. Either move your
turtle tank outside (so long as it is not a glass enclosure, which can
overheat to the point of causing fatal hyperthermia), or set up a secure
outdoor enclosure for your turtle to sun and soak in, or set up an indoor
enclosure complete with a UVB-supplemented basking and a swimming area.
The latter will be required if you cannot regularly get your turtle outside
or otherwise safely exposed to sunlight (not filtered through plastic
or glass), or live where the amount of natural UVB is not sufficient year
round to enable your turtle to make the amount of pre-vitamin D it needs
to ensure adequate calcium metabolism.
Keep in mind that,
in the wild, when turtles get too hot when basking in the sun or upper
layers of sun-heated water, they simply dive into deeper, cooler, water
or move into a cool pocket of wet bankside overhung with plants providing
shade. So, while it is great to give your turtle some direct sunlight,
you must guard against it getting too hot, which can result in fatal
hyperthermia. If you cannot provide a suitably cooler retreat area your
turtle can go to when it gets too warm, and you can't keep a direct
eye on your turtle to watch for signs of overheating, don't put it outside.
Enclosures are like automobiles: the temperatures inside reach 20-30
degrees hotter than the outside air temperature, making the inside potentially
lethal on mildly warm days.
to a ultraviolet B (UVB)-producing fluorescent light, such as a Vita-Lite®,
is recommended by some turtle experts, and is considered mandatory by
others. UVB exposure is an essential part of the calcium metabolization
process, and calcium deficiencies are very common in captive turtles.
Many herpetoculturists use UVB-producing fluorescents because of their
importance in calcium metabolization but also because the UVA they produce
may have subtle psychological benefits such as improved appetite, since
many reptiles see into the ultraviolet range.
As with tropical fish, there is a danger of electrical shock--to you
and to the turtle--when using electric filters, water heaters and lamps
in and around the tank of water. All electrical cords should be connected
to a ground-fault interrupter which shuts off the current if anything
happens. Buy one at your local hardware store. Do not use bulbs with higher
wattage than your light fixture is rated for (in other words: no 100 watt
bulbs in 60 watt fixtures). Turtles will investigate and knock things
about. You must secure your water heater behind an immovable wall or partition
to turtle-proof it.
proper nutrition, strong growth and a healthy long-lived turtle, feed
a varied diet to both adults and juveniles. Just remember that adults
eat less animal protein and more vegetable matter. Juveniles must be fed
every day; adults can be fed once every two to three days. Do not feed
more than they can eat; the excess food will go to waste and foul the
water. Feed a combination of the following foods:
diets (No more than 25% of total diet)
commercial floating fish, reptile or turtle food (pellets, sticks or tablets).
The pellets and sticks have the advantage of being formulated specifically
for reptiles and don't decompose in the water as fast as other foods.
Protein (No more than 25% of total diet)
Live feeder fish--do not feed defrosted frozen fish; they are deficient
in thiamin and excess consumption will cause a thiamin deficiency in your
turtle. Earthworms--buy them from a reptile or aquarium store; do not
feed the ones from your yard as they may contain bacteria, parasites and
pesticides against which your turtle has no immunity. Finely chopped raw
lean beef, beef heart and cooked chicken are okay for treats, but are
not appropriate as a major part of a balanced diet for whole prey eaters.
Raw chicken and beef is too often riddled with Salmonella, E.
coli and other food-borne organisms. High quality dog kibble can be
offered occasionally as treats, too; like muscle meat, dog and cat foods
are not appropriate when used as a significant portion of a turtle's diet.
Matter (50% or more of total diet)
Offer leaves of dark leafy greens such as collard, mustard and dandelion
greens. Offer shredded carrots (and carrot tops), squash and green beans.
Thawed frozen mixed vegetables may be used occasionally, but care should
be taken as some frozen green vegetables develop thiaminase which destroys
that all-important B vitamin. Fruit can be offered raw; shred hard fruits
like apples and melons, chopping soft fruits such as berries. To help
keep their beak in trim, let them gnaw on pieces of cantaloupe with the
(well washed) rind still attached. Check out the edible aquatic plants
sold at aquarium stores, too. You can drop these into their enclosure
for them to free feed upon.
should be added twice a week. Use a good reptile or turtle multivitamin.
Turtles must also be supplied with additional calcium; they often enjoy
taking bites out of calcium blocks and gnawing on cuttlebone, so always
have some available to them.
turtle for any signs of illness: cloudy, closed or swollen eyes; swollen
cheeks; open mouth breathing; bubbly mucous around the nose or mouth;
runny stools; loss of appetite; listlessness; spots appearing on plastron
(bottom shell), carapace or body; soft shell or excessive shedding.
Newly acquired turtles
are under a lot of stress and may be riddled with bacterial or parasitic
infections that may be passed along to you or your kids. One of the reasons
for it being illegal to sell turtles under 4" in the U.S. is that,
once the law was passed, it greatly reduced the number of hospitalizations
and deaths of children whose parents did not realize that most turtles
carry Salmonellae, which is irregularly passed through their feces into
their water, and onto their shells and skin. Read up on proper
precautions to take to prevent infection of children and immunocompromised
Always take a sick turtle
to a reptile veterinarian. Reptile vets
are an important part of keeping healthy reptiles healthy, and helping
sick ones attain health. Many people don't want to spend more for a vet
visit than they paid for the animal. A good rule of thumb for all animals,
especially 'cheap' ones, is: if you can't afford the vet, you can't afford
Make sure to have your
children checked out by their pediatrician if they begin to exhibit any
signs of illness (nausea, stomach aches, vomiting, diarrhea).
One way to get your children to make sure they are vigorously rubbing
their hands with soap (including between their fingers and under and
around their fingernails) is to have them sing the Happy Birthday song
two times in a row. Depending on how often they wash their hands, you
might eventually want to encourage them to sing softly, or sing it in
their heads. Decrease the risk of infection by using a liquid soap in
pump bottle instead of a bar of soap, and disposable paper towels for
drying the hands and turning off the water faucet.
After bringing home and placing your turtle in its already-established
tank, let it get used to its new surroundings for several days. It may
spend the first couple of days closed tight in its shell, or may quickly
withdraw when it sees you looming overhead or approaching the enclosure.
this time, put fresh food out every day and make sure the water stays
warm and clean. After a while, the healthier turtle will begin to explore
its surroundings, and may begin to watch the goings-on around it. When
you pick up the turtle, support its body with both hands. Turtles feel
more secure when they can feel something beneath their feet; "swimming"
in air is stressful to them. Let them feel your hands or fingers beneath
their feet, not just their plastron (bottom shell). A two-handed carry
will also help ensure that they will not suffer a potentially crippling--or
children's hands are big enough, teach them the proper way to hold and
carry the turtle and how to properly wash their hands after handling the
turtle. If they have been playing with any other animals before they go
to handle the turtle, they should wash their hands before handling the
turtles, as well as afterwards.
speaking, turtles are not appropriate pets for young children. The higher
risk of infection aside, the care and feeding is more complicated than
is generally thought, and the daily maintenance of the enclosure, enclosure
apparatus and feeding soon gets boring for most kids. (Some adults, too,
are dismayed to find that they can't just stick the turtle in a box or
tank of water or let them loose in their yard, tossing lettuce to it once
in a while.) When obtained for a child, the parent must acknowledge and
accept their primary responsibility for the care of the turtle and routinely
check it regularly for any signs or symptoms of illness.
believe that many cold-blooded animals, especially turtles and tortoises,
can live almost forever as they show no signs of aging as they get older.
They die from being successfully attacked by one of their few natural
predators, from the poisoning, intolerably alteration or destruction of
their natural habitat, and from improper care in captivity.
should be enough to help you decide whether a slider or other aquatic
turtle is the right pet for you. For more information on care, more creative
captive environments, breeding and other behaviors, be sure to check out
the chelonian sites linked to my main Chelonians
page and join a turtle-related e-mail list
Carroll, David M. The
Year of the Turtle: A Natural History. 1991. Camden House publishing.
De Vosjoli, Philippe.
The General Care and Maintenance of Red-Eared Sliders. 1992. Advanced
Vivarium Systems, Inc.
Reptile Database: Emydidae: Trachemys
Obst, Fritz, et al.
The Completely Illustrated Atlas of Reptiles and Amphibians for the Terrarium.
1988. TFH Publishing, Inc.
Pritchard, Peter C.
H. Encyclopedia of Turtles. 1979. TFH Publishing.
Housing: Size, Dimension, and Lifestyle
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