Red-eared sliders are a kind of semi-aquatic turtle native to North America. They can live up to 20 years and require a lot of care. They grow to around 12 inches long and will require regular cleaning and socialization.
They are only really out of the water for a few hours to bask in UV rays. The purpose of this basking period is to dry off the skin and shell. The length of time they can survive without water depends on a variety of factors.
Why do they need water?
Like a number of other turtles, red-eared sliders need water to survive. They do not have their own saliva and use the moisture content of the water to make swallowing easier.
They also require hydration from the water that they cannot get from the air.
What could happen if they don’t get sufficient water?
Your red-eared slider is likely to develop dry skin and potentially even shell issues if they are not allowed access to water.
If they are moving around a lot on land then they could develop plastron sores. This is an open wound on their belly plate and is caused by the friction from rubbing their underside on the ground.
You may notice that your turtle is eating less or is reluctant to eat at all. This is because they require moisture from the water to lubricate their chewing and swallowing procedures.
Age of the turtle
Young turtles have a much higher requirement for food and water.
This is because they are experiencing a period of rapid growth and need to fuel their bodies appropriately to support this.
Health of the turtle
If the turtle is in good health before it leaves the water, it has a much higher chance of survival.
If it is adequately fed and hydrated before coming onto land, they will be able to last a lot longer before becoming weak and perishing.
If the climate the turtle is in is humid, it is likely to survive for longer.
This is because humid air has a high concentration of moisture which the turtle can draw hydration from.
You should ensure there are plenty of hiding places for your red-eared slider when it leaves the water.
They are fairly skittish animals and will run at the first sign of danger.
Time of year
During the winter, when the temperature drops below 44 degrees Fahrenheit, red-eared sliders enter a state of brumation. This is similar to the hibernation period seen in some mammals. When bruminating, the turtle’s level of activity drops - including their respiratory rate and metabolism.
When in this state, the turtles do not eat for months at a time. Most commonly they will enter this state along the beds of slow moving rivers, but some will do this out of the water too. Some red-eared sliders have been known to spend months in brumation out of the water and still survive.
How much water does a red-eared slider need?
An easy way to work this out is to look at the maximum size your turtle will grow to. Measure the length from one end of their shell to the other. The water should be twice as deep as this measurement.
The tank should be 3 times as wide as the turtle and 5 times their length. To give an example, a 6 inch red-eared slider would need a water-filled tank area measuring 12 inches deep, 30 inches long, and 18 inches wide.
An adult female red-eared slider is likely to need a tank measuring 3 by 5 feet, with 2 feet of water depth. Red-eared sliders are only semi-aquatic and as such, they need a land area too. This should be set underneath a UV lamp to allow them to bask.
How long can red-eared sliders live without food?
During brumation, they can survive for months at a time without the need for food, experts estimate up to 3 months.
Red-eared sliders are resilient animals and can last without food for a while. This is because in the wild, food is scarce and they need to be able to survive.
While not in a state of brumation, red-eared sliders can only really last 4 weeks without food, although this is not advised.
What do red-eared sliders eat?
Younger sliders will need a more protein-heavy diet than older turtles. This should come from a combination of plant and animal sources.
You can feed your turtle commercial turtle pellets, but this should not be their sole food source. Turtles benefit from having a varied diet, and this will keep them interested in eating too. Pellets should not comprise more than 25% of their dietary intake.
Some good animals to feed your turtle are crickets, mealworms, earthworms, silkworms, bloodworms, waxworms, aquatic snails, krill, daphnia, and shrimp. It is good for your turtle to be fed live prey occasionally. This allows them to replicate their natural hunting behaviors and get some exercise.
Collard greens, bok choy, kale, mustard greens, and dandelion greens are good sources of vitamins for your turtle. You could also give them anacharis, frog-bit, azolla, duckweed, water hyacinth, and water lettuce in their tank if you wanted to incorporate aquatic plants.
Red-eared sliders can also eat all parts of carrots, green beans, and squash. For smaller turtles in particular, it is sometimes necessary to cut up the food you are giving them into smaller chunks to make it easier to eat. You could also consider shredding vegetables.
It is important to pay close attention to the levels of calcium and phosphorus in your turtle’s diet. They should have a ratio of 2:1 calcium to phosphorus. There are many commercially available supplements designed with turtles in mind.
As always, if you have any questions, please consult a qualified veterinarian.
How to tell if a red-eared slider is dehydrated
One of the most obvious signs of dehydration in turtles is sunken or closed eyes, and potentially even dimpled corneas. If you notice these symptoms in your turtle, you should consult a veterinarian for professional advice as soon as possible.
Like humans, much of the turtle’s body weight comes from water inside their tissues. If your turtle feels particularly light when you pick it up, this is a good sign of dehydration. Pay attention to their weight regularly so that you notice any differences quickly.
Dehydration can also cause lethargy and fatigue. If you pull on your turtle’s leg, they should retract it speedily into their shell. If the movement is slow you should take them to a veterinarian for an examination. Do not be too concerned about this if your turtle is old as over time their reflexes will slow.
If your turtle stays sitting still for extended periods of time and does not forage for food this could be as a result of dehydration. We recommend spraying the inside of their land enclosure and their food.
Try gently pinching the skin on your turtle’s limbs. The skin should lie flat again almost immediately if they are adequately hydrated. If it moves back slowly or not at all, your turtle is likely to be dehydrated.
So how long can they live without water?
The honest answer is, no one really knows. It is likely to vary according to the factors listed above. They will definitely be able to survive without water for at least a week. They are likely to be dehydrated, but estimates suggest they could live for a few months.
This is not a healthy way for a turtle to live and you should not attempt to test how long they can survive without water.
What else do red-eared sliders need to survive?
Red-eared sliders will need a raised area out of the water in their tank. This should be large enough for them to rest on comfortably. They are commonly constructed from a stack of large gravel and stones.
It should be located in the direct path of light rays from a UVA / UVB lamp. This will allow them to bask adequately. This helps with calcium metabolism and improves the turtle’s appetite.
The absolute minimum water volume for their tank is 20 gallons. We advise getting a tank larger than this though.
We recommend including some tank decorations to provide your red-eared slider with some stimulation. Large rocks, driftwood, and big stones are your best choices.
Your turtle will likely just eat any plants you place in the tank and lightweight plastic decorations will just be thrown about the tank. You should only put driftwood purchased from pet stores in the tank as you can be sure this is parasite free and animal safe.
There should be a thermal regulator unit somewhere in or near the tank. For red-eared sliders to thrive the water should be kept between 74 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit, or 80 degrees if they are babies. The basking area should be kept at around 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.