Red-eared sliders make some of the best pets out of any turtle species. In fact, if you go into a pet shop or search the internet for the best turtle to have as a pet, the red-eared slider will probably be the first recommendation.
Easily distinguishable by the distinctive yellow scutes around the outside of their shells and the red marks at the corners of their eyes for which they are named, red-eared sliders are good-natured and relatively low-maintenance turtles.
The red-eared slider has an estimated lifespan of 20 years in captivity, so when brought into the home as babies, they make excellent long-term companions.
Buying a baby red-eared turtle isn’t a commitment to enter into lightly, however. Turtles are sensitive animals that require an environment with very specific conditions in order to thrive. Creating and maintaining this kind of environment takes time and costs money.
The good news is that through research and adherence to some pretty simple care guidance, looking after a baby red-eared slider can also be a very positive experience that will soon become second-nature.
This article will cover the most important aspects of caring for a baby red-eared slider turtle, from the process of buying your turtle to housing, feeding, and handling them. Without further ado, let’s get started!
Buying a Baby Red-Eared Slider
Before we dive straight into the process of actually caring for your baby red-eared slider, we thought it would be useful to pause on how to select and buy your new turtle friend.
You want to set yourself up for a good start as a red-eared slider owner, so there are a few things you should look out for when choosing your turtle to ensure that it’s healthy and behaving as it should.
The key areas to look at are the shell, the eyes, and the limbs.
A visual inspection of the shell should be carried out to check for any cracks. Ideally, the shell should have a shiny quality to it. You don’t need to be able to see your face in it or anything, but a very dull and dusty-looking shell can be an indicator of ill health, as can discolored eyes.
Finally, you should watch to see how the turtle moves in and out of the water. While turtles aren’t the speediest creatures on earth, a turtle that moves clumsily or at a sloth-like pace likely isn’t feeling too great.
A healthy red-eared slider should also be able to fully submerge itself into the water. If a turtle isn’t able to do this, it may be suffering from respiratory problems.
We’d like to clarify that these tips on buying a baby red-eared slider are in no way meant to imply that more fragile, sickly baby turtles aren’t worthy of a loving home. However, the reality is that repeated trips to the vet can get really expensive.
One of the reasons some people prefer to own reptilian pets like turtles is that they generally don’t need to visit the vet as often as, say, cats or dogs. Therefore, the majority of turtle buyers prefer to select a turtle that looks as though it will grow up healthy and strong.
With that being said, it’s often not possible to tell a turtle’s health status for sure. Baby red-eared sliders that look perfectly healthy can turn out to be susceptible to ill health, while some less healthy-looking turtles may surprise you and grow into robust adults.
Ultimately, if you find yourself drawn to a baby red-eared slider that has some physical ‘defects,’ feel free to bring them home. However, you should educate yourself on the different health conditions that can affect red-eared sliders (and their fatality rates) and be prepared to seek medical care for your turtle as often as necessary.
Baby Red-Eared Slider Environment
Keeping your baby red-eared slider in the appropriate environment for their needs is key to extending your turtle friend’s lifespan and keeping them happy.
When your red-eared slider is still a baby, it can be hard to gauge just from their size how much living space they’ll need as they grow. Frequently, well-intentioned owners of baby red-eared sliders will make the mistake of opting for too small a tank to keep them in based on their size during infancy.
It’s vitally important to make sure that your baby red-eared slider not only has room to explore, exercise, and play while they’re still pint-sized but also when they reach adulthood. A fully-grown red-eared slider can reach a length of over 12 inches, compared to the tiny 1 inch they typically measure as babies.
Therefore, when you purchase a tank for your baby red-eared slider, you should buy it under the assumption that your turtle will grow to a full 12 inches.
The general guidance provided for estimating water requirements based on shell size is to allow 10 gallons of water for every inch (lengthwise). Based on this math, you should opt for a 120-gallon tank, which you will need to fill with fresh water.
Now, that being said, many turtle owners actually end up purchasing a smaller tank than this, and it seems that red-eared sliders are still able to thrive in these aquariums.
However, we would strongly advise against choosing a tank with less capacity than 55 gallons, and ultimately, the larger, the better.
The next thing you’ll need to purchase is a decent water filter. Although you will need to clean your slider’s tank thoroughly every couple of weeks, it’s important that the water remains clean in the meantime.
Tetra’s ReptoFilter is probably the best tool on the market for the job because it provides the 3 stages of filtration that aquatic environments need to remain clean and healthy – and it also looks like a decorative feature as a bonus.
Now that we’ve got the amount of water and the filtration system down, it’s time to think about lighting.
It may surprise some first-time turtle owners to know that reptiles in captivity rely heavily on sufficient supplies of UV light to thrive. This is because their natural lives in the wild would involve a lot of direct exposure to sunlight, which is key to the reptile’s digestive function and nutrient absorption.
Therefore, in order to make sure that your baby red-eared slider grows up healthy and strong, you’ll need to ensure that they are properly exposed to sufficient quantities of UV light from the get-go.
Be careful here, though – not just any UV lighting will do. You will need to ensure that the UV light you choose for your red-eared slider emits both UVA and UVB light.
There also needs to be enough UVB light to facilitate proper calcium absorption and vitamin D3 production, so be sure to check the percentages of UVB in the product information before you buy.
Our recommendation is the Exo Terra Repti-Glo UV lightbulb, which you can pair with any compatible reptile heat lamp.
Red-eared sliders may be aquatic turtles, but they don’t spend all of their time in the water. These turtles spend a lot of time basking in the warmth (which your UV lighting will provide for them).
To make basking easy and pleasant for your slider, we recommend getting them a nice, high-quality basking platform to relax on.
It’s not just the general atmosphere of your baby red-eared slider’s tank that needs to be optimally heated. The water itself also needs to be kept at just the right temperature to mimic the turtle’s natural environment.
The optimal water temperature for a red-eared slider is between 74 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit, but for babies, who are more sensitive to the cold, temperatures around 80 degrees are ideal.
The type of water heater you should be looking for will depend on the size of your tank since the heater will have to be powerful enough to heat the tank’s entire capacity.
For example, this KASANMU Aquarium Heater in the 500 Watt model can heat between 80 and 150 gallons of water to adjustable temperatures ranging from 68 to 93 degrees. The current temperature at any given time is displayed on the temperature indicator.
Even if your water heater comes with a built-in thermometer, you will still need to invest in a high-quality, accurate aquarium thermometer to measure the temperature of the tank in its entirety.
This is because an overall temperature that is either too hot or too cold can be damaging and even dangerous to red-eared sliders, especially as babies.
Something like this Neptonion Aquarium Thermometer is ideal because it has a probe that you can position against the basking area to read the temperature.
The temperature of a red-eared slider’s basking area should be higher than the water temperature and should fall somewhere between 85 and 95 degrees.
Feeding a Baby Red-Eared Slider
For such tiny creatures, baby red-eared sliders can certainly eat a lot! Thankfully, these turtles’ diets can be mostly pellet-based, so satisfying their appetite shouldn’t put too much of a hole in your pocket.
As babies, red-eared sliders should be fed on a daily basis to promote strong and healthy growth while they’re still in their more fragile stages. Eventually, as your turtle reaches adulthood, you’ll be able to decrease the frequency of feedings to once every 2 days.
There are plenty of pellet foods for turtles available on the pet food market, and your local pet shop should be able to direct you to the best option for your turtle’s needs.
However, Tetra is a well-established and trusted pet food brand, and has a specific pellet formula for juvenile turtles, which would be our recommendation.
As a treat, you can add some grubs, insects, or fish to your baby red-eared slider’s diet to ensure they’re also getting nutrition from more natural sources. You shouldn’t overdo this, though, because you don’t want to risk overfeeding (fatty liver disease is a common issue in pet turtles that are overfed).
Baby red-eared sliders love worms, so either earthworms or mealworms will make for a welcome treat. Waxworms and silkworms are also ideal options. Baby sliders also enjoy crickets, although these should be pre-fed (or ‘gut-loaded’) with vegetables.
You can also add marine food to your baby red-eared slider’s diet. In the wild, they often snack on smaller fish (minnows) as well as small shrimp and aquatic snails.
You can find conveniently pre-packaged mixes of some of these food sources online or at pet stores. These mixes will include feeding directions, but make sure you take into account that your slider is still a baby and will need to be fed small, easily-digestible bites in smaller quantities than adult turtles.
Baby Red-Eared Slider Companions
Turtles are generally pretty solitary animals. This means that, unlike some other pets, they don’t tend to suffer from loneliness and probably won’t suffer any ill effects from being raised alone. In fact, it’s thought that turtles typically prefer their own company.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t keep your baby red-eared slider with other animals. While they don’t tend to get lonely on their own, red-eared sliders do get bored.
In the wild, red-eared sliders spend most of their time productively searching for food. This is what they’re naturally programmed to do, so there is a risk of your slider becoming restless with a foraging-free lifestyle.
Although this turtle species isn’t big on interaction, getting a companion for your red-eared slider can be one way of alleviating their boredom.
Generally, red-eared sliders do best with turtles of their own species. Buying 2 baby red-eared sliders at once is a good way to ensure a healthy cohabitating relationship between turtles. We recommend this because significant size differences between turtles can lead to one turtle establishing dominance over the other.
This is especially common with males and even more common when there’s a female present. Male turtles can also sometimes be aggressive towards female turtles during mating season.
Even though red-eared sliders don’t reach sexual maturity until 2 years of age for males, or 3 years for females, it’s still worth thinking about this bridge before the time comes to cross it. Therefore, we’d advise potential red-eared slider owners to avoid pairing 2 males or a male and a female together. We’d especially recommend steering clear of putting 2 males and a single female in the same enclosure.
To ensure a friendly relationship between red-eared sliders, we’d recommend pairing 2 females together. This is also the ideal pairing if you want to avoid having lots more baby red-eared sliders on your hands.
Other turtle species’ that red-eared sliders typically get along with include cooters, painted turtles, and map turtles. Again, it’s a good idea to buy any companion turtles at the same time and keep them around the same age to avoid dominance issues.
We don’t recommend trying to house your baby red-eared slider with fish of any kind. Small fish, in particular, are to be avoided because they form part of a red-eared slider’s natural diet.
Interacting With Your Baby Red-Eared Slider
In our society, we’re used to dealing with animals that have been long-domesticated, such as cats and dogs. Such animals are typically very emotionally developed and often actively seek out affection from their owners and other people.
As such, we are taught to interact closely with our pets and encouraged to show them plenty of love through petting and cuddling.
However, the thing to remember about red-eared slider turtles (and all turtles and reptiles, for that matter) is that they are not really domesticated animals. It may have become more common for turtles to be kept as pets in recent years, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they are still primarily wild animals.
In addition to their undomesticated status, turtles (as we mentioned previously) are mainly quite solitary creatures. They will generally choose to be alone over seeking out company from other animals or humans.
That’s not to say that red-eared sliders can’t be affectionate in their own way! Scientific research into the species has found them to be one of the more intelligent turtle species, and they frequently display behavior that indicates they recognize and feel safe with their carers, such as eating from their owner’s hand and coming to say hello at mealtimes.
However, the fact remains that red-eared sliders typically don’t really enjoy being handled. Sliders are extremely sensitive to all kinds of vibrations, so handling your turtle much more than necessary can actually lead to a lot of stress and anxiety for them. To avoid upsetting your turtle, you should try and physically handle it as little as possible outside of necessary maintenance tasks.
Minimizing handling is especially important while your red-eared slider is still a baby. As we’ve said, baby red-eared sliders start off no bigger than an inch long, so they’re much easier to accidentally hurt through normal handling.
If your turtle is very freshly hatched, its shell may even still be softer than those of adult turtles and easier to damage. For these reasons, handling should be avoided especially strictly for baby red-eared sliders, and children should not be allowed to handle baby red-eared sliders unsupervised.
Not to mention, turtles are known carriers of salmonella, so there’s another good reason to limit physical handling as much as possible.
If and when you do need to handle your red-eared slider, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly afterward with soap and hot water and dry them thoroughly, too.
We hope that this article has alleviated any worries or concerns you might have had about caring for a baby red-eared slider.
Of all the turtle species’, red-eared sliders are probably the easiest to look after, and caring for them as babies isn’t all that different from looking after them as adults. However, taking on a baby red-eared slider does require research, monetary investment, and serious commitment.
The main things to take away from our guidance on baby red-eared slider care are as follows:
- Purchase all the listed equipment beforehand
- Make sure your baby red-eared slider has enough space to grow to their full, healthy size
- Feed your baby slider daily on a pellet-based diet, supplemented with worms, bugs, and/or aquatic animals
- Always monitor the temperature of both the water and the air/basking area in the tank
- Clean the tank fully every 2 to 3 weeks
- Keep physical handling to a minimum
It really is that simple! If you follow all of this advice, you’ll be in an excellent position to watch your baby red-eared slider grow into a healthy adult.
Hopefully, your new turtle friend will be with you for many years to come.